As I progress through life I’ve learned that anomalies fascinate me. They capture my attention. Maybe the same is true for you. We all love the unexpected gift, the unexplainable headline, the café seemingly far from what’s trending in Portland or San Francisco, but delivers anyway. That, my friend, is ZombieRunner in spades.
ZombieRunner Café is located in Palo Alto. It’s housed in a running shop, as in running and marathons, you know running right– that aerobic sport that people used to do before they figured out cycling.
ZombieRunner is tucked away in a converted art house /movie theater. The exterior sports a real ticket booth, and an overhead marquee proclaiming artisan coffee. A sidewalk sign board in neon colors (no chalk and slate here folks) touts their latte was voted best in the city. These “voted best of” prizes are usually the result of some chad hanging ballot box stuffing chamber of commerce shenanigans, not a democratic vote of the coffee masses, so I give them no heed, and walk inside.
When I walk through the door, I see no coffee, and think maybe the coffee place was the last tenant evicted back when Starbucks hit town. The clerk, walking up from a sea of running shorts and electrolyte fizz packs asks me if he can help.
“I am only looking for coffee,” I say.
“Sure,” he responds, and points West.
What I encounter next is what coffee is all about: a lone La Marzocco GB-5, and a barista named Courtney who knows how to use it. My litmus test question in any café is, “may I have a Macchiato please?” While I say this I extend my hand and cup it in a very small ball. I then follow it up with the sentence fragment…” a true Macchiato?” If the response is yes, I know I am in a place that has some concept of the way things should be. Courtney said yes, and I was on my way.
I grabbed a spot in the seating area. This area was sans ubiquitous hipster wood paneling and reclaimed ship hatch doors. There are a lot of coffee related items to score on: baby chemex(with the mondo big filters) , aeropress, and so on and so forth. Refreshing. To the South was the women’s running section, to the East a wall of what looked like very high tech running shoes, and to the North there was Courtney, working the GB-5, steaming, frothing, extracting. The Macchiato was ready in short order. Most importantly it was done right; the espresso and milk mixture was thick and deep. The latte art and slight crust had a nice tension on the top of the cup.
A line formed just after 9. 9 is when ZombieRunner opens. Not so good on the late start, but I got the impression the locals were willing to wait until 9 to fill their travel mugs and cups with the ZombieRunner brew, and so they did zombie-like from off the street. Courtney knew them all. She knew what they wanted. She asked questions about their vacations, and families. There was a personal interaction between barista and patron I had not seen since the days before social networks and SEO driven marketing. The interaction was simply human, authentic, and one on one.
I don’t know if Courtney was headed to one of the many barista competitions in the near future in places like Iceland or Tokyo. And, I don’t care. I do know that ZombieRunner café is a great way to chill in Palo Alto, drink well made artisan extracted coffee, and buy whole beans—they do roast their own. When in that part of the world you should drop on by. It’s worth the drive. They are located at 429 S. California Palo Alto, California 94306. Phone is 650-325-2048. Find them on line at http://www.zombierunner.com/about/palo_alto_store/