Best selection: Bella’s Cafe & Catering
Best quality food: Crema Brew
Most social: Crema Brew
Best non-social hangout: Starbucks
Best social hangout: Crema Brew
Best coffee house on a Sunday: Bella’s Cafe & Catering
Best over-all: Crema Brew
Longest hours: Starbucks
Bella’s Cafe & Catering
323 Middle Street
7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Decor: Attractive and comfortable. However, my table was sticky, as were the empty tables to my left and right. Seating includes round tables, a bar table, a square table and conversation circle. Seats range from aluminum to cushioned. The south wall is a cushioned bench with pillows and individual tables.
Menu: Comprehensive and will keep you fed from breakfast through dinner. Vegetarian and children options. Prices are moderate. My large hot tea and home-baked blueberry muffin came to $6.98 including $1 tip. The muffin was competent. Wait staff says all food is homemade.
Service area: Clean and fully functional. Two choices of creamers, milk and half-and-half. Several choices of non-dairy whitener. Choice of diet sweeteners plus white sugar and raw sugar, but no honey. Free ice water including paper cups.
Vibe: Lots of conversations at tables, but no table-to-table conversation. Wide range of ages and genders, but not races; entirely white, which is a common complaint about downtown New Bern.
Service: Friendly greeting as you arrive and bid you well as you leave.
I’ve been coming to this location for a decade, through numerous owners. Of them, the current arrangement is the most professional but least personable. The food is good and there is a wide selection. The restrooms have been redone, which is somewhat of a shame. The men’s room was once decorated by a hand-painted edition of the Sun Journal sports page. Now it is nicely decorated with solid paint and neutral wall hangings. A work of art has been lost. Fun fact: there is a disused door to the left of the women’s room that leads to the basement, which was intended to be used as a Cold War-era fallout shelter.
914 Broad Street, northeast intersection of Queen and Broad streets
7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays
Decor: Homey and comfortable. Seating at large and small tables arranged in the front section that is lined with windows and the back section that is windowless. Facilities are immaculately clean.
Menu: Somewhat limited but adequate and deliciously homemade (you can watch them bake pies, cakes, and pastries in the back of the shop). Breakfast includes hot egg and cheese on Carolina Bagel bagels. Lunch includes egg, tuna, or chicken salad on home baked potato bread, Carolina Bagel bagels, or served alone in a cup, topped off with two cherry tomatoes. Daily soup specials. There is a selection of bagged chips and other snacks and sweets. What sets Crema Brew apart is its baked goods. Don’t tell your mother, but her pies don’t hold a candle to Crema Brew’s. Prices range from reasonable to free. Yes, if you need a cup and can’t afford it, ask and they will give you one.
Service area: Clean and functional. Includes half-and-half and non-dairy whiteners, white sugar, honey, and sugar free sweeteners. Free ice water with cups. Stirrers are dried linguini. Straws are cardboard and won’t kill the turtles.
Vibe: The other thing that sets Crema Brew apart is its friendly nature. Customers are a wide range of ages, genders, and races. Lots of inter-table and table-to-table conversations. The mom and pop and daughter who own and run Crema Brew regularly come from behind the counter and socialize with customers. It’s not long before they remember your name. It’s not long before you strike up new friendships from among other customers.
Service: Fast and friendly. Really friendly.
I’ve been going to Crema Brew since the day it opened. In fact I switched my go-to coffee house to Crema Brew and own a Crema Brew cap (gift from a friend) and hoodie sweatshirt (gift from the wife). The owners, Roxanne and Donovan Zook, and their daughter, Regina, will become part of your family if you let them. The coffee house is located within a former filling station-then-dry cleaner that sat empty for a couple of decades. They did all the work themselves that they could that didn’t require a permit.
3182 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (New Bern Mall outparcel)
5:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Decor: Industrial. Several small cushy chairs beside small tables, with one large table in the center surrounded by chairs.
Menu: Typical Starbucks fare but not as extensive as advertised. They frequently run out. Nothing is homemade; everything is frozen and, if heat is required, microwaved. Moderate prices.
Service area: Serviceable but often messy. No free water.
Vibe: Typical Starbucks. Don’t expect a social experience unless you bring one with you. Longest hours.
The Starbucks on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is New Bern’s only standalone Starbucks … something the city was once excited to get. It’s on the smallish side as one would expect in a small town at a mall outparcel. There are three in-store Starbucks, at Target and the two Harris Teeters. The Starbucks inside the larger Harris Teeter on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has more spacious seating than a typical Starbucks, whereas the one at the Carolina Colours location has less seating. Target fits neatly in-between.