Coffee shops with welcoming vibe
Two Chicago coffee shops that make breakfast a joy.
I admit it. Writing about weekday breakfast can be trying. When I began this column three years ago next month, sometimes it was really hard to find delicious and interesting places to share with you. But this last year has seen a dramatic improvement in the offerings, settings and, most important, the level of hospitality. What a relief and joy it is to go out to breakfast!
Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea
Here’s a perfect example of the new wave of what we thought of as a coffee shop. I’ve written before that the minute I enter a place I can tell a lot about the culture. This one was a knockout!
A smiling greeting, a helpful explanation about how it "worked" and a suggestion to take the seats at the end of the communal table against the wall. The other seating was interesting because it was a long tufted sofalike piece of furniture with tables and chairs so groups could be accommodated. There were tables and chairs by the window as well.
But my friend, Carla Williams, who is in the food and beverage department at the Hyatt, suggested the bar stools at the counter, so we could see all the action at the pour-over coffee station, computerized coffee grinders and espresso machine. Good call.
We ordered the Seoul bowl with brown rice, shaved zucchini, kimchi, kale, sesame seeds, Sriracha and a fried egg on top.
The breakfast taco, from the soft tortilla up, layered scrambled eggs, black beans, charred tomato salsa, pickled shallots, queso fresco and cilantro.
Avocado toast on multigrain bread had smashed avocado, grape tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes and matcha vinaigrette with cilantro slaw.
Michael Schultz, the charming owner, insisted we have the funnel cake fries (to fit the fairground theme) with raspberry dipping sauce. We were too gracious to resist.
We did a caffeine overload (latte, cappuccino, cortado and regular coffee) just to sit there and watch happy employees proud to serve excellent fare in a wonderful place.
Of note: Street parking. Fast casual. Online ordering.
Find it: 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave., no phone, www.fairgrounds.cafe
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Oh, that Hot Doug. He keeps begging to go with me, and since it was pre-Cubs, and he was bored, I agreed. (Only kidding. Doug Sohn, owner of the late lamented Hot Doug’s, is really good company!)
We were headed to a place that was supposed to be open, based on its website, but was closed. So Plan B, or should I say Plan G?
I keep a pad on the car seat when I’m driving around, so I note and remember new places to try. The Gallery Cafe was on that list, so we tried it.
In keeping with the coffee shop vibe, two charming men were there to help and explain the artwork on the walls, the mission to help artists and that they roast their own coffee, which was really good.
The menu is limited to breakfast sandwiches, which they serve all day. We shared the Manet with eggs, pesto and provolone on multigrain bread, and the DeVinci with eggs, turkey sausage, pepper jack cheese and tomatoes.
We ended with a banana muffin and scone from the West Town Bakery.
P.S.: I’m still thinking about the Power Monkey drink with espresso, cocoa, banana, peanut butter and almond milk. No, I didn’t try it, but I’m still thinking about it.
Of note: Fast casual. Whole bean coffee for sale. Special-order roasting just for you. Roasting in small batches of 3-5 pounds. Fifteen percent of retail bagged coffee sales goes to Chicago Artist Resource. Street parking.
Find it: 1760 W. North Ave., 773-252-8228, www.gallerycafechicago.com
Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.