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Boston Phoenix

Comedians love the idea of making cafés sound like inhospitable drug dens filled with faux-intellectual snobs and vile snacks, but some cafés easily put that stereotype to shame. ULA CAFÉ in Jamaica Plain is one such establishment, where the atmosphere and food alone are enough reason to make the trip. Ula offers a wide variety of sandwiches, desserts, and drinks served by baristas who practically ooze charm. Plus, there’s plenty of room to have a seat and enjoy that brownie and café latte, which are surely two of the most delicious things you’ve ingested all week. Hint: go for the sweet-potato sandwich.

TimeOut Boston

Remember when coffeeshops were places to converse rather than simply plug in and tune out with a laptop? Ula’s relaxed atmosphere helps maintain that “cafe as public sphere” ethos. The staff occasionally shuts down its free Wi-Fi during peak hours, ensuring that the shop isn’t constantly overrun by YouTube-surfing hipsters. The coffees are diverse and delicious—try the Café Cubano with cinnamon and brown sugar—and the sweet potato sandwich can’t be beat. 284 Amory St, Jamaica Plain (617-524-7890, ulacafe.com)

The Boston Globe

SWEET POTATO SANDWICH

This crunchy J.P. haunt is bringing sexy back to flesh-free — proving there’s more to veggie-sandwich construction than doubling up on “garnish,” and that lumbering loaves of multigrain (riddled with seeds the size of multivitamins) aren’t de rigueur. The key to this glorious garden-fest is the thick slab of sugary tuber: Transformed through dry-heat roasting, it plays a sweet, caramelized counterpoint against savory notes of jack cheese, red onion and tangy yogurt-tahini, and provides ballast that herbivore foodstuffs typically lack.

ALSO TRY: “Summer Guest” Sandwich (currently: pimiento cheese and bacon)

mysecretboston.com

In a remote corner of the renovated Haffenreffer Brewery, the hip little Ula Café churns out, of all things, the best popovers you ever tasted. So popular are these crisp-on-the-outside, eggy-and-airy-on-the-inside specialties, the place is constantly running out of them. But don’t worry; there’s a sign that tells you when the next batch will be out of the oven, fresh, hot, and delicious. If you can’t wait, try a fudge brownie, so sweet and rich that we defy you to finish one in a single sitting. (You can take it home for later.) There are also great soups, other baked goods, sandwiches, salads, coffee, and loose-leaf teas, vegetarian and vegan options, free wifi, and outdoor seating. Vitale

Shhh who knew

Portland, Oregon, was founded by settlers from Maine, who also invented the popover by cooking traditional English Yorkshire pudding in custard cups, where it swelled into a hollow pastry.

The Boston Globe

There’s a lot of dead space in Boston right now – giant holes all over the city, as developers wait for financing to thaw. But you’d never know that if you dropped by the Brewery complex, near the Stony Brook T in Jamaica Plain.

On a recent Friday, it thrummed with life. At Ula Café, cheery servers dispensed sweet potato sandwiches and tortilla soup so good you could climb into it. Assorted alterna-types sat at the tables, staring at their laptops, chewing away to the sounds of The Beta Band.

Treadmills whirred and weight machines clanked at Mike’s gym. At Kenyon Woodworking, carpenters dragged whinnying saws through lumber. Rehab specialists at Bay Cove Human Services sat in a meeting room talking quietly. Three happy travelers from Tucson arrived for a tour of the Sam Adams brewery. Outside, two dozen helmeted youths in the Earn-a-Bike program at the nonprofit Bikes Not Bombs tossed water balloons, squealing with delight. Then they took off on a group ride to the Arboretum.

Little kids flitted around big ones in a recital at Tony Williams Dance Center, transforming from black-clad caterpillars into colorful butterflies.

“As a kid, I used to live around here,’’ said Williams, the first African-American principal at the Boston Ballet. “I remember the smell of the hops. At the time, I could never have dreamed I’d end up here.’’

Who could?

This used to be dead space, too. The old Haffenreffer Brewery closed in 1965. Its sprawling, mostly-vacant buildings promptly fell apart, their windows broken, their ceilings crumbling, their cavernous spaces trash-strewn. Its 250 employees were replaced by cats, pigeons, towering weeds, and graffiti. It didn’t help that nearby houses were razed to make way for a highway that, thanks to neighborhood opposition (and possibly divine intervention), never happened.

In 1977, folks at the new Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation had the idea to buy the 16 Haffenreffer buildings and turn them into a place where local businesses could make homes. The community group bought the 150,000-square-foot brewery for $2 a square foot in 1983. Paying peanuts didn’t make them look any less crazy at the time.

They lucked out when Boston Beer Co., brewer of Sam Adams, moved in a couple of years later. Slowly, other light-manufacturing operations followed. After the real estate boom made rents too expensive on quichey Centre Street, other service businesses moved in, too, drawing the public.

Now it is home to architects, cleaners, carpenters, chefs. Kids flock here for dance camps, music lessons, art classes. The gym opens at 5:30 a.m. and the wildly popular restaurant Bella Luna closes at 1 a.m. It’s all very modern, a reflection of its gentrified but still diverse neighborhood. But it’s also mom-and-pop old-fashioned – the beating heart of a neighborhood.

Nothing at the Brewery has happened quickly: It took three decades to bring it back, one business at a time.

By the end of this year, the Brewery will cross a remarkable threshold: Every inch will be rented, and it will employ more people than Haffenreffer did in its heyday. And this despite that fact that the economy is in ruins.

Anywhere else, you would need a big fat corporate tenant to anchor a facility like this. JP doesn’t do corporate; it’s crazy loyal to local business, passionate about community. Twelve-hundred people showed up for the relocation parade when Bella Luna moved into the brewery in March, after 15 years on Centre Street.

When we think about development in Boston, we tend to think in terms of multimillion-dollar mega-projects, condo towers, big-name developers.

Maybe we should think more like JP.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist.

Boston Phoenix

One of the cheapest through-lines in food writing is the anti-chain rant: “Chains are soulless, target the lowest-common denominator, etc.” Lazy stuff. But I do loathe chain coffee shops. I experience soul shrinkage at those places. If there’s one bastion of independent operators worth saving in this world, it’s the neighborhood café.

Ula Café, one such indie, located in the Brewery complex in Jamaica Plain, has all the fundamentals: great coffee and tea, very fine baked goods, free Wi-Fi. But what might surprise you is how good its other food is.

About those basics: coffee drinks are expertly done, served in hefty-feeling mugs and priced smartly, like café lattes for $2.50, $2.90, and $3.30 (that’s small, medium, and large — no coy faux-Italianisms here). The spicy mocha ($2.95/$3.35/$3.75) adds a little chili kick to its frisson of chocolate. Baked goods, turned out fresh on the premises throughout the day, are wonderful, including muffins, scones, cupcakes, and brownies ($2) and cookies (50 cents–$1.50). The bakery’s showstopper, though, is its popover ($1.75), a marvel of crisp, just-browned exterior and eggy interior richness honeycombed with air pockets, at once substantial and ethereal — worth a wait to catch one just from the oven.

Sandwiches are built on excellent Hi-Rise Bread Company products, and this being JP, are very vegetarian/vegan-friendly. Omnivores can enjoy superb egg salad dotted with fresh dill and peas, plus romaine for crunch ($6.75; $4.50/half), while vegans can opt for curried tofu ($7.25/$4.75), a very fine ersatz egg salad with bits of green apple, green onion, raisins, and a toupee of alfalfa sprouts. Daily changing soups ($4.25/bowl; $3.50/cup, including a nice hunk of bread) are also mostly vegan (lactophobes, hold that squiggle of sour cream) and extraordinary, like a thick, Cuban-inspired black-bean soup, an herb-rich lentil, and a pureed butternut squash with a depth of flavor I felt certain meant fine chicken stock (“Mais non,” says the kitchen: just an amazing vegetable stock).

Salads ($6.35/large; $4.15/small) similarly impress with freshness and roundness of flavors, such as the vinaigrette-tossed greens topped with dried fruit, nuts, and good goat cheese. Service can be slow, and tables are often crowded with laptop jockeys and stroller-pushing moms, but friendly and unmistakably sincere service ease those irritations. Hokey as it sounds, Ula really is a neighborhood place with soul, an essential corrective to cookie-cutter corporate $5-latte factories.

Ula Café, located at 384 Amory Street, in Jamaica Plain, is open Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 7 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 8 am to 7 pm. Call 617.524.7890.

The Boston Globe

When planning their menu at Ula Cafe, co-owners Korinn Koslofsky and Kate Bancroft found inspiration next door at the 21st Century Foods tofu factory. Using firm tofu and pressing it overnight to remove excess moisture, the pair came up with a recipe that’s a keeper: chunks of tofu with house-blended curry powder, fresh ginger, Dijon mustard, chunks of apple, scallions, and raisins. “We wanted a mix of something crunchy, and something oniony, but not too sharply flavored,” says Koslofsky. Curried tofu has been on the menu for several months. Order it inside thick slices of hearty semolina bread with bean sprouts and cucumbers ($7.25 or $4.75 for half) or with toasted almond slivers in a salad ($6.35 or $4.15 for small). The tofu travels a few hundred yards from factory to table, making this the ultimate in eating locally. Ula Cafe, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-7890, www.ulacafe .com.

CLARA SILVERSTEIN © Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Weekly Dig

A recent addition to JP’s Haffenreffer Brewery, Ula Café is the model urban renewal tenant, serving tasty soups and baked goods made on-site. There’s also fresh fruit, free trade coffee, teas, snacks and sandwiches on Hi-Rise bread. The industrial bricks and ducts are transformed by blonde wood, white paint, a local artists’ gallery and plenty of greenery. Popovers, the house specialty, go quickly; the sweet potato sandwich is a staff favorite. Vegan options.

Feeling productive: Free Wi-Fi. Spacious. Outlets along counter.

Feeling peckish: small coffee and an almond biscotti of unsurpassed goodness ($2.80)

POP ON OVER

There are many reasons to love Ula Cafe. The exposed-brick space is dynamite, with plenty of seating. It’s located in a century-old brewery that’s now home to a dozen businesses helping to rejuvenate a tough part of Jamaica Plain. But the best reason is the popovers. Order one—deliciously doughy and fresh from the oven—smear raspberry jam inside, and smile all day long. Ula Cafe, 284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-7890, ulacafe.com

(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

The Boston Globe

By Ted Siefer, Globe Correspondent

As owners of an artsy Jamaica Plain café, Kate Bancroft and Korinn Koslofsky weren’t expecting the beer crowd.

“We’ve been getting floods of customers,” Bancroft says of the suburbanites and tourists who flock to the nearby Samuel Adams brewery for tours on weekends, then line up around the corner at Ula Café – some laden with souvenirs, some a little tipsy – to order from a menu that includes curried tofu salad.

The influx is only one unexpected benefit of opening a café at the Brewery, a 5-acre complex in Jamaica Plain that has taken the phrase “mixed-use development” to new levels. In addition to Samuel Adams, the site is home to a woodworking shop and a pretzel factory among the roughly 50 businesses that employ nearly 260 people.

The opening of Ula Café represents the final stage of a plan hatched nearly 30 years ago by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. The idea was to transform the former Haffenreffer Brewery, built in the 1870s, from a warren of overgrown, decaying buildings into an incubator for local enterprise and industry.

While the neighborhood group had succeeded in bringing artisans and small factories into the complex, until a few years ago roughly one-third of the 130,000-square-foot space remained boarded up.

With the recent rehab of the final portion, the Brewery has thrown its doors open to the public, with a new main entrance and parking lot helping to bring in a new generation of service-oriented enterprises focused on health, art, and, of course, food.

In addition to Ula, newcomers include Mike’s Fitness JP; the Tony Williams Dance Center; the nonprofit Bikes not Bombs, which puts on bike repair workshops and trips for area youths; and the Children’s Music Center, where lessons are given in a former brewery grain hopper.

Odd as it may sound, the Brewery is steadily becoming a place for the whole family. The development corporation is now in talks to develop the last empty space into a 12,000-square-foot, three-story children’s educational playground and restaurant called Pandamonium (its mascot is a Panda).

How in an era of big-box chain stores and globalization did the Jamaica Plain organization manage to create this haven for local enterprise? Richard Thal, the group’s executive director, credits in large part the steadfast vision of the organization’s founders, but he also attributes its transformation to the neighborhood itself.

“There’s a lot of energy and originality in JP, so it’s not a coincidence that a lot of the groups here are involved in advocacy, education, and the arts,” Thal said during a recent tour of the complex. “There’s a sense of community and camaraderie.”

But many of these aspiring entrepreneurs would never have had a chance if the development corporation wasn’t willing to take a chance on them.

Take Omar Argote, who opened Mike’s Fitness JP last spring. Although securing a tenant for the gym was the financial linchpin for the rehabbed entrance plaza, and although the corporation had been approached by franchise clubs, it decided to go with this Bolivian immigrants’ son who grew up in the neighborhood.

“Argote had managed a gym in the South End, but he had no experience as a business owner,” says Andy Waxman, the corporation’s commercial development project manager. “It was a risky endeavor, one that other property owners probably wouldn’t have done, but we gave him financing.”

The nonprofit Jamaica Plain Development Corporation, founded in 1978 has long-established programs in affordable housing, community healthcare, small-business assistance, and job-training programs. It is one of hundreds of community development corporations, known as CDCs, throughout the country, many of them set up in the 1970s.

While the CDC movement has waned elsewhere, the Jamaica Plain organization, with a 40-member staff, continues to exert a major influence on the community, especially in affordable housing. But in many ways, the Brewery, which the group bought in 1983 for $350,000, is its crowning achievement.

Waxman notes that the majority of the Brewery’s for-profit businesses are minority-owned, including the dance studio founded by Tony Williams, who grew up in the Bromley-Heath public housing complex.

The Brewery has received awards from the federal Office of Community Services and praise from state and city officials. State and federal tax credits also helped spur the final phase of its development.

“JPNDC has done a great job,” says Jill Griffin, the assistant director of economic initiatives for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, whose Back Streets program is aimed at preserving and promoting industrial and commercial enterprise in the city. The program is providing financial assistance to two Brewery businesses.

“Naturally, it raises the question, ‘Why is there not more of this?’ ” Griffin says. “And the answer in large part is that this was taken on by a CDC and not a private developer.”

The difference can be seen dramatically in Mission Hill and JP, where more than 20 beer-making operations were clustered in the late 1800s. Three of the last remaining brewery buildings are being converted into high-end condos, even though they are in an area zoned for industrial use. Citing the changing character of the neighborhood, the Zoning Board of Appeal allowed the residential conversion, a move strongly backed by the BRA.

The city has focused its efforts on promoting large-scale business clusters, such as the Marine Industrial Park in South Boston and the Boston/Dedham Commerce Park. The centers may lack charm, but as Griffin says, they are not in “someone’s backyard.”

For all the praise the Brewery has received as a bastion for neighborhood industry, the new generation of businesses face challenges, not least of which is drawing customers to an area long considered the wrong side of the Orange Line tracks.

On several occasions, Bancroft says, she has had to reassure callers who wanted to know one thing before venturing to the Ula Café from the suburbs: “Is it safe?”

Bancroft and the prospective owners of Pandamonium, the children’s museum and restaurant, are hoping that their establishments can generate their own gravity. At Ula, which opened in June, there are plans for extending the operating hours and having live music and movie nights.

But judging by the growing numbers of patrons ensconced behind laptops and gathered at outdoor tables on the weekends, it appears the café has already built up a clientele.

Bill Baga, a teacher who moved to the neighborhood four years ago, joined the gym shortly after it opened, and on a recent Sunday was busy working on lesson plans. “It’s exciting to see a lot of new faces,” he said. “The whole area seems to be lot more alive.”

And while the Brewery may be off the beaten track, its businesses are buoyed by emerging economic relationships and a sense of solidarity. Ula, for example, may use its space to market other businesses in exchange for services, such as gym memberships, for its employees. The café has already been getting its tofu from 21st Century Foods, one of the first tenants in the complex.

Bancroft says she is optimistic that business will continue to pick up even as the crowds from the Samuel Adams tours begin to taper off. “Dance classes should pick up steam in the fall,” she said, “so we expect to definitely get a burst of business around here.”

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