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Back Buzz - May 19, 2012

pumping heartChimney Brick Toast Coffee House, 1100 North Main Street Suite B, Los Angeles, California

A week ago I returned from a three-week visit to Los Angeles to visit my family. While I was there my Bay Area friend Mistah Rick drove down for a few days so that we could get together for an LA county odyssey involving industrial archaeology, cemetery wandering, and of course brewpub hopping. As I was staying in Long Beach and Rick in Northridge, we arranged to meet one morning at Union Station, using the classic train station as a starting base for our adventure. And naturally, as it was morning, we needed to start with a good coffee.

After photographing Union Station's main lobby and the passageways to trains, which always make me feel as if I've stepped back into the 1930s, we found the car and drove off in search of a cafe. Union Station is centrally located on the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles, so we had the entire central Los Angeles area at our doorstep. Through Internet research I had found Chimney Brick Toast Coffee House, located very close to the station, so we went off in search of the cafe, intrigued by the name.

Chimney is located in the LAX-C Building, which sounds as if it's a Los Angeles International Airport car park where I occasionally left my car when I lived in California and flew up the coast. But this LAX-C is a bulk-buy Asian grocery, located in an industrial strip mall near Chinatown along with Chimney and a Thai restaurant called, enticingly, Thong Lo.

The cafe was formerly the office of Eagle Rock-bred Amnaj Bholsangngam, a coffee aficionado who wanted to create a Pacific Northwest-style cafe in Los Angeles. The minimalist, industrial feel of the space appealed to him, and in December 2011 Chimney Brick Toast Coffee House opened its doors. Not only is coffee featured but also made-in-house artisan pastries.

My double macchiato was served in the perfect sized cup for a double macchiato with a perfect heart rosette on top. The barista made sure I wanted a real macchiato, not one of those caramel Starbucks travesties. I give her 10 points for that! My drink was extremely smoooooth, becoming almost chocolaty. Rick had a cappuccino that was also very nice and served in a proper cappuccino cup, and our fresh croissants were very pleasant as well.

As we sipped and nibbled we wondered about the full name, Chimney Brick Toast Coffee House. The walls are brick, which makes sense, but the toast? We didn't see a parade of toasters or anything. Through later research I learned that the word chimney apparently sounds like the Thai for "come try this". And brick toast is an Asian desert consisting of toasted milk bread topped with flavoured butter and either sweet or savoury toppings -- sort of like a Thai crepe. And milk bread, baked on the site, is a soft white bread made with milk.

The Chimney's bakery, presided over by Chef Eugene Cheng, has featured all sorts of interesting creations such as Thai tea cream puffs, pumpkin cheese muffins, pear tartlets, and croissants. The drink menu is wide and varied, featuring not only the usual lattes and cappuccinos but also Thai ice tea, Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea latte, fresh brewed coffee using various choices of beans, and pour-over coffee, currently all the rage among coffee gourmets.

As Rick and I sipped our coffees near two customers leisurely taking advantage of the free WiFi, we caught up on life in Oakland and Sheffield and started to plan what architectural sights we were going to explore and photograph. Coincidentally our barista happened to be working on her Masters in Architecture, so she jotted down a few ideas for us. Our first stop would be the Brewery Arts Complex, then the Bradbury Building and then Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Music Center and then the historic Angels Flight funicular at Bunker HIll. And then we would continue on to lunch and further Los Angeles adventures. We were now pleasantly caffeinated for the voyage.

Speaking of foreign translations reminds me of a recent and very quick e-mail exchange with the same Bay Area friend:

This was from the Guardian a month or so ago. Apparently an Egyptian contract company was asked to stencil "Diesel Fuel" in Arabic and "No Smoking" in Arabic on the side of a fuel tanker. And this is what resulted:

That's hilarious! They couldn't spell correctly in any language. At first, looking at "in Arbic" brought to mind "in Aspic", which I see regularly on cat food labels, and I wondered whether "Arbic" might be some stable compound used to transport volatile fluids safely. I Googled "in Arbic" and came up with references to this photo. Googling "in aspic" I came up with a 1973 King Crimson album, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic", and a Dutch rock band named Arabs in Aspic.