Laid back and relaxed, Cenote premieres as a light in the coffee shop darkness that is East Cesar Chavez Street. A bold sign with scalloped edges heralds drivers and pedestrians to the revamped historical home just east of I-35. A handful of picnic tables sit in the front and the side yard, some beneath the shade of a large tree. A string of small, bright bulbs line the bottom edge of the roof, and a white picket fence, its paint peeling, wraps around the front of the house.
Inside, patrons are greeted by an odd mix: relaxed vintage meets clean modernity. The walls, freshly painted a sea-foam green with gaudy gold accents, and the gleaming polyurethane-stained table tops speak to the latter theme, while the hand-me-down, gently-used Victorian couches hark back to the days when the house was constructed in 1887.
Cenote brews up Austin’s own Cuvée Coffee and offers gluten-free pastries from Sippie’s Studio, as well as glutinous goodies from Quack’s Bakery and Rockstar bagels throughout the day. They also serve dinner in the evening until 8 p.m.
Following the tradition of other savvy coffee shops around town (Thunderbird, Dolce Vita and JP’s Java, to name a few), Cenote also serves alcohol. They have a simple but interesting beer list featuring Fireman’s #4, Black Hat, St. Arnold’s Fancy Lawnmower, Lonestar and Left Hand Milk Stout, among others.
On my visit last week, a Van Morrison album was playing over the sound system while a host of people — mostly alone or in pairs — sipped at beer, a latte or a glass of wine. I ordered the salmon ceviche and a Lost Gold IPA.
Despite the ceviche’s less-than-appealing presentation, the dish was surprisingly good for coffee shop fare. The salmon itself was fresh and further enlivened with a bright sprig of parsley and lemon juice. The fatty creaminess of the avocado rounded out the citrus and melted into the fish, yielding a rich, decadent texture.
The IPA, served cold and sweaty, was great as well, with a delicious and biting bitterness.
When the lights dimmed as the sun set, the Van Morrison album was replaced by a softer, James Taylor-esque acoustic playlist and one of the employees lit votives to place on each table.
I ordered a dirty chai, with the reservation that most places don’t do it well (exceptions: Dominican Joe and Dolce Vita), and Cenote was, unfortunately, no exception. The drink was weak and tasted watered down, although it cost nearly $5.
This place does deserve credit, however. The baristas are friendly and seem to be doing the best they can to make Cenote into a great neighborhood coffee shop. The food was excellent (and the beer, although they can’t take credit for brewing it, was good too), and while there’s still natural light streaming in through the large windows during the day, it’s a good place to study.
The outdoor seating is perfect for cherishing the few precious weeks of true springtime weather with a beer or a glass of wine and good conversation.