Au lait? Oh, yes.
Coffee Call tells you the plan not two steps inside the door: Take a tray and help yourself. Indulge in bottled juices or iced tea if you must; the smart money's on the cafe au lait, past the decaf, hot chocolate and house roast.

Fill a sturdy white mug (you'll get one refill, on the honor system) and place an order for beignets, which go three for $2. Though the friendly folks at the counter will sell you just one, save yourself an extra trip and spring for the full trio at the outset. One is simply not enough of these vehicles for powdered sugar, delivered hot and crunchy from the fryer.

Munch to the beat of background jazz (New Orleans style, of course), while white blades of ceiling fans whir overheard. So what if Coffee Call overlooks Lamar High School, rather than Jackson Square? Coffee Call is six hours closer than Cafe du Monde, and pretty near as good.

Heaven's shake
The geographical references are more eclectic at La Creperie, which is the latest occupant of the coffeehouse space opposite the Montrose branch of the Houston Public Library. The dominant influence is French -- visible in the masterfully flaky pastries, outdated fashion magazines and, of course, the crepes, which come in dessert or entree guises.

Outside the printed menu, though, the offerings veer from Asian specialties to fin-de-siecle American decadence. In the first category are creditable spring rolls, a ramen-like chicken soup and, on occasion, some gorgeous, steamed chicken dumplings with a hell-fire ginger sauce. In the second category are a selection of kitchen sinkstyle caffeine concoctions that rival the main dishes in price.

At the top of the list in all regards is Wendy's Five Dollar Shake. The namesake creator doesn't work at La Creperie anymore (she's returned to college), and the shake really costs $4.60, but otherwise, nothing in this obscenely satisfying combination warrants the slightest quibble. It liquefies vanilla ice cream and syrup, espresso and white chocolate for easy passage through a straw.

The espresso adds an adult edge to the sweetness, and the combination retains its interest as you empty a ribbed plastic cup that's nearly seven inches tall. Vive la difference!

--Kathy Biehl

Coffee Call, 3260 Westheimer, 520-8291; La Creperie, 4100 Montrose, 942-8333.


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