As reported by Chicago magazine, a major fire in 2009 left Caffé Italia’s owners, Giuseppe Lollino and his son Angelo, completely devastated. But the article was marked by optimism, as the 78-year-old Giuseppe wasn’t nearly ready to throw in the towel. He spent three years renovating the 62-seat Italian eatery, updating the space with an open kitchen, modern patio seating, and paper menus to replace the outdated stone ones. The 2011 reopening also revealed to guests a mammoth outdoor facility where the family now blends and roasts their signature arabica coffee beans––a Lollino tradition spanning more then 20 years.
Though Giuseppe has been in the biz for 45 years, it's clear that he's never lost touch with his Old-World aesthetics. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times subsidiary ElmLeaves, the Italian-born restaurateur confessed, “I was raised with my family on the farm and we made our own food." The team at Caffé Italia follows suit, cooking meals from scratch using authentic ingredients. Dough is made onsite with fresh imported flour, and then wood-fired to form the base for cheesy pizzas or prosciutto-laden paninis. The Italian menu is rounded out with garlic-infused pastas, housemade gnocchi, and steak and chicken dishes sautéed in wine.
Enormous postcards reading Verona, Mera, and Sorrento sprawl the length of Caffé Italia's walls, overlapping like colorful layers of lasagna. Across the dark hardwood floor, another wall displays enormous shelving units with the Caffé Italia's many offerings of wines and spirits. Patrons can complete meals with scoops of housemade gelato on the outdoor patio, where a line of bright red umbrellas provides shelter from the sun’s melt-inducing rays.
The Lollino family has a long tradition of talented Italian coffee roasters and chefs, fortified by a passion that spans generations. It inspired them to open Massa Italian Cafe & Gelateria using the cooking methods and recipes that had been passed on in their family for years. Spanning the culinary history of Italy, the menu boasts grilled paninis, hearty pasta dishes, and 11" thin crust pizzas with a wide variety of toppings. The centerpiece of the eatery's menu is its espresso bar, with steaming cups of pure espresso or blends such as the caramelccino, cookies-n-cream, and a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso inside. Every morning, the staff makes more than 30 flavors of Gelato onsite, from vanilla and pistachio to spumoni and melon sorbet, and they've spent hours mixing and matching flavors to make specialty treats such as the domenica - two scoops of gelato topped with whipped cream, nuts, and an Italian wafer cookie.
Palermo Bakery's Sicilian-born pastry professionals quell sweet teeth with authentic confectionery masterpieces, including about 70 varieties of fresh cookies baked daily. Bite into a horseshoe-shaped pistachio sandwich, pumped with nutty cream and blanketed in chocolate ($8.59/lb.), or feast on an Old World fig cookie fashioned from pasta frolla dough and stuffed with figs, raisins, citron, orange zest, almonds, chocolate chips, and family secrets, including where the family jewels are stashed and why they consider cans of tomato soup to be jewels ($8.59/lb.). Flakey fried cannoli shells depart from nosh norms, festooning sweet, fresh ricotta with glazed fruit or nuts ($1.99 each), while other pastries, such as the Genovese, keep confections delicate and sweet ($1.99–$2.49). Savory seekers can sink their fangs into focaccia bread slathered with tomato or artichoke ($2.90), a hunk of olive or pepperoni bread ($2.89, available on Sundays) or a semi-circle of cheese pizza ($8.50). Stock up on jitter juice at the classic espresso bar, contained within a cube of sunny walls and tan tiles, like the prize inside a two-colored Rubik's cube
Spearheaded by a master baker trained in Belgium, Miara’s Bakery crafts a cornucopia of baked goods each morning from scratch. Configured from only the freshest ingredients including nonartificial sweeteners and nonartificial apples, the handcrafted delicacies tickle taste buds with their European style and witty wordplay. Sweet treats such as a raspberry soufflé cheesecake ($11.99) or 7" brandy-apricot torte ($24.99) make for an easily sliceable delight; Belgian-style chocolate truffles ($11.99) allow dessert devotees to forgo the fork. Moist coffee cakes ($5.99+) make a sweet start to any morning or barista birthday party. Or sample from the savory end of the spectrum with Miara's fresh-baked breads, including loaves of authentic German–style sourdough rye ($3.45).
At J Bean Coffee Shop friendly coffee experts summon jets of steam to whip up lattes and cappuccinos, creating intricate designs in the layers of foam and froth. The independent, locally-run shop recreates the ambience of a cozy Italian café, with every drink handmade to order the way Renaissance-era baristas used to do it. Guests can munch on grilled paninis and wraps as they sip strong espresso or dark-roast coffee, or treat tastebuds to a flood of sweetness with shakes, mochas, caramel lattes, and creamy gelato.
From behind a frozen granite slab, the staff of Cold Stone Creamery blends custom servings of ice cream and creative mix-ins to fit customers’ exact specifications. Founded by Donald and Susan Sutherland in 1988, Cold Stone began under the hot Arizona sun, eventually spreading its frosty fingers to encompass more than 1,400 locations worldwide. Despite the size of the company, each location’s staff keeps up the handcrafted quality, making ice cream onsite every day and using those signature spades to create delicious pointillist art against the freezer wall.
Frozen treats, milkshakes, and smoothies provide bursts of chilled refreshment to mouths visiting YoGo Station’s self-serve frozen-yogurt bar. A rotating daily lineup of eight sweet flavors appears on YoGo Station’s menu, and self-serve frozen-yogurt machines let customers pour their own cups, customizing their portions to suit diet plans, or match the precisely measured volume of their mouths. While tons of toppings clamor for a spot atop frozen-yogurt mountains, smoothies and milkshakes also jockey for attention. Much like the facial expressions carved onto Mount Rushmore, YoGo’s inspired menu changes weekly.