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‘Labor of love’: Newly opened Meraki offers superb coffee, cocktails, Greek treats

Calling the Northeast Heights debut of Dutch Bros. Coffee, the Oregon-based drive-through coffee chain, auspicious is an understatement. Lines of cars regularly snake around the building, sometimes extending out onto a busy stretch of Juan Tabo.

While it’s encouraging to see people supporting a new business, I can’t help but think that all that money would be better served going to homegrown operations.

It’s not like there’s a dearth of good coffee shops in town. On the contrary, the city has a thriving coffee scene, one that got an additional boost recently with the opening of Meraki Coffee + Market at Eubank and Juan Tabo NE.

Avocado toast with cucumbers, beets and tomatoes on ciabatta bread. (Richard S. Dargan/for the Journal)

Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee) means “labor of love” in Greek, and that’s a fair way to describe restaurateur Nicole Kapnison’s efforts in transforming an idle function room at the corner of her father Nick’s Greek restaurant, Mykonos, into a whitewashed, light-filled coffee shop. The exterior walls are made up of garage doors that can be opened in warm weather, instantly transforming the premises into an al fresco setting.

The menu is made up of brunch items, baked goods and coffee drinks, with a few nods to the Kapnisons’ Greek heritage. There’s also a market where you can pick up seasoning packets, coffee, jam and decorative items.

Meraki’s quinoa and oatmeal bowl is served with sliced apples, dried cranberries and crushed walnuts. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The brunch menu is evenly divided between breakfast and lunch items, and almost everything is under $10. To start your day, there’s a Quinoa & Oatmeal Bowl ($8) topped with sliced apples and dried cranberry. Crushed walnuts and chia seeds bring some texture to the creamy, nutty grains, and the serving is ample enough for leftovers.

Meraki’s version of avocado toast ($7) is simple and well-balanced, with sliced tomato, radish and cucumber over a fluffy pile of avocado on a big slab of fresh ciabatta.

Goddess toast with marinated tomatoes, cucumbers and arugula over Greek yogurt spread. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Also served on ciabatta, the Goddess Toast ($7) works classic Mediterranean flavors together in a colorful mix over a spread of Greek yogurt. The twists of marinated tomatoes are the star here, far more tender and sweet than the sun-dried variety they resemble.

Meraki’s version of Greek doughnuts, or loukoumades, are soaked in honey and topped with crushed walnuts and powdered sugar. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The Greeks have been making doughnuts for several centuries, and Meraki honors that tradition with its version of loukoumades ($4). The fried dough balls retain their crisp shell and piping-hot interior even after a soaking in warm honey. The serving of eight doughnuts, topped with chopped walnuts and powdered sugar, is shareable and makes an ideal accompaniment for coffee.

Meraki’s connection with Mykonos means that the baked goods are made on-site. I wanted to try the lavender cheesecake cookies ($1), but they had run out, so I settled for a lovely raspberry pastry ($3) with icing and a jam filling.

Meraki’s coffee drinks are made with beans from Albuquerque-based Slow Burn Coffee Roasters. Perhaps the most unusual drink on the menu is the Greek Frappe ($4), a blend of whipped coffee and milk that was supposedly invented in the city of Thessaloniki in the 1950s and has since become a national drink. In Meraki’s version, the whipped, sweetened coffee forms a thick layer above the milk, and a shot of Madagascar vanilla bourbon syrup ($1 extra) adds a touch of sweetness and flavor without overwhelming the coffee component.

Meraki’s Golden Milk Latte ($5) doesn’t contain coffee; rather, it consists of milk steamed with turmeric, cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper and ginger and topped with rose petals. It’s spicy, aromatic, and surprisingly full-bodied. If I were weaning myself off coffee, this would be my go-to drink.

Kapnison is an authority on spirits, having recently unveiled her own line of gin and vodka under the label Nikle Co., so it’s hardly a surprise that Meraki has a few cocktails on the menu. Choices includes brunch stalwarts such as Bellini ($8) and more novel, seasonally appropriate potions like chai-spiced hot buttered rum ($8) and pumpkin spice white Russian ($8).

I ordered through Selflane, and the food and drinks were ready in about 15 minutes. The two servers were friendly and well-informed about the menu. There are a dozen or so tables for two set up along the sidewalk outside.

Meraki Coffee + Market is both forward-looking and conscious of its heritage, with a stylish setting and an attention to detail that bode well for its future.