I Like Ike's

The former Cuppuccinos remains a cool place to relax with a cuppa joe or grab a bite to eat.

I walked into Ike's Coffee and Tea on Speedway Boulevard on a recent Friday. I had been running work errands all afternoon, and I badly needed a break from the hubbub and the heat.

Thankfully, I got just the break I needed. After a cup of iced chai tea and a tasty sandwich, enjoyed while perusing the latest issue of the Arizona Summer Wildcat, I was ready to merge back into the rat race.

This Ike's, located in the shopping center that also houses Wild Oats and Reader's Oasis (among other shops), was known as Cuppuccinos until several months ago, when it changed ownership and got a slight makeover. It's now one of three Ike's locations in Tucson, and it isn't drastically changed from Cuppuccinos. Its atmosphere is trendy, yet relaxed--track lighting, mellow music and tables featuring vases containing fresh flowers add a nice touch.

Ike's offers a limited menu of foods to go along with its selection of coffees. That menu includes two breakfast items--a bagel sandwich ($3.50) and an pick-your-own-ingredients omelette ($5.50), both of which are available all day. Several salads, six sandwiches, soup and tuna salad are also available, along with a number of desserts and baked goods from--according to one of the polite women behind the counter--the French Loaf Bakery.

On that hectic, toasty Friday, I ordered the American in Paris sandwich ($6.50, like all sandwiches), which includes roast beef, brie, Dijon mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and red peppers (I had the peppers held) on a baguette roll. It was served with a small side salad of mixed greens and the restaurant's balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The salad was simple, but wonderful. Far too many restaurants in the Old Pueblo have a habit of serving lettuce that's wilted and past its prime, but this was not a problem at Ike's. The sandwich, too, was delicious with fresh ingredients and tasty roast beef. The meal was diminished slightly because the baguette roll was not as soft as it needed to be--the damn thing damaged the inside of my mouth--so I ate the sandwich sans its top as I sat on one of the comfy couches and read the Wildcat.

I returned to Ike's a week later on another hot day (I know--duh--all Tucson summer days are hot), this time with my friend and colleague, Irene Messina.

After studying the menu for a few moments, Irene ordered the chopped salad ($5.50), which comes with the aforementioned vinaigrette and chick peas, tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, red onions, radishes, Swiss cheese and celery. Breakfast for lunch sounded good to me, so I went with an omelette including ham, red onions, cheddar cheese and tomatoes. Lunch for lunch also sounded good, so I got an order of their soup of the day: vegetable barley ($2.50).

We were enjoying the air conditioning when a server brought my soup and Irene's salad. Like my salad one week prior, it was full of fresh ingredients. Irene said she erred in not requesting another dressing for her salad--she's not a big vinaigrette fan--but the dressing grew on her as she ate, she said.

My soup was wonderfully tasty. The onions, tomatoes and carrots blended nicely with the barley and the seasonings. One problem: It was delivered lukewarm. (Had there been any meat in the soup, I would have sent it back in a hot second, no pun intended.)

My omelette, which was delivered just as I was finishing the soup, was wonderfully hot. Again, like all the foods at Ike's, it was simple--just eggs and the ingredients I requested. Simple, yet tasty.

My soup, my omelette and Irene's salad all came with bread in the form of a square roll--and I can't say that either of us were impressed with these rolls. They were hard and rather tasteless. Bread is one area in which Ike's needs serious improvement, if my two visits there are any indication.

Fortunately, the rest of Ike's baked goods seem to be above average; at least, that was the case with the desserts Irene and I enjoyed. Irene tried a fruit tart ($2.10) and declared it to be wonderful. She said that unlike many tarts, which end up being somewhat dense, this one was light. The custard, kiwi, strawberry and orange were all fresh and top-notch; Irene's only complaint was that by consuming the tart, she'd violated the rules of her diet.

I have a weakness for German chocolate cake, so I had to try a piece ($3.50). It was a delight. The frostings were creamy, and the chocolate cake had a nice bounce. I, too, blew my diet, but it was worth it.

Seeing as this is indeed a coffee shop, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the joe. I got a large vanilla latte ($4.25), and the coffee was smooth and mellow--not near as strong or bitter as the coffee served that big chain that starts with "s."

All in all, Ike's does things right. If they'd just turn up the heat on the soup a bit and re-examine their bread, the place would be damn near perfect. Its fresh ingredients, nice atmosphere and friendly service make it a fine place to take a break and get out of the summer heat.