pheasant creek: a deceptively obscure place in one of those planned, new-urbanist shopping centers intent on inviting you in sweetly with stucco and shrubbery, not garish backlit broadsides and double-coupon banners. quite a trek from chapel hill, too, if you’re a southern metro boy like me accustomed to jaunting toward the nearest winn-dixie in less than the time it takes chris martin to wail through ‘green eyes’ (which, by the way, was a soundtrack to a competitor’s routine at last weekend’s barista throwdown).
trendy place, in a trendy town called apex at the terminus of one of those two-lane highways interminably under construction because it looks as though it were built for sunday amish carts, but instead bears the swelling brunt of four-wheel-drive suburban chaos. after deeming the joint only passable on the last chapel hill trip, the stunning la marzocco fb70 in use at pheasant creek churned a macchiatto sublime enough to lure me back for a traditional capp — something i rarely order unless i’m convinced the people can do it right.
barista aubrey, who, word has it, was a “solid” competitor at the SERBC, was confident. very. it seems most of the people i’ve seen in the joint are family, though i didn’t grill them on their lineage. owner geoff corey commented here earlier, that his machine is a hybrid with a PID temp stabilization device that makes brew temperature programmable to within half a degree. only recent travails with my own meager temp-stabilization operation could begin to make me appreciate such a perk. must stink to have to compete using an inferior machine.
the fb’s sangria exterior was alluring to film, like a hardened nail polish shell on an industrial frame of stolid innards capable of spitting two ounces of naked perfection far after the portafilter handles cracked from all the giddy torque. that is to say it was like a luxury car without the GPS. what am i saying? i don’t know. it was a nice machine. but what can you say after immortalizing one’s meager isomac and then finding the only such espresso assemblage on this coast in a shopping center? well. nothing.
the brew: florid. i think (correct me, someone) they were brewing counter culture’s indonesian-heavy toscano blend, one used ubiquitously at the weekend’s competition and known for its caramel-butter tones … at least, barista after barista noted so. we in the audience nodded sagely. ah, yes. butter. aubrey’s macchiato was made right, after four — count ‘em four — at various notable establishments that either featured guinness-shaming foam heads or totally flimsy milk additions that skulked beneath the crema and utterly failed to stand up to italian form. i know, i know. the definitions vary. but not really. because we’re nuance-addicted snobs, we are. a double shot. a dash o’ foamed milk that’s just wet enough to seep subtly downward. *sniff*
the capp shot was pulled slightly fast but cut through the milk well. very well. 55 toward chapel hill seemed much less obsequiously quaint as a result.
granted, this was the only cafe where actual competition-tested barista persons were present. aubrey’s first-round score: 451. solid indeed. had lena been working the bar at open eye cafe, for example, or claudia at cup a joe, perhaps the experiences would have merited similar half-witted blog-perbole. and perhaps since the disappointment had mounted by the time we meandered into pheasant creek, aubrey’s work was more a relief than a touchstone … but i don’t think so. while the highly regarded tampers and pullers had left other cafes, presumably, to the second-tier force, pheasant creek strikes me as a place that cares enough to staff only those who are worth it. there’s the grave attention to detail, from the credit card receipt pens to the ferarri on the counter, that seems to indicate a closely monitored quality that’s tied to a carefully cultivated means of profit. but maybe that’s just me.
i enjoyed it, felt lucky to have made the trek. plan to go back. maybe for open mic night.
p.s. sadly, my still camera was dead on arrival that morning. but some middling video of the fb70 was posted earlier, right here.