Review No. 32: Starbucks-Oak Street
905 East Oak Street
19.2 percent of Conway restaurants reviewed
He Said: When I was told by Commandant Jones that reviewing all restaurants in Conway not only meant every single McDonalds and Sonic, but also the Starbucks in town, I begged to differ. In my mind Starbucks was not a restaurant by any stretch of the imagination. Never having been much of a coffee drinker in the first place, my first impressions of Starbucks had not developed since the franchise first broke on the scene: It was a silly and pretentious place, a marketing scam by which silly and pretentious people were persuaded to spend $5 on a fifty-cent cup of coffee and then compliment one another on their good taste. And by the way, get off my lawn.
Aside from which, as far as I knew, there was nothing to actually eat at Starbucks, except for the occasional scone or muffin to munch on while you were having your incredibly overpriced coffee. Turns out, though, they actually do have other things to eat now, mainly things like breakfast sandwiches and the like. So in fact, you could get an actual breakfast at Starbucks. So I was trapped. We had to eat there and review it.
She Said: Well, I like Starbucks. I go through the drive-up here a lot before heading to Little Rock—it’s on the way!—and JoJo and her colleagues there provide quick and friendly service. AND, Starbucks will give your puppy a free mini-cup of whipped cream (a “puppy cup”) if they even see a dog in your car! I also rely on Starbucks at home and abroad for a place to rest, wait, use the WiFi or the ladies’ room. In Little Rock, I’ll stop in to one of the many well-located stores between meetings to work. This, to me, is one of the main attractions of Starbucks, besides the wonderfully consistent handmade coffee drinks: the very valuable third space, a place that is not home or work to socialize, write, meet a friend, indulge in a treat or just be alone in public. On the day you and I went, Ruud, we took our laptop computers for a mid-day snack, a hot drink and some peaceful work time.
He Said: I think for most people, the ambience here is the front seat of their car, since most people go through the drive-through (Yes, that word has a gh at the end. Stop leaving it off. But I digress). That line can get pretty long, and besides, we want to eat inside the restaurant when we can, so we did so. It’s not a bad place—fairly comfortable seating, and tables that have plug-ins and WiFi connections, enabling you to come in, park at a table, and do your work or social media thing on your laptop as you sip your overpriced coffee.
She Said: It’s always pleasant at Sbucks, unless some coffee klatscher is loud and obnoxious. This particular Starbucks is roomy enough and bright with lots of natural sunlight. I like that you can buy a lot of national newspapers here, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal for example. The art is pleasing, not demanding, and every last detail is absolutely on brand. You can also buy lots of good stuff here that always tempts me if I’m waiting, mugs, to-go cups, coffee, treats, etc. I enjoy enjoyable things. And hanging out at Starbucks is enjoyable.
He Said: I’m sure Jones will have some epic coffee order, but I opted for tea, of which they do have a good selection…
She Said: When I lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul in the late ’90s, I listened to a morning radio show on my commute that was hilarious. One day they listed laws the Minnesota State Legislature hadn’t passed but should have, and one of them was that your coffee order should not exceed 11 syllables. My standard order is a grande soy latte, and that’s only five syllables. If it’s late in the day, I’ll get it decaf. That’s seven syllables. In the summer, I might get it iced, morning or afternoon, so at max, that’s eight syllables. Aside from being within the fake laws of Minnesota, this is the perfect Starbucks drink because there is no added sweetener, the espresso is strong and rich but tempered by the slightly sweet soy milk. There are only 170 calories in this cup of strongly branded, commercial love, and sometimes, I have just this for breakfast or lunch: the caffeine gets me going, while the plant protein gives me a little something-something to go on. You have to watch it at Sbucks, though. Some of those drinks with added flavors and whipped cream can be pretty rich. And, the true glory of Starbucks is that this drink tastes the exact same wherever I get it in the whole, wide world.
He Said: I have to keep my consumption of fat to a minimum, as regular readers of this blog are aware. Nearly all of the breakfast sandwiches here contain meat, cheese, and eggs to some degree, all of which are a significant problem for me on the fat scale. The scones and muffins and croissants have a lot of butter, which is not much better. It appeared I was going to have a difficult time eating here. Still, if I didn’t want my entire meal to consist of a cup of tea, I needed to find something. And I did.
All the regular Starbucks sandwiches on display had a calorie count along with them, but on a special shelf sat a new sandwich that had no such information. I assumed it was just being introduced, or even test-marketed. But it was the perfect choice for me: A “Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free, Egg-White Breakfast Sandwich” (and that, Jones, is 16 syllables, but since it’s a sandwich and not a coffee order, I guess the Minnesota National guard won’t be surrounding the house any time soon). And that pretty much describes what was in it. The sandwich was only 230 calories, with 16 grams of protein and, best of all, only 6 grams of fat. That’s right: 6.
So I was all over that choice. And it was…okay. It tasted like bread, turkey and egg whites. But to tell the truth, it was pretty bland. I thought it could use some salt, but one thing that they do not have lying about in Starbucks with their endless supply of sugar and even cinnamon packets for your coffee, is salt in any form. I suppose I could have asked for some, but everybody seemed pretty busy.
She Said: Dude, if you want something, you should ask for it! I really labored over my choice. I was intrigued by the sandwiches and the wrap, but I also really love the croissants at Starbucks. When I allow myself carbs, the “butter croissant” (what croissant isn’t a butter croissant?) is one of my favorite treats, so I stared at that thing of beauty in the case for a while as we both weighed our choices, but in the end I went for a real super-treat: The almond croissant. This was delicious. The croissant was delicate and rich, with the added delight of almond slivers and an almond cream center. It went perfectly with my soy latte. I ate every crumb.
He Said: Hey, put out some packets of salt if you’re going to sell breakfast sandwiches with eggs and stuff. Otherwise, the service was as you expect it at Starbucks. You give them your order and your name, and at some point they get done with whatever you ordered and call your name. Sometimes it takes a little longer, at which point you either fly into a rage and tell them you’re being discriminated against because you are a white male, and tell them they are all going to be deported, or, if you are actually a rational human being, you wait a minute longer and pick up your order. The service here is never extremely speedy, but it is always courteous.
She Said: At Starbucks, bad service is the exception to the rule, and there were no exceptions at this visit. Everything was both efficient and friendly. We were talking, too, on the way home about how you can actually understand Starbucks associates when you go through the drive-through: It’s an enjoyable experience. I had no complaints here. Never do.
What We Got and What We Paid: Reduced fat breakfast sandwich, almond croissant, grande tea and a grande soy latte for $15.71.
He Said: Turns out you can get something to eat here that’s healthy, and you don’t have to drink coffee. So if your wife insists on coming here for “breakfast” at some point, you don’t have to pout.
She Said: The glorious consistency of Starbucks shines through at the Oak Street store, and you can enjoy free WiFi and a civilized third space.
So…He Said and She Said: Come here for coffee, tea, light bites and a place to be.