Not long ago, a buddy and I were hankering for a hot cuppa joe. As the *newly* opened Fortezza had been garnering such social media buzz in the Fort, we agreed to check it out. An accident post color run had left most of the whipped cream in my sister's lap, so we also agreed to grab a fresh caffè mocha from the Dash-In. Then we had an idea— Why not have a good old fashioned coffee-off? Old fashioned as in, not scientifically backed and totally biased by our personal opinions.
The Dash-In is a downtown institution, chock-full of an ever changing arsenal of 23 craft brews, open early and late, later on the weekends. Live music is a common weekend addition, optional carry-out beer and Waiter on the Way delivery service. Urbanspoon gives it a score of 89%, 9/10 on Foursquare, and Trip Advisor ranks it #52 out of 526 Fort Wayne restaurants (they also list Coney Island as #4, as a reference).
Overall, the Dash-In is a popular lunch spot and a cozy bar for after-work hours. It does however, feature a "fabulous breakfast menu complimented with an array of specialty hot coffee drinks using locally roasted Old Crown Coffee," specialties include lattes, Cappuccino, Macchiato and Vietnamese.
Being that time of day, we thought we'd share something to go along with our coffee. The garbage plate, recommended by the waitress as one of the most popular breakfast options, is exponentially better than the name implies and includes a little bit of everything.
Caffè mocha was the highlight of the show however. Crowning the cup was a light, fluffy, creamy whipped goodness drizzled with chocolate, which subsequently melted into chocolatey coffee. Ideal for someone who doesn't want coffee so much as to take the edge off ever-present sweet-tooth cravings (me).
As an avid caffè mocha drinker, I have to admit a dirty little secret at this point. Burger King and McDonalds actually have rather delicious caffè mocha drinks. Even so, I'd rate the Dash-In higher than these two fast food giants, partially because of "the experience."
Sitting at the wooden bar in the brick walled, high ceilinged building, warm tones and art all around, there is an undeniable coziness to the Dash-In. Also, holding a giant mug of hot chocolatey coffee nectar and wiping the whipped stash of your top lip is very sensual.
A plastic to-go cup just isn't the same.
Another confession: I'm not a huge coffee person. I am not a daily drinker, and when I do have my weekly cup at Sunday brunch, the only way I can drink it is with cream, preferably hazelnut flavored.
Fortezza on the other hand, has garnered all kinds of rave reviews, many from hard-core coffee lovers and cafe culture devotees.
The owner of Fortezza, Sean Wang, is very friendly and approachable. We told him what we were up to with our "coffee-off" challenge and he told us about his vision for the store (his second in town, Trionfale Espresso his first). The star attraction, gathering international attention from coffee fanatics around the world, is Modbar, which brews espresso in mere seconds. Designed and manufactured in Fort Wayne, Fortezza is the very first Indiana location for the Modbar.
What sets it apart is that the bulk of the machine is located underneath the counter, eliminating the wall between barristers and coffee drinkers.
A true cafe for coffee enthusiasts, the tone is typical— hushed. Many readers and laptops were scattered around the clean, open space filled with comfortable, unique furniture set upon wooden floors. Trendy and modern mix together in a retro-chic revitalized building, providing a big city coffee shop feel. Can this really be Fort Wayne? (Yes)
Fortezza earns an impressive 100% approval rating on Urbanspoon, 8.3/10 on Foursquare, and reverent amazement from almost every single newspaper and blog in the city. Although they don't have a website yet, the Fortezza Facebook is alive and kicking. Open 7-8 weekdays, 8-7 Saturday, Fortezza's sole focus is coffee, although they do offer a rather eclectic brunch menu (served 8-2, think quiche and creme brûlée French toast) and assorted sweets (DeBrand chocolates, among others).
For a sugar junkie such as myself, I found the caffè mocha from Fortezza a touch too bitter and lacking in chocolate flavor. For purists, I'm confident it would be acceptable. There was no artificial topping, the artistic design on top was from the original frothiness of the steamed milk, and it was served in a smaller cup than the Dash.
Final verdict: Dash-In conquers for most kick-*ss caffè mocha in a coffee-off contest with Fortezza.
Please hold the hate mail, this is my personal opinion and in a way, I've been comparing apples and oranges. The Dash-In is much older (established in 1994), has a full menu, and is known for its selection of microbrews. Fortezza opened in April of this year, and is known for cutting edge coffee. Both have live music from time to time, both have handmade pastries, and just so happen to be across the street from each other.
I will go back to both businesses, for different things. Although the Dash-In wins my vote for, essentially, a dessert in a mug, Fortezza makes their own macaroons. The sea-salted caramel macaroon is a gift from the sugar fairies and melts in your mouth with that perfect combination of salty and sweet. Do yourself a favor, go get one, you won't regret it.
Fun fact: Fortezza means “fortress” in Italian, and was chosen because Fort Wayne is often called “The Fort,” or even … Das Fort!
Compilation photo by the author, all other photos by Tony Frantz