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Sugar Cafe offers sweet treats, sandwiches and a cup of joe

Sugar Cafe, in Dormont, has a lot of personality for such a small place.

First, it's a bakery, doing everything from elaborate custom wedding cakes to simple cookies. It also has "Cafe" in the name, which is a little misleading -- but also a little bit accurate. Oh, and it's definitely a coffee shop.

"It's all three," owner Kelly James says. "We couldn't really decide what to be, so we're everything."

"I went to culinary school, and I ended up being a pastry chef. I spent a large part of the '90s behind an Italian restaurant bar making cappucinos. So, I kind of tied in everything in my background that I've done in my 21-year career in the restaurant industry."

Sugar Cafe is a bright, airy room on Potomac Avenue painted a peculiar shade of light blue -- somewhere between baby blue and bottom-of-the-pool blue. An upstairs balcony contains the bakery, giving the full space over to pastry-packed display cases and cafe seating. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, indie rock wafted gently from an unseen stereo, while a trio of young women busily baked, cooked and made coffee.

"We have something going on all day," James says. "We have the coffee people in the morning, a nice breakfast crowd, free Wi-Fi and more coffee, getting a dessert out of the pastry case. And we do lunch, and some afternoon coffee. It's finally working out, starting to gel. People are finally figuring out what we're doing."

Sugar Cafe began to take off after word got out about its weekend brunch. Most of the best-regarded brunch spots in town -- Pamela's, Coca Cafe, Deluca's, the Dor-Stop right down the street -- tend to have long lines out the door on the weekend. There was room, apparently, for another high-quality option.

The other functions of Sugar Cafe have taken a little longer to find their feet.

"We've sort of fallen into the cupcake thing," James says. "Recently, a salted caramel (cupcake) has been selling like crazy, and a chocolate cheesecake swirl. We didn't set out to do that, but you've got to give the people what they want. I think our morning pastries are fantastic -- wonderful cream scones, muffins, coffee cake. We're kind of becoming known for this glazed lemon poundcake that we do. The dry side of our case is all morning stuff -- chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies. The cold side tends towards actual desserts that you can get plated: bread pudding, cheesecake, creme brulee."

The sandwiches, on freshly baked bread, are pretty great, too. The Roasted Eggplant on Ciabatta ($5.95), with parmesan, roasted tomato, arugula and toasted garlic mayo is a favorite, as is the Roasted Chicken on Sourdough ($6.95), with Jack cheese, spinach, red onion, roasted tomato and chipotle mayo.

Coffee could have been an afterthought, but like everything else at Sugar, great care has been taken here, as well. They worked with La Prima in the Strip to develop a signature house roast. "I hired a fantastic barista (Tommy Medley) in the South Hills who actually has groupies who come to him for his lattes, latte art and everything else. He's starting to get a little following at Sugar, too."

Additional Information:

Sugar Cafe

Location: 1517 Potomac Ave., Dormont

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. All major credit cards accepted.

Details: 412-341-1090 or website

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