Fresh and Friendly

The Coffee House's sandwiches are so delicious that they upstage the namesake joe

The Coffee House should really consider renaming itself The Sandwich House, because although the coffee is delicious, the sandwiches are spectacular.

Located in a well-established strip mall at 7125 E. Tanque Verde Road, The Coffee House has an unassuming exterior, tucked between an Ace Hardware and a Bruegger's Bagels. Opened in 2006 by Jamie McDermott and Sara Mills, it occupies a space that housed the Chocolate Iguana for 15 years.

My first visit, with Ted, was on a late weekday afternoon, for an after-work snack. The artsy, modern coffeehouse was almost empty, since it was near closing time, but the staff was still warm and friendly.

After debating for several minutes over which of the more than 20 soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps looked the most tasty, I finally ordered the signature sandwich, The Homer ($6.95), with pasta salad on the side, along with a Dreamy Creamy Caramel Latte Scream, ($4.45 for a grande/medium). Ted ordered the Totally Chipotle sandwich ($7.25), a newer addition to the menu, with a garden salad on the side, along with a strawberry Italian cream soda ($2.65 for a grande/medium). We picked a high, pub-style table near the glass deli case, which was filled with an assortment of delectable desserts, including fruit scones, brownies and a large carrot cake.

Our drinks came out quickly, and while waiting for our food, we checked out some of the amazing local artwork hanging on the walls. My Dreamy Creamy Caramel Latte Scream lived up to its name--a rich, thick, sweet blend of ice cream, coffee and caramel, topped with whipped cream. It was a drink and dessert all in one, and utterly fantastic. Ted's strawberry Italian cream soda was fizzy and refreshing, yet not too sweet.

The food arrived about five minutes later, with generous portions beautifully presented on large, colorful plates. My sandwich, The Homer, was a texturally pleasing combination of sliced turkey breast, creamy havarti cheese, soft mild green chiles, crisp green apples and a smooth homemade cilantro-lemon mayonnaise, all on a dense, spongy, dark, multigrain bread. The delicate balance of flavors and textures was impeccably executed. The homemade pasta salad was fresh and tangy, but not overwhelmingly so.

Ted's Totally Chipotle was a warm sandwich, made with sliced whole chicken breast, red onion, fresh lettuce and tomato, mild green chile slices and melted cheddar cheese, all on a soft baguette slathered with a homemade chipotle mayonnaise. The bread was one of the highlights of the slightly spicy sandwich: It was fresh and warm, not too crispy, but not too chewy, either. The flavors were balanced well and elegantly simple. The side salad was a generous portion, filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onion and croutons. I was planning to order one of the fabulous-looking desserts after dinner, but Ted and I were both stuffed, and The Coffee House was getting ready to lock up for the evening.

Our second visit came a few days later, early on a weekday morning, for breakfast. I was anticipating a large, tantalizing cup of the organic, fair-trade coffee that they serve, and Ted had been eyeballing the takeout menu for a few days, trying to decide which breakfast item looked the most delicious. We arrived at about 6:30 a.m., and grabbed a newspaper and a spot on one of the comfy couches near the front of the store. I ordered a croissant sandwich with bacon ($4.75; available without meat for $3.50), and a vanilla latte ($4.14 for a venti/large). Ted had decided on the Burrito Saguaro days before ($4.25); he also ordered a fresh-squeezed orange juice ($2).

There was a good-sized breakfast crowd scattered throughout the small space, but it didn't feel crowded. My coffee arrived in short order, and the food followed just a few minutes later. The croissant sandwich was stuffed with two freshly scrambled eggs and crunchy, salty bacon pieces. It could have used just a little more cheddar cheese, but it was otherwise delicious. The croissant was soft, buttery and fresh, and it was a generous portion. Ted's burrito was the star of the meal, packed with three scrambled eggs, red onion, green chiles, bell peppers, large chunks of potato, fresh diced tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and a medium-hot salsa (and served with a side of more of that salsa). The tortilla was soft and warm, and the burrito was satisfying and spicy, without the greasiness that so often accompanies breakfast burritos. My vanilla latte was huge and excellent, served with a generous amount of foam, and not too sweet or too hot. The orange juice was obviously fresh and refreshing.

Although the prices at The Coffee House seemed a little high, their use of fresh ingredients, the generous portions and the excellent flavors provided enough justification for me. I hope that their unfortunate location next to a Bruegger's Bagels won't be a detriment, and that Tucsonans will choose to frequent the locally owned businesses who choose more environmentally friendly options, like offering a wide selection of organic, fair-trade coffees, organic milk and organic soymilk--like The Coffee House.