By Holly Burnett
Let’s begin with the name. Killer ESP. Well that got my attention from the start. Where was I going? A coffee house, I thought. Or perhaps I was entering the lair of a “Dexter-ish” character who could predict his own killings. I was intrigued to say the least. But upon entering the shop at 1012 King Street in Alexandria, I got the meaning right away and felt silly for even considering this place was a harbinger for manslaughtering mediums. I guess this is where I should say “spoiler alert,” but I’ll refrain since I want you to keep reading. Killer ESP means Killer Espresso, Sorbet and Pie. So it is a coffee house – but so much more.
I asked for Rob, and was directed to the back patio – a rustic enclave bordered with Adirondack chairs. And there I met Rob Shelton, Killer ESP’s proprietor, who, all at once, exuded the low-key, relaxed manner of a Californian with the sincerity and polish of a Virginian. Born in Miami and raised in Alexandria from the age of four, where he attended both Hayfield Elementary and Hayfield Secondary Schools, Shelton also lived in Huntington Beach, California for 12 years. With extensive restaurant management experience under his belt, Shelton returned to Alexandria and opened Killer ESP in 2011.
He wanted to create a place that was “anti-corporate and not stuffy.” And he succeeded. Walking into Killer ESP, the vibe is immediately different. There is a feeling of community and creativity from the animated chatter of its patrons to the local art displayed on its walls. The hall leading to the patio, painted by GW students, is a fantasy of familiar images, including Wonderland’s Alice and Harry Potter’s owl. This is Shelton’s world, which reinvents itself daily and could just as easily be found in Berkeley, California.
Without question, the coffee IS killer. Shelton made me a cup like a chef would prepare his best dish. I usually take cream and sugar with my coffee, but I took this cup straight. To add anything would be like asking Eric Ripert for salt and pepper. Shelton uses Stumptown Coffee beans, steeped for 12 hours, to create his own cold brew, and makes each individual cup of coffee with a clever dripper. The result is a pure coffee taste, rich in flavor and aroma, more akin to a fine wine. But the coffee is only the beginning.
Shelton has made Killer ESP a one-stop shop for delicious specialty foods in the area, such as Dangerously Delicious Pies (don’t miss the Bacon Onion Gruyere Quiche or the Baltimore Bomb pie) and Julia’s Empanadas of DC, pastries from the Hollin Hall Bakery in Alexandria, and gluten-free baked goods from The Happy Tart in Del Ray. He also offers more than 60 loose leaf teas, with a $1 Tea Happy Hour every day after 5:00 PM, and over 200 flavors of gelato and sorbet that are made in-house on a rotating basis.
With great WiFi and cozy, conversational seating, both inside and out, Killer ESP is an atmosphere of incredible conviviality, the result of Shelton’s nurturing ownership and sense of community, complete with a pastry and a perfect cup of coffee.