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Weekend: Munch goes to Enrico's Tazza d'Oro

Friday, March 10, 2000

By Munch

Munch had forgotten there is a sun. Winter had wiped out all memory of the hot rays that brighten up a wan and pasty face so well. Life was bleak. Groundhogs were predicting the worst.

And then ... the sun made a celebrity appearance on a recent weekend and sent groundhogs everywhere scurrying to their holes out of shame. Frat boys were suddenly donning shorts and women were once again using sunglasses to hold back unruly hair. Munch fished out a rumpled T-shirt from the back of a closet.

And then Munch met the sun personally while having Sunday brunch with friends at Enrico's Tazza d'Oro in Highland Park. Soon after walking into the European-style cafe, which doesn't have an ounce of European pretentiousness, Munch picked out a table in the sun and sat directly in the rays.

Ah. Munch was surrounded by two out of three things necessary for a good and simple life: friends and sun. The third thing, good food, was on its way.

But first we ordered coffee and -- jumping java beans! -- was it good coffee. Don't ask Munch for a scientific explanation of why it was good. For that, you can consult panels on "the art and aroma of coffee" located behind the counter.

Munch can say that the coffee rivaled Starbucks' java in robustness, flavor and punch. And it didn't have the characteristic bitterness of Starbucks coffee, which Munch doesn't mind but which many people don't care for. At $1.15 for a small cup including a refill, compared to about $1.30 at Starbucks without a refill, Enrico's has gotta lay claim to the best cuppa joe in the 'Burgh.

Around noon, the tables began filling up. There are roughly 10 tables, plus two plush armchairs with footstools, but the cafe never felt crowded, even with every seat taken. The gorgeous tile floors, plants, beautiful art, natural light and piped-in classical music contribute to the fresh and airy nature of the place.

Since Sunday brunch was still being served (it's offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Munch & Co. opted for Italian frittatas, salmon on a bagel and cinnamon toast with bacon rather than the delectable sandwiches available for regular lunch.

Munch chose a frittata (it's like an omelet) with tomatoes and eggplant. It was absolutely fabulous -- crisp on the edges, not watery but not dry, well seasoned and salted, chock full of vegetables and perfectly shaped. It came with two strips of crispy bacon which, though small, fortified the meal. A wonderful half-bagel unfortunately did not come with any butter or jam but was a welcome relief to toast.

The Friends of Munch all reported wonderful experiences with their food, as well. The young man in charge of the cash register came by to clear our plates, which was a welcome surprise, given that there is no table service. (You order your food at the counter and it's delivered to you when it's ready. We didn't wait long at all.)

Speaking of the counter, Munch was concerned by the small fish being kept there in a bowl of water. She looked lonely and sluggish. Munch hopes Enrico's will enliven her life by providing a companion or putting in a filter.

Also on the counter is a pile of postcards sent by patrons of the cafe from all places -- Ohio, Dallas, Venezuela. While waiting for a cappuccino on a return visit, Munch perused the postcards and considered them a delightful distraction for patrons waiting for their milk to steam.

On the back of a card picturing Missouri, someone had written: "What is the Show-Me state, anyway? Show me what?" On a postcard of the state capitol in Harrisburg, someone had written: "OK, we didn't really stop here but you could get three postcards for the price of one."

The postcards support the fact that Enrico's is a warm and friendly place which happily strays from the uniformity of chain coffeehouses. Indeed, Enrico's Tazza d'Oro (that means "cup of gold" in Italian) is run by Amy Enrico, a neighborhood resident who once told the Post-Gazette she opened the cafe partly because, "I was tired of driving somewhere to get a good cup of coffee or bite to eat."

The pastries she serves are from her family's Enrico's Bakery in Jeannette. And the coffee is roasted in Olympia, Wash., and served a day later. Open since last summer, the cafe also sells desserts, soups and fresh imported cheeses and meats.

Munch is thrilled that there's not only a new, chummy, neighborhood cafe around, but one that serves satisfying food and a hearty brunch. Doubtless, there are Highland Park residents who don't want the secret to get out, but Munch wouldn't be a responsible Munch if Enrico's were not announced to the world as one of the best new additions to Pittsburgh's dining-coffee-place-to-read-the-paper scene.

Enrico's Tazza d'Oro is located in the old Marcus Pharmacy at 1125 N. Highland Ave., near the intersection with Bryant Street. It is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. Poetry readings take place Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. Musical performances and workshops on how to appreciate coffee are also occasionally scheduled. Phone: 412-362-DORO.

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