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Restaurant Thu May 24 2007

Goodbye hip Gourmand. Hello clean Cafe Mediterra.

Cauliflower and Potato Sandwich at Cafe Mediterra
Potato and cauliflower sandwich on bread, instead of pita

To get away from the bustle of the Loop's financial district on La Salle, I used to walk south to Printer's Row, to a gritty cafe called Gourmand with vintage sofas, chalkboard menus, local paintings hanging and hiply-dressed employees. Gourmand closed for a bit, then re-opened as Café Mediterra, a clean looking spot with framed lithos on the walls, a bus person wearing a polo shirt tucked into khakis, much more proper service, and no couches. The person who delivered my sandwich to the number card I put on my table also re-filled the water I had taken. There was no self-service bus tray in sight. A few patrons on laptops reminded of the many student-looking laptop users from the old spot. But the ones who used to congregate in Gourmand, a block from Columbia, wore tight jeans, stylish shoes and slept-in hair. The new crowd seems, from my one visit, older and more conservatively dressed in standard-issue black stretch office pants with matching clean-cut knit long sleeve sweaters, suits, button down office casual shirts, relaxed fit blue jeans and even the occasional Coca-Cola T-shirt.

Why did Gourmand go away? Apparently, we didn't buy enough. Two owners behind the counter told me why Gourmand changed. One was a clean-cut fellow identified by the other as the owner of the late Gourmand's sister, Filter. It went something like, people sat around Gourmand for three hours and just ordered a cup of coffee. After asking how that differs from Filter, where people seem to sit around a lot, too, the answer was simply that we buy more at Filter. Ironically, in case you haven't heard, Filter is closing, too.

Judging solely by the one item I've ordered at Café Mediterra, I would rather have spent it on Gourmand's hearty and tangy black bean burger - which you can still, last I checked, get at Filter. Instead, I ordered a sandwich with nicely thin and tender potato slices and soft and roasted cauliflower. But the sandwich was thin. Sure, I did change it up from pita bread to panini bread. And one of the owners did oddly warn me that results could be unexpected with a different bread. But it was still a $7 sandwich, and I only tasted a hint of the garlic lemon vinaigrette that the menu promises. I didn't see any of the menu's promised roasted red pepper and cilantro, either. I'd still be curious to try the roasted red pepper hummus wrap, falafel or lentil soup - but only if I was already on the block for a visit to the quaint Sandmeyer's Bookstore. The lure of a funky haven called Gourmand is dead.

On my way back to the Loop, I rolled into Intelligentsia Coffee on Jackson for a second cup of the nectar they magically squeeze from their beans. The brilliant operation they have going refreshed me. Classy marble-topped and ornate metal-bottomed tables with dark wood trip on the walls enhance the place, and align well with the historic Monadnock Building they are part of. The courteous and all-business but fun baristas thump some pretty groovy tunes, too.

Café Mediterra, 728 S. Dearborn, (312) 427-2610


Rosie / May 24, 2007 9:54 PM

Oh my gosh, this is the most depressing review! I always love reading the juicy details of a dining review by Chris Brunn. I can usually taste the excitement and enjoyment of the experience in the article. I went to charming Gourmand several months ago with Chris for a CBF interview (about living driving my car less in the suburbs than in the city) and I can recall the fun veg-friendly options, the punk college kids sitting in the cafe and on the other side of the counter. To think it has been replaced with a vanilla box full of thin sandwiches and polo tees is a major disappointment.

Meanwhile, let's exercise what Americans do best - shop and eat... at Filter! Keep it open!

Meleah / May 24, 2007 9:59 PM

I hear the sandwich does come w/ a fruit cup...

Leah / May 26, 2007 6:50 PM

I was just coming to leave a comment on the original Gourmand closing post (which I still gets plenty o' hits on) and say that I'd passed the other night and seen the replacement.

Not sure that I'll pop in, but good to have the story.

Former Gourmand Staffer / June 5, 2007 5:36 PM

I thinks a lot of these characterizations about Gourmand are incorrect from a former employees perspective! Gaper's Block should be aptly retitled Brain Cramp.....Gourmand's business had been declining for a year leading to its closing.....i witnessed this first hand as a full time barista. Where were all of you so called Gourmand customers as business trickled in? Stop your bitching and if you truly like any business, support it!!

ph / June 7, 2007 11:47 AM

I completely disagree. Cafe Mediterra is sooooo delicious! The lamb burgers are full of flavor, the shephard's salad is such a great combination of goat cheese, dates, and fresh chicken and the lentil soup is fantastic. Also, make sure when you go there to get the chips instead of the fries. The chips are slices of fresh potatoes fried up, yum! There are much tastier items on the menu than at Gourmand and the portions are huge considering the price.

lyd / July 10, 2007 6:58 PM

gourmand was terrible. i live in printer's square and would go from time to time for the obvious convenience of it. i was once yelled at by a gross little server for ordering a tall latte and then she started up about the starbucks war. i was tired, needed a coffee, jet lagged, and thinking "why am i even talking to this creature?" i had just come back from montreal, had lived there for eight years and speak french, it is the proper way to order there and i forgot about the "rules" at gourmand, who were obviously the international experts on the art of coffee. i do, however know what they were trying to do because they do it well, very well in montreal. not gourmand. the food at gourmand was BORING americana, something you would put together when nothing was in the fridge and your fridge reflected the fact you never traveled or explored food. the people were pretentious writer wanna-be's. ironically i am a well-published contemporary fiction writer and made top 100 books in canada in 2001, i have a new york agent now and two professional day jobs, that said, i was obviously treated like the enemy at gourmand -i'm tall, attractive, naturally thin, like some designer clothes, so i was out. all said, i LOVE mediterra, it's clean, the food has . . . well . . "taste!!!" in fact it is the nemesis of gourmand. it is wonderfully down to earth. you can hang out with your lap top and just be and not fear getting scabies, unlike the former, they actually know how what spices are and know how to use them!

Holly / October 22, 2007 12:20 PM

Like many other neighborhood residents, I was sad to see Gourmand close, but I must admit, the food and service is much improved in its reincarnation as Mediterra. I do miss the funky decor and couches, but it's still okay to linger with your laptop over a good cup o' tea.

Partizannka / September 15, 2010 2:50 AM

A few patrons on laptops reminded of the many student-looking cheap laptops users from the old spot.

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