If Frisco isn’t the first place you think of when you think about good coffee, it would be hard to blame you. The specialty coffee scene in Dallas proper has enjoyed a rapid explosion over the last several years, and while consumers throughout the DFW are increasingly focusing on local, quality-oriented brands — and many local favorites in the restaurant world such as Cane Rosso and Neighborhood Services have successfully expanded their presence northward — coffee has been much slower to spread throughout the 'burbs.
Numerous independent shops have come and gone in Frisco over the last decade in addition to failed attempts at infiltrating the market by out-of-state chains such as It’s A Grind and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. While there are local coffee favorites like Global Peace Factory and Coffee 'n Cream, both of which have managed to garner loyal followings, they are a far cry from the high-end shops that can be found in Dallas, and any Frisco residents longing for any semblance of a coffee culture have likely been feeling left behind.
In late June of this year, Nerdvana opened its doors, offering refuge to the forsaken coffee nerds of Frisco and whatever other kinds of nerds may be seeking a place to call their own.
Nerdvana is located on the ground floor of Gearbox Software’s Frisco headquarters and is the brainchild of Kristy Pitchford and her husband, Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox, which has developed the Borderlands and Brothers in Arms game franchises among a variety of other titles.
The business is split into two entities: Nerdvana Coffee + Shop, which is a coffee shop that also retails an impressive variety library of board games, and Nerdvana Food + Spirits, an adjoining restaurant and bar with 24 craft beers on tap, an extensive cocktail menu and six video game consoles available for patrons to use.
The food concept opened in November with the coffee bar preceding it by several months, but Nerdvana Food + Spirits was conceived first. While attending a video game trade show in Australia, the Pitchfords visited a cocktail and video gaming lounge called Manabar. With this establishment acting as their muse, the Pitchfords spent the next couple years refining the concept. When actual development of the place got underway, the Pitchfords heard the Gearbox staff, many of whom have relocated from other tech-centric areas, lament the lack of quality coffee in the area.
Enter Nerdvana Coffee + Shop.
For many new, independent shops in the suburbs, the task of selling an esoteric product to an audience that is less fluent with specialty coffee — and whose primary, if not sole, exposure to coffee houses has been the drive-thru at Starbucks — can be a serious hurdle.
“We have a lot of opportunity to educate our Frisco customers about coffee and the idea of micro-roasting,” says Mike Junio, executive chef and director of operations. “It has been fun for our baristas to spend the time educating and selling our customers a new way to enjoy their coffee.”
Not everyone coming in is unfamiliar with good coffee.
“Frisco has a growing population of young professionals that have moved here from bigger cities for work,” Junio says. “Most of those ‘transplants’ have brought a pre-existing knowledge of coffee with them. Those customers seem to be relieved to have our presence in the suburb they are trying to adapt to.”
Nerdvana primarily serves coffees from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, one of Dallas’ largest and most visible specialty coffee companies. You can always find their Hidden City blend in espresso and their Rosemont Crest blend as their batch-brewed house coffee. Additionally, they feature seasonal, single-origin offerings from the roaster as both batch-brewed coffee and pour-over brewed via Chemex brewers.
In addition to the Oak Cliff Coffee, the shop also offers a monthly rotating guest-roaster and will always have a single-origin coffee from this secondary brand as a batch-brew and/or pour-over option. For the month of December, the rotating offering is from Tweed Coffee Roasters, the roasting arm of the same fine folks as Houndstooth cafes. The baristas at Nerdvana had Tweed’s Aricha, a naturally processed Ethiopian coffee, dialed in just fine, and the coffee had a full body, a foundation of strawberry and blueberry sweetness and a dark cherry acidity.
The coffee menu was impressively diverse in comparison with anything else in the area; however, the baristas' ability to explain the array of coffees essentially amounted to pointing to a chalkboard list of coffees with flavor descriptors. With the complexity of the coffee program relative to other businesses in the area, a little more engagement regarding the coffee menu could go a long way. That said, the staff was enthusiastic and gracious and overall delivered a genuinely high-caliber hospitality experience.
If you’re more in the mood for a milk-based drink, Nerdvana offers the standard array of espresso and milk drinks along with one very non-standard option: You can get an image printed on your latte.
These are not the leaves and flowers that you will see free-poured by hand in most cafes. This is an actual image printed by what is essentially a computer printer that uses coffee dust in place of ink.
The machine that does the printing is called Ripples, and if you quiver with anticipation at the prospect of instagramming a latte’d selfie, you’ll need to download the Ripples app. With this app, you can upload any image that you’d like and designate it to the Nerdvana location. The barista makes the drink as usual, spoons a layer of white foam over the top of the drink and then places the cup into the Ripples machine, where the image is printed into the foam with a fine coffee powder. The powder dissolves into the foam and you are left with a fairly detailed image on top of your drink.
“It’s not commonly asked for,” Junio admits, “but the people that love it really love it."
Despite the gimmick, the lattes here are done well. The espresso blended with the milk for a sweet, butterscotch, slightly nutty flavor with a buttery mouth-feel.
There are a variety of non-coffee options here as well, including tea from local Zakti, super-rich sipping chocolate made by steaming milk mixed with chocolate ganache, fresh-pressed juices and a variety of pastries, all made in-house.
Among other pastry goods, the shop bakes the bread used for their toast menu, which includes both sweet options like cinnamon pecan, as well as savory choices like a caprese. In a regional twist on the artisanal toast menus on trend around the country, here it's made with thick-cut Texas toast. The toast has a great, fluffy, toasted texture and a crust with a satisfying crunch. The only downside here is the shop can get busy and lead times on toast can get a bit long.
Luckily, while you wait there are plenty of games in the shop’s “lending library.” Aside from retailing a wide selection of specialized board games curated by “the game legends at Madness Comics and Games,” the store also has shelf upon shelf of games for use by patrons.
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“We were pleasantly surprised to see how many tables play the games from the lending library,” Junio says. “In the evenings and on the weekend, about four out of five tables are playing some form of table game.”
There’s a lot going on at Nerdvana, to say the least, and they seem to be doing most of it really well. The shop easily has the best coffee in Frisco, but even within the context of the greater DFW area, this place is unique. As a variety of groups and individuals come and go over the coarse of a morning, everyone is utilizing the space in their own way, engaging, interacting over games, working and an aura of inclusiveness is ever apparent.
And where else can you get a picture of your cat printed on your latte?
Nerdvana, 5757 Main St., Frisco