Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

tazza mia

next time you find yourself downtown hoping for a quick and simple bite to eat and something warm to drink, consider heading to tazza mia at 441 vine street. while it is still true that, for me, nothing compares to some quality time at the coffee emporium, i’ll wager that tazza mia might give them a run for their money, if only for its central location (adjacent to the carew tower, right near fountain square) and for its more regular weekend hours (they’re open saturdays til 10 pm, and sundays 9-2).

this particular saturday afternoon past, as i walked the streets of downtown chatting and decompressing with a friend who suggested we stop somewhere for a cup of tea, i was delighted to find a local competitor to starbucks that was closer to my central downtown location than central parkway. and while tazza mia does not look particularly inviting from the street — the interior seems bright and spare rather than cozy and welcoming — it would be a mistake to pass it by. the upstairs seating area, while small, is quite comfortable, suffused with a golden light and a gentle hum of busy-ness from the first floor.

the tea was hot (something that should be a given, but isn’t) without removing my tongue’s taste buds. the “serene green” tea had a wonderful hint of fruitiness that added a little something extra to the fresh wholesomeness most green teas evoke, and the ginger tea smelled so good i wanted to sit and steep in it myself. and while i didn’t sample their food or taste their home-roasted coffee, i’ll be back for both. it would make for a picture-perfect ending to an afternoon of shopping in carew tower, or skating in fountain park. or, as was my case, just wandering around, downtown, just because.

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i’ve been really curious about sitwell’s for months. i first noticed it going to a movie at the esquire, and then again doing some mad-dash holiday shopping on the ludlow drag. recently i had reason to take myself through the doors when three friends decided we should meet there for a sunday afternoon of knitting and girl-talk.

i like sitwell’s for a number of reasons: it’s funky and has that cool bohemian i’m-a-smart-college-student-type feel. the crowd is young-ish, hip-ish, and tends only slightly toward the white-kids-wearing-dreads-and-too-much-patchouli sort. it’s crowded and noisy and generally has a happy but laid-back vibe.

but i might also dislike sitwell’s for that same vibe. it would all depend on why i was there.

if you’re in the mood to sit and gab, sip coffee that you don’t care to have refilled, and people-watch, then you’re in the right place: sitwell’s will likely entertain you for several hours. however, if you’re in the mood to, say, eat and actually get table service, well, you might be in the wrong place. the food is good (well, the cheese quesadilla i had was good) but you have to be willing to yell and scramble to get it. and usually, i’m just not.

our server came to our table, and none of us were ready. she did come back–this time–and two people ordered coffees. i told her i’d need a few minutes, and would order something when the coffees came. but i asked if i could have a glass of water in the meantime. she said yes, but she clearly meant no. when the coffee showed up i asked for the quesadilla. “anything else?” um, well, i’d like some decaf, but not quite yet…right now i’d really just like that glass of water. “oh, sure, yeah, ok.” when my quesadilla showed up 20 minutes later, i asked again if i could please please please quench my parched throat. she was very apologetic and brought my water immediately. maybe 10-15 minutes later i was ready for my decaf. but i never got a chance to ask for it, because the server never came back to our table. oh, she eventually showed up when she needed the table space and so dropped off our check to kick us out, but by that time i’d spent 30 minutes trying to get her attention (no luck) and looking around, wondering if the coffee was perhaps self-serve (nope). since i was too fed up to brave any additional exchanges with her, i gave up, went home, and brewed some damn decaf myself.

now, had i not wanted service, my time at sitwell’s would have been quite lovely. i was especially charmed by the sitwell quote on the front of menu: “i am an electric eel in a pool of catfish.”  and it’s hard not to feel, oh, just plain smart, and cool, and interesting, and oh-so-early-twentieth-century bohemian when you’re sitting in a place named after the lovely ms. sitwell. so i’ll go back. but i just may take my own coffee.

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old habits die hard, and we may always best love the coffee emporium — its two existing locations (one in east hyde park, one downtown) as well as its soon-to-be-third (in the xu union) — but it now faces some competition for the coffee-space in our hearts from the coffee shop on madison, in o’bryonville.

the space is small but has an open feel. when you enter you are bombarded, as you should be, with the sights and smells of the coffee-and-delectables counter. but you can head toward the back and up a few shallow stairs into a cozy reading and drinking nook, or turn left into a larger but still comfy seating area, where you can choose to snuggle up on the couches and browse the coffee-table books (like this one), or you can sit and actually, you know, work at one of the tables. the light is wonderful, since the full-size storefront windows get more or less southern exposure, and the walls host rotating local art. there is a puzzling sign at the back that invites you to explore their secret garden, but it’s either a joke or it requires exiting through a door, which so far has been far too adventuresome for me.

the coffee is not locally roasted, but it is fair trade and mighty yummy. and the bakery treats are scrumptious and generously portioned. on one trip there i ordered a slice of banana bread and the cashier forgot to ring it up. since i didn’t have any cash on hand i decided to forego the treat rather than ring up another $2.95 on my debit card. “no worries,” he said. “just pay us next time you’re in.”

it’s a risky business strategy, but it worked. the banana bread was warm and satisfying, and it made me very willing to return another day to pay for it. (and to sample the sour cream coffee cake.)

add to that the fun window- and actual-shopping that this little stretch of madison road offers, and the coffee shop on madison has become a regular stopping point for us. it’s on my way to work, it’s near my pharmacy, and it’s just up the road from a local yarn store. good excuses reasons, all, to stop in for a cuppa joe.

–oh! and the waffles! how could i forget the waffles?! on weekends they make fresh belgian waffles courtesy of the waffle slinger, whose recipe, techniques and equipment they use even when the master himself does not appear. you can buy the waffles other days, too, but they will have been cooked on a previous day and stored in the freezer. still good, i’m told, but better i think to make a weekend trip of it for the real fresh thing.

(and apparently the mayor, whom we saw with our very own eyes at the coffee emporium on central parkway, likes the coffee shop on madison as well. just in case you were worried that you wouldn’t see him anywhere other than downtown.)

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our version of break the chain day took us back downtown (is it remarkable to note that i’ve driven to and parked downtown exactly three times, and each time i’ve parked in exactly the same spot?). our best bets for christmas gifts:

at park & vine:

for your too-cool auntie: super-absorbent flour-sack tea towels, 2/$18

for your mobo bicycle co-op loving bff: “i rode my bike to work today” t-shirts, lusciously soft and surprisingly thick: $5

for the garden-loving friend: greeting cards with wildflower seeds embedded in the paper. plant the whole biodegradable card for a cornerful of cheer next summer.

at mica 12/v:

the most gorgeously luxe felted scarves (felted but, i’m pretty sure, not knitted) from super maggie: $58 (and worth every penny!)

for your upscale holiday party hostess: porcelain-like tree ornaments in the origami shapes of a reindeer and a swan: $6

for your bare-walled iconoclast: b&w photo of “the god squad” — a funny, funky and slightly freaky collection of jesus and mary icons: $300 (unframed)

at metronation:

for the tot you know: the cutest, locally-made socks you can find. i can’t remember the name of the company or the price for a box, but just go in and ask. the staff is friendly and will be happy to help.

but the real highlight of our adventure was finding the coffee emporium on central parkway. i did not expect it to appeal to me even as much as the location on erie and victoria, but i like it even more. it is big. wide open. comfy-industrial. and the aztec moka — hint of coffee, hit of chocolate, and a tongue-zap of spices — can not be beat.

the service will be slow, however, if while you are waiting for your coffee the mayor of cincinnati comes in. we ordered. the barista started our order. the mayor came in. the mayor chatted with the cashier. the mayor ordered. the barista tried to give the first drink of our order to the mayor. the mayor politetly noted that it wasn’t his drink. the barista tried to give the drink to me. i politely noted that it wasn’t what i had ordered. the barista tossed it. the barista started working on the mayor’s drink. the barista chatted with the mayor. some more. the barista finished the mayor’s drink. the barista chatted with the mayor, again, some more. the mayor left. the barista made my drink. the barista took a break to chat with the cashier. the barista returned and made s’s drink. twenty minutes later, we had our two 90-second drinks.

still, i’ll go back. on my bike. with my shopping list. if for nothing else, to see what else the sign will say.

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nestled in a the corner where erie and victoria avenues meet in east hyde park, the coffee emporium is easy to miss: despite directions from two different people — “it’s around the corner from the police station…you *really* can’t miss it” — i have driven past it, actually looking for it and still not seeing it, too many times to admit. but now that i’ve found it, it’s home away from home.

hands down, this is our favorite shop for freshly-roasted beans. the selections are wide for both buzzers and dozers (i prefer the netherworld somewhere between), but the shop caters as well to tea-drinkers, chocolate-lovers, scone-munchers and sunday-brunchers of all stripes. the sunday menu features gorgeous waffles (i once watched a woman grudgingly share hers with her dog — named mr. rhett butler — who clearly did give a damn and wouldn’t take his eyes off her plate, despite the decidedly un-butler-esque quality of begging), in addition to soups from myra’s, breakfast burritos, and more. the scones and muffins can be had daily, and on a recent trip we found ourselves enjoying a pumpkin-cinnamon scone that hit the perfect fall-friendly note.

extra seating can be had upstairs on the second floor of this converted home, out back in the privacy of the shady trellised garden, at the side of the shop along victoria avenue, or even in front along erie avenue, where people-watching is at its best and seats are at a premium. weather-permitting, the best bet for my money is along the side of the shop, where there are bowls of water for visiting pups and small stumps for small fries to sit on.

this is also one of the places where i am constantly reminded just how friendly cincinnati is: almost everybody makes eye contact and says hello, the dogs are generally leashed and well-mannered, and grown ups are kid-friendly enough to engage our toddler in some version of conversation. typically her response is to stare back and keep munching on her scone. mairin-eats-a-scone.jpg

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