Coffee today... New cafe now, gelato soon?

Ever since Caldo and Freddo died last Fall, Dish has been circling the vacant Seminole Square space like a hungry hawk. Well, last week's rounds brought an end to our hunt. The Grounds Café, a new coffeehouse and breakfast-lunch spot, plans to open at the end of this month.

With construction well under way at Cici's Pizza two doors down, this summer promises to see the transformation of the otherwise retail-dominated plaza into a more diner-friendly destination– no more excuses to "shop 'til you drop."

Once they reach the construction phase, new businesses are a cinch to spot. White paper covering the storefront windows is an obvious sign. That– and the always-encouraging propped-open door– led us directly into The Grounds.

In the mostly empty space (just a few worktables and chairs), we found a friendly coffee consultant named Kricket Clark brushing glossy white trim around the windows.

She pointed us in the direction of Chris Moriarty, who owns the café with his partner, Patrick Finley. He was more than happy to give us the scoop.

Moriarty moved to Charlottesville six years ago from Eugene, Oregon, where he worked as a cook at the Napoli Restaurant and Bakery. After several years at Crutchfield, he and Finley decided it was time to make a break.

"Let's face it, sitting in a cube isn't that exciting," Moriarty says of his old life. The decision to start a café was a natural one considering he's from Eugene, a town which, like Seattle, boasts a quality coffeehouse on every corner.

Moriarty told Dish they originally tried to buy Blackstone's Coffee just up the road, but, as has been previously reported, the Albemarle Square landlord declined to renew owner Robert Kantas' lease. (Kantas is still looking for a buyer for his equipment).

When Moriarty and Finley discovered Seminole Square, things fell into snag-free place. As for the name, well, what could be more perfect for a coffeehouse in this college town? ("I made the mistake of using the word "campus" a few too many times," Moriarty says.)

So what can coffee drinkers expect to find at The Grounds?

If Clark has her way, the first thing will be a consistently great cup of coffee. As coffee consultant (yes, this is a respected profession), Clark used her expertise to train employees in new cafés in Oregon. When she found out about Moriarty's café in Virginia, she enthusiastically agreed to help out.

"I want the employees to understand that making these drinks is an art form, as well as being a precise science, " she stresses. "A lot of people don't even realize that there's a difference between a latte and a cappuccino. Or that a macchiato is not, as Starbucks sells, a latte with a shot of caramel." (It's an espresso "spotted" with a touch of frothed milk.)

Morning commuters and daytime shoppers will be able to grab more than a good cup of Joe (roasted by local favorite, Shenandoah Joe) here. There will be a selection of unique breakfast pastries like turnovers with sausage, and berry cream muffins, as well as homemade granola, trail bars, and even cups of cold cereal (a big hit out West, we're told).

Lunch will feature sandwiches on homemade focaccia, soups, and Napoli's famed insalata mista (artichoke hearts, grated parmesan, chianti vinaigrette), among other things. From the breads to the pesto, just about everything will be made from scratch, Moriarty says.

Italian-inspired coffees (not to mention restaurants) may be thriving in Charlottesville of late, but what about gelato? Is there life after Caldo and Freddo? Dish is here to say certo!

 We can't reveal any names yet, but we can tell you that, as you read this, an enterprising local couple is busy concocting and taste-testing gelato and sorbetto recipes, which they hope to start scooping soon in their new gelateria-café on or near the Downtown Mall. Dish will certainly keep you posted as the delicious details develop. Until then, we'll look to frothed, not frozen, milk for contentment.