By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 09, 2007 at 5:24 AM

It's been almost five years since the 2,200-sq. ft. building at 5010 W. Vliet St. belonged to Milwaukee Coffee Company, yet, despite the space's frequent turnover -- from coffee to bagels, back to coffee and now pizza -- the gigantic coffee mug and saucer the company used to advertise its locale remains perched high above Vliet Street for all to see.

In fact, the huge cup has become such a community landmark that when Matt Bohlmann opened his pizzeria there in August, it was the neighborhood that convinced him to keep it.

"At first I wasn't sure what we'd do, but as it evolved, it's been unanimous -- the majority of the neighborhood wants it to stay," says Bohlmann. "Someone even said, 'I'll never come in there if you get rid of it.'"

So now, as their tagline reads, to dine at Tazza Pizzeria is to eat "Pizza at The Cup."

Teaming up with a group of MATC interior design students, Bohlmann and crew have created a delightful little sit-down restaurant that feels fun enough to bring the kids, but mature enough to enjoy a nice evening sharing a pie and a couple glasses of wine.

The students converted the space from the stainless steel jungle that it was during the brief Another Blessings Café days into something colorful, comfortable and pizza appropriate. To tie the exterior coffee cup in with the dining room, they crafted larger-than-life pieces of pizza to act as booth dividers, made slice-shaped chairs for the tables, and hung an oversized pie cutter above a corner table for six.

If it sounds cheesy, just go see it for yourself -- it actually works really well in the setting.

A Washington Heights resident for many years, Bohlmann says he had a vested interest in opening a restaurant in a neighborhood that is definitely on the rise, but is still lacking in the dining department.

Meritage, 5921 W. Vliet St., opened in late summer -- replacing Indigo -- and Tazza neighbor Perpendicular Wine Bar, 5000 W. Vliet St., serves lunch daily, but Bohlmann says there was still nowhere to take the kids. Opening up shop directly across from Wick Field Park will most likely hit a home run with the ravenous post-game crowd during softball and football season.

So while he never owned a restaurant before, Bohlmann had his community's best interests in mind when he went forward with the pizzeria.

"Pizza has universal appeal if you can come up with a good recipe," he says. "So far, the food's been the easy part."

And it is easy. The pizza menu is completely create-your-own, with your choice of a traditional tomato sauce base, pesto, or alfredo sauce. The appetizers -- all of which are handmade - range from simple items like fries ($1.50) and garlic bread ($2.50) to an antipasto plate ($3.50) hot or plain wings ($3.95) and breaded eggplant ($4.95 for full order). Dinner plates feature calzones ($6.95), lasagna ($8.95) and a series of Italian sandwiches.

Tazza offers a nice beer selection -- Miller, Lakefront, Sam Adams, Hacker Pschorr, among others -- as well as wine, which is sitting right there on each table in individual jugs. Tazza serves Three Thieves wine, in red zinfandel and chardonnay, and, if drinking red, customers help themselves to the bottle already at the table and pay on the honor system.

"It's been working out really well so far," say Bohlmann. "With Perpendicular Wine Bar next door we didn't want to be like a Pizza Man with a thousand bottles of wine and compete with them, so we are keeping it simple."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”