Florida is a land of juxtapositions: miles of Gulf Coast views (“Look, there’s a dolphin!”) and endless miles of strip malls (“Oh, a bail bondsman.”) I know, because I’m a native, and mighty proud. What I love most about it is that it’s a land of discovery–if you know where to look.
What was I looking for as I drove through Dunedin, Florida, on a recent Sunday morning? Sunburned and still a little sleepy, I’d gotten in the rental car just to drive. Then it caught my eye: the sign that read: “Best Iced Coffee In Town.” Those being fighting words, I immediately pulled over and tossed the stale hotel coffee next to me. “Bring it.”
Iced coffee is no joke to a Floridian. And Art Smart Coffee House & Art Gallery is not playing. Located inside a small shopping center about a mile from downtown Dunedin, it’s an assuming little spot. Until you walk in and see owner Mario Gutierrez, painstakingly creating said nectar of the gods.
His secret? He sources coffee like Costa Rican Tarrzu and African Tanzanian Peaberry from a roaster in Arcadia, Florida. Every evening he grinds beans, brews coffee, and freezes it into ice trays. In the morning he makes each coffee by adding five to six coffee cubes to two shots of espresso, topping off with milk. Want a flavor? Mario adds in Monin Syrup, made just down the road in Clearwater (oh, and by the way, distributed internationally).
Oh … my … coffee. Seriously, the best coffee in town. Dare I say: the state?
But what makes Art Smart even more exceptional is the first word in its name–the art– rooms and rooms full of it. Mario’s uncle was Cuban artist Jose Robado, who left more than 2,000 of his paintings and architectural renderings to his nephew. Many of these are on display, along with hundreds of works from around the world.
Mario, an accountant by training and collector for a lifetime, travels to auctions to purchase the works–oils and watercolors, sculpture, and sketches. The best part is that the work is affordable, starting at $65 (though there are pieces up to $2,500 for the big spenders). He prices art based on what he pays for it bases on what he pays for it, not what it’s worth. “So someone can come in and get a $400 piece that’s worth $4,000 or $5,000.”
Customers are encouraged to sit in chairs that make up this salon, sip their coffee, browse books from Mario’s library. And that, my friends, is why you should never discount a strip mall.
Art Smart Coffee Walkup, 1275 Bayshore, Dunedin, Florida, 800.442.0332