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Restaurant Thu May 24 2007
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