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Stimulating Decisions 

Come for an innocent espresso and you may just stay for dessert at this Lakeview coffee shop.

Nature is said to abhor a vacuum. Evidently, so does the market for Lakeview coffee shops.

When it became clear that Lakeview stalwart Coffee & Company would not reopen, two coffee shops emerged to take its place on the neighborhood's once-devastated, now-resurgent Harrison Avenue commercial strip: a Starbucks location on the Coffee & Company lot and, more recently, the independent NOLA Beans a block away.

Another vacuum formed in lower Lakeview, previously the domain of Plantation Coffee House. Plantation has not reopened but, just across Canal Boulevard, Lakeview Brew Coffee Café opened in January to take up the mantle, appearing as equal parts replacement for and tribute to what had been a Lakeview landmark.

The coffee at Lakeview Brew is above average, and the baristas turn out the normal array of coffee drinks. The sandwich and salad menu is ample, and the daily soups and lunch specials are interesting enough, but the real specialty here is dessert. The pies, cakes, cookies and muffins are all done so well they can tempt even the most fastidious to take the plunge with no justifiable dessert hour within sight.

The pastry chef is Eva Macaluso, who combines her own recipes with those from the families of owners Randie Porobil and Lauren Schmidt. There are triple-layer hummingbird cakes, lemon icebox pies with crisp cookie crusts and curls of fruit slices on top, fluffy 'million dollar" pies and chocolate truffle cheesecake as dense as fudge. Apple and blueberry pies wait under heavy glass domes on the counter, and atop the display case, chocolate chip cookies the size of bread plates and clusters of colorful muffins are positioned enticingly within reach.

They exude the care and individuality of in-house preparation, but their most intriguing appeal is how these sweets do not taste overly sweet. Crusts are buttery, pie fillings moist and rich, cake bodies heavily sluiced with frosting. Yet there is none of that aching sweetness of the regrettable sugar bomb. Their allure is more of a robust, filling, craving taste.

A raspberry custard pie was mellow, smooth and cool, with a soft fruitiness to the filling, which was specked with raspberry seeds and was the color of a K&B logo. A huge slab cut from a cream cheese-frosted hummingbird cake had raisins and chopped pecans baked into a body like that of carrot cake, though perfumed with vanilla. The blueberry pie was piercingly tart, a concoction of full, taut berries in the thick grip of an ink-dark filling fairly erupting from the ridge of the crust.

My favorite of all the desserts here is the white chocolate bread pudding. Palace Café lays claim to creating this dish, but Lakeview Brew can make a case for innovating a take-out version that is easy to eat in the car " and all too tempting to ravish before even leaving the parking lot. These palm-sized bread puddings come in tins like those wrapped around chicken potpies, and to my taste, they are better when chilled or at room temperature than when heated through, which makes them too liquid. In substance, the pudding has a base with the consistency of jellied bread, then a stratum of denser bread and finally a top of ragged bread tears all awash in white chocolate sauce. As the plastic fork bites through these layers, that sauce seeps down in viscous drops and strands so that each successive forkful seems richer than the last. In pursuit of the next, incrementally improving bite, what started as a dauntingly large portion of bread pudding quickly disappears. Yet somehow it still never seems too sweet. This is a dangerous dessert.

Lakeview Brew's breakfast menu is brief, and items are served quickly, appropriate for a place where customers dash in for a bite on the way to work. Plump biscuits are made in-house and are fine on their own. The same dough is also made into bricks of sausage loaf, a grab-and-go indulgence that can weigh more heavily than a white chocolate bread pudding.

Lunch has more ambitious offerings and reveals more Plantation Coffee House tribute qualities. For instance, generous portions of avocado turn up on sandwiches and salads. Tuna, chicken and egg salads are spread on sandwiches in inch-thick layers. Huge club sandwiches practically need to be deconstructed into their lesser components to fit in the mouth. The seafood gumbo, available daily, is light on the shrimp, but has a nice seafood-flavored roux. Daily quiches have obscenely buttery crusts and are capped with as much cheese as a pizza slice. The soft interior of one example was strung together by spinach and a lot of bacon, giving the moist body the structure to stay together.

Browsing the quiche in the display cooler, however, puts you eye level with those cakes and pies. If you come here day after day, as many new regulars clearly do, you can see a whole pie whittled down from a complete, whipped-top creation to the last remaining slice on a plate under plastic wrap, practically begging for a revisit.


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