The Ox and Crow Coffeehouse Is a Lifelong Dream Come True

Entering the Ox and Crow Coffeehouse, the newly renovated and rebranded coffee shop/eatery that was the Coffee Cottage for more than two decades, the first thing you take in, besides the smell of fresh coffee, is the buzz of activity: from the group of men kibitzing at a corner table to the woman who comes in to buy hot chocolate and fresh baked goods for an event at a local school to the gals chatting and working behind the counter. It is a gathering spot, a hive of caffeinated and social energy.

And that’s exactly what Mara Crombie and her husband, Bruce Peacock, hoped for when they purchased the place last spring.

“We wanted to create a warm, coffeehouse atmosphere,” Crombie says. “A place where people could get simple, homemade food and a great cup of coffee.”

Crombie, who had envisioned a shop of her own for 20 years, is the quintessential purveyor with equal parts passion, charm, kindness and a healthy dose of utilitarian grit she attributes to her forebears and the farming folks in Lake Elmo where she grew up. The café’s logo, depicting an ox and a crow, is a nod to those agrarian tenets.

“The ox is a symbol of hard work and determination, and the crow represents community and collaboration,” Crombie says. “All of which are very important to us.”
Having worked in restaurants since she was 14, Crombie, now 51, understands what works and what doesn’t when it comes to food and feeding the soul. And she knows it’s best to perfect both. She arrives an hour before the shop opens and whips up the homemade breads (pumpkin, banana, cranberry walnut), pies (apple, pumpkin, etc., and pie crusts from scratch), cookies, coffeecakes, bars, soups and the like, in the manner she’s honed since she was a young girl making brownies with her mother in the kitchen of her childhood home.

“I’ve always loved to cook, and come by it naturally,” Crombie says, motioning proudly to the glass case, which in addition to an array of fresh-baked treats holds her grandmother’s well-used 1946 edition of the Joy of Cooking.

But even the homemade items she selects are a nod to the utilitarian way of thinking and a way of doing that has kept farm kitchens running smoothly for centuries. “We use what we have and have what we use,” Crombie says. “It’s all about keeping it simple.”

And part of that simplicity is their commitment to using locally sourced ingredients and items, including Spring Grove sodas, Buddy’s Nut Butter, bottled water from a Native American reservation in Prior Lake and chai mix from a Duluth couple who grow their own herbs.

To ensure the coffee is as memorable and delicious as the food, Crombie and Peacock roast their own coffee in-house. They procure the green beans from Valasquez Family Coffee in St. Paul, which sells coffee produced by their family and friends in Honduras. Peacock, a scientist by profession, is as fastidious and precise about the roasting process as he is at his job at Medtronic.

Their flagship coffee offering, a medium roast called Farmhouse, will soon be followed by an espresso blend and a dark roast. Beans will be sold in both half-pound and one-pound packages.

“It’s been 20 years in the making,” Crombie says, tearing up, about her labor of love. “It would have been much easier at 35, but I wouldn’t have been as smart. I care about everyone and everything here,” she says, “and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.”

Ring the Breakfast and Lunch Bell

In addition to serving fresh-brewed coffee and a variety of handcrafted coffee drinks, not to mention the fresh baked goods, the Ox and Crow Coffeehouse has breakfast and lunch items sure to please any palate—from menus aptly named The Morning Call and The Lunch Whistle, no less.

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side for breakfast, Crombie suggests the Toast of the Town ($3), a hearty slice of toasted Italian ciabatta bread and topped with delicate drizzles of sweet honey and a creamy sea salt peanut butter.

For something more substantial, try the Nutty Chicken Sandwich ($8.05), which boasts chunks of tender chicken, crunchy cashews and tomatoes tossed with slightly sweetened mayonnaise, and served on a toasted ciabatta bun.

If salads are more to your liking, opt for the Popeye Spinach Salad ($8.10), which will impress with its healthy helping of spinach, feta, dried cranberries, walnuts and mild red onion delicately tossed in a sweet-yet-tangy poppyseed dressing.