Saturday, August 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: Roy's Station Coffee & Tea (San Jose -- Japantown)

Summary: Five stars out of five -- the perfect coffee shop for toddler parents. Creative drinks, delicious food, a great patio and a wonderful selection of toys and games to entertain your little one make for a fun, relaxing experience for all.

If there's one thing I've learned about being a toddler parent, it's that dealing with a two year-old is a lot easier once you've had your caffeine in the morning.

As we've traveled from playground to playground in the past year -- often early in the day to avoid the blazing sun -- Toddler X and I have hit up our fair share of coffee shops. I can tell you which Starbucks is closest to almost any playground you can name (Bramhall Park? The Starbucks at the corner of Willow and Meridian. Hester Park? Try the store at Park and Naglee. War Memorial Playground? The one at Washington and Newhall.) and I can roll off a list of drive-thru Caffino shops at the drop of a hat. Whether it's walk-in or drive-thru, my goal is usually this: get some caffeine in my system as quickly as possible before the toddler melts down.

But you know what I really miss? The good old days, when I would drink a latte at the coffee shop, out of a real mug, while I relaxed and watched the passers-by. A place where I'd actually have to think about my order because the menu looked so enticing. A place where the food options were creative and unique, and so was the decor.

But, alas, there's no such thing as relaxing with a coffee when you have a toddler, right? Coffee shops aren't the most kid-friendly places -- many don't even have high chairs, and there's certainly nothing to entertain wee ones (aside from trying to knock hot drinks onto themselves -- what a blast!). Guess I'll just have to save the happy sipping for sixteen years from now, the day after we drop Toddler X off at college. Right?

Wrong! Gloriously, wonderfully wrong! Deliciously, caffinatedly wrong! Today we discovered a place where you can have it all -- a delicious coffee, a yummy treat, a relaxing experience, and a happy, happy toddler (yep, that's my definition of "having it all" right now...gotta dream big). Welcome to Roy's Station in Japantown, near Downtown San Jose!

We've seen Roy's several times when we've visited Japantown, and a friend who used to live nearby had recommended it. But this morning, as we traveled from Bernal Park (so-so) to Ryland Park (a big yes!), I was feeling a little sluggish, so we decided to stop at Roy's, which is right in the middle of the two, for some food and energy.

Here's what we found:

Roy's Station is located on the corner of 5th and Jackson at the heart of San Jose's Japantown, in the old Mobil gas station that was run by the current owner's grandfather fifty years ago. Parking is ample on both 5th Street and Jackson, though most of it seems to be metered.

The outside patio at Roy's -- situated where all those old-timey cars used to park -- has about a dozen tables, a few located underneath the overhang that used to house the gas pumps. Inside, you can see some of the paraphernalia from the olden days, including a working Coca-Cola machine that has been on the premises since 1957.

Like any coffee shop, Roy's has a list of drinks -- coffees, espressos, teas -- on a board behind the cashier, a case of bakery items and prepared foods adjacent to the counter, and an area where the barista hands you your drink. There are several tables inside, as well as two bar areas with stools. At first glance, there's nothing that shouts "This is the greatest place in the world!"

But as you look closer, you see that the coffee and tea menus vary widely from what you'd find at a big chain, and the food offerings do too (when was the last time you had a fresh pork bun at Starbucks?). There are unique-sounding teas, creative espresso drinks, exciting smoothies. The Barista's Specials list posted on the cash register features one enticing concoction after another. A Churro Churro Latte? Yes, please! Coconut Chai? Mmm! Jonny's Bananas Foster? Okay, that might be a bit too much. :) The tea list -- including a number of herbal teas, if you're not addicted to caffeine like I am -- is wonderful too.

I settled on a Maggie's Mocha Toffee latte, Mr. X got an iced coffee, and we ordered an almond croissant and an apricot bar to split. (They also have healthy toddler -- or adult -- breakfast options like yogurt-berry parfaits and oatmeal. Of course, I went with the croissant instead, rationalizing it with "at least it wasn't the chocolate one".) The service was friendly and quick.

We then moved over to the pick-up area to wait for our drinks, which is when we discovered the mother lode: a shelf full of games, toys and books that had "happy toddler" -- and therefore "relaxed parents" -- written all over them!

There is something for every age and interest. Basic nesting blocks and bead mazes. Trains and tea sets. Full tubs of play food. Magnatiles. Even board games, for toddlers who -- unlike mine -- aren't inclined to destroy them immediately. All of this is set out, available for patrons to grab as they will. If that doesn't say "Families are welcome here!", I don't know what does.

As we moved outside with our drinks -- mine in a real mug! hooray! -- it became clear that families have gotten the message. Of the seven tables occupied outside, five had babies or toddlers. All had happy parents, enjoying their food and drink. If heaven is located in an old service station-turned-coffee shop, this is what it looks like.

And the drinks, the food? Fantastic. The almond croissant was especially memorable -- perhaps the best pastry (not just croissant) I have ever eaten. Order it warmed up on a plate for full effect. Toddler X downed his apricot bar as he played with Magnatiles (extra fun on the metal outdoor tables!) and "cooked" plastic bacon in a plastic pan. When it was time to go, he was the one who was reluctant to leave the coffee shop behind.

Other things to note: I only saw one high chair, but the outdoor chairs are sturdy and pretty well-enclosed for older toddlers to sit in. Dogs are welcome on the patio, and they have a bowl of water out for them. There is a bathroom -- no changing table, but nice and clean. And -- for you eco-conscious folks out there -- a cool fact: Roy's Station is run on solar energy.

So there you have it -- a truly toddler-friendly coffee shop that will be loved by both parents and kids. A cute location in the heart of Japantown. A delicious and unique menu of food and drink. A pleasant patio for relaxation, and of course the kicker -- a stack of shelves filled with toys. If there's a negative to this place, I can't think of it.

Next time you're in the area -- or even if it requires a drive -- toddle into Roy's Station. You'll be pleased you did.

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