Coffee first touched Drink of the Week's lips when we were ten years old. We can pinpoint the moment about eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning and, if pressed, we'll maintain that it was a snowy day in Edwardsville, Illinois. We were in the lobby of the First Presbyterian Church, and odds are good that we were wearing white leather dress shoes and a matching white belt. Plaid slacks, a large-collared shirt and a sweater vest likely rounded out the ensemble.
Each Sunday morning after the 9 a.m. service, the congregation filed into the lobby to celebrate God's bounty with hot coffee and doughnuts specifically, the Sacred Presbyterian Chocolate Long Johns. For obvious reasons, the kids weren't allowed to drink coffee, but the loophole was that we were allowed to fetch cups for the parents, so it was an easy enough rule to get around. Fill the cup confidently; walk down the hall like you know what you're doing. A few renegade kids started drinking the brown dragon straight, but our initial foray was disappointing. The bitter, blackened Presby coffee tasted absolutely nothing like the coffee candy Gram used to ply us with. Where was the creamy sweetness, the scrumptiousness?
It was in the sugar bowl and the creamer, of course. So after a few weeks of culinary experimentation worthy of Cook's Illustrated, we arrived at the perfect recipe: three-quarters a cup of coffee, five packets of powdered nondairy creamer and seven sugar cubes. Wait two minutes, stir, dunk Sacred Long John into cup, eat, then guzzle. Repeat. We can still taste that coffee.
We're recalling those glorious days after experiencing an equally spiritual moment last Sunday around 11 a.m. at La Dolce Via, the bakery/restaurant in the budding Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. It was there that we first touched our tongues to a Chaiser Soze, a profoundly satisfying morning-buster.
Hold on to your Bibles, for it's a hellion of a drink: a blend of MoCafé brand "Precious Divinity" chai, a double shot of espresso and whole milk. Combined in a cup, steamed to create a frothy head, the Chaiser Soze a riff on the mysterious character in The Usual Suspects tastes positively transcendent.
Were we in charge of naming it, we'd call it a Roadside Bomb, because no matter how much you prepare for it, it still explodes your head. Many flavors duke it out for supremacy: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and clove wrestle with the rough bitterness of a double espresso, and the creamy helping of milk adds a dessert-like quality suggesting chocolate pudding. It's sweet, yes, though not seven-sugar-cubes sweet. Rather, all of the competing ingredients create a dynamism. One sip tastes like hot chocolate, the next like mocha, the next like chai, until your head's all scrambled and your tongue's tied in knots.
Luckily, La Dolce Via's brunch menu, which they've offered for the past couple years, serves as an anchor. They feature the best scones either sweet or savory in town, and on the surface it seems a shame to drown the cheese scones in sausage gravy. Once you taste them, however, you'll want to gobble the plate whole. Their blueberry pancakes arrive a uniform, pastel-esque purple, the result of all that blue juice meshing with the batter.
Equally important, La Dolce Via is a social butterfly's dream, a gathering place of kindreds who worship at the altar of coffee and breakfast the way that others pester at the ear of Lord. It's kid-friendly, too, with a little play area for the toddlers. (A sign on the wall reads, "Unattended children will be given a puppy and an espresso.") During our two-hour stint, we ran into at least a dozen people we know well, and their smiles as well as the Chaiser Soze transformed what would have been a nothing day into a sweet, rich morning.