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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Settle into a couch at Tuvalu Coffeehouse and Gallery
The Verona hangout wins with fair-trade coffees and healthy sandwiches

While everyone's version of comfortable is a little different, for me, Tuvalu Coffeehouse and Gallery in Verona strikes the right note. There are some '70s couches, but they don't look like they came off a Mifflin Street porch. The space is light, bright and filled with the work of local artists and fair-trade crafts from around the world. On a recent lunch visit, the sounds of Van Morrison and Django Reinhardt set a comfortable vibe. And although it offers free Wi-Fi, Tuvalu doesn't have the study-hall atmosphere of many campus and downtown coffee shops.

Tuvalu emphasizes fair-trade, local and organic ingredients. Sandwiches were accompanied by a colorful garnish of honeydew, orange and strawberry (a full side of fruit can be added for a dollar). My Santa Fe panino wasn't as Southwestern as its name implied, but it was satisfying nonetheless. Cracked-wheat bread (with visible wheat berries) offered a pleasant crispness on the outside that yielded to creamy, perfectly ripened avocado, gooey melted cheddar, tomatoes and mild green chilies on the inside.

The Tuna Melt featured firm albacore with fresh herbs and lemon on the same cracked-wheat bread. While it could have been hotter (the cheddar didn't fully melt), it was still a hit.

The Fresco Turkey Wrap was served in a white flour tortilla and layered with ranch dressing, which added some necessary moistness. While a spinach tortilla would have added color, this was another sandwich that struck us as simple, reasonably healthy and delicious. All the sandwiches were pleasantly human-scaled, unlike the gargantuan Sierra Turkey at Panera, which, although yummy, clocks in at nearly 1,000 calories.

Tuvalu also serves homemade soups. We tried a sausage, black bean and sherry concoction that didn't have an identifiable sherry flavor, but rather an appealing chili-like taste, without the thickness. A piece of warm flatbread on the side stole the show, with the three of us tearing off chunks.

Beverage options are numerous: coffee and espresso drinks; smoothies sweetened with local honey; loose teas that are thoughtfully presented on a little tea menu (divided into black, green, herbal, etc.); beers from New Glarus, Ale Asylum and Capital; wine; and Horizon Organic milk for the kids.

Breakfast was more of a mixed bag. While the thick Purple Monster smoothie with blueberries had a pleasant tang from its yogurt base and wasn't too sweet, a breakfast burrito filled with bacon, egg and cheese was disappointing.

The burritos are pre-made by Madison's Elegant Foods and reheated on the panini press. Sadly, the result was rather inelegant: The scrambled eggs had a rubbery texture and the bacon was undercooked. Tuvalu would be better off serving breakfast sandwiches that are assembled when you order, as they do at lunch.

A poppy seed muffin was better - flavorful but not oily. Other breakfast options include quiches and filled croissants from Clausen's, granola and oatmeal.

Several varieties of self-serve, fair-trade coffee are available. Maya Superdark, from a co-op in Chiapas, was the star: It was a phenomenal brew that lived up to its name. It was deep and dark, but also smooth and chocolaty, with no hint of bitterness. In fact, I'm still kicking myself for not buying a bag of beans.

Formerly called Indigo Coffee & Tea, Tuvalu is primarily a breakfast and lunch spot. However, it's open until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, with a busy schedule of live music - plus local microbrews and wine.

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