Owner Donna Smith-Grice describes her father Jimmy Smith as drinking his coffee the way he lived his life: "strong and sweet." Inspired by the wafting aromas of his daily coffee pots drifting up from her childhood memories, she opened her own coffee shop and borrowed his first initial to complete the name of the newly born Lazy J Coffee.
In keeping with its homey origins, the café's interior seems more like an eclectic living room than a restaurant, with well-worn leather couches facing a faux fireplace and a small wooden buffet topped with old-fashioned candleholders. Amidst this domestic comfort, baristas steam mugfulls of the shop's signature grind and specialty espresso drinks or fill cups with fruit smoothies that, like recovered cyborgs, are entirely organic.
The talented chefs at The Churro Factory imbue crispy pastries with seven different sweet fillings to fashion a scrumptious, Spanish-styled snack, often introduced by an opening act of fresh deli sandwiches and milkshakes. Handmade in small batches to ensure freshness, traditional churros are dusted with sugar and cinnamon ($1.95 each, $9.95 for six), tickling tongues better than a feather-boa toothbrush. Palate-popular pastries include the filled churros with flavorful cores of vanilla, chocolate-hazelnut, cajeta, strawberry, or honey ($2.25 each). Appetites of larger proportions can match hunger against the oven-warmed Pamplones sandwiches ($4+ each), featuring the Chasturias with turkey and avocado and the Chadiz steak fajita with bell peppers and oaxaca cheese. Five enrapturing milkshake flavors mingle into the dining party, including oreo, strawberry, and chocolate ($3.29 each), tantalizing guests with their smooth sips and proactive straw postures.
At PJ's Popcorn, wall-to-wall shelves of popcorn tubs complement wooden racks filled with general-store candy and crates and barrels filled with gumballs, gift boxes, and confections. Visitors sniff the delicious scents of freshly popped corn, dusted in peanut butter, chocolate, caramel, and sprinkles. The popcorn flavors run the gamut from savory to sweet, with varieties as diverse as loaded potato, salt and vinegar, Oreo, and watermelon. A diverse selection of pro-football and collegiate popcorn tins allow snackers to show off their team pride without the need for eating with cumbersome foam #1 fingers.
Chef K., owner of MyGi's Bakery Cafe, shapes cakes into giant Ramen packets, plates tapas, and serves gourmet lunches and dinners. Glittering candy buffets coat tables with sweetness and sparkle, and her specialty cakes personalize birthdays. Chef K. sometimes infuses her food with Caribbean influences, but her skill set spans the globe: students can choose to craft sushi, for instance, or cook their food in a Scandanavian hot spring. Chicago native and Ladha Catering owner Chef Tammy joins Chef K. in spreading the joys of international cooking and entertaining in pallet-expanding classes. Whether teaching a novice to perfectly grill a steak or serving brunch to some hungry weekend patrons, the chefs' passion for food and sense of artistry guide their endeavors.
At Ace's Gourmet Paninis, culinary-school grad Chef Van presides over an unlikely marriage between the Italian-born panini and the flavors of Southern comfort fare. He presses only quality ingredients into his sandwiches, including three signature paninis loaded with chicken, beef brisket, or pulled pork slathered in house barbecue sauce. His menu also flaunts a separate breakfast section that highlights paninis and burritos stuffed with more eggs and meats than a vending machine for bodybuilders. His renditions of childhood favorites, such as peanut butter and jelly, even please pintsize palates. Patrons can settle in to surf free WiFi in the eatery or grab a takeout container to feast at home.: