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Italian flair on display in new cafe

A new Italian-style coffee shop/café in Willamette offers beverages as well as homemade soups, paninis and pastry
by: Jim Hart, Carolyn Nolin of West Linn serves Salute owner Renee Brambilla her favorite flavor of latte inside the newly decorated café in Willamette. In the background, two customers check e-mail while sipping their beverages.

Renee Brambilla seems to be comfortable changing from one career to another that requires entirely different skills. She says she's a very organized person, a quick learner and always looking for new challenges.

Over the years, she has gone from public relations to managing a church office and added some food service along the way.

But a couple of years ago, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, requiring another set of skills. Her son came along, (now 19 months old) and Brambilla became instantly busy.

About the time her son was 1 year old, her home community of Willamette was shocked to hear that the Perfect Cup and Caffé would be closing.

But Brambilla's family wasn't as shocked when she told them she wanted to open a café in the vacant space.

Salute, the name of Brambilla's coffee shop and café, is an Italian word meaning 'to your health' or if '!' is added it means 'cheers.'

Either way, the new café's name means that Brambilla strives to offer healthy food and a cheerful atmosphere. In the Italian style, of course.

'We have great employees there,' she said. 'One of the previous owners' employees (Carolyn Nolin) stayed on with us.'

Salute also has great food such as the pastry that comes from 'Mostly Muffins' of Kent, Wash., and the specialty scones from 'Morsels' of Lake Oswego and the cinnamon rolls from the Adult Community Center in Lake Oswego.

But Brambilla also is proud of her choice of quality coffee from 'Caffé Vita' of Seattle, a company that roasts very small batches. And to ensure freshness, the company waits for an order before roasting beans.

And what would an Italian café be without paninis? Not Italian.

Brambilla boasts homemade paninis on ciabatta rolls such as the Napoli (turkey, bacon, avocado, Havarti cheese and a touch of mayo), the Milano (chicken, basil, Havarti cheese and creamy garlic sauce) or the Margherita, which includes fresh mozzarella, roma tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

That sandwich would make any vegetarian happy, but the rest of Salute's clientele can add turkey or chicken to the grilled sandwich for $1.

And then there's the breakfast panini (egg, cheese and ham or bacon) as well as the 'Panini of the Week,' a special sandwich that changes its character four times each month.

Among other fare are homemade soups, Italian chicken salad, smoothies, blended drinks, drip coffee and lots of latte flavors.

Bring the kids, says Brambilla. She has three kids' favorites on the menu: grilled cheese, old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly and the ever-popular pizza panini. She also offers some toys for active kids.

Brambilla says she is offering great customer service in a cozy, comfortable atmosphere - a place to relax and enjoy a drink or quick lunch. The café also has wireless Internet.

'Stop in and check your e-mail while you sip your coffee,' she said.

Salute, Café Italiano is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The café is located at 1721 Willamette Falls Drive, near 14th Street. For more information, call 503-722-1722.