LORI LUCAS

This week I was supposed to write a review of a beloved and adorable spot in inner SE Portland that will remain nameless until next week, when I visit it on a day when it's not closed. I should have called first, I suppose (though who in the Christ closes their business on Sunday anymore?) but at least my mistake wasn't without a silver lining. For as I walked home from that anonymous, locked-up little eatery, my head hanging with dejection over my ensuing deadline, I stopped off in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop/bakery for warmth and comfort: the huge, airy Crema.

The many-windowed space that houses Crema (former home to the Florio Bakery) has all the amenities a modern coffee shop needs to succeed: free wireless, lots of plugs for laptops, good music, and tasteful local art on the walls. Not only that, but I'm fairly certain that the entire staff is super-hot. This may seem like a shallow observation, but the fact remains that I have no desire to face any uglies until after I've had my coffee. At Crema, I don't have to: Lovely hipsters whip up drinks like the embarrassingly named but yummy Caramel Sutra, or the Urban Assault hot chocolate. The drinks are immaculate, and the coffee is so strong that hot water is provided so sissies like me can water it down.

Despite owner Brent Fortune's mad coffee cred (earlier this month, he was a judge at the US Barista Championships), the real star at Crema is the pastry case. I'm thoroughly addicted to the corn-and-cheese biscuit, and judging by how often they sell out, I'm not the only one. The crumbly biscuit is draped in a layer of crunchy, corn-dotted cheddar (my boyfriend says it tastes like mac and cheese, and I say, "mac and cheese biscuit, where have you been all my life?").

If heaven were made out of pastries, and I'm pretty sure it is, Crema's scones would be the clouds that the angels sit on, so light and fluffy it's easy to forget that a day's worth of calories lurk beneath each apricot or blueberry-gilded surface. For the serious chocolate fiend, the "earthquake" cookie is a must try, an incredibly dark, dense cookie with "fault lines" on its cracked, powdered-sugar dusted surface.

Crema also serves a light lunch menu of soup, salads, and sandwiches. A recent lunch trip found chicken curry as the soup of the day: hearty chunks of chicken and bell pepper swam in a spicy coconut-curry broth that delivered a satisfying but not overpowering heat. The Thai-inspired soup was an odd pairing with my grilled turkey and Brie sandwich, but both were delicious. The sandwich was simplicity itself, with its always-welcome combo of crunchy bread, buttery cheese, and slightly salty meat.

It was only by accident that I ended up deconstructing Crema, my favorite coffee shop, this week, but it was a lucky accident, because I realized that (Here comes the metaphor! Or is it a simile?), like the layer of crema on top of an espresso shot that only forms when all the elements of coffee temperature, grind, and bean/water ratio are perfectly in balance—Crema combines the elements of hot service, skillfully crafted drinks, and delicious food to create a near-perfect coffee experience.