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Sunday, September 22

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Airbags

There is a certain corporate coffee shop I frequent when I have a lot of work to do because it is close to my apartment, has plenty of outlets for my laptop, and, well, I have a thing for its chai lattes. This particular spot has enough space for 100 customers, but is often crowded due to its central location; lately, finding a seat has been stressful. And although some impatient people think it is appropriate to glare at seated customers in an effort to force them to vacate their tables prematurely, I find this sort of behavior to be most irksome.

Perhaps that's why I was so anxious to try Marrakech Expresso.

This recently opened Moroccan coffee shop and cafe on Damen Avenue in Ravenswood isn't much to look at to be sure, but with plenty of seats, wide open space and free wireless, it is just the sort of place where you could comfortably spend an entire afternoon -- and no one will try to steal your seat.

There are a few reasons why this place is not brimming full of patrons just quite yet: The bi-level space is shabbily decorated with mismatched furniture and sparse wall art. The first floor is set up as a cafe with several tables and a counter, while the second level -- with its stained carpeting, lumpy couch swathed in an ugly slipcover, randomly placed candles and weird red and blue light bulbs -- reminded me of my very first apartment. Oddly, on my visit to Marrakech, the temperature upstairs reached upwards of 80 degrees due to a vent near the floor that blasted hot air continuously.

Marrakech offers a variety of espresso drinks and a very good Moroccan tea as refreshment. Served in a darling silver teapot alongside a tiny shot glass, this sugary mint tea was piping hot and intensely strong; I'd order it over a chai latte any day of the week. There just aren't enough places around town serving up Moroccan tea.

There are also a few smoothies on the menu -- banana, strawberry and mango -- but these failed to leave a good impression. The drinks were made with too much ice, and (due to the tropical temperatures upstairs) separated into a pulpy fruit layer and a lukewarm watery layer within minutes. I'd also steer clear of the "Moroccan juice." It turned out to be a banana smoothie in disguise.

In addition to the usual coffee shop drinks, Marrakech also offers food. Guests can choose between the kefta (spicy ground beef and onion patties) or chicken kebab, both of which are served atop a pile of white rice and assorted cold vegetables, including cucumber, carrots and potatoes. The vegetable plate has the same sides of rice and cold veggies, but instead of meat, a mixture of peas and carrots (of the frozen variety) is substituted. A lamb shank is also listed on the menu.

The food is edible, but unfortunately it isn't that great. The dishes are quite bland, utilizing too much white rice and not enough spices. Compared to the other Moroccan food I have eaten, it didn't seem all that authentic given the lack of flavor. At $5-$6 a plate, it is fine for a cheap meal should you be hanging out in the coffee shop for a few hours, but I wouldn't make a special trip there just for the eats.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about Marrakech Expresso. As a casual eatery showcasing the savory flavors and mystical ambience of Morocco, it really comes up short. But as a low-maintenance coffee shop offering plenty of space for everyone and a decent caffeine buzz, I'd say this place is right on track.

Marrakech Expresso is located at 4747 N. Damen. 773-271-4541

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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