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Tazza d'Oro lives up to gold standard among coffee shops

Amy Enrico says she wanted more than a coffee shop when she founded Tazza d'Oro 10 years ago,

"I wanted it to be a destination, a spot in the community," she says, sitting in the Highland Park restaurant on a sunny afternoon during which 13 of the 14 tables were being used and there was steady traffic up and down the center aisle.

She seems of have accomplished that. Along with a broad selection of coffee and espresso, Tazza d'Oro offers panini, salads, pastries, fruit, vegetables and Sunday brunch items.

Beyond that, however, the Highland Avenue storefront is the starting point for scheduled Tuesday and Thursday evening bicycle rides, Tuesday evening walks and conversation nights built around themes.

The broadband- and Wi-fi-equipped restaurant also is a home for laptop users and a conduit for local and national politics. City Councilman Patrick Dowd uses the shop as one of a number of sites he uses to get into the community. The restaurant's Web site -- tazzadoro.net -- lists political get-togethers and events.

Enrico says that is all part of the "spirit of authenticity" of the place.

She says bicycling always has been "something of a loose passion" with her. A friend started the rides in an effort to get Enrico away from the shop and on the road.

Even if that does not happen much, the spirit of the place is there, and it shows. On one afternoon, laptops were in use on at least seven of the tables. Customers were not just sitting around sipping.

That isn't to say food and drink aren't an important part of Tazza d'Oro. They are, in several ways. It offers a wide variety of coffees, ranging from $1.35 to $3.95 a cup and made from beans from around the world.

It also offers pastries from $1 to $3 and specialties such as its salad of field greens ($8.50), which features artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, eggplant, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, green onions and parmesan.

Then there is fontina toast ($7.50), made of imported fontina cheese and tomatoes on toast, or a portabello ($8.25) or eggplant ($8.25) panini.

Those sandwiches get a little heftier with the roast beef version ($8.75), which features the meat, red peppers, arugula and gruyere grilled on an Italian roll. Or there is the Italian sweet sausage panini ($8.50), which has peppers, onions and mushrooms grilled with provolone on an Italian roll.

Sunday brunch, featuring items such as a bacon, tomato, cheddar and green onion wrap ($7.95), is served from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

But there is more to the food than serving it, says Enrico, a Highland Park resident. She says she tries to support locally grown food and locally baked breads and pastries. Enrico estimates 80 percent of such products are from this area.

She also points out Tazza d'Oro is a dropoff spot for one of the local farms involved in community-supported agriculture. In those programs, consumer-subscribers get a box of produce from the farm every week. She expects about 50 subscribers to take advantage of those dropoffs, which are only now beginning.

Enrico says, at its best, a coffee shop such as Tazza d'Oro will initiate conversation and activity by serving items of quality and originality. She says that is what she had in mind when she opened the site, and calls it the "experience of coffee."

Additional Information:

Tazza d'Oro

Location: 1125 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Details: 412-362-3676.

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