Art of coffee

Sculpting ice cream and espresso at Sonny's Crema Caf

Sonny's Crema Caf was once a humble hamburger-and-malt shop. Long a delight to Lyndale residents, Sonny Siron, 80, the shop's grandfather-in-residence, remembers the good old days. Though those days were good, he insists the food and atmosphere at Sonny's is much better these days.

Sonny's features a wide assortment of ice cream, sorbets, cakes, and foods made from scratch and seasoned with local flavors. The ice cream, made in the backroom, lures visitors again and again with its range of subtle to exotic undertones.

Adorned with murals, its rose-hued interior has been transformed from the inside out into a haven more likely to be stumbled upon somewhere in Italy rather than Minneapolis.

As is the case in Italy, coffee at Sonny's is high art executed with flair. One drink in particular, the caf crema, combines its signature latte-flavored crema with a medium-dark blend espresso.

The decadent drink is popular with patrons lingering in evenings or treating themselves for brunch, said Ron Siron, son of Sonny, who co-owns the shop with his partner, Carrie Gustafson.

Caf crema is served in a bowl-like porcelain cup with a matching saucer that clanks as the barista carries it gingerly to your table. The drink is poured in layers in reverse order of fancy espresso drinks at other coffee shops.

Ron explained: First, chocolate syrup is drizzled into a heated cup, providing a sweet basin for the other ingredients. Next comes a pool of steamed milk, followed by one scoop of latte-infused Crema ice cream.

Then a stream of espresso is sent over the sugary mound, causing a gentle landslide. Only a good shot of espresso will do, Ron says. That is, one that bears a bubbly film or crema, which is ruddy brown and not cloudy like the froth of lesser shots. &#8220Crema always rises to the top,” he said.

Sonny's baristas undergo extensive training to learn how to produce a perfectly poured espresso shot. To do so, they must tune themselves to the nuances of the espresso machine - watching and listening for the right combination of time, packing and pressure, revealed by the sound of the machine's whir and a glimpse of the espresso's consistency.

Ron has disdain for the automatic espresso machines operated by baristas lacking the know-how to produce excellent coffee. You can find these uneducated baristas working the auto espresso at many of the large coffeeshop chains.

&#8220If it comes out too fast or too slow, it's not good,” he said. &#8220That's part of having experience, adjusting the grind and getting it to pour a good shot and getting it into a heated cup.”

Shots that don't hit the spot are thrown out. &#8220You don't want to serve something you wouldn't want yourself,” he said, adding that coffee shop rookies work best as baristas-in-training.

They haven't developed any bad habits from other cafs, he said, citing the Italian tradition of caf coffee making, wherein professionals will train five years before being formally recognized as a barista, he said.

Even though Sonny's baristas don't train for nearly that long, &#8220the stuff we do has flavor. We make it over and over until it's the way we want it.”

Lastly, powdered cocoa is sprinkled across the entire heaping caf crema. Its multiple layers aren't stirred or blended. Each element mostly retains its form and shape, while gradually dissolving.

Every drink is expertly finished and has a personal touch.

&#8220We don't have a concept or team of marketers. We do it with the heart,” said Ron.

Sonny's Crema Caf, 3403 Lyndale Ave. S., 824-3868

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or