345 Caffe Italiano: Casual Italian Fare in Coral Gables

As seems to be the trend these days, 345 Caffe Italiano opened almost a year ago but celebrated its official "grand opening" last month. From the outside, it looks almost too manufactured to be decent. With the restaurant logo and pictures of food plastered across the red and white tables and walls, it resembles a cheesy sandwich chain. Skepticism aside, we braved the elements to give it a try and realized this "new" Miracle Mile shop stands out.

Italian Andrea Maggio owns the place. His first outpost is at a shopping center in Tampa that debuted nearly five years ago. An entrepreneur and Brickell resident, he wanted to bring a taste of Italy to the Coral Gables area with his second location. Its unique menu and casual, quick service is slowly garnering a neighborhood following.

See also: Via Verdi Cucina Rustica Lends Italian Charm to the Upper Eastside

Crunchy, toasted bread drizzled with high quality olive oil and sprinkled with oregano was served before our meal. The olive oil and oregano were heavily incorporated in practically every dish we tried.

To start, the menu boasts a variety of salads and a house made soup. The Caprese salad came with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and oregano. The fresh Venetto salad came with grilled chicken strips, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, lettuce, and oregano. Even the "small" size was big enough for a light lunch or hearty side.

We had to try one of the signature panini. We went with No. 311, the Emiliano, with Prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella, tomatoes, lettuce, oregano and olive oil. To Maggio, quality reigns supreme and almost all ingredients are imported from Italy. At the front of the cafe, you'll even find a mini shop where you can buy Italian wines, sweets, olive oil, and more.

In true Italian spirit, you are encouraged to finish your meal with gelato and an espresso. The gelato is made fresh at the restaurant and you can tell. It has a smooth, dense consistency and is downright addictive.

For $14.50, you can get a panini, half a salad or soup, gelato, soda, and espresso (tack on $1 extra to substitute the house made lasagna for the panini). Not a bad deal when considering the high quality product and portion size. The same deal is $11.99 Monday and Tuesday afternoons for business lunchers, who also can opt for local delivery.

Additional specials throughout the week include half-off gelato on Mondays and free appetizers from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It also recently expanded hours to include breakfast, where you can find croissants, omelettes, and smoothies. Plans are to eventually open another location in Brickell.

345 Caffe Italiano's motto is "Good Food... Good Life..." and that is essentially what it comes down to at this new Gables joint.

Connect with Cassie Glenn on Twitter @cassieinmiami.

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