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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, February 2

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Review Wed Dec 31 2008

It's the Little Things

Riverside Cafe A group of friends was going for brunch and invited me along. I immediately said yes, then asked the biggest question of all: "Where are we going?" The answer would make me darken the door of a restaurant I had hoped to never visit again: the Riverside Cafe.

When I first moved to the city, I would go by the Riverside and admire its homey exterior, reminiscent of local diners in Wisconsin. The restaurant's charm is obvious, with its plants, photographs, old timey signage, and Americana-esqe clutter. As I finally settled in one Sunday for brunch, I imagined that the food at Riverside would be as enjoyable as the place's decor.

I was wrong then, and I was wrong this past weekend.

The food is a limp and cheap attempt at Latin American fare, alongside American breakfast standards and a dessert table that consists of painstakingly unwrapped Little Debbie snacks, boards of graham crackers and Salerno-brand cookies, all arranged in a dimly lit and small room. Fumbling around the randomly arranged dishes, I started off with beef empanadas that were good, but I was mentally crossing my fingers the entire time that they were still safe to eat, given that they were very cold and nowhere near a heat lamp or chafing dish (very few of the dishes seemed properly stored, and the lucky items in a chafing dish did not seem markedly warmer than its brothers suffering elsewhere on a plate).

I ate commercial foodservice-grade french toast, bacon and eggs. I ate a few decent tacos, a fried plantain and a Swiss Cake Roll. I even sampled the Little Debbie version of a twinkie, but spit it into a napkin when I realized it was stale (MON DIEU!). I passed up the "Mexican Hot Dog," which was basically a hot dog wrapped in a flour tortilla. I ate another Swiss Cake Roll. I found myself drowning in cheap carbs and was full after one plate. I went home and didn't need to eat for the rest of the day, but not in a good way.

Riverside aims to overwhelm the brunch customer by stuffing a small room with plates of food, and it seems that they're trying to make it seem as if you have many options, when in fact your choices get narrowed when you take food safety intuition and a sense of balancing the nutrition of a meal into account. Such an exercise in awareness will cost you an unwarranted, expensive $20 when adding in a cup of coffee, tax and your share of the tip. Service was extremely attentive, and the staff was perfectly nice--it's too bad they don't work somewhere else.

Riverside Cafe
1656 West Cortland
Cash only

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art / December 31, 2008 11:24 AM

I like to keep up with these blogs with the hope that there will be some insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining content relating to the Chicago food scene. I often wish that operators had the time or the know-how to become aware of what people post about them--good or bad. I'm not judging your negative commentary here but I just can't help but wonder why commenting exists in the first place when forums become so one-sided sometimes. Do you have the last word? Obviously not, because I could chime in and say that I love the place, but I won't because I haven't been there. But I may never go because it sounds so grim.

Robyn / December 31, 2008 11:35 AM

There's little I can say to your comment in reply. Blogs are statements of one's opinion, and if someone from the Riverside were to chime in here, I'd welcome the opportunity to talk to them about their product. just because an experience is negative doesn't mean it shouldn't be published in the spirit of being polite.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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