In an environment awash with dining choices, a small, simple cafe that closes before the main dinner rush may seem to offer little to Yale students. However, one particular New Haven eatery proves that less is more.
Moka offers a surprisingly sunny, spacious-yet-cozy nook to enjoy breakfast, lunch or a snack. Opened about one year ago by the letter-“K”-substituting owner of Koffee (the one on Audubon St.), Moka is nestled in the financial district on Orange Street, just beyond the New Haven Green. For Yalies living on campus, getting there is a minor trek, but well worth the effort.
Customers order and pay at the register first, pick up drinks at the side counter and then receive food at their table. Moka calls itself a chocolate cafe and offers five different flavors of hot chocolate (approximately $3, though prices vary by size), so choosing a beverage was a no-brainer. My friends and I tried Moka’s traditional hot cocoa, Azteka and Submarino. Though all three drinks were served in beautiful, generous mugs, the chocolate was somewhat disappointing. The traditional hot chocolate was pedestrian and not as rich as we had expected. Azteka, perhaps with help from that letter “K,” packed an aggressive punch. Spicy, red, cinnamon candy sprinkles that were visibly floating at the surface made each sip of the chocolate a dangerous delight, even if the spice probably masked the thin chocolate content. Both the traditional cocoa and the Azteka trumped the Submarino, which was not only thin, but required melting a few meager pieces of chocolate into hot milk. After the lackluster drinks, we were really hankering for something more satisfying.
Two savory crepes and a grilled panini sandwich later, our stomachs were nearly filled. The Lorelei crepe ($6.49), stuffed with bits of mozzarella cheese mingling with tomato and basil, was a soggy but appetizing imitation of Italian insalata caprese. Excessive mustard ruined the French Peasant crepe ($8.19), which promised a tasty mix of salty brie, pungent prosciutto and sweet grapes. The Pilgrim’s Progress panini ($7.99) was the clear winner, with flawlessly toasted bread joined by the appropriate ratio of warm turkey to melted Swiss to crunchy bacon. All three plates included a helping of fresh mixed salad on the side. There was no choice of dressing, but the one they used, a light vinaigrette, was pretty unobjectionable. Besides, we were too full to notice.
Satiated though we were, we ordered two sweet crepes to cap the meal. I have a theory that everyone possesses a separate, second stomach intended especially for desserts. If not for that marvelous theory, we would have missed the most delicious part of the Moka experience. The Nutella crepe ($3.69) is for the chocolate lover; it is warm, stuffed with gooey chocolate and hazelnut spread, drizzled with chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream. The honey almond crepe ($3.29) doesn’t shy away from the saccharine either; it is crammed thickly with honey, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with whipped cream and almonds.
Moka may not draw a regular Yale crowd — but it should. The cafe makes a great lunch or snack destination free from the herds of students who mob the on-campus coffee shops. In short, Moka is neither pretentious nor pricey. It is also neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. If you’re in need of a break from the norm, take a trip to 141 Orange St. Just relax, sit down to a crepe and cocoa, and thank your lucky stars you’re not in a dining hall at the moment.