Athena Uslander used to be a structural engineer, but today she's a baker. If you asked Athena what the two professions have in common, she'd likely say attention to detail. If you asked her customers at Athena’s Silverland Desserts, however, they'd be too busy chewing a mouthful of cookie, rice treat, or brownie to answer. Since 1983, Athena has helmed the ovens at her bakery in Elmwood Park. Her signature brownie recipe has garnered her some national attention, including an appearance on Oprah and The Today Show. Now, customers nationwide call in or hire a banner plane to put in their orders for the confections that Athena and her staff make from all-natural ingredients—free of trans fats, additives, and preservatives.
Organic and small-batch wines fill swirling glasses beneath the soaring ceilings of House Red Vinoteca. At a rustic, reclaimed-wood bar, discerning staff members subject new elixirs to tastings and credit checks, and the chef makes changes to a rotating menu of vino-enhancing fare made from scratch. Plates bearing crispy flatbreads and desserts inspired by international culinary traditions glide back and forth between duos chattering beneath exposed-brick walls. The warm sway of live jazz rolls across wine-tasting events and bottle-laden shelves, and patrons sipping through tasting flights from Croatia, Lebanon, Morocco, Serbia, and Slovenia add delicate treble notes with clinking glasses.
Designated the Forest Park/Oak Park area’s best local coffee shop by Chicago magazine in 2007, Blue Max Coffee treats farmers and taste buds with equal consideration, serving a menu of fair-trade joe and café eats. The shop’s baristas freshly roast and taste test brews, allowing only the most esteemed coffees to kiss locals' lips. The primo potables are complemented by homemade fare such as the breakfast panini with applewood-smoked bacon, spinach, scrambled eggs, and cheddar cheese ($8.50). Organic steel-cut oats, granola, blueberries, bananas, vanilla soy protein powder, and steamed milk conspire to create just-right bowls of breakfast porridge ($6.75) ideal for taunting bears of all sizes.
Bakery treats make the perfect pacifiers for crying babies, nagging mail carriers, and anti-establishment co-workers who stick it to the man by scream-singing from an adjacent cubicle. Bleeding Heart Bakery's Groupon assortment includes a classic red velvet cupcake, a caramel-filled Veruca Salt cupcake (enhanced with fleur de se), six cake balls in flavors such as almond and chocolate mocha, one mallowy s'mores brownie, a banana fudge brownie, two nut- and fruit-laden scones, and one lonely but remarkably well-adjusted lemon bar.
From behind a frozen granite slab, the staff of Cold Stone Creamery uses twin spatulas to blend 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 spatulas 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.