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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Espresso con Panna, the Mud House

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 3:00 PM

We live in a noisy world. The trilling cell phones, the talking heads, the status updates; distractions clamor and follow us around like Pig Pen's dust cloud. Just checking your e-mail requires slagging through all the crap you're not interested in for the few messages that matter to you. Then you sign off and are directed to the news items, top ten lists and cute/disgusting/hilarious viral videos you must see.

No, this is not Drink of the Week's Andy Rooney impression. We'd be as lost (literally) as anyone without MapQuest, Urbanspoon, Wikipedia, etc. You are no doubt reading these very words on a screen of some sort, although they are finding form just now at the intersection of a very analog pen and piece of paper. We like our scratch-outs and arrows and asterisks.

So maybe we have more in common with Mr. Rooney than we would prefer to admit. Maybe deep down we are a curmudgeon-y, hopeless Luddite. We can practically feel our eyebrow and nose hairs growing as we write this, but it seems that sorting has become the chief occupation of modern life. From this barrage of information, we must decide what to ignore and what to process and...It. Never. Stops.

Praise be, then, for the serene atmosphere at the Mud House on this late Tuesday morning. The interior of the old brick building is sun-drenched, its aesthetic perfectly in tune with the boho-artsy neighborhood it calls home. The space is blessedly blender-free, someone's iPod apparently has a playlist called "low-key" and everyone's cell phone must be on vibrate, because the whole operation runs along at a soft hum.

The quiet we find here goes beyond just a matter of volume. Owners Casey and Jeremy Miller seem to possess an innate sense of what makes a corner coffee shop work, what makes a place feel comfortable, warm and satisfying. In the two years since they took over, they have not so much renovated or expanded as reduced and refined.

The menu is brief, the food good. The coffee drinks are the same ones you'll find at pretty much any place with an espresso machine. (Here they are consistently well-made.) The place is a distillation, all economy of scale and efficiency of motion. The name itself is perfect poetry. Once the Mississippi Mud House, now abbreviated by the owners, transforming a play on words into a metaphor for something basic, elemental.

The white ceramic demitasse in front of us contains just two ingredients: a double shot of espresso and whipped cream. Order an espresso con panna and this is what you will get — the whipped cream has the silky texture of the real thing, its subtle sweetness indistinguishable from that of a perfectly pulled shot of espresso. The coffee's thick crema melds with the melting cream, its viscosity enhanced by the cream's richness. Three sips. Maybe four.

It is reductionist and expansionist at the same time. It reminds us of a few lines from a favorite e.e. cummings poem:

i like my body when it is with your body. it is so quite new a thing. muscles better and nerves more...

The right amount of espresso has the same effect. We often sail right past this point in our caffeine consumption, into jittery, sweaty, teeth-grinding territory. Today we listen to the hissing steam wand as it whispers a little lesson to us. "Lessssssssssssssssssssssss."

The Mud House 2101 Cherokee Street; 314-776-6599

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