Bella, Buon Giorno!

by Jacquelyn Thayer

Buon Giorno Café
15033 Nacogdoches Rd, San Antonio Texas, 78247
(210) 967-9830

Entering Buon Giorno Café is like stepping into owner Anna Cassandro’s cozy Italian villa.

Vivaldi music resounds from a stereo perched atop a magazine-filled bookcase. Calendars of saint’s days, filled with reproductions of great works of Italian art, hang from the walls. The country knickknacks that cover the windowsills and many shelves are a rather eclectic touch, but their effect is counterbalanced by the large display case of “Italian Souvenirs” placed near the door. Three long bookshelves are crammed with books on art and history, health- and cookbooks, and, appropriately, Italian dictionaries and grammar books. The owner and one waitress greet customers when they enter. Unlike in many other coffeeshops, customers order and are served at their tables. Buon Giorno is first and foremost a cozy Italian café and, as such, is at its best when serving Italian specialties.

Buon Giorno is best-known for its Italian pastry. The tiramisu and zuppa inglese are both creamy enough to melt in one’s mouth, and the cannoli ($2.25 for one) is filled with what seems to be a delightfully simple blend of ricotta, mascarpone, a touch of sugar, and chocolate chips. The prices are even more appealing than the fare. A single slice of cake costs only $2.50, while a whole tiramisu or zuppa inglese is $20, not an unreasonable price given its high quality.

Buon Giorno is, of course, a café, and as such the quality of its coffee must also be considered. It is, fortunately, excellent. The hazelnut latte is made with a high-quality espresso so that it is rich and toasty, but not at all bitter. The prices here, too, are refreshing. A large cup of plain espresso costs only $3.25, a pleasant change from the prices found in certain coffee shop chains. Even Buon Giorno’s flavored coffees, such as Almond Joy, cost, at most, $3.75. The most expensive item here is the Caffe Breve at $5.00, perhaps because it is a latte based on half-and-half rather than milk. Other beverages, including Italian cream soda and staples such as iced tea, juice, and milk, are also available.

The rest of the menu is fairly expansive. It includes the usual café fare, such as muffins, bagels, and croissants, and does well in this category. The banana nut muffin, for one, is tender and not too sweet, and a bargain at $1.35. The menu also features soups, salads, and sandwiches. The minestrone ($1.50 for a cup, $3.00 a bowl) is another success, thick and herb-scented and featuring chunks of fresh vegetables. The salad selection is small, but includes a fruit plate in addition to garden salad and chef salad; the prices here range from $1.95 to $4.25.

Buon Giorno falters, however, when it comes to sandwiches. The menu lists several interesting choices, such as the Italian Sub, Reuben, and Chicken or Seafood Salad on Croissant, at prices hovering between $4.25 and $4.55. What it does not list is a vegetarian alternative. A cheese-and-vegetable sandwich can be made to order but it is, sadly, not quite worth the effort. The cheese is merely a thin slice of processed white cheese, and the tomato, at least on this visit, was pink and unpleasantly under-ripe.

Despite its sandwich missteps, Buon Giorno Café is a unique alternative to other coffee shops. Its homey atmosphere is in stark contrast to the more corporate feel of a place like Starbucks, and the authentic Italian fare it offers is the most welcome difference of all.

Originally published on Beyond Barbecue, May 21, 2006

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