A New Home for Java Junkies in the West Side

Tuscany Italian Bakery and Coffee (11150 Westheimer) has only been open for about a week. The little coffee shop at the corner of Wilcrest and Westheimer hasn't even had its grand opening celebration yet. But stopping in there yesterday for a reviving midafternoon latte, it seemed as if it had been a part of the neighborhood for years.

A reader recently mourned the dearth of good coffee shops on the west side of town, which is odd considering the wealth of good restaurants -- especially ethnic restaurants -- along Westheimer past the Beltway. Places like Cafe Rose at CityCentre, the nearly opened Phoenicia's Deli and Tuscany appear to be changing that.

Tucked into the same red-awninged strip center that houses favorites like Bistro Le Cep and Pho One, Tuscany has two entire walls of windows that let light stream into the warm space as well as a cozy, plant-lined patio that beckons despite the heat. Inside, the baristas appeared to be mostly novices, but friendly and eager to please. A couple of tables held happily chatting patrons, passing the afternoon over cups of espresso.

The latte I ordered looked as if it was the barista's second or third attempt at making the drink...ever. It was too milky, for certain, and had no foam on top at all. Nevertheless, the underlying flavor of the Lavazza coffee was good. I think that with a little practice, the baristas here will be whipping up better lattes in a few weeks.

The strawberry napoleon -- Tuscany's "daily dessert" yesterday for $3.50 -- left nothing to be desired, however. I generally shy away from desserts that are already cut and waiting in a pastry case. Almost without exception, they're dried out and -- worse -- taste of the refrigerated case itself, not of dessert. But the little napoleon with its lone strawberry on top called to me, and I ordered it in spite of myself.

I should ignore my gut instinct more often, as Tuscany's napoleon was lovely. Instead of the traditional mille-feuille with its many layers of puff pastry, this version was made with layers of vanilla cake sandwiching strawberries and layers of whipped cream. It was moist, just sweet enough and blissfully light; no one needs a heavy dessert in the afternoon.

Tuscany bakes everything in house, from the desserts to the loaves of whole wheat and focaccia bread you can grab and take home for dinner. The little shop also makes entree-ish items like pizza, lasagna and sandwiches. Since it's only been open for a week and is still working out some kinks, I decided to just stick with the coffee and dessert yesterday. Nevertheless, I look forward to going back and visiting again when all of its ducks are in a row. The idea of a somewhat authentic Italian bakery and coffee shop out in the 'burbs is intriguing, and one I hope pans out.

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