A Coffeehouse With the Flavor of Milan

Java junkies obsessed about anything to do with their caffeinated fix can appreciate a place like Tustin's Caffe Milano, named after a fact in coffee history.

Milan hosts a train station where the first commercial espresso machine was installed in 1912, according to Caffe Milano owners James and Victoria Gaal.

As aficionados of anything Italian, the California natives hoped that naming their first espresso bar after this bit of trivia would catapult it with a similar degree of fervor.

Since opening last March, this demure little coffeehouse has attracted a devoted clientele of the usual coffeehouse habitues: morning commuters, corporate lunch-doers and students.

They come for the organic coffees, from a single shot of espresso ($1.25) to iced caffe mochas ($2.50).

For lunch, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., patrons can feast on "secret" home recipes for everything from the bean salad to the croutons.

But the sandwiches ($2 to $3.75) are what the locals devour like a good book. Top performers include the chicken tarragon called the Steinbeck ($3.75), a veggie named the Huxley ($3.45) and a Dr. Seuss PBJ ($2).

There are plenty of books to read while you eat, rows of pop and classic literature, children's books, pulp fiction and cheesy romance novels. For those setting up camp for those pre-exam cram sessions, there's even a small reference library complete with foreign language dictionaries.

The book shy, however, can turn to the games: chess, Yahtzee and Magic (remember that groovy old thing?) and set up a match either indoors or on one of the tables outdoors.

Taking a cue from the culture they so admire, the Gaals have fancied themselves as something of local patrons by opening Caffe Milano to local amateur artists.

Visual artists showcase their paintings along the clean, white walls, some on consignment, but most just appreciate the exposure. The mini-museum changes its exhibit bimonthly.

On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, local talent takes the stage. On Wednesdays, everyone--well, everyone who gets there by the 7:30 sign-ups, anyway--gets a chance to perform, be they musicians, comedians, poets or performance artists.

For the weekend gigs, it's mainly music and anything goes: folk, grunge, Deadhead covers, Christian rock and gospel. Many high school bands get their first chance here, and with them comes the full range of youth culture.

But the Gaals take pride in giving everyone a bold, first shot. And it's the unpredictability of the patrons on any given evening that lends Caffe Milano a sweet, fresh appeal at times reminiscent of a John Hughes film.

* Caffe Milano

* 13931 Carroll Way, Suite A-1, Tustin

* (714) 731-7866

* Opens weekdays at 6 a.m., Saturday at 8 a.m. Closes Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m. Closed Sunday.

* No Cover

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