For years, Colin Redding and his family have molded big names onto chocolates, making a business out of helping companies promote the good name of Neiman Marcus or America West Airlines. But recently, Colin has branched out, molding some rather interesting confections for galleries on Roosevelt Row. He made bugs for MADE Art Boutique's Roots show, and motorcycles for someone at five15. We even saw a box of boobs (the kind that come in pairs) for another show. Colin will make what you want, at a reasonable price, at his factory in Gilbert. And he doesn't even have Oompa Loompas helping him.
We love the latest trend in dessert: gelato. Not long ago, we had just one or two spots to hit for the dense, allegedly healthier-than-ice cream treat. Now there are many choices, but the decision is not hard at all. We pick Arlecchino Gelateria, sample spoons down. Marina and Moreno Spangaro, who hail from Trieste, Italy, landed in the Arcadia neighborhood in the La Grande Orange complex, and we can't think of a better location for them. We haven't tried a flavor we don't like, but we're particularly fond of the peanut butter, which somehow manages to be peanuttier than eating the stuff straight from the jar. The nocciatella hazelnut with layers of Nutella is divine, and the cortina is unusual, with sweet almond mingling with lingonberries. Our absolute favorite is the mistico light vanilla cream mixed with cookies dipped in Kahlúa and coffee. Thank you, Spangaros, for bringing a little bit of Italy to Phoenix.
Though it's lip-smackingly delicious, our liquid refreshment of choice is probably a bit conservative given the wildly inventive menu at this fun little drinkery near ASU, which features a line of creative concoctions that includes Asian smoothies, ice crushes, snow bubbles, yogurt coolers, Italian crème sodas, and iced watermelon teas. But what makes our black-tea delight so appealing are the tapioca boba balls that slingshot up the throat with every sip from the oversize straw. Boba can be added to any drink on E!ba's menu, as can jellies (lychee, mango, green apple, pineapple) and/or pudding (almond, coffee, coconut, strawberry). Boba originated in Taiwan, but we're glad to find it closer to home!
Baristas and bad attitudes go together like coffee and cream. So familiar are we to having our morning java jump-start served up with a side of surliness that when first encountering Dan Bacon, the super-friendly Joe-slinger at Seattle Espresso in Tempe, we thought we must've caught him on an off day. Turns out he's just extremely good at what he does and is well-known for it. Bacon who's been working the morning shift on Mondays and Wednesdays at the strip-mall coffee house for most of the past three years not only knows most of his caffeine-craving customers by name, but also by what they drink. He'll quickly whip up a double-shot espresso or mocha latte for his regulars while eagerly discussing how their day is going. He's also earned the nickname "Harry Potter," mostly because of his youthful countenance, square-framed black glasses, and a shock of brown hair, but also because of his affable nature. "People don't just want a cup of coffee," Bacon says. We can't resist we'll say it for him. They want their cup of coffee with a side of Bacon.
Gold Bar Espresso
Longtime Tempe residents still lament the "old Gold Bar," a bigger incarnation of this hidden East Valley gem that was shut down years ago. But these complainers are missing the point it wasn't the building that made Gold Bar the most comfortable coffee joint in Tempe, it's the atmosphere created by the mismatched furniture, the fiercely loyal regulars and the baristas who actually remember your name and your drink after only a few visits. At all hours of the day and night, almost every table is occupied by laptop computers (wireless Internet is free), and though busy, the shop is never distracting. This at-home vibe (not to mention the seriously strong coffee) makes this our favorite place to set up shop on days when we just have to play hooky from the office.
Nestled in a charming group of new businesses in Seventh Street's Sheridan Square including the Belgian bistro Trente-Cinq 35 and the Lisa G salad-sandwich lunch spot is the irresistible Drip Coffee Lounge, owned by Vin Saccento and ex-Lux Coffeebar barista Gina Bell Madrid. There's a vintage elegance about the place, with stained concrete floors, chic '70s-style furniture, and a back room with art and design mags. A full menu of americanos, espressos, lattes, and a four-shot iced mocha complement the $5.50 all-organic breakfast, made with bread from Simply Bread and produce from Boxed Greens. The breakfast portions (served until noon) are small, so order two; we recommend the unbeatable cinnamon walnut French toast and the egg scrambled, a delectable creation of cream cheese, zucchini, onions, and scrambled eggs served with toast or as a sandwich. Drip offers complimentary wireless Internet, and it's open seven days a week and until 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Nothing drippy about that!

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, NORTH PHOENIX

Soma

We're especially keen on this perfectly located, locally owned place because it really does encourage folks to mingle and hang around as long as they wish on the comfy sofas and chairs or out on the large patio. It's a terrific place to write, as long as you can find a nook somewhere and don't mind one of the friendly staffers a sweetheart named Katie comes to mind looking over your shoulder every now and then, and then reading your gibberish aloud to whomever's nearby. The food is good, plentiful and healthful, ranging from baked sweet potato fries to protein-packed smoothies, and a granola/oatmeal combo topped with fresh fruit. And don't fret, burger lovers. Soma charbroils a nice one if you insist. But we'd love this place even if the food was just serviceable, because it feels like home.
Terra Java Coffee House & Bake Shop
Timur Guseynov
Look for neighborhood regulars perched at the outside tables, Wi-Fi-ing away with well-behaved pooches at their feet. Enjoy mellow musical and literary events, or just drink in displays of fine art along with your espresso drink, tea, or smoothie. It's a perfect break from the wildly diverse shopping opportunities of Gaslight Square, although, frankly, sometimes you'll want a break from Mama Java's; the joint is really jumping, in a Zen-like way. Its mini-library, for instance, seems designed especially to inspire the musicians, artists and writers who hang here. One night during a bluegrass set, our companion mentioned he'd dreamed that his truck was stolen. We reached for Gustavus Hindman Miller's 1901 classic Ten Thousand Dreams Interpreted, and looked it up: "To dream that you are looking for a carriage, you will have to labor hard, but will eventually be possessed with a fair competency." Now he owes us a scone.
Copper Star Coffee
Lauren Cusimano
Okay, okay, so Copper Star Coffee is barely a toe's length over the western edge of the city, into the avenues. But we have to tip our latte to this adorable coffee house, the best we've found in the West Valley and tops on any Phoenix list, no matter how you map it. This onetime gas station has a drive-through, but you'll want to step inside to appreciate the concrete and cinder-block comfort (really, it's comfortable, try it out) of Copper Star. The bagels were fresh and the staffers were happy to toast them, not the case at inferior coffee houses where the customer is left to her own devices with an old toaster. The lighting was nice, the vibe was good; they let us hang some fliers on a big bulletin board strategically located near the restrooms. We'll definitely be back.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, SOUTHEAST VALLEY

Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk Cafe (Inside The Bungalow)
It's no coincidence that this neighborhood java spot shares a name with the faux talk show created by Mike Myers for Saturday Night Live. It's exactly the kind of place his character, Linda Richmond, would find appealing a charming, two-story historic bungalow, complete with winding ivy and two large gardens with wrought-iron patio furniture. New owners Betty Freeman and daughter Carrie Hensley have cleaned house, literally, removing the rows of dusty antiques but leaving well-worn floral couches and mismatched plaid chairs. The original walls were also left intact, providing dozens of nooks and crannies perfect for private conversation, which is why we love this place. It's cozy and quiet. There's no rush to order, and the pleasant staff won't complain if you take three hours to sip a cup of tea and talk. So turn off the cell phone, leave the laptop in the car and catch up with an old friend over a latte.

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