Alexandria: Homegrown Desserts and Dishes

Alexandria: Homegrown Desserts and Dishes

Fitting the style at Killer ESP.

Cam Houghtaling steams a latte behind the bar.

Cam Houghtaling steams a latte behind the bar. Photo by Mike Salmon/Gazette Packet

As part of the fixins’ bar inside Killer ESP coffee shop on King Street, there is a jar of washable spoons for stirring the coffee, giving customers an option to plastic or wood stirrers that might fester in a landfill for years to come. The spoon option, coupled with homemade cookies and art originals on the wall, sets Killer ESP on a pedestal to some of their local clientele.


Barista-sorbet-gelato maker Nina Dalal holds one of the plates her mother made that is part of the Killer ESP experience.


Killer ESP

1012 King Street, Alexandria

Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9:30ish

Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-11:30ish


One of the homemade mugs Sandra Dalal made for Killer ESP.

Old Town resident Ella Benbow is a regular fan of the lattes and vegetarian empanadas, but feels the socially conscious steps Killer ESP takes is “definitely a big plus,” she said.

Sophie Sachar, 17, who came with her older sister from West Springfield, liked the environmental steps they take as well. “It’s nice to see them using different practices like that,” she said.

Behind the counter manning the espresso machine, Cam Houghtaling noted that the customers like the attitude the shop takes, whether it’s the rewashable coffee stirrers, the homemade cookies and pies, or the handmade cups and plates. “It makes a difference in the world and it makes a difference to the customers,” Houghtaling said. The homemade plates and mugs are a special touch. “Her mom makes them,” he said, pointing to Nina Dalal, one of the baristas behind the counter.

Killer ESP has been at this location for several years, selling espresso, sorbet and pies, hence the ESP name, as well as coffee that is a big draw. Their current brand of coffee is Stump Town, which was brought to the shop by Rob Shelton, the owner. He went to Denver, Boulder and Seattle where he “investigated the coffee scene,” he said, before finding Stump Town. Many of the snacks they sell, such as the Waikiki Chip Cookies, are locally made, as well as the paintings and photography featured on the walls, which are for sale as well. “Everyone’s local,” Houghtaling added.

The interior of Killer ESP is a little dark and cavernous, as it winds past the coffee bar to more seating and artwork in the back. “We’ve got a cool, unique place,” said Shelton. The walls are adorned with paintings and photography by local artists, and some sell the work right off the wall. The artists “come to us,” added Houghtaling.

Sandra Dalal, Nina’s mom, creates the mugs and plates at the Art League in Old Town. “She does them on the wheel,” Nina Dalal said. Some of the customers get attached to the pottery items as well. “A guy, Bill, gets the green mug and puts his plate on top to keep the coffee hot,” she said. Her mother wasn’t surprised that customers grow fond of her coffee mugs. “Mugs are the most intimate form of art, they need to feel right in your hand, next to your mouth,” she said. The mugs were planned with input from Shelton, and “angled the cup in a certain way,” to cater to the drinking motion,” Shelton said.

Nina Dalal’s school, The Howard Gardner School on Franconia Road, requires sophomores and juniors to have an internship on Fridays as part of its mission for a hands-on learning experience. She wanted an internship making gelato and the sorbet, similar to gelato, has become one of her specialties at Killer ESP. Her mother’s pottery dishes were added after she started working there.

Sandra Dalal is an amateur when it comes to pottery, but things happened to work out with her work and the pies at Killer ESP. “We love the plates because they hold a piece of Dangerously Delicious Pie and a scoop of Nina’s mascarpone gelato just perfectly. These plates have become my signature piece,” Sandra Dalal said in an email.

At the Art League, up on Union Street, some of Sandra Dalal’s fellow students even recognized the plates from their own visits to ESP.

“ESP is such an eclectic space, so handmade pottery just fits right in,” Nina Dalal said.