Italy in Rice Village: A First Look at Fellini Caffè

When I entered Fellini Caffè, I was unsure if it had actually opened for business yet. That was my American reaction to the ultra-minimalist Italian design, because Fellini opened fully for business a few weeks ago in Hanover Rice Village. It's just tables and chairs, with a high table beneath the Fellini logo ready for high-powered clientele.

I moved to the simple white glass counter, with displays full of gorgeous Italian pastries, croissant and brioche sandwiches, and small pizzas. It's backed by an imposing but sleek espresso machine imported from Milano.

There's little in Fellini to suggest that you're still in America, save the menu in English and a Bunn Hot Water System, which stands out from the other, Italian-designed coffee gadgetry like a box of Froot Loops in a health-food store.

Co-owners Paolo Fronza, Salvatore Albelice and Monica Gonzalez have brought the entirety of an Italian caffè and set it in the heart of Rice Village. Even the lone car visible through the front window was a helmet-shaped Fiat 500.

I ordered an Americano from Ms. Gonzalez, as this drink is usually the weakest link in any coffee program. It passed the test, and then some, considerably better than the $2.75 price. Most of the coffee drinks here are in the $3.50-$4.00 range.

While drinking the Americano, I noticed a number of patrons speaking Italian. Then I counted -- of the 18 people in Fellini, I was the only one not speaking that language. After many of the Italians left, several people entered, asking if the place was open yet, in American accents. You know, the minimalist design.

Fellini doesn't seem the place to plop down a laptop and be productive. It's more a place for friends and family, to drink coffee and talk. As an invitation to include children (your urbane ones), there's a selection of juices, smoothies, Italian hot chocolate and light sodas. The Italian specialty drinks include a Crema di Mascarpone, which is mascarpone cream drowned in espresso.

I returned the next morning, compelled to have a cappuccino. There are great cappuccinos to be found in Houston these days, but this is The One. No surprises here -- between the state-of-the-art Faema Emblema espresso machine and the quintessential Lavazza roast, this is precisely how a cappuccino is supposed to taste.

Salvatore Albelice stopped by my table, bringing complimentary biscotti, and inquired about the cappuccino. He told me how happy he was to bring a piece of Italy to Houston, and said that even the caffè's chef was from the Old World (he had recently arrived from Sicily). Observing Abelice as he greets patrons is a study in delightful service.

The sandwiches and pastries, too, are reasonably priced. I couldn't resist a cannoli. I have found that it is hard to find a good cannoli in Houston, but not anymore. I'll be back often, because Fellini is the only way I can get to Italy by car.

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