Cognoscenti Coffee's customized coffee cart has parked at Good Girl Dinette, and is now operating not only on weekends but throughout the week. Jack Benchakul is manning the tricked-out mobile cafe, pulling espressos and preparing pour-overs with coffees from roasters Phil & Sebastian and Heart.
Benchakul partnered with Cognoscenti Coffee owner Yeekai Lim, the architect who started Cognoscenti as a pop-up (now permanent) coffee bar inside Proof Bakery in Atwater Village and a second cafe in Culver City. Lim designed the cart, 2 by 4.5 feet, teak-stained, with exposed black framing.
The cart is the manifestation of a longtime dream of Benchakul, who has worked at Cognoscenti and Demitasse cafe; he's a biochemist who left the Bay Area to pursue a culinary career, landed in coffee and wanted a cafe of his own. "I was looking for a business concept that I could control more of the quality," he said, "a one-man operation."
After he partnered with Lim, the opportunity arose to work within Good Girl Dinette, the modern Vietnamese neighborhood restaurant in Highland Park. Benchakul already had bought a Modbar espresso-making system, the new machine (Bar Nine Collective also has been using it) that features sleek above-counter "taps" connected to under-counter controls. The system includes both espresso and pour-over coffee modules.
"The idea of not having a big box between the barista and the customer is appealing," Benchakul said. "As an early adopter I have minor issues, but so far everything's been great. And it's pretty eye-catching."
Lim designed the cart around the Modbar, working with welder/mill worker Ryan Horton. "It's surprisingly not that easy to find a really good welder on a budget," Benchakul noted. "He worked with us the entire way. He's so particular.... The cart came out beautifully."
Coffee service is available Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Diners can order their coffee -- espresso drinks and Vietnamese coffee -- at their table, or head straight for the cart for to-go orders. "I'm making everything that your normal coffee shop would have," Benchakul said.
From the cart you can also order Good Girl Dinette chef Diep Tran's toasted poundcake with citrus cream, hand pies with seasonal sweet or savory fillings and coconut bread pudding (which is vegan).
"Our hope is to become a permanent fixture here the way that Cog is at Proof Bakery," Benchakul said. But expect his cart to roll out for other events.
110 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980, www.popupcoffee.com.