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Le Buzz offers delicious coffee and pastries, friendly staff and the latest headlines.

Gone are the days when Coffee, Etc., on North Campbell and Bentley's on Speedway were Tucson's only expressions of that thrilling new West Coast phenomenon, the coffeehouse. You can now get espresso, foamy milk and the odd scone in virtually every strip mall across this great metropolis of ours, not to mention in every odd corner of campus. (Some of these are quite odd. I've always thought that running the espresso stand in the brutally dank, bunker-like main breezeway of the Modern Languages Building in winter must be the coldest day-job in Southern Arizona.)

Still, Le Buzz Caffe and News, founded in 1996, is special. It's locally owned, exceptionally pleasant, and has the three most important factors in real estate--location, location and location--all sewed up. Most coffee shops sit on a corner; Le Buzz, on the northeast corner of Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway, presides over one of the city's true crossroads.

Worlds may not collide at this happening intersection, but they meet, and there's Le Buzz, newspaper racks and baristas at the ready, waiting to receive them into its serene, Continental spaces. Cyclists and hikers down from the mountain, horse-people in from the bosques and washes, and families running errands along Tanque Verde--they all pass by, and a significant percentage pull in (behind the Radio Shack behind the McDonald's, two doors down from the Walgreens) to read the paper and recharge in these elegant, comfortable rooms, or at a table outside in the shade. On a recent Sunday morning, half the East Side was there, settled in contentedly with cups and dishes and copies of the New York Times, and the Star and that most august of all Southern Arizona publications, The Weekly. (Do we like to see people reading The Weekly? Oh my goodness, yes.) Most of the customers are obviously regulars--as we watched, many people carried their dirty dishes back up to the counter.

This homey, communal, eminently civil atmosphere makes Le Buzz a very likable place, and the fact that the owners, Dennis and Margaret Hadley, are big supporters of the Tanque Verde School District's band program is endearing. Not to mention the more than $26,000 from the tip jar that's gone to the Tucson Humane Society since Dennis and Margaret Hadley opened in 1996 makes it irresistible. Helping out the dogs and cats on that scale is nice.

Also nice at Le Buzz is the coffee, which you can get any darn way you want from the friendly, hustling folks behind the counter. Hot, cold, tall, short, black, flavored--it's yours, and for a more than decent price. Twelve ounces of Caffe mericano--the plain stuff from the pot--is $1.35 or just 93 cents if you've got your own cup. It's first-rate, and there's a big, insulated pitcher of cream on the counter. A 16-ounce iced latte, also excellent, was just $2.80. They've also got hot chocolate, lemonade, Italian sodas--you name it.

To go with, you can get a bowl of the house granola or a big bowl of fresh fruit, or, for the less virtuous, a vast, ever-changing array of baked goods from the Le Buzz bakery. We tried the cherry-apple crumble ($2.50) and an apple scone ($1.99) on one occasion, a slice of ricotta coffee cake ($1.50) and an enormous brownie ($1.75) on another. All were very good--the apple in the scone was a remarkably good idea--except for the brownie, which was too sweet and dense for our taste.

Breakfast is clearly what Le Buzz does best, food-wise--lunch was more problematic. We'd heard that the sandwiches were great, but we were disappointed both with the Italiano Melt ($4.75 with choice of side) and, on another visit, with a half Cyclist ($3.95)--turkey, tomato, avocado, red onion, sprouts and honey mustard on a bun. In the case of the Italiano Melt, the asiago, provolone and Parmesan we'd been hoping to taste were overwhelmed by Tillamook cheddar, and, although the sandwich was warm, none of the cheese was really melted, which made for a grainy texture.

The Cyclist was not what we'd envisioned either--a good turkey sandwich should remind us of the day after Thanksgiving, not lunchmeat. The slathering of intensely sweet honey mustard on the sandwich was a further problem, to us anyway--the flavor was so strong that it swamped everything else. There was indeed avocado in there, but we had to look to make sure: We couldn't taste it. We didn't care much for the Raspberry Iced Tea ($1.65), either, because it turned out to be sweet. (When we want sugar in our tea, we'll say so.)

However, that's all from the point of view of a non-regular. Probably the folks who eat at Le Buzz all the time know the tea comes sweetened and like it that way. It's still a free country.

My sister-in-law loved the filling of her quiche ($5.95 with side salad and roll)--a perfect cheese custard--but found the crust soggy. And she was downright startled by her dinner roll, which was sweet, too. It may be that somebody in the kitchen is throwing extra sugar in everything. (This can happen. Years ago I used to waitress at a good, long-defunct Middle Eastern place on Country Club called El Jabbalah. One night the cook discovered a new waitress, lately of The Good Earth, putting honey in the salad dressing. She was lucky to get out of the kitchen alive.)

All in all, though, we love Le Buzz Caffe and News, and would go back any time. The staff could not be nicer, the rooms prettier, the company more pleasant, or the coffee and scones more delicious. The news, of course, is another matter.

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