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Saturday, February 23

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Airbags

Writing about restaurants is a hell of a lot of fun most of the time, but on occasion some of the job's more irksome qualities manifest themselves.

To fully comprehend what I mean, let's pretend that you, as an aspiring food writer, discovered a new coffee shop that served the best sandwich in the whole world and you wanted to write about it. But your training as a journalist taught you that in order to present a fair review of the entire experience, you would actually have to visit the coffee shop and try something other than the best sandwich in the whole world to see how the other menu items measured up. Do you see how upsetting this could potentially be?

Alas, this hypothetical scenario unfortunately became my reality last week at Café Ballou, an adorable new coffee shop in the Ukrainian Village. The sandwich I speak so highly of is the roasted red pepper and cheese club: Thin slices of white cheddar cheese, sweet roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion are drizzled with a tangy house vinaigrette and then layered between slices of multi-grain bread spread with a soft herbed (in-house) cheese. This simple yet magnificent creation is truly worthy of idol worship, and if you don't believe me, I'm sure the four other people (friends of mine) who I have convinced to try it would be more than happy to vouch for me.

I live far, far away from the Ukrainian Village, but despite the distance, the best sandwich in the whole world, along with a mug of steamy chai tea, has been part of my Saturday afternoon routine many weekends out of the past couple of months. So great was my devotion to this sandwich that, up until last week, I had yet to order anything else. But once I decided to review Café Ballou, I realized it was time for change.

Luckily for me, Café Ballou has quite a remarkable menu; besides an array of well-prepared coffee drinks (including a specialty Turkish coffee served with ice water and chocolate), this place offers the usual coffee shop fare -- pastries, sandwiches, soup, and salads -- but more attention is paid to the quality of the food than I'm used to at such a tiny place. Friends of mine have raved about the turkey, Dijon and havarti cheese sandwich (served hot or cold), the potato soup, and, of course, the homemade specialty: tuna on Italian bread. Their compliments were comforting, but I still was a bit depressed at the thought of missing out on my beloved sandwich.

Determined to be a responsible reviewer, I set about ordering something completely different: the Ballou salad. When it was delivered to our table, I had to admit it was downright pretty -- fresh field greens were covered with bits of chicken, apples, red onion, candied walnuts, and gruyere cheese. I took a bite and was delighted to realize that the same vinaigrette drizzled on my usual sandwich was also making an appearance as dressing in the salad, and I had to admit that, in this case, the tanginess of the dressing complemented the apples and sweet walnuts extremely well. In fact, the salad was delicious.

I shouldn't have been surprised by how good the salad was since so many things are done well at Café Ballou. For one, the atmosphere is perfectly charming; owner Christine Kordiuk, who opened the coffee shop as a tribute to her parents (the C.C. Ballou is the ship that carried them from Germany to the United States in 1950), has taken enormous care to dress the café up Old World-style. Lace curtains and marble tables with tiny vases of fresh flowers add a homey air to the well-lit storefront. Cozy couches and sunny window seats provide plenty of comfortable spots to while away an afternoon (and the free wireless and ample reading material don't hurt either).

And as for me, now that my review is almost complete, I'm quite relieved that I'm free to order the best sandwich in the world whenever I wish. However, now it seems I have an even more pressing problem: Should I order the sandwich or the salad? Ah well, such is the trials and tribulations of being an aspiring food writer. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Café Ballou is located at 939 N. Western. It is closed on Wednesdays.

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Comments

la / April 12, 2004 2:44 PM

cafe ballou is my new obsession. how very interesting that things i think about and love end up in this gaper's block, as if the author and i shared a foodiebrain! the salad is fabulous and so is the turkish coffee. i bring every house gust to this place and you should too!

 

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