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 V.17 No.44 | October 30 - November 5, 2008 

Restaurant Review

Café Giuseppe

Not your average joe

Tina Larkin

In my home city of Las Cruces, a decent cup of coffee is hard to come by. I usually have to buy beans in Burque and then wait until the weekend for my husband to make me some. I could drag my ass to the one good coffee house in town (actually in Mesilla), but it’s a 30-minute drive down the mountain into the valley, past four Starbucks, a craphole that always burns its beans and countless gas stations that offer a blend of the aforementioned choices. For this reason, I adore Albuquerque and its many brewed options.

Though I prefer to sip espresso in the evening—because I’m a maverick—I dropped in on Café Giuseppe for an early morning shot. The Italian-styled café, with its large patio, is tucked into a Nob Hill corner of Silver. It's in a quiet and picturesque row of businesses that resembles a village imported from Europe. Café Giuseppe's owner set my expectations high with a platform on his website ( expressing disappointment with America's current coffee scene and promising to deliver change in the form of real caffe Italiano. Inspired by his transparency and boldness, I hoped it wasn't an empty promise.

Just add a Vespa: Cappuccino and panini are quintessentially Italian.
Tina Larkin
Just add a Vespa: Cappuccino and panini are quintessentially Italian.

Burritos were on the menu, so I asked the server stationed at the counter what was available. My choices were egg, turkey bacon and something I couldn’t quite hear. I went for the one I couldn’t hear. (Like I said, I’m a maverick.) I took a seat in the cleanly appointed dining room and let my eyes wander over the many photos of Italian bike riders on display. Their fascinating captions made the wait entertaining and educational.

My espresso was divine. Sienna-colored crema blanketed the caffe like Obama canvassers on a neighborhood of undecided voters. The brew was strong and complex with nice acidity and a hint of fruitiness. Black and beautiful, as the saying goes; I knew I could never go back to those paler versions served at other coffee mega-shops.

Sienna-colored crema blanketed the caffe like Obama canvassers on a neighborhood of undecided voters.

When the burrito arrived at my table I was excited ... at first. It had been grilled on a panini press, its whole-wheat tortilla branded by the grill. But my mysterious breakfast just didn’t please me. I only ate a quarter of it before admitting I had finally found a food I simply couldn’t eat. I figured out the contents later: tempeh, a partially cooked then fermented treatment of soybeans.

Here’s the thing. I’ll eat tofu, but I have to draw the line somewhere. And that somewhere is tempeh. For those familiar with this strangely flavored and textured product, this is the burrito for you. It didn’t taste bad, but I find tempeh's almost complete lack of flavor—though this example had plenty of toothsome texture—unsettling. My burrito's core had no substance or character, much like a certain vice-presidential candidate that shall go unnamed. But the tortilla was good.

My second visit was transformational. With quiche, chocolate croissant and cappuccino in hand, I took a seat in the café’s back room. A TV projected soccer across the space, much to the delight of two patrons with foreign accents. As I flipped through a complimentary two-month-old issue of The New Yorker, I considered the choices before me.

Though I normally like my coffee straight-up, on this visit I decided to reach across the java aisle and agitate things. (Seriously, I put the maverick in “mavericky.”) I'm glad I did. My cappuccino was perfect. Frothy and balanced, it delivered my a.m. jolt in a terrifically palatable way.

The quiche and croissant were both well-executed. The croissant was flaky and buttery with bits of chocolate thrown in; the quiche rich and elegant. But something kept nagging at me. Wasn’t this an Italian coffee shop? The café's website extols the virtues of everything Italiano, from the owner's nationality to manual espresso machines—one shot at a time, bebino—so what’s with all the French food? Could Giuseppe secretly be anti-Italian? I mean, sure, I saw Nutella on the premises, but could that just be a cover for his rather unpatriotic agenda?

More likely is that Café Giuseppe only offers the best of what’s out there. The owner came to America to offer the best of Italian caffe. In the process, he also brought some lovely pastries that cross borders and ideologies.

The Alibi recommends:

• Espresso

• Croissants

• Quiche

• Guzzling cappuccino like an elitist while laughing at Palin for misquoting a Starbucks cup

Café Giuseppe, 3222 Silver SE, 268-1858. Hours: Sun-Wed 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thu-Sat 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Price range: $1.50 (shot of espresso) to $7.25 (salad Niçoise). Ambience: Expat hangout. Credit cards, wireless Internet, Nutella.


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