Coffee houses draw inspiration from many places. Seattle and the Pacific Northwest might represent the stereotype of American coffee culture, and many shops have been influenced by cafe traditions in European capitals like Paris and Rome. On First Street near the north end of downtown Phoenix, Futuro, along with its food counterpart Pasado, combines sleek, contemporary design with Mexican coffee house traditions to create a place that would seem entirely at home in the most sophisticated neighborhoods of Mexico City or Guadalaraja.
Futuro is part of a shared space known as Palabra, which houses not only the coffee house, but also a hair salon and an art gallery. In many respects, the multiple uses intersect. Customers pass through a room full of original works on display on their way to the counter. Seating on the other side of the counter is used not only by food and beverage guests, but also by people waiting for appointments in the salon in the back of the building. On weekends, Futuro’s counter and kitchen expand their roles to serve a menu of Mexican foods under the name Pasado.
The Palabra building is found on the east side of First Street, a block-and-a-half from the Roosevelt/Central light rail station with bike racks right in front on the wide sidewalk. The white structure, small in comparison to the apartment towers sprouting nearby, is inconspicuous with only some simple lettering saying “Palabra” on the wall and little indication of the varied businesses within. When the coffee house is operating, there is sometimes a sandwich board sign announcing Futuro, along with some seating, placed outside the building for extra visibility.
The counter at Futuro features printed menus in Spanish with English descriptions as needed. The coffee and tea menu is displayed at all times, and on Saturday and Sunday, the menu of brunch foods is added. Pastries are typically on display behind a transparent barrier, and it’s best to ask for explanations from the staff. Offerings vary from one visit to another. Some recent choices sampled have included a key lime pastry, a chocolate buttermilk pound cake, a cinnamon pecan bun, and a nutty rye bread with vanilla bean and prickly pear glaze.
These carefully crafted baked goods complement the beverage program, which begins with simple drip coffee and single origin espresso and extends from there to include flavored drinks such as cafe de olla with citrus and spice or cajeta with sea salt and caramelized goat milk. Coffee alternatives have at times included original creations like Comunión, steamed coconut milk with mole bitters and cinnamon, as well as teas and horchata. A more recent addition is a limited cocktail menu with mimosas and cajarillo, a combination of coffee and Licor 43.
While the coffee drinks and generously sized pastry make for an adequate snack at any time, it’s only on the weekends that Futuro’s approach is expanded with Pasado. The setup from the customer’s point of view is exactly the same; however, a second menu is added with a changing selection of Mexican foods suitable for brunch. Current offerings include chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, quesadillas, and tinga, a hearty serving of shredded and seasoned chicken meat, with tostadas made from blue corn that has been nixtamalized and milled on the premises.
Previous offerings that may come back from time to time include supple tamales made with blue corn masa, filled with chicken chili verde or beef chili colorado, and wrapped in banana leaves. Esquites, often thought of as corn in a cup when served from a food cart, are presented elegantly here in a stone vessel with crema, cotija, and bits of serrano for heat. Frijoles de la olla have a subtle and earthy bean taste enhanced by a small bite of cheese, a blue corn tortilla, and salsa verde. As with the corn, the presentation is at an aesthetic level not often seen.
Only on Sundays, and only some of the time, another option is pozole, a hearty bowl with an accompanying plate full of garnishes: sliced radish, shredded cabbage, and of course some salsa to add spice to the mix. Coffee houses are ubiquitous, and many of them serve a light menu of food to augment their beverage selections. Futuro and Pasado, however, take that approach to a higher level by blending not only food and drink but also a strong artistic and stylistic sense that represents the urbanity of modern metropolitan Mexico in a Phoenix setting.
909 N. 1st St., Phoenix AZ 85004