Coffee Talk

First Look at Mercantile in Rice Village

New coffee shop is part cafe, part upscale bodega.

By Katharine Shilcutt September 16, 2013

If you're familiar with Catalina Coffee, the first thing you'll notice about Mercantile—the new coffee shop in Rice Village—is how drastically different it is from its big sister-in-spirit on Washington Avenue. Catalina Coffee is the brooding, sensitive, bookish older sister, while Mercantile is the peppy younger sister who wears Ralph Lauren and daydreams about horses and joins a sorority in college yet is no less intelligent or passionate than her sibling.

5407 Morningside Dr.

The tone isn't the only thing different about Mercantile, opened by operating partner Max Gonzales, who also owns and runs Catalina. Whereas Catalina is a "serious" coffee shop with only a few scant baked goods to snack on and rows of seating inside and out, the better to sit and contemplate your cortado with, Mercantile is only part coffee shop. The majority of the cafe's footprint is devoted to its grocery items, in keeping with Mercantile's aim to be Rice Village's very own bodega.

This isn't your average New York City bodega, of course, but a rather upscale Houston version. Yes, there's fresh produce and loaves of bread (from Angela's Oven, the local bakery which also supplies Catalina with its scones and croissants) and quarts of milk from the Mill-King dairy outside Waco. But there's also gourmet pasta, four-packs of Fentiman's soda, jars of Rao's pasta sauce, and a selection of hot sauces from Houston's own Bravado Spice Co. Yes, you can do some significant grocery shopping here—but it will cost you, and the selection is [purposefully] limited.

I've been told the carefully curated grocery section will grow over time, and that Mercantile is actively seeking suggestions from shoppers as to what goods it should carry. It reminds me, in its own way, of a Rice Village version of Revival Market minus the prepared foods and the butcher case. (There are cheeses and cured meats for sale at Mercantile, however.)

From behind the oval-shaped counter that sits in the middle of the store, Mercantile's capable baristas will whip you up anything from a latte to a flat white, as good as anything you'll find at Catalina. And although there's no seating inside, ample outdoor seating on the sidewalk is flanked by potted plants and provides a lovely view onto one of Rice Village's most heavily-trafficked areas, across from Torchy's Tacos and just down the street from The Ginger Man and other popular pubs. Foot traffic should ensure Mercantile's success as a coffee shop alone, as options in the area have always been limited, and the pretty patio is attractive enough to pull people in from blocks away.

The white-washed walls and weather-worn woods inside Mercantile make the place feel incredibly cool and inviting while it's still slightly muggy and hot outside, and I can only imagine the patio is going to get comfortably crowded as Houston finally enters its long-awaited fall with a long-needed Rice Village coffee shop.


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