Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cuvee Coffee Revolution

Cuvee has been in the revolution business since the late 80s, from the massively hacked vintage drum roasters at their Spicewood headquarters to the hot rod La Marzocco espresso machines they've rigged up at local shops to the kegs of Black and Blue nitrogenated cold brew coffee that are showing up at venue after venue.

And now they've got a killer little coffee shop all the way down East 6th that's charting a new path for how coffee gets made.

The bar is a long, enclosed island with coffee along the front side and beer (once the permits come through) around back. That long coffee counter is the first revolution. You don't step up to the register, pay, and wait for your drink to pop out the other end. Instead, you shepherd your coffee through the process. Start out with the cup - 2, 4, 8, 12 ounces. Then choose your espresso. Choose your milk. Get your drink. Pay. It's Freebirds for your coffee.

It's different, but it's anything but complicated. The second revolution is the simplicity of the whole deal. There are no cortados or cappuccinos or macchiatos or flat whites or lattes. There is just espresso, coffee and milk. That's it. And really that's the way it's always been everywhere, it's just no one has really fessed up to it - all those drinks are just different names for proportions of the same two things. Sometime in the early 90s some clever folks up in Seattle fancified coffee. Cuvee took it back to words that make sense.

The third revolution is the espresso machine. Or lack thereof. Just two sculpted chrome arms extending from the counter top and a barista ready to walk you through the process. The plumbing and control is all under the counter.Why erect a two foot wall between the person that's doing the drinking and the person that's pulling the shot? It's a little thing, but it goes a long way to bring you closer than you've ever been to your espresso without pulling it yourself. Mod Bar for the win.

It goes without saying that the coffee is amazing - the pour over is the best I've had anywhere, and while the drink-formerly-known-as-latte was not the most beautiful I've seen, it was silky soft and rich. Meritage has been Cuvee's go-to Espresso blend for the better part of the last decade, and it's lovely and balanced. This espresso without bite, but with an earthy, woody depth that goes on a good long while.

Cuvee isn't a coffee shop where you and your laptop go for the afternoon to escape the loud guy in the cube next to you. It's way too alive for that. This is a place you go to drink coffee, to connect with friends, and to play.

  Cuvee Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Grad School. They are Like Mushrooms.

They pop up like mushrooms after a heavy rain. In every city big enough to sport a Starbucks, there has risen a food-obsessed, local-inspired, heavily tattooed, sticker-adorned, farm to table establishment with clusters of young people spilling out onto patios and front benches. Done well, they are lovely. And Grad School, in a far corner of the blip of downtown of Springfield, MO, is done well.

On the continuum between well-funded subway-tiled newcomers and the ramshackle joints one gust of wind away from a pile of rubble, Grad School is one of the dives. This is a place where all of the stickers covering the soda machine are covered with stickers, and all of those are covered with a slight sheen of grease from fryer. It's a tiny restaurant, with one long room holding the open kitchen, a couple of bar stools and a handful of tiny high tops; a little back room with two sets of vinyl booths; and one long table out on the patio. Everything is narrow enough that navigation is an art. At 2:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday it was still packed, and there was still a wait.

The reason was clear. It's impossible to go to Grad School and not smile. Everyone is happy. The food is dead-on target. The chairs don't match.

A couple of high points.

The pesto vinaigrette on the house salad. A place this greasy is not supposed to have things this green. It was perfectly dressed and backyard garden level fresh.

The french fries. Nothing fancy just skin on, crispy, hand cut brilliant fries. They were amazing when they came out piping hot. They were amazing 15 minutes later when lesser fries would have wilted into sadness.

The soft cheddar on the Full Ride. Don't bite into this thinking it's a typical cheese burger. The soft cheddar melts into more of a lush sauce than a gooey bit of cheese. But it's dynamite. Sharp and silky and a perfect foil for the double burger. Not for the faint of heart.

The why-the-hell-not touches on the dishes, like the decorative swash of sriracha on the Micah's chicken. This is a delicious little quasi-asian sort of sesame chicken and rice number, and it's presentation was full on fancy. It was kind of brilliant next to the giant plastic Pepsi Cola cups we were drinking out of.

Low points were few and far between. It took a while for the food to come - but it was a happy while - and the jerk chicken was not quite up to the brilliance of the other plates (though the bits of pineapple were  genius). And they should maybe dust the ceiling fans.

 Grad School on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dolce Neve - Fresh Snow on South First

As a kid growing up in West Michigan, I used to ski occasionally at a spot not far from my house. I thought it was the best downhill skiing anywhere. Then I moved to the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico - fresh powder covering peaks above the tree-line -  and discovered what actual downhill skiing was. Dolce Neve is like moving to the mountains. You think you've been eating gelato all this time, but it turns out you haven't. This is what gelato is supposed to be.

Walking through the bright pink front door, under the front-porch arbor, you're immediately engaged. The warmth of the people that run this place is so pervasive you almost feel like you've stumbled into the kitchen at an old friend's house. There's a substantial amount of chrome, but there's also weathered wood, mismatched chairs and a wide open kitchen. The effect is charming - homey but precise, with ample style but without pretension. This openness is part of what makes things work here - they really do do it in front of everyone, going back to raw ingredients (often locally sourced) and preparing them every step of the way.

Walk up to the counter, but don't order yet. You can't possibly know what you want. Try a few first. Try the Cassata if they have it - where the orange zings through the creamy countered against the dark chocolate. Or the Whiskey Pecan, which is such a balanced mix of flavors it kind of makes you wonder how people ate pecan ice cream without whiskey before. Or the Dolce Neve (It means fresh snow in Italian), where the slight kick of lemon zest livens up the sweet cream. It's like a playground in there, and it's important to try out all the swings.

The small size is ridiculously inexpensive, and is about as much gelato as I could hold. As is traditional with gelato you can mix whatever you'd like into that cup. I think the standard is two flavors, but I'd imagine Leo would let you go with three if you wanted. He not only graciously accommodated my kid's request for the gelato in a cup with a cone, he explained to her that in Milan, they called that a Pinocchio, because the cone looks just like Pinocchio's cap.

South First keeps getting better - Sugar Mamas got a little bigger and (I didn't think this could happen) a little better. Once Over has settled in even deeper and the patio feels even further from the middle of town than it did. Elizabeth Street Cafe is still making my favorite breakfast in town. And now Dolce Neve. I can't think of a better stretch of food, anywhere.

Dolce Neve on Urbanspoon


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