I was woo’d into Sydney by the pictures — somehow its decadence infiltrated my social media outlets, and I found myself salivating at my computer wondering what IS this heavenly place that can make smashed avocado on toast look so good? And then I saw their off-menu S’mores Hot Chocolate: overflowing with graham crackers, chocolate and caramel syrup, and toasted marshmallows. It’s safe to say that Sydney had me at “hot chocolate.”
Open for only two months, Sydney is the latest edition to the burgeoning coffee shop culture, and evidence of JWU’s influence on the Rhode Island food scene. But before I knew any of the details, I came in merely as a curious wanderer, determined to delight myself with breakfast and lunch and, of course, hot chocolate.
The first time I dined at Sydney, I was made aware that parking is a challenge. It’s just around the corner from the train station, but spots fill up quickly, and meter-hating person that I am, I decided to park at my house and walk 20 minutes. (I’m sure there are other options for those who are less insane.) At first, I thought GPS led me astray — it’s the ground floor of a high-rise building with an unassuming entrance. But the writing on the window suggested I had arrived, so I went inside.
And let there be light! White walls, marbled tiles, windows windows windows, hanging light bulbs inside of glass orbs, white tables, wooden tables, bright hardwood floors: the interior radiates. It was this feeling of airiness, openness, and light that made me think: yes, this is the Australian vibe. It was 10:30am on a Friday, and there were just enough people to be lively, but still possible to find a seat. My friend chose a long community table, bedecked with tall green topiaries and repurposed wood, “perfect for Instagramming.” We deliberated over the menu for longer than we should have — it’s small, but everything from the Brekkie Bowl (Greek yogurt with lemon curd, toasted seed + nut granola, toasted coconut and seasonal berries) to the Avocado Smash (country toast with ripe avocados, tomatoes, feta, microgreens, with optional smoked salmon and/or RI local egg) sounded healthy and delicious.
At the last second, my friend strayed from our plan and chose the Savory Ricotta Toast (topped with bacon), so I opted for the Sweet Ricotta Toast (with honey and jam), and we shared them for a sweet-and-savory experience. Sipping chai and matcha lattes, respectively, I promised one of the employees I’d return the next day, happy they have a rewards program.
Saturday was D-Day, both for me and for the restaurant (it’s their busiest day of the week). I knew without a doubt what I wanted: S’mores Hot Chocolate and an Avocado Smash, with salmon. My bill came to $19 and my friend seemed startled. “What did you order?” he asked. But with great hot chocolate comes great responsibility. Once he remembered this was the reason we came, he got one, too, plus a salad so we could feel justified in our indulgences.
It turned out that the “employee” to whom I’d excitedly promised I’d return was actually the general manager, Catherine Doomany. Standing at maybe 5’0”, with a huge smile and a youthful glow — matching that of the restaurant — I asked for a few minutes of her time. She kindly met with me on her day off to answer my questions.
The vision behind Sydney was more than just an Australian-themed café; they wanted to capture the mentality and atmosphere of an Australian café, a country where 90% of coffee shops are independently owned, where people go to relax and savor the time, where the coffee is expertly prepared and the quality of ingredients is top of the line. This is why you shouldn’t expect Starbucks-like efficiency when “popping in” for a latte. These baristas, trained in NYC, treat this process as a craft. Their hot coffees and lattes are Illy coffee; they serve a single-origin cold brew from Guatemala; their loose-leaf teas are individually bagged, and they actually used a butane torch to toast the marshmallows on that hot chocolate. (Unfortunately, the off-menu hot chocolate is no longer available, but keep an eye out for a new honeybee latte coming soon!)
Their attention to detail doesn’t end with coffee and tea. They take extreme care in finding locally farmed and produced ingredients, from Buffoni farms chicken to Fox Point pickles, extending their reaches to drivable New England distances whenever possible. They adapt their menu by the season and offer surprise specials (I was sad to learn I missed the Greek sandwich), and they are intentional with their products, aspiring to customer loyalty. Some fun facts: they run Instagram contests and give away gift cards; they post “passwords” that confer $1 off drinks if mentioned at checkout; and they even gave a free Avocado Smash to one of their repeat customers who kept posting beautiful photos on social media — one of which likely graced my phone.
In addition to the menu options, they have a display case full of ready-made items, and their JWU pastry chefs fill the sweets counter with raspberry mocha muffins and blackberry scones (vegan options available). This young company has fresh ideas and the drive and dedication to produce them. It’s just one of the many reasons that Sydney is no longer the Land Down Under — it has risen to the top.
400 Exchange Street, PVD