By Sydney Sznajder
Staff Columnist

There are two kinds of people at Washington College: the ones who end every semester with a couple of leftover Dining Dollars and the ones who spend them all at Java George before finals start. I never expected to fall into the latter group, but sometime in between getting caught in one of this February’s surprise mini-blizzards and falling asleep on top of an intern application I found myself clinging to hot, heavily-sugared Americanos for dear life.

Baby coffee addicts like me who can’t quite justify the 30-mile trip to the Starbucks kiosk inside the Safeway in Chester, Md. have options here in Chestertown beyond our beloved Java. Kay’s and my destination for the week, Play it Again Sam, is one of the few.

Located on 108 S Cross St., Play it Again Sam is the Evergrain Bakery’s hip, grungy brother. We snag a tiny table by the storefront window and immediately notice a difference in patronage between establishments: Play it Again Sam’s customers are about two-thirds Washington College students and the rest younger locals out to lunch. The noise level, including the music, is much higher, and the mismatched tables place groups of diners close enough together to brush up against one another. Though Kay and I make a valiant effort to each bring a bag of homework, we find ourselves talking the hour away, encouraged by the chatter and enthusiastic munching of our fellow patrons.

The establishment offers a full list of coffee drinks, a breakfast and lunch menu, and a display case of sweet snacks, including sticky buns and rice crispie treats the size of my fist. Aside from the expected coffee beverages, Play it Again Sam has a few specialties, including a frozen chai latte and frozen hot chocolate. Wine is also available by the glass or bottle, as well as beer.

Upon arrival, Kay and I go straight for our caffeine: she selects a cappuccino and me one of the aforementioned specialties, which is called the Alaskan. The barista concocts it out of a blender full of cold coffee, ice, milky syrups and a long, beautiful shot of Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

On the first sip, I can feel my four hours of sleep nearly weeping with gratitude. The Alaskan most closely resembles a java chip Frappuccino, but this drink is blended more smoothly and, at $3.98 for a 16-oz., cheaper. Its dominant flavor is that of a chocolate milkshake, but the coffee undertones cut some of the sweetness and linger on the tongue, providing the addictive jolt we love so much.

Kay ultimately pairs her cappuccino with a ham-and-cheese bagel sandwich, which is an impressive piece of food porn upon arrival. The sandwich is cut in half, revealing a sizable amount of ham as well as lettuce, onion, mustard, thick slices of tomato and good-quality cheddar cheese. Being a carb-lover, I consider the bagel itself to be the most delicious component: Kay chose an everything bagel studded with seeds and dehydrated onion for flavor. The texture hovers halfway on the scale in between chewy and crunchy, browned on the outside by dense enough to fill the eater up until dinner time. A generous handful of potato chips complete the plate.

Breakfast sandwich options include bacon or sausage-and-egg bagels, while the lunch menu expands to include most kinds of deli meat available on a variety of breads. Play it Again Sam wins my heart when I realize it also has one of my favorite culinary combinations on the planet: a BLT with avocado. My eye is already on it for future visits.

A couple of scattered outside tables provide an alternative seating area that doubles as the default place for patrons with pets to sit. Play it Again Sam reinforces its pet-friendly atmosphere by providing dog treats for purchase by the register. Despite the cold, a puppy in his owner’s arms makes an appearance through the window as we eat. More than one customer stops to give it a few pets on his or her way out.

Predictably, the café’s biggest stumbling block is price. Sandwiches hover in between $8 and $10, which isn’t unreasonable but can seem like a wallet-buster for those of us accustomed to a meal plan and the relative poverty of college life. For that reason, I know I’ll have to save my beloved BLT for the next time I need to indulge in a pick-me up.

Play it Again Sam is open Monday-Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Elm

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