|« Lessons on Sustainability ... from Las Vegas?||Eating Up Celebrity Sightings »|
Foodporn Sun Sep 28 2008
Rarely does anything good come of dinner with one's ex. Last week, such was not the case when pastry-chef Chris and I broke bread in Oak Park. Not because of our so-so meal at the has-been Pasta Shoppe on Oak Park Avenue (originally to be the subject of this post). But from finding the truly phenomenal Lido's Caffé, tucked away on Marion Street in the heart of the downtown Oak Park.
When Chris suggested strongly that we visit the newly opened Lido's, given his line of work I expected something good. So let me get this out of the way first and everything else will be commentary: this place is a doppelganger in quality and (almost eerily) appearance of my all-time favorite hometown Italian caffé and gelateria, NYC's Rocco's Pastry Shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. A counter lining one side of the long space punctuated by pastry and gelato display cases, an imported espresso machine, locals nestling into their Tribs and laptops while tucking into Italian cookies--this New Yorker had the sneaking suspicion he had just found a convenient new home on the Harlem Green Line.
The place is owned by longtime couple Lido and Louise along with friend and investor Jan. "You probably can't tell I'm from New Yawk, I lost my ACK-cent yeahs ago," the late mid-life Louise said as I introduced myself. I didn't have the heart to tell her the accent is what drew this ex-Gothamite to her like a bee to honey. As it turns out, we're both ex-Brooklynites, too, so Louise knew instantly I was getting her café's pastry-infused point.
"I'm gratified you think this is like home. That's just how we wanted to make it. Lido and Jan worked at the same company, but when Jan got downsized one day, Lido says to me, 'Quit your admin job, we can do better than this.' And I thought I about it and figured, you know what? I bet we all can."
Chris and I planted ourselves in front of the gelato case and accepted samples from Louise and her staff. All the gelatos are custom-made by suppliers exclusively using Fabbri flavorings imported from Italy and bear a silkiness akin to good Midwestern frozen custard.
Flavors were outstanding--crisp and sweet without being cloying or overpowering in any way. While grapefruit (one of the few sorbets) might be too authentic a taste for some (Chris wasn't a fan), gelati including pistachio, Baci (as in the candy), lemoncello, cassata (Italian fruit cake), and hazelnut had us ordering multiple scoops.
According to Louise, such authenticity was not that hard to come by. "We approached Lavazza and said we wanted to open a real Italian café. They immediately hooked us up with the suppliers, they taught us about the best ingredients from Italy, we got our friends on board and found a place. It was almost like hooking up with a make-believe food mafia--everything and everyone just got in line for this place to happen."
If, however, you think the altogether true gelato is the star of the show here, you're only half right. It's not just that the Italian cookies (crumbly, semi-sweet and buttery, festooned with various sprinkles) and pastries (my six-inch long crunchy cannoli filled with mascarpone screamed stop eating here, you need have no greater culinary experience than I this evening) were perfect versions.
It was that damned, best-in-class, bury-me-with-this amaretto-cherry cookie. Seated at our table crowded with gelato, cookies, and coffees, it was innocently that we simultaneously bit into the cookies. A shared look came over our faces: the wide eyes, pouting mouth and pleading eyebrows of two foodies experiencing the absolute height of food porn. Seemingly dry and crumbly when you pick them up, a crunchy butter-cookie exterior surprisingly gives way to a thick, sweet amaretto paste hidden inside, countered by the sweet tartness of a lone candied cherry on top.
Gapers Block staff and fans flashed much the same look when, one day after my first visit to Lido's, I brought two boxes of the cookies to the monthly GB meetup at Clark Street Ale House. Editor-in-chief Andrew Huff hit the nail on the head about the amaretto-cherry wonders, "I feel like my grandmother's here! I mean, she's not dead or anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if she was in the back making these things."
And I wouldn't be surprised if I made another trip to Lido's immediately after publishing this post. [Ed. note: And I did.] They'll likely be open. "We have long hours, and we're hoping for the evening crowd most of all," said Louise. "When evening movies let out at the Lake Theater, everything else is closed. We're open. We want to be the place where people in Oak Park come to on an evening stroll. We'll be here for them."
May that come to pass. I'm not usually this effusive about an eatery, but do yourself a favor. Just go. Now. If you're in Oak Park for any reason, driving nearby, or 20-minutes away on the Green Line in downtown (like me), make the trip. Have an amaretto-cherry cookie, a gelato, and a double-espresso.
And when the giddy look of happiness fades long enough for the power of speech to return, tell them Drive-Thru's Michael says hello. Or maybe just point. I'll be the hipster nerd at the corner table with my laptop surrounded by pastry.
122 North Marion Street, Oak Park
(Green Line to Harlem, Metra to Oak Park)