Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, July 25

Gapers Block

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My dining experiences at The Cafe at Hearty Boys have been perfect -- almost too perfect. Eerily perfect, in fact. Have I been reading too many film reviews of The Stepford Wives? Probably. But there is something about the restaurant's flawless food, flawless service and flawless atmosphere that causes my hair to stand on end.

If I could just find one thing to complain about, I'd feel much better.

Alas, the Hearty Boys are content to make me squirm, at least for the present. Located in the heart of Boys Town on Halsted, the establishment, owned by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, is part charming cafe and part reputable catering company. The small storefront space resembles a cheery coffee shop but sports enough large tables to accommodate a heavy brunch rush.

So much attention has been paid to the details -- from the antique gambling tables and brightly painted walls to the collection of hanging mirrors and vintage Hardy Boys paraphernalia effectively scattered throughout the room -- that I half expected Thom Filicia to emerge from the back room. This place is so darling that, were it capable of taking on a human form, you'd pinch its ruddy cheeks and squeal in delight. I'm willing to bet its owners think "kitsch" is a dirty word.

The only thing more engaging than the Hearty Boys' atmosphere is the` waitstaff -- a jovial cast of characters so cheerful that sometimes I had to check to make sure their smiles weren't painted on. There are some spots in this part of town where my hetero-ness makes me a bit self-conscious, but the Hearty Boys' boys are entirely sans attitude. Can you see why this place is freaking me out?

But wait, it gets worse: The food is amazing, too! I have yet to try something that I didn't think was spectacular. The rustic panini -- thin slices of grilled chicken breast layered in between melted brie and fresh baby spinach and tomatoes -- is just one of several creative paninis on the menu. The best part about these sandwiches is the thin, crusty sesame seed bread that holds up quite well against the fresh ingredients. I've had many a burnt panini at others restaurants, but the Hearty Boys version is perfectly warmed so that all the ingredients melt together.

A host of thin grilled pizzas (prosciutto, sausage and provolone and chicken, pesto and pine nuts are just a couple options) and several made-to-order sandwiches (the wasabi lime tuna is a favorite) round out the menu. One of the more impressive meals I devoured was the Provencal Julie country tart -- a quiche made with artichoke hearts, black olives and tomatoes and served with a fresh field green salad.

The closest I ever came to being disappointed in this cafe was when I visited on a Saturday afternoon and was informed that I could only order off the brunch menu. "Aha!" I thought as I perused the short list, "Finally, something I can complain about!" However, much to my dismay, I would soon discover that the brunch items were stellar as well.

A sharp cheddar cheese and green apple omelet was perfectly fluffy and entirely grease-free, proving an ideal accompaniment for spicy potatoes. Two golden biscuits and muted strawberry butter were served alongside this dish. Banana almond pancakes that came with real maple syrup were also delicious. The people at the table next to me were raving about the crab cake eggs benedict -- looks like I'll be going back next weekend. Wow, I had to admit I almost liked the brunch menu better than the usual items.

This place sounds too good to be true, right? And I haven't even mentioned the prices.

Most everything in the menu can be had for under $8, making Hearty Boys an affordable option for lunch or a quick dinner. There are also several coffee drinks, homemade iced tea, and a case full of delicious-looking baked goods should you care to stop in for a quick snack while perching on one of the couches in the front window. You might just see me there -- I'll be doing my best to find something wrong with this place.

The Cafe at Hearty Boys is located at 3404 N. Halsted. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 3pm For a full menu, visit

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Naz / June 14, 2004 11:18 AM

You do it yet again - another stop in my neighbourhood that I've been curious about but have never stopped by. It's so odd that I rarely eat in my own neighbourhood, I'm missing out apparently.


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