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Cats & Dogs might be able to scratch your coffee, snacks itch

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 5:15 a.m.

They call themselves Mr. Dog and Mr. Cat. But the two guys who run Cats & Dogs Coffee in Lawrenceville aren't furries, that singular subset of humans who assume the identities of animals by donning the kinds of costumes worn by college football mascots.

Mr. Cat and Mr. Dog are two civic-minded gentlemen who believe in investing in the revitalization of the Penn Avenue corridor that runs between Lawrenceville and Bloomfield near Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. They opened their shop Aug. 15 to serve coffee and biscotti to hospital personnel, neighborhood residents and Port Authority bus riders who take the 54C, 88, 64 and 93 buses, all of which stop along the route.

Come for the specialty coffee, gourmet teas, espresso and Italian sodas. Stay to browse the orphaned paperbacks and vintage magazines, including an issue of Time from 1943. Chat with owner Nixi "Cat" Chesnavich, an exceedingly pleasant chap who radiates the kindly solicitude of Shakespeare's Friar Laurence.

Talk with him long enough, and you'll learn that their four-legged nicknames derived from their respective e-mail addresses. The two young children of a friend added the "Mister" part, says Chesnavich, a native of Tennessee who works as an operating room nurse at Children's Hospital. Mr. Dog wishes to remain hidden behind his canine alter-ego.

At present, their menu is confined to snack foods such as chips, granola bars and trail mix. Try a bagel ($1.25; $1.75 with cream cheese) or a locally baked biscotti ($1.75). Chesnavich says he may eventually serve sandwiches or soups, but with only the two of them running the place, with occasional help from a personage known only as Ms. Ferret, they don't want to bite off more than they can chew.

The interior of the shop is stark but bright, with cream walls, tin ceiling and faux-wood floors. Customers can sit or browse a display of photographs by artist Toni Gigante, whose paintings of Lyle Lovett, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise stare down from the walls.

Cats & Dogs also serves hot chocolate, dark or white, for $2.10. Try the fresh-pressed lemonade or limeade ($2.10) or mango lassi ($3.27). Their Italian sodas ($1.87) are made with syrups whose flavors include amoretto, caramel, peppermint and pumpkin spice. They have sugar-free syrups as well.

In addition to black teas such as English breakfast and Earl Grey, they also serve red and herbal teas, including ginger cinnamon spice, chamomile and rainforest mint yerba mate. They also have a number of rooibas teas, which are brewed from the leaves of a medicinal South African shrub.

White teas include blueberry and pomegranate. Soy milk is available at no extra charge.

Despite the shop's name, Health Department regulations prohibit real dogs and cats from roaming the premises of the coffee shop, unless they're a guide for people with disabilities.

Additional Information:

Cats & Dogs Coffee

Location: 4059 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays; through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Details: 412-621-1547 or Facebook

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