Flip Crêpes got its start on the Chicago Farmers Markets circuit in 2003, slinging its warm and sweet or savory treats to steadily growing flocks of customers. Eventually, the company outgrew its humble beginnings and expanded to a location inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center, where customers stop in for the crowd-pleasing crepes alongside a burgeoning roster of sandwiches and paninis. Four distinct menus address any and all cravings the day might present, including selections that tackle breakfast munchies with eggs and bacon, a passion for the savory with toasted options, salad cravings with fresh and crisp selections, and sweet teeth with desserts chock-full of Nutella, strawberries, and dulce de leche. The tender crepes will only wrap their eggy arms around healthy, high-quality ingredients, so the chefs avoid high-fructose corn syrup and other undesirable foodstuffs.
It’s rush hour at Ogilvie Transportation Center, and from the Canal Street entrance, you have a great view of late commuters sprinting to catch their train. For those who have a few minutes to spare, however, the long concourse offers more than a ride out to the suburbs. Explorers who follow the Chicago French Market’s red and blue sign will find the cute French café—Le Cafe du Marche.
Helmed by the owner of the popular restaurant, Bistro Voltaire, Le Cafe du Marche offers decadent French café fare, including housemade quiche, organic soups, and tuna niçoise and duck-confit sandwiches. The menu, which mirrors classic dishes from the cafés of France, is no doubt more casual than its parent restaurant. However, the attention to detail remains unchanged between the two establishments—chefs manually torch the sugar atop each housemade crème brûlée.
Waffles might be their only offering, but Wâfel is anything but a formal restaurant. Instead, it's a counter-service café, serving steamy beverages from its full coffee bar and selling virtually nothing that requires a knife and fork to eat. Instead, each of their waffles are "fold and go"; that is, sandwiched firmly around their ingredients so every selection only requires two hands to devour. The waffle artisans craft sweet and savory sandwiches from traditional Brussels waffles, which are leavened with yeast for a puffier, airier consistency than the standard American waffle. The recipe might be traditional, but what fills these sandwiches is anything but—selections run the gamut from scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheddar to fried chicken and maple syrup to The Elvis, a blend of bacon, peanut butter, banana, and honey. For a more dessert-like treat, try a Liège waffle. This style, also puffed up with yeast, is thicker and doughier than its Brussels brethren, and contains imported Belgian pearl sugar that caramelizes on the waffle iron to form a crispy exterior that contrasts with the soft interior, much like a sunbathing marshmallow Peep. These waffles are delicious on their own, or dipped in a rotating menu of sauces such as apple-cinnamon cream cheese, jam, and––of course––Belgian chocolate.
Eggs are a staple at almost every breakfast joint, but Meli Cafe takes this ingredient especially seriously. Whether it's transformed into an omelet, scramble, frittata, or benedict, each egg comes from the same source. Meli Cafe uses only organic, cage-free specimens from Eggland's Best, which feeds their hens a natural vegetarian diet that's free of hormones and antibiotics. The health of Eggland's chickens gets passed on to the diners since their eggs tend to be higher in Vitamin E and lower in saturated fat than other brands.
Meli Cafe's pantry must be stocked with a veritable rainbow of produce—its selection of fresh juices goes beyond the standard orange and grapefruit to include cucumber, beets, and even cabbage. Typically, these exotic juices blend with more traditional nectars, such as ginger, apple, and wheatgrass. If you're worried that such an unadulterated vitamin blast might pose a shock to your system, there are also milkshake-like smoothies topped which sweet fixings such as whipped cream and hazelnut syrup.
Pretty little jars of glowing amber line the walls at Meli. These jars are filled with tangy-and-sweet marmalades, which are made right in the kitchen. Most of the spreads are citrus based, but recipes change to incorporate seasonal and organic fruits, such as apricots, blackberries, or even jalapeño peppers. Diners can sample these homestyle condiments on a side of toast, or they can purchase a jar or two to take home for later.
It’s a wonder the staffers at Protein Bar have time to do anything but smile for the camera amid the maelstrom of media attention the eatery has received in recent years. The man at the center of the storm is founder Matt Matros, dubbed one of Crain’s Chicago Business’s most successful 40 Under 40 in 2012. Matros spend his youth struggling with his weight, and lost his father to a heart attack before his 22nd birthday. The shock sparked a renewed hunger for life in the young executive, who went on to shed 50 pounds through exercise and healthy eating. Along the way, Matt noticed a gaping hole in the world of fast food—where were the healthy options? He decided to throw his corporate career to the wind and pour his entire life savings into opening the first Protein Bar, a welcoming haven for the health-conscious eater. Matros’ business soon flourished into eight Chicago locations, with three more in D.C. His aim was to cut out the junk that pervades fast-food chains—refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, empty calories, and unsettling cartoon characters—and replace it with lean protein, heart-healthy fiber, and satisfying flavor. The menu accomplishes just that. At breakfast, bowls are filled with oatmeal deemed some of the finest in the city by CBS Chicago. As the hours wear on, a special mix of six types of veggies builds each salad into a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Bar-ritos swap out calorie-heavy rice for quinoa and flour tortillas for hearty whole-wheat wraps. Signature blended drinks omit sugary additives for protein mixes and fruit, each named for a Chicago neighborhood, and bowls of warm, organic quinoa come topped with protein and fresh produce.
Published author and raw-food advocate Karyn Calabrese has spent decades educating people on the benefits of an uncooked but flavorful diet free of meat, fish, chicken, or dairy products. In a recent interview for the Chicago Tribune, Calabrese traced her culinary interests back to Sundays in the kitchen with her grandmother. After watching family members succumb to degenerative diseases, she was inspired to tread a different nutritional path. Calabrese has shared her vegan and vegetarian cooking techniques in numerous media, including CBS and ABC news. Four restaurants currently bear her name, vegan philosophy, and commitment to organic foods: Fresh Corner and Garden Cafe, Fresh Corner and Raw Bistro, Cooked, and On Green. The café and market offer eco-conscious shoppers a range of products, and Karyn's Inner Beauty Center provides holistic therapies such as acupuncture and individualized wellness coaching programs. The center's spa services employ natural products, some of which arrive directly from the kitchen or straight from the fields via teleportation chamber. Convenient take-home meals and a variety of events such as yoga classes and lessons in "uncooking" help patrons maintain a healthy lifestyle.