To whet your appetite for The Pitch's annual Best of Kansas City issue in October, we're counting down our favorite Top 50 dishes each weekday until October 7.
So there you are, waiting for the light to change while the Honda's AC blows a one-person cold front over you. The plan is to stall that first sip until you're on the highway, but it's a long light, and the 20-ounce cup gleams with sweat. You relent. Up through the straw comes cold comfort: chocolate, espresso, milk, ice. The light changes. You release the straw. A perfect dewdrop of your Hi Hat E-Crush hangs in the air long enough for you to see it, to know where it will land -- on your shirt, just below the collar, a telltale brown smudge to taunt the bottom of your peripheral vision the rest of the day. You punch the accelerator as your anger flares, looking for a target. The poorly engineered straw! Your own eagerness! Gravity! The staining drink!
But to paraphrase Homer Simpson: "Oh, E-Crush, I can't stay mad at you."
If the tidy little money clip of a suburb it calls home allowed treehouses, some of them would be bigger than the Hi Hat (5012 State Line Road, Westwood Hills). But everything this intimate, efficient spot does, it does well -- The Pitch named it Best Coffeehouse in 2009 -- and its two frozen drinks are no exception. On a 100-degree August afternoon, the E-Crush is worth fighting 4 p.m. traffic to reach and more than worth a stray fleck once acquired. The shame isn't the stain, which is simple enough to remedy; it's that even one drop got away.
The ingredients for the grande (go big or go home) are simple: a pump and a half of Ghirardelli chocolate syrup, two shots of espresso, ice, milk and a powder the shop makes for itself in advance. The result is potent enough to count as a caffeine perk, and the balance of chocolate against coffee keeps the frappe on the right side of the breakfast-dessert divide, even close to evening rush hour. (That's if you stick to low-fat milk; the risk-to-reward dynamic shifts -- in favor of reward, obviously -- when you order whole, as Hi Hat baristas say many customers do.)
At just more than $5 (with tax), the 20-ounce E-Crush isn't much more expensive than one of the McDonald's concoctions that's helping to prop up the fast-food giant's numbers this hot summer. But the Hi Hat's espresso is tasty on its own (and it's realer than the coffee extract dropped into the Golden Arches' playground drink as an afterthought), and the transaction necessary to get it -- parking, walking a few steps, ordering, talking with the person making it, paying, accepting the cup -- is a curative for the day's less rewarding, less human exchanges.
Shirts come and go. The E-Crush is forever.
Our list so far:
No. 49: Il Parma from Bella Napoli
No. 42: Apple strudel from Grunauer