Extreme Caffeine: Walton's, Juan Pelota and Frank

 
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.28.11
 
A real fall morning calls for real coffee. Hot and cold cups from star-powered shops and a high-end hot dog stand.
 
Walton’s Fancy and Staple
609 W. Sixth St 542-3380, www.waltonsfancyandstaple.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday. 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday. 8 a.m. to 8p.m. Saturday. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
 
You can’t get away from coffeeshop owner and part-time actress Sandra Bullock when you visit Walton’s. Somebody’s always talking about how they saw her here or at Bess, her restaurant across the street. On my visit last week, I spoke with a media buyer who said somebody told her Bullock was in Walton’s that very minute. We’re hardly L.A., even during the Austin Film Festival, so we’ll take our celebrity moments where we can get them. Speaking of which, on that same day, somebody tweeted that Robert Plant was having coffee at Houndstooth.
 
Hot: When Walton’s first opened, it was running on the steam of a hotshot barista, a friend brought in by Bullock to develop the coffee menu at this combination florist-bakery-sandwich shop. The coffees were tight, compact pieces of drinkable art with patterns swirled into the foam in little porcelain cups. Just a few months later, the coffees were the same fuzzy, splotchy concoctions you get everywhere else. The barista had left the building. But last week, the art had returned in a cappuccino ($3), and the full flavor of Cuvee Coffee with it. The oils shimmered across the top, forming mosaics within the leaf on top, the milk skinning on the surface like pan-warmed hot chocolate.
 
Cold: Iced toddy latte ($2.50). Sometimes a straight cold, black coffee can feel like a black-and-white experience. A little color is in order, tan in this case. A smooth, silky alternative to the foamy white noise of a hot latte.
 
Something extra: Walton’s is far more a bakery and breadboard than it is a coffeeshop, and a frosted mini-Bundt cake with lemon and cranberry proved that. As fleeting as an idea and as solid as that idea coming to life, it was a fully formed tea cake in miniature with flashes of lemon zest. At $3, it was a solid value and so much more impressive than the dark chocolate, cream-filled cupcake rendered as a high-tone version of the Hostess cupcakes of our childhood for $2.50. Remember when pastry meant more than lobbing cupcakes at us until something stuck?
 
 
Juan Pelota Cafe
400 Nueces St. At Mellow Johnny’s bike shop. 473-0222, www.mellowjohnnys.com/juan-pelota-cafe.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday. 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
 
Somebody on Yelp called Juan Pelota “Lance’s one-ball cafe.” I was appalled. Really? Just because Juan Pelota is inside Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, somebody made some lame testicle joke out of it? Lighten up, Skippy. That somebody was probably Armstrong himself. “Pelota” means “ball” in Spanish, and the play on words is exactly the kind of brassy self-parody you’d expect from a guy who rides the thin line between love and hate everywhere he goes. The rest of us just need to man up and enjoy the ride.
 
Hot: A double-ristretto espresso ($2.25) is as bitter as your disappointment in so many other espressos around town. This one will make you shudder with a profile that's acidic, deep and unashamed. The bronze-colored crema is a little practical joke to play on casual coffee drinkers who might mistake it for the froth on a caramel mocha latte with a shot of vanilla. If I were on staff, I’d watch from a two-way mirror to see their faces contort, because that crema is just the fuse for the blast of liquefied C4 underneath. If you could see my face through the two-way mirror, you’d see nothing but bliss. This is exactly how I like espresso. As bitter as Game 6.
 
Cold: As murky brown as a South American tidal basin, the cold Salvo ($4) is an iced toddy coffee fortified with a double shot of espresso, and it’s like uncut liquid electricity. Juan Pelota uses Stumptown Coffee Roasters beans, just like shops in Portland and Seattle, where they don’t mess around when it comes to caffeine.
 
Something extra: Nothing like sitting on the patio of a bike shop to make you feel like the winner of a body-fat contest. Need to start training. Does a $5.25 smoothie with peanut butter, chocolate and banana count as doping?
 
 
Frank
407 Colorado St. 494-6916, www.hotdogscoldbeer.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday. 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday-Friday. 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
 
Hot: The first cortado I ever drank came from Frank just a few weeks after it opened, when I was reviewing the place for the Statesman. In one of those Austin fits of cognitive dissonance, the coffee at a hot dog restaurant was drawing the same curiosity as sausages made from antelope and rabbit. The cortado ($3.25) comes in a glass like one you might use to take a shot of whiskey. It’s a Tuscan suntan of espresso with a little warm milk and just enough foam for the barista to play with, and she might conjure from the suds a white-veined leaf or a primordial fern (or a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl). One day last week, they were pulling espresso from Honduras by way of Handsome Coffee Roasters in Los Angeles. The cortado comes across as deeply bitter with honeyed sunlight on the finish. Is that sweetness a psychosomatic reaction to its tawny colors or just the heat putting the milk sugars to work?
 
Cold: Frank pours its cold coffee into diamond-pane jelly jars like redneck moonshine. We’ll call it white-collar moonshine, drunk on caffeine. Brown lightning. This cold-brew from the Chicago roaster Intelligentsia is iced coffee at the height of its purpose: delivering the roast and oils and darker flavors of coffee without leaning on heat to deliver the aroma.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
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