Food & Dining
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Why: Torque Coffee just celebrated its first anniversary in downtown Vancouver. I've been to some very cool coffee places on both sides of the river, and I find Torque possesses attributes of each, pulling off its one-of-a-kind character with ease. Barely a block away from the Interstate 5 southbound freeway entrance, Torque is industrial, unruffled, and inviting.
Atmosphere: The space, which was originally commissioned for industrial purposes, has been retrofitted to provide coffee, from bean-to-brew, as well as a casual, comfortable place to catch up with a friend, meet a business associate or access the Internet.
The large coffee bar is set center stage and accessed from three sides. Seating, of which there is plenty, consists of a potpourri of retro-style furniture and an attractive wall bench around the perimeter. There are also a few bistro sets outside next to a striking mural that lends a courtyard impression to the surroundings. Other than high windows that allow in a lot of natural light, florescent tubes, simple pendant fixtures, and a trio of beautiful green decorative fixtures help to lessen the visual distance between the concrete floor and the high ceiling. Art is displayed on a wall next to a roll-up door (opened if weather permits) and a ramp, flanked by wood rails, leads off the main floor to the restrooms.
What I tried: I tried a regular, house roast coffee and a ham and butter baguette. I also took home a coconut muffin, a rhubarb hand pie, an iced oatmeal cookie, and a fig buckwheat scone.
The coffee had an extra bold, deep-roasted flavor that was both rustic and satisfying. The ham and butter baguette was made with prosciutto, a delicious alternative to the expected ham component. The baguette was pretty tough, though I didn't find this to be negative; it gave it hearty appeal instead.
Of the pastries that I took home to try, my favorite was the rhubarb hand pie for its buttery, super flaky shell, and tart, wholesome tasting filling that didn't taste overloaded with sugar.
Each pastry was distinct and expertly made and, similar to the hand pie, none presented an overly sweet experience. The most unusual was the fig and buckwheat scone that was created in a pinwheel fashion, securing the fig paste evenly between each ring.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Tea is also available. All the pastries at Torque are supplied by a bake shop in Northeast Portland.
Other observations: The vibe at Torque is different than that of a designer coffee shop. Instead of the "see and be seen" that often accompanies the general atmosphere of name-brand establishments, Torque offers a refreshing come-as-you-are, down-to-earth experience.
The baristas were friendly and polite.
The spaciousness of Torque allows a sense of privacy at each seating configuration.
Cost: Coffee and espresso drinks come in 8-, 12-, and 16-ounce sizes and range from $2 to $4.75. Pastries cost $2 to $4. Sandwiches are $6.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Where: 501 Columbia St., Vancouver.
Health score: Torque Coffee Roasters received a score of 15 on June 13. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.