Aficionados of rock and pop music have long delighted in discovering hidden tracks, secret songs not listed on an album’s packaging. Ditties like the Beatles’ “Her Majesty” appeared when records were dominant, and hidden tracks persisted with compact discs. Less common in an age of streaming services and song-by-song disaggregated listening, the idea is still relevant enough that there’s a downtown Phoenix wine and beer store, Hidden Track Bottle Shop, with an adjacent coffee house and wine bar, Hidden Track Cafe, under the same ownership.
While the bottle shop lives up to its name with a location somewhat hidden inside the lobby of the 111 West Monroe office tower, the cafe is more prominent with a street entrance and a long, shaded patio that stretches nearly to First Avenue. The cafe and shop are just a block-and-a-half from the Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / First Avenue (eastbound) light rail platforms. Bike racks in the area take the form of loops built into several parking meters along Monroe, as well some additional ones on the east side of First Avenue.
Hidden Track Cafe was originally a coffee house specializing in flavor-infused cold brew coffee, under a different name and different ownership. It began a gradual transition in its approach after being acquired by the store next door and briefly changed its focus to be more of a self-styled “bodega” providing groceries and other essentials during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a return to normal operating conditions, the cafe has expanded, augmenting its previously limited indoor seating by filling an adjacent room with tables and a bar.
The result is a combination of a coffee house, a wine bar, and a boutique grocery all coexisting in the same space with walk-through access to a shop selling beer and wine. The small kitchen and customer service counter are situated next to shelves full of Mediterranean imports such as tinned fish and specialty rices for making paella and risotto, as well as local favorites like Noble Bread’s country loaves. This is a lot to fit in a compact space, but it works well enough that Hidden Track has recently opened a second, off-rail location a few miles to the north.
In its latest incarnation of Hidden Track Cafe, the familiar cold brew and cappuccino have remained available while being supplemented with additional choices that extend the mission of the neighboring wine and beer shop. The result is a more extensive selection of food suitable for light meals or snacks. The expanded food menu goes beyond typical coffee house pastry to emphasize cheese, a natural accompaniment to the wine sold next door, as well as some of the tinned fish, local bread, and charcuterie products featured on the cafe’s grocery shelves.
Several varieties of cheese are sold by weight and displayed in a refrigerated case. A weekly “fromage feature” is available with crackers and currants as a cheese plate. A recent offering was Regal de Bourgogne aux Moutarde de Meaux, a creamy cheese coated with cracked mustard seeds with the result being a balance between sweet and spicy elements. The cheese plate is small enough to serve as a snack but could also be grouped with other small menu items like olives and bread to form the basis of a tapas-style meal enjoyed with a glass of wine.
A grilled cheese sandwich is a logical extension of the menu, and Hidden Track offers one with optional ingredients like avocado, tomato, and chorizo available for a small additional charge. Other sandwiches include a Smoky Cuban with pulled pork, Dijon mustard, and pickles and a chorizo sandwich containing slices of Spanish sausage with arugula and goat cheese. Avocado toast is essentially an open-faced sandwich, and Hidden Track’s rendition is topped with tomato, greens, and little else. In fact, it could benefit from a little coarse salt to enliven the flavors.
Small boards feature smoked salmon with capers, cornichons, slices of bread, and a blended spread of creme fraiche and cheese. The shape of the tin (or can) that contained the fish prior to its being served is still evident, but the flavor is uncompromised by the presentation. A hummus plate is another board, and this particular version features a deep red version of the popular spread, its distinctive color attributable to beets, paired with planks of cucumbers and crostini. A tarte flambee with turkey bacon and breakfast burritos are among the other menu choices.
In addition to the expansion of the space, Hidden Track’s most recent upgrade has included a liquor license that allows sales of wine by the bottle or the glass for on-site consumption. A sign over the bar in the side room provides a listing of eight vintages currently being poured with information shared in an O-V-E format. In this case, O stands for origin, meaning both the country and its wine-growing region. V is for varietal, or type of grape, and E signifies elaboration, any additional details such as if the wine was produced from organic grapes.
For dessert, a return to the cafe’s coffee house roots is in order. Pastry has never been a big emphasis at Hidden Track, but there are usually some treats like sea salt chocolate chip cookies or Nutella bars individually wrapped and displayed in a case. One of those with a cappuccino should suffice as a sweet treat, with or without a meal beforehand. A sign outside the business says, “A good day starts with coffee and ends with wine. We have both.” That combination makes this cafe as much worth finding and exploring as a good hidden track on an album.
111 W. Monroe St., Phoenix AZ 85003