If you have ever lived near the corner of Washington St. and Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, MA, you have heard the legend of Brighton Cafe iced coffee. Perfect fuel for a crowded Green Line ride to either BC or BU, it also is rumored to have hangover-curing qualities. (This is only rumor – I swear I have never tested it.)
Brighton Cafe iced coffee, at least back when I ordered it on the regular (2007-2009), came in two flavors: original and french vanilla. It was served in a large styrofoam cup, which I cringed at but dealt with by being super environmentally friendly the rest of the day.
It was your regular diner coffee, just iced, meaning it wasn’t exactly the most nuanced of flavors, but delivered the taste and caffeine jolt necessary. It never tasted like they had just taken leftover pots of hot coffee and cooled it – it was never bitter tasting, like what could happen when you do such a thing. What made it addictive was the just perfect amount of cream and sugar added. Because this was a diner, the cream was very fresh and the sugar was coarse instead of fine. This made the coffee just the perfect amount of sweet and bitter.
The two things I miss most about living in Brighton are Brighton Cafe coffee and it’s neighbor, Chang’s House, the friendliest Chinese food place in creation. While I have never found a replacement for Chang’s House (a place so kind that they would make me a special, non-menu soup when I suffered from laryngitis, which used to be every other month), I have finally found an equal to the Brighton Cafe iced coffee magic.
Salem, MA’s Nick’s Firehouse Coffee Shop is tucked away behind the old District Court building. My father-in-law first introduced the spot to me a decade ago, but I didn’t know of its iced coffee until 2015. The Firehouse has an amazing corned beef hash and very affordable lunch sandwiches, and it is a regular stop for lawyers, judges and court staff who work in the area.
One Saturday last year, I had to go into Boston early, and my regular Dunkin’ Donuts by the Salem train station was closed. I figured I’d grab some hot coffee from the Firehouse. I walked in, looked at their menu, and realized they had iced coffee. I tasted it and was immediately transported back to that corner of Washington St. and Commonwealth Ave. Finally, I had found a North Shore diner who cared just as much about their iced coffee as the Brighton Cafe.
I didn’t get a chance to try it again until this week. (Giving up caffeine for 10 months will do that for you.) It still is that perfect mixture of coffee flavor, cream and coarse sugar that will cure whatever ails you, be it a hangover or your four month old waking up five times during the night.
Review: Both Brighton Cafe and Firehouse get four cups out of five. ☕️☕️☕️☕️