Straw Valley Café
5420 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.
New Hope Commons, Durham

You may not have heard about Straw Valley Café from the Independent Weekly, Herald-Sun, or Carpe Durham articles on this coffeehouse, bar, and art gallery, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting it. What might is its difficult-to-access location. It’s right off of Business 15-501; you can see it on the side of the road, but you can’t access it without turning onto the surface road right behind New Hope Commons. Take that first road past the Barnes and Nobles and Jason’s Deli, then follow it until you see the sign pointing toward the café’s gravel driveway. Then park and follow the signs to reach the coffee shop proper.

You’ll pass a fence on the way that obscures the hidden jewel of the rest of the property. But I’ll get there in a minute.

The main wares Straw Valley Café offers are coffee (no crazy drinks, just the regular brews and espresso options), beer (about 10 bottles, nothing local but a good range of Dogfish Head, Founder’s, Arrogant Bastard, etc.), and wine (about 15 by the glass, probably another 15 by the bottle only). The mix of sandwiches, tarts, and baked goods changes daily and is supplied by Mark Day Catering and Zen Cat Bakery. There wasn’t a huge selection of nibbles, but you’ll find something interesting, and there are options for vegans as well. I chose an orange-rosemary scone, and it was delicious.

The glaze offered a vivid orange presence, and the rosemary flavor in the scone was delicate. I decided on my standard cappuccino to go with it, and they get points for telling me I didn’t need to order it short because they make their caps to European standards already—I just don’t need all that extra milk most of the time.

You’ll note that everything was served on paper or plastic products, which is one demerit for the café. If they switched to reusable dishes, perhaps even crafted ones that fit the atmosphere they are aiming for, it would be a plus.

About that atmosphere . . . Straw Valley Café is a huge property made of former art studios and a large outdoors area. The art studios, called the Sanderson and Black Mountain houses, are set up with modern furniture and changing art that are all available to purchase or just to recline in while you relax.

Outside the houses, you can easily find a spot alone or enjoy the large courtyard with a group.

That stage is begging for concerts. Right behind it is a barn used for wine tastings that wasn’t open this midweek afternoon.

The clientele consisted mainly of several middle-aged women and pairs of folks meeting up for coffee and checking out the property. Just enjoying the view of the modernist lines of the house and the greenery makes it a prime location for coffeehouse regulars like myself.

They also stay open late! That’s such a huge deal for me, being a night owl. A lot of coffeehouses in the area close around 6 or 7—Straw Valley Café stays open until 9 on Sunday, 10 on Monday through Wednesday, and 11 on Thursday through Saturday. I know where I’ll be spending productive, pleasant evenings outdoors in the future.

As for their food and beverage, Straw Valley Café would benefit from adding more food and drink options and upgrading what they serve them on and with, but that won’t stop me from making frequent use of their facilities.

Reviewed 21 Mar 12.

Straw Valley Cafe on Urbanspoon

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