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Random Sun Feb 07 2010

In Search of Chicago's Version of Seattle's Best

This past November, my best friend and I took a trip to Seattle - a new destination for both of us, but one that we were both eager to see having heard nothing but good things.

victrola_coffee.jpgThere really is something about the Pacific Northwest that is so perfectly conducive to coffee drinking. The often gray weather, the cozy bookstores, and the abundance of inviting coffee shops that make you want to spend your days enjoying a carefully crafted cup of coffee while writing a letter to a good friend or enjoying a favorite book. One of our favorite stops for coffee was Victrola, a wonderful coffee shop not far from the place where we stayed. It was coffee from people who really care about coffee, surrounded by quirky art and a great space for music. As their website says, "Settle in with a good book, some friends to talk to or just hang out and you will surely get to know your neighbor and our great staff behind the bar." So during these winter months when curling up with a book is one of the things I like to do most, I decided to venture out of my own Chicago abode in an effort to escape hibernation mode - and to find Chicago's most "Seattle" coffee shop.

A few weekends ago, I began this little quest to find such a place - a place where I could get that same sense of community and coziness as I saw in Seattle, a place where I could spend all of Saturday sipping great coffee (and trying a sweet treat or two, of course), leafing through a good book, hunkered down with others in the neighborhood who wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the same.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for window_NobleTree.JPGThe first stop was Noble Tree Coffee & Tea (2444 N. Clark), which I picked at the recommendation of a friend who joined me for the afternoon. As she described it, "It's like going to your crazy aunt's house - one who has gone on all sorts of fantastic travels and collected art along the way." I loved this place from the minute we stepped inside. Noble Tree is the perfect combination of cozy and quirky. coffee1.JPG Unique art can be found everywhere - on the mantel by the fireplace, tucked in the corner of an alcove, in looking around at the eclectic furniture. It is the kind of place where you feel like it's okay to stay all day, it's that inviting. And the pie? Delicious! Noble Tree is one of the few places in town to carry Hoosier Mama Pie, and our piece of key lime was one of the best I have ever tasted.

We ventured on Ch'ava Café Chava.jpg(4656 N. Clark) in Uptown. A completely different vibe! Ch'ava has a Zen feel and an Ikea look. The walls are clean and bare; the décor is subdued and minimalist; and there was lots of bright light flooding in in this corner building.coffee3.JPG Ch'ava, unlike Nobel, has a full list of sandwiches, soups, and salads to accompany the coffee and desserts, and many - like the fig and gruyere sandwich - sounded awesome. My soy latte was served in a clear coffee cup, and had a deliciously buttery taste. Many of those there - a noticeably older crowd than what we had seen earlier in the day - were taking advantage of the free wi-fi. Always a plus in a neighborhood café.

Our final stop (grand aspirations of hitting about 5 spots were curtailed by over-caffeination and rumbling stomachs) was New Wave CoffeeIMG_0800.JPG (3101 W. Logan Blvd.). This place was hipster heaven compared to the others! We had to round up a few miscellaneous chairs and make our own spot in this packed house, and found ourselves sitting next to a bookshelf with a host of board games and random art & design books. If it's any indication of the crowd that patronizes New Wave, 8 out of 10 computers in our line of vision were Macs. We were both coffee'd out at this point, and opted for a gentler green tea. Their grilled cheese was a steal at not even $3, made with havarti cheese and rosemary bread. New Wave was the liveliest of the three; its bright tile floor and electric (colored) wall décor were a complete 360 from the cozy charm of Nobel Tree and the austerity and calm of Ch'ava.

The day ended up being the perfect blend of people, tastes, and moods. My favorite? Nobel Tree Coffee & Tea; I could see myself spending a full day there on many occasions. It may not have had the careful craftsmanship or ultra cool art scene of Victrola, but it was the one place that immediately gave me that same sense of warmth, welcome, and community.

I know there are TONS of hidden gems, as well as obvious winners, in Chicago's coffee scene. Please share yours!

 
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Sarah-Ji / February 8, 2010 10:27 AM

This post made me tear up just a bit because I love Seattle so much and because I LOVE hanging out at coffeeshops. Here are my faves in Chicago:

Metropolis--my favorite local roastery; I like their beans the best in the city, their lattes are just awesome, great selection of teas.

The Common Cup--my favorite community oriented coffeeshop; their blended espresso ice cream is fab, the tip jar goes to a different local non-profit [they serve intelligentsia]

Brothers K--my fave suburban (Evanston) coffeeshop; good donuts, socially responsible focus on how they source their coffee[they serve metropolis]

Ventrella's--my top choice when I need to hang out for hours and hours; the paninis are fabulous, you never feel rushed, it's never loud, the decor is lovely [they serve lavazza].

I spent a ton of time @ Filter back in the day, and I hear they just reopened it a couple blocks south of the original location. Can't wait to visit them soon!

Caroline / February 8, 2010 3:04 PM

I can't wait to try out some of these spots! Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah-Ji! And yes, Filter did just open last week and it's not two blocks from my place,which makes me very happy. I hear it's fantastic.

Thanks, too, for including your blog - what beautiful photography!

timothy / February 8, 2010 8:48 PM

I agree with Sarah as to the power of Metropolis. When I can't make it all the way to their shop I let Beans and Bagels serve me their coffee. They might have the best baked goods of any coffee shop.

Another Lincoln Square spot not to be missed is The Grind. Such great staff and a wide option of eats and serve wonderful cups of intelligentsia. This is my favorite coffee shop period.

Caroline / February 8, 2010 10:06 PM

I was also so excited to hear about the new Bagels on Damen and the fact that they're serving Stumptown coffee (Portland, OR). Apparently, the Stumptown folks make it nearly impossible to carry, but we got it.

And let me tell you, it's gooood.

Taylor / February 9, 2010 2:26 PM

Who cares about Stumptown coffee when we have Intelligentsia right here in town?

JC / February 9, 2010 4:36 PM

Ch'ava is amazing! It's a cool place to hang out and work (free wi-fi) and their sandwiches are really good. $6-7 for a gourmet sandwich with FRESH meats and veggies is not too shabby. They too serve intelligentsia. It's a must try, even if you're not in the area.

Saya / February 14, 2010 1:09 PM

Just went to the new Filter yesterday, FANTASTIC! Except for limited free wifi (60 mins with purchase).

Self-employed person who works from home, I'm always on the hunt for a new coffeehouse. These are great suggestions!

Have a list of recommendations on my referral list, scroll down to coffeehouses:
http://www.macncheeseproductions.com/SmattReferrals.html

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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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