The stretch of Main Street between Union Station and the UPS facility where you go to pick up packages after Brown Shorts thrice refuses to leave your package at the door while you're at work is pretty much unremarkable save for LAX-C (a by-the-bulk Asian grocery store) and a row of random shops. Chimney Brick Toast Coffee House, which just opened in December, sits in this row. Once inside, though, it doesn't feel like you're in a random coffee shop so much as it feels like you stepped into Portland. Or, fine, Portlandia.
The Portland throwback is intentional: owner/president Amnaj Bholsangngam wanted to create a Northwestern-style café in LA, complete with a somewhat industrial, minimalist vibe. This explains the cafe's exposed ceiling, earthy tones, and airy, open space.
It's hard to imagine now, but the coffee house used to be Bholsangngam's office, until he decided to turn his interest in coffee into a bona fide business. In addition to filling a need in the area, he wants to encourage Angelenos to "slow down, because LA is too fast. We want people to relax and kick back."
In the spirit of relaxation, then, Chimney Brick Toast Coffee House offers coffee drinks using local, small batch beans. Unlike other coffee shops that stick to the house standards - sure, there's your macchiato, cappuccino, and they'll even make a Gibraltar (which they call a Gibraltar) if you ask - but there are distinctly Thai- and Vietnamese-inspired offerings as well. Thai iced tea is on the menu, as is Vietnamese coffee. The signature drink is the Thai tea latte, "a warm, frothy version of Thai iced tea."
Pastries are made in-house, under Executive Chef Eugene Cheng's supervision, and both he and Bholsangngam emphasize that they want to keep everything fresh. "Eugene keeps an iron fist on making sure everything is all-natural and free of preservatives," Bholsangngam says.
While the pastry selection is somewhat limited right now during their soft opening phase, they do have sandwiches, pear tartlets, and "Chimney puffs," a choux pastry filled with a sweet Thai tea cream. They plan to offer "LA beignets" ("LA" as in "Louisiana" and "Los Angeles") and the brick toast of their namesake. For those unfamiliar with the Asian dessert, Cheng explains that brick toast "is a milk bread that we toast and add on flavored butter and different toppings." Toppings will be both sweet and savory, similar to crepe fillings.
The "chimney" part of the coffee house's name loosely translates in Thai to "come try this." Bholsangngam and Cheng - who both hail from Eagle Rock - hope that the community will accept their standing invitation and sit down for more than 5 minutes over a nicely pulled espresso. A long table in the back encourages groupthink, while a smattering of smaller tables are perfect for working or studying. The free wifi and plentiful (free) parking in the LAX-C lot don't hurt, either. For now, the coffee shop opens at 7 a.m. and closes around 4 p.m., with expanded hours to come.
"Every coffee house," Bholsangngam says, "is one person's interpretation of what a good coffee shop should be. This is mine."