Review: Caffè Buondì
A meringue of foamed milk makes a cute little nest for the crushed nuts that top Caffè Buondì’s wee pistachio cappuccino. Beneath it, steamed milk and a barky shot of Lavazza espresso float over housemade pistachio cream. Served in a clear glass demitasse, the coffee and froth line up in crisp horizontal stripes, a tiny Rothko that seems too decorative to disturb. But the server suggests giving it a good stir prior to sipping, to kick up the sweet sediment at the bottom. Though it doesn’t look as pretty, blended into such inky slurry, it tastes wonderful, like a dark, rich, honey-nutty jolt of Italian adrenaline.
Just like its gourmet coffees, Caffè Buondì is intimidatingly good-looking, with its buttery leather banquettes, woodblock accent wall, and bowling lane–length espresso bar topped with gleaming white marble. It opened in February, turning a vacancy in The Bridges master-planned development in Carmel into a sunny, open-concept dining room—all pale wood and white tiles—that makes you want to go home and scrub your oven grates.
Owners Andrea Melani and Emilio Cento also operate the dinner spot next door, Convivio, as well as a Zionsville outpost of the artisan pasta restaurant. Friends for 20-plus years, both men have deep Italian roots, and both inherited the food-industry gene. “My mom and dad met in a restaurant and eventually opened a couple of their own,” says Liguria-born Melani. “I grew up in a restaurant, literally. My mom was the chef.” As for his partner Cento, his family owns Napoli Villa, a 57-year-old Beech Grove landmark, and he continued the tradition by opening Ciao by Il Villagio (Convivio’s Zionsville predecessor) in 2003.
This most recent addition to the bloodline checks the day-eating box, serving breakfast, lunch, and espresso-as-fine-art just across the parking lot from Market District supermarket and the very Starbucks where Melani and Cento came up with the Caffè Buondì concept two years ago. “We were looking over at the space, wondering what might go in there,” says Melani. “I had an idea for a breakfast place, and then one thing led to another.”
Melani gets the deep irony here, that a place where each table is set with a gourmet espresso menu listing, among other marvels, a meticulously crafted Caffe Napoletano combining heavy cream and hazelnut, and a Bicerin espresso layered with lightly shaken cream and Italian drinking chocolate as thick as pudding—that this place flickered to life inside a Starbucks. And yet, Melani himself is often in possession of a mermaid cup. It happens. “Not everybody will agree that it is the best, but when we think about coffee, Starbucks is our immediate reaction,” he says. “It is branded so well.”
Another solid brand that inspired Caffè Buondì’s tidy modern-trattoria theme is Chicago’s installment of the sprawling foodie trap Eataly, a frequent destination for Melani and Cento. Indeed, they do a great job of channeling the Ikea of imported cheese, bread, and filled pastries. You see it not only in the decor, but also in the handful of simple, straightforward “Sweet Temptations” listed on the menu: a lemon-mascarpone waffle, sugar-dusted crepes, and French toast stuffed with the likes of Nutella and Biscoff cookie butter.
Caffè Buondì feels like the kind of place you might pop into on a sunny day in Florence, your Vespa parked outside the door.
A roster of ambitious frittatas—basically thick, ingredient-studded Italian omelets—packs in flavor combinations ranging from sausage, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers to meatballs, gorgonzola, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes, cooked and presented in signature ceramic skillets. The one called Laura mixes its uovo with chicken and spinach. The smoked salmon–based Anna is so generous with the salt-cured fish that you can barely taste the caramelized onions, leeks, and mascarpone that are folded in with it. Not every dish sticks the landing. Undercooked egg whites can ruin an otherwise delightful buckwheat galette swaddling Swiss cheese, ham, and a botched sunny-side up. And as exciting as a strawberry-Nutella crepe sounds, it’s really just a pocket of slippery, disjointed ingredients, unrelentingly sweet and too hard to eat without giving yourself a chocolate-hazelnut mustache.
In Italy, a typical breakfast out might consist of little more than a cappuccino and a small, warm pastry. Caffè Buondì knew it would need to step up its game to satisfy a clientele raised on IHOP. So they cook up a plate-sized savory potato waffle topped with egg and sausage, drizzled with cheese sauce instead of syrup, and spiffy servers in bistro aprons bring out what amounts to bacon-and-egg breakfast lasagna made with spinach pasta and béchamel. A bowl of vegetables roasted to full flavor deserves more than just its side-dish status, as do the roasted potatoes and bare-bones Arugula & Almonds that doesn’t even pretend to be a salad—it’s just a plate of deep-green leaves and sliced nuts with diced tomatoes and a little bit of olive oil.
Devoting a section of the menu to gourmet toasts might sound a little too on-trend right now, but you could make a (very photogenic) meal out of a plate of crisped bread slices topped with scrambled cheddar eggs and roasted asparagus or sliced fresh figs resting on dollops of honey-lemon ricotta. You might as well wash it down with one of the equally pretty Chandon rosé cocktails that play to the weekend brunch squad, poured by the coupe glass or, heck, the pitcher.
After 11 a.m., baked pastas, savory chicken crepes, panini, and small blistered-crust pizzas emerge from the kitchen that Caffè Buondì shares with dinner-only Convivio. Fans of the embellished chicken-salad croissant will not be disappointed with the version here, chunky with pecans and fortified with bacon, but it’s hard to imagine dining at this place too late in the day. Maybe it’s the whiff of good coffee in the air, or the fact that the restaurant’s name translates to “good morning,” or just the break-of-day feel of a dining room that looks best when drenched in early light. Steeped in cheery bistro design, right down to the bright orange Veuve Clicquot–branded throw pillows (and posters, and ice buckets) and the Italian proverb “It all ends with biscuits and wine,” on display at the entrance, Caffè Buondì feels like the kind of place you might pop into on a sunny day in Florence, your Vespa parked outside the door.
If it happens to look a little glamorous in the process, don’t judge. It woke up like this.
11529 Spring Mill Rd., Carmel, 317-564-8092
Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Brunchy morning sustenance for the crepes-and-grapes crowd, with an after-11 lunch menu.
Anything made with the rich Italian drinking chocolate, a meaty frittata, and the Zoff—three slices of toast topped with honey-lemon ricotta, figs, and pistachios.
Toasts $6–$13; frittatas $13–$15; pizzas $12–$14; specialty coffees $3.25–$4.50