Coffee with a splash of steampunk

Caffè Caldo has a lot to say in its name.

There's no secret where Huntington Beach's new restaurant/espresso bar's roots lie with the two Italian words, including the traditional spelling of cafè. There's dual meaning to caldo, which is Italian for heat and refers to the establishment's steampunk influences in design and coffee.

Caffè Caldo's resident coffee expert Josh Islas defines steampunk as style inspired by "Victorian era sci-fi."

"I think the steampunk kind of feel resonates and intrigues a lot of people," said Islas, a Costa Mesa resident.

According to a Caffè Caldo press release, "steampunk is an inspired movement of creativity and imagination" that includes fashion, art and design that's fueled by the writing of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and outdated machines and contraptions that might have been made during Victorian England or America's Old West.

When it comes to coffee, steampunk can refer to Caffè Caldo steaming milk for cappuccinos, lattes and how baristas can draw on steamed milk to create latte art, which has become increasingly popular in the coffee world.

Formerly Mr. P's Espresso Italiano Caffè, Caffè Caldo (21070 Beach Blvd.) debuted in August under new owner and Costa Mesa resident Rich Freeland, who took over the location for his cousin's former husband when he fell behind in payments.

Huntington Beach resident Lorie Pagels has become a bit of a regular at Caffè Caldo since first visiting it during a morning walk in August. She returned two more times that day and raves about the food, coffee, ambience and service.

"It's little and it's very community," Pagels said of its appeal. "You just come in and everyone is friendly."

Freeland believes in applying some tender love and care to everything at his new business, from its coffee to its food, decor and customer service.

"I feel that we are always going to put out a good product," Freeland said. "I want to have a reputation where people say this place is the best in this or that; that's one of the things I am striving for, just a sense of pride."

With its steampunk and Italian influences and espresso bar/restaurant offerings, Freeland's establishment has a bit of a split personality. It's coffee in the front and a small, carved out dining area, which sits less than 20 people in the back, for authentic Italian food cooked up by chef Corrado Gianotti in the back.

Freeland will be the first to admit he's no expert on running a restaurant or a coffee shop — that's why he solicited the help of Gianotti and Islas. Both stumbled into a prominent role with Caffè Caldo when they walked into Mr. P's and struck up a conversation with the new owner.

They both identified with his business philosophy.

"Honestly, I just saw how passionate he was about helping people and for me that's really what it's all about," said Islas, who worked at Kéan Coffee in Newport Beach for a year. "For him, it's about doing something well because that's what we should be doing in our lives."

Islas says Caffè Caldo has a lot to offer coffee enthusiasts that no other shop in Huntington Beach does. There's only organic milk, fair-trade coffee beans used, and there's also latte art — created with steamed milk — and a rotating selection of coffee from Southern California roasters.

Many Orange County hot spots for coffee isolate customers from their baristas, but not Caffè Caldo with a bar that offers uninhibited views of the drink-making process.

"You can talk to your barista as they make your drink," Islas said. "Huntington Beach doesn't have a quality coffee shop. It's very kind of shut off from the coffee world and we are looking to bring that to you guys."

When it comes to food, Gianotti wants to offer his customers fine dining for a casual price.

"The good thing here is you're going to have the same quality and the same food like you are in a $50 restaurant here for $14 to $19 for dinner," Gianotti said.

Gianotti has worked for restaurants owned by big corporations most of his whole life. He was the executive chef at Tutto Mare Ristorante in Fashion Island, Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria in Downtown Disney and 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach.

Most recently, he owned and was the chef at La Fontana Ristorante in Huntington Beach, but recently he decided not to renew his lease because he wasn't satisfied with the location.

Gianotti's cooking philosophy is simple and stems from his homeland of Italy, where he lived until 1986.

"I do this business because I like to serve people," Gianotti said. "I like to make people happy and I like to make people feel at home. We are looking to do something different, something more. It's the Italian way."

Freeland is the first to admit that Caffè Caldo isn't yet a finished product. He's working on getting city approval to install a vent and a stove in the establishment so it can start serving dinner. He's also eager to complete its full redesign, hoping to hold its grand opening in late December, early January.

Complete or not, Pagels has already grasped his vision.

"I went to Italy a couple years ago and I felt like I was back there," Pagels said. "When I came in here and ordered a cappuccino it was like a taste of Italy."

Twitter: @TCNShortall

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