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TASTER'S CHOICE
Slick downtown cafeteria presents office-dwellers vast range of options

On your first visit to Caffe Ritazza — now open in downtown Orlando in the SunTrust building — you may be confused. Relax. What at first seems needlessly complex is actually a well-sorted system to connect you with food in the most efficient way possible.

Walk in the doors and you’ll notice the place is gleaming, huge and bright. You’ll also notice a bank of cash registers, racks of snacks, coolers full of bottled drinks, cases of desserts and pre-made sandwiches to grab and go. Is this a store or a restaurant?

Both, actually.

Ordering involves queuing up in one of several lines, depending on what you’re hungry for. There’s a line for salads, one for soups, one for Mexican food, another for deli sandwiches and yet another for entrees. The genius of this setup is that those hungry for nachos and queso ($5.99) don’t have to stand behind a guy who is trying to choose among the 29 options for topping his Caffe Salad ($5.99). The downside is that should you be after, say, a sandwich and a cup of soup, you are going to have to negotiate two lines.

That could be tricky at lunch, as the place is swarmed by the business-casual set. I’d say the reason for the immediate acceptance of Caffe Ritazza — which is an international coffee bar chain — has as much to do with knowing their demographic as it does the food. You can get in, get something to eat and be gone in double time. Or you can spread out on one of the tables in the airy dining area and watch Orange Avenue go by while availing yourself of the free wireless Internet access. Prices are reasonable and the menu is vast.

So vast, in fact, it isn’t fair to judge the place on a single visit. I went a couple of times and only scratched the surface. On one visit I had a lime-marinated chicken breast burrito ($5.99) that was made to order and about the size of a brick. It was filled with jasmine rice — just a touch too mushy — black beans, lettuce, salsa, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Other than the fact that I couldn’t really taste the lime in the lime-marinated chicken, it was not disappointing.

On another visit I sampled from the deli case, trying the grilled marinated portobello mushroom sandwich with roasted red peppers, spinach and hummus, served on foccacia bread. (Just order No. 13.) Unlike the burrito, the sandwich was pre-made, then popped in the microwave for a few seconds after I ordered, and it suffered for it, turning a bit soft in the process. I can highly recommend the homemade potato chips that came with it, though — thick, crunchy and fried to a golden brown. A hearty but bland cup of beef vegetable soup ($2.99) rounded out a two-line meal.

In any case, Caffe Ritazza is a formidable challenger for the downtown-dining dollar. Get there early (it closes at 5 p.m.) to figure out the system and work your way through the menu; it will take you awhile.

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