Cafe Witness

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Digs

There's been a bit of downtime recently as I searched for a new apartment. The old one was in a great section of town (the edge of Squirrel Hill) but the property itself was not an apartment I enjoyed. After looking around for... um, actually about two hours... we found a new place in Highland Park.

"Why Highland Park?" you say. True, it's not very walkable as far as "places we go" are concerned. But the space itself is amazingly large and, all things considered, particularly cost-efficient.

Plus, heat is included. After spending the past winter in an uninsulated garage apartment where the interior temperature routinely dropped below 50 because I refused to run the heat (thanks, Dominion gas prices), free heat was a necessity.

And, perhaps most relevant to this blog: I can now walk to Tazzo D'Oro.

Granted, it closes fairly early (10 PM early in the week), so I'm typing all of this from the Crazy Mocha in South Side Works. But I'll be at Tazzo D'Oro more often once the snows hit and I don't quite feel like driving 20 minutes for my java.

Did I mention heat is included?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Quick-Hits

I saw Snakes on a Plane last night. It was exactly what it should have been. Anything more and I would have been surprised, possibly even disappointed -- the movie is not supposed to be above-average... (I reviewed the experience here.)

Interesting article about Kwame James, the basketball player who helped subdue the Shoe Bomber five years ago and the turns his life has taken before and since then. Highlight of the article for me: the government offers to give James full-time citizenship (he's Canadian / Trinidad-Tobogan) in exchange for testifying against the offender; when the Bomber goes to jail without a trial, the government instead informs James that he may be deported. Whoops!

(Second-favorite fact from the article: read the end to see whom the Shoe Bomber is sharing jail time with!)

Friday, August 11, 2006


My friend Rachel has the day off from her day job as a graphic designer. She decided to spend it at Crazy Mocha, working on revisions of her latest manuscript for a series of young adult novels she writes in her spare time. She arrived at 9 and, except for a brief lunch break, has been here ever since.

As the clock arcs toward 6 PM, I sit here trying to remember what I've done in the same period of time -- breakfast, email, lunch, nap, phone calls... And as the pages of her manuscript keep flipping past me, one after another, I think to myself: that's dedication...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pleasant Surprise: Tuscany Cafe

Ann and I had a business meeting this morning with the Regional Internship Center. We decided to meet at the Tuscany Cafe on East Carson Street, which is near their office but much quieter (and more professional) than the Beehive.

Atmosphere: I haven't been here in almost a year, but it's pretty much the same as I remember it: dark reds and browns, very clean, sparsely populated. Cold. The overhead fans are comfortable but sitting in the direct path of the AC (as we are now) is a bit icy.

Food and Drink:The chai teas were great; not as good as Tazzo D'Oro, but certainly commendable. We split a grilled vegetable panini sandwich which was very good (should have each gotten our own because my half left me wanting more). Plus, they wisely have a water pitcher and plastic cups available for the folks who just need to quench their thirst -- which, considering this is a coffee bar, is probably everyone. Nice touch.

Service: Friendly, laid-back and patient. No complaints. The sandwich-making barista suggested we play it safe with a wheat panini. His co-barista brought the sandwich out in two separate baskets (with two pickles!) because she didn't know if we were going to split it or not -- smart move.

Variety: Sandwiches, paninis, muffins, cookies... Enough to keep my attention.

Free Wireless?: Yes! Unlocked to the masses.

Miscellaneous: A clean and spacious bathroom. Ample seating space. A fully-stocked bar for evening service (!). Smoking IS allowed (hence, the overhead fans). And at least 6 wall outlets (that I've counted so far) for the laptop-reliant.

It looks like the Tuscany Cafe, which is the alternative to The Beehive (which is already the alternative to Starbucks), holds up rather well.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On a Whim: Enrico's Tazza D'oro

There's something to be said for wandering this city we call home: you just might find a new favorite place right around the corner.

Ann and I had the urge to frolic in the park today, so we went to Highland Park and played in the fountain with the local kids. I gave away the Nerf football that had been residing in my trunk for the past 4 years to kids who would get more use from it than I do. Then we walked around the reservoir, which I'd never seen before, and I was possessed by the urge to roll down a hill -- which I did, without my glasses, resulting in a blurrier-than-normal blur as I sped downhill toward a parking car. Disney should include that sensation in their next motion thrill ride...

Afterwards, we started to drive back to Squirrel Hill when we saw a shaded cafe on Highland Avenue called Enrico's Tazza D'oro and -- again, on a whim -- stopped in for a chai and cookie.

The chai was great (among the best we've had in Pittsburgh). The Reese's Pieces cookie was small but delectable. The service was friendly and very helpful, and the barista from London added a wonderful touch of Euro-authenticity to the proceedings.

The atmosphere is also very inviting: hardback padded chairs, imprecise seating arrangements, cozy (some might say dim) lighting and a generally warm ambience. The neighborhood is multicultural, comprised of what seems to be equal parts grad students and chilled-out professionals. All the kids were cute, especially the 2 or 3 year-old boy who smiled and waved with authentic joy at everyone who entered or exited, including the dogs. Seeing happy families relaxing in a cafe on the weekend gives me hope for our future, or at least for a pleasant evening.

And, best of all: free wireless!

On first visit, I believe this scores a 5 out of 5 on the "Five Key Elements of a Good Cafe" scale. I'll have to come back and test-drive the paninis. They're a bit expensive for my taste ($7-$9 apiece), but seem worth a bite.

Will I return? Certainly. Probably without the grass stains.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

24-Hour Cafe People

I'm nocturnal. I do my best work and am at my most creative when the sun goes down and I'm isolated from the rest of the normal world. I'm free of the distractions and the buzz and, as much as I enjoy them, I can actually focus on what I want to do.

So why are there no 24-hour coffee shops in Pittsburgh?

Sure, there's Eat 'n Park, but that's hardly a coffee shop. (For those of you beyond the 'burgh, Eat 'n Park is a confusingly-named chain of diners, similar to a Denny's or a Perkins, that got its start at a chain of drive-in eateries back in the '50s.) And sure, there are Tim Horton's donut shops as near as Erie (and possibly nearer), but those aren't exactly coffee shops (and aren't exactly here) either.

I can understand the adversity. I'm not even sure they'd be profitable. But Eat 'n Park turns a profit, which means the crowds must be there -- especially when college is in session -- so you'd think someone would give the idea a whirl. Think of it:

- Fresh coffee at 3 AM.
- A cozy place to sit and read or write after midnight.
- Somewhere for the night owls to gather that doesn't involve liquor.
- Late-night cram sessions could stay fueled.
- The truly ambitious (and the workaholics) could add a few extra hours to their days.

Partner with a local college radio station to pipe in the overnight radio show, ensure that homeless people don't crash on the couches and cut down on the amount of clean-up work the closing (and opening) crews would have to do because there'd be no closing (or opening).

And maybe I could get something done when it's 90 degrees in my apartment at 4 AM...