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MOD Pizza, Babes Espresso, Bella's Bakery & Cafe 

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click to enlarge MOD Pizza - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • MOD Pizza

MOD Pizza

7447 N. Academy Blvd., 219-1912, modpizza.com

This fast-casual pizza joint serves organic Italian wine by the pint. That's item of note No. 1, more so than MOD's solid, non-greasy Neapolitan crust, more so than unlimited toppings on any pizza, more so than an 11-inch pie coming in at just $7.47. A glass (OK, plastic cup) of Italian Tiamo wine runs five bucks, whether you prefer the red Barbera blend for your meatier pizza or a Pinot Grigio for greener toppings.

Unsurprisingly, the wine's quality won't blow your mind. The Pinot sips more in the European style, dry with a hint of buttery lactic acid and whispers of flint under moderate gooseberry. It's also bright gold with a surprisingly thick mouthfeel. But it pairs well with a Dillon James, which adds garlic, basil and sliced tomato to a mozzarella-and-red base. Throw on some sun-dried tomatoes to add more depth of flavor, but be ready for disappointment if you add roasted garlic. Though buttery, it's very mild. — GS

click to enlarge Babes Espresso - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Babes Espresso

Babes Espresso

2438 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 550-4586, babesespresso.com

Here's a partial list of things Babes Espresso/Loco Bean Coffee owner John Reinecke fails to deliver on regarding what he told us when announcing Babes: high-quality coffee, well-trained baristas, and two staff members on duty at all times. You can call his place a step above rival Bikini Xpresso in the same way you can call Wendy's a step above McDonald's.

Inoffensive but uninteresting house-blend beans inform a cappuccino ($3.50) that leads with scorched milk and unstable foam, or a caramel red eye ($2.75/16-ounce, plus 50 cents for the caramel shot), oddly devoid of sweetness. Featuring lightly roasted blond beans, the Zombie Chic ($4/16-ounce) buries coffee under almond milk and syrup — you could give it to your nephew as a caffeine-packed prank to piss off his parents. The nitro cold brew ($10.75/quart growler) holds huge caffeine, too, but the darker roast needs Reinecke's recommended Irish Cream flavoring and sugar. — GS

click to enlarge Bella's Bakery & Cafe - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Bella's Bakery & Cafe

Bella's Bakery & Cafe

3 E. Bijou St., 434-8957, see Facebook page

In late 2013, Miami transplant Andy Schlesinger took over The Coffee Exchange and quickly improved the fare, adding Cuban-inspired items and more savory plates. This past April, he made a move on Bella's, wisely keeping former owner Katherine Schmidt's meatballs while bringing in his own proficient pastry program, along with his popular white espresso "Zombie" drinks.

Oddly, though, I'm the sole customer between 8:15 and 8:45 one morning. A friendly staffer says the front stays slow; the outfit's real driver is the commissary kitchen behind its bustling catering and wholesale business. She disappears to construct my pleasing ham, egg and cheese Mama Donna ($6.50) breakfast croissant before making my modified Dirty Zombie ($4.99/16-ounce) with less peanut butter and chocolate syrups, plus half-and-half for a breve-like, rich caffeine bomb. A pumpkin muffin ($2.75), dense and faintly spiced, is just moist enough under a streusel top. — MS

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