Belmont boom: First of three cafes opens

This could be the year for downtown Belmont. With three new businesses planning to open this summer, it looks like the café-restaurant scene is finally catching up to the residential boom.

Belmont's lucrative appeal didn't escape the attention of Jeff and Melissa Easter, who purchased the neighborhood's choicest building– the old Pepsi bottling plant on Monticello Road– last year and have since undertaken a complete renovation. The eye-catching building with its multi-colored facade already houses Jeff Easter Remodeling, as well as his cabinet shop and several art and architecture studios.

Slated to open on Thursday, June 16 in one of the building's key corner spaces is Melissa's much-anticipated creation, La Taza Coffeehouse. When I stopped in last Friday afternoon, the place was so abuzz with activity and excitement that it seemed open already.

Smiling young employees were busy arranging wooden tables and Costa-Rican leather and mahogany rocking chairs on the front patio. Inside the exquisitely decorated café seven or eight baristas studied the art of perfect coffee-making from trainer Chris Moriarty (of The Grounds). Every few minutes, someone new would wander in to check the place out, have a cup of coffee, and admire the décor.

Designed by Melissa and built by Jeff and his team, La Taza's luminous, cheerful interior infuses Belmont with a breath of fresh Latin air. High-ceilings, generous windows, and colorful painted walls (dark salmon, nacho cheese yellow, tangerine) and floors combine with natural accents. For instance, a waterfall cascades behind the front counter, supporting columns are actually poplar trees, while other trees function as signs and table tops -­ to create the feel of a Costa Rican or Peruvian café.

Cuba and Key-West are other geographic muses. Musician Jose Lorenzo's colorful paintings bring the landscape of his native Cuba to La Taza's main seating area.

In addition to Melissa's handy husband (he was adjusting wobbly tables during my visit), Melissa found Chris Moriarty through her roaster, Shenandoah Joe. Moriarty, who is in the process of selling The Grounds Café in the Seminole Trail shopping center, will be training Melissa's staff in coffee-making and customer service for the first two months of operation.

Also part of La Taza's team is chef Alex Montiel, owner of La Cocina del Sol in Crozet as well as his own catering business. Montiel worked with Melissa on La Taza's Latin-flavored breakfast, lunch, and light dinner menu. Breakfast burritos and sandwiches include "Santiago de Cuba" (two eggs with Cuban rice, black beans, fresh tomatoes, and queso cotija wrapped in a flour tortilla with habanero sauce) and "Granma" (egg, sausage, fresh mozzarella with basil spread on Cuban bread).

La Taza's summer menu stars soups like a chilled watermelon gazpacho and a classic tortilla soup, salads like "La Tropical" (cucumber and mango with a coconut dill vinaigrette) and several sandwiches and wraps. If you're feeling creative– and you likely will– you can also create your own sandwich picking from a selection of breads, meats, cheeses and spreads.

As for the beverages, La Taza will have a serious coffee selection as well as fresh fruit smoothies, wine, and beer.

Located at 407 Monticello Road, wi-fi friendly La Taza will be open 7am-9pm Sunday to Wednesday and 7am-11pm Thursday to Saturday.

Later this summer, La Taza will likely be joined by Sax, a new restaurant and jazz club, which will occupy the space at the opposite end of the Easter building. Check out Dish next week for more on Sax and Belmont's third new business, Creature– wildlife photographer Hal Brindley's organic restaurant and gallery.

La Taza opens Thursday, June 16 near Mas in Belmont.