Serene Teaz’s herbal outfitters dress up waiting cups in international teas, rooibos, infusions, and matés. Toast sunrise over a breakfast campfire with a mug of smoky lapsang souchong black tea ($10 for 4 oz.) or train crosshairs at midafternoon fatigue with a restorative shot of gunpowder green tea ($10.50 for 4 oz.). Steeped like tea, South African rooibos transforms into a drinkable dessert when paired with fruit or chocolate. One of Serene Teaz’s most popular rooibos brew, Sweet Sin ($10 for 4 oz.) sifts together vanilla, rose petals, and freeze-dried raspberries to elicit a decadent aroma capable of transporting drinkers toward serene moments or back to their days as a chocolate-rabbit breeder. Herbal infusions dance across nose buds with scents blended from fruits, herbs, and flowers such as hibiscus ($10 for 4 oz.) and peppermint ($9 for 4 oz.).
At Two Chefs Cafe & Catering, wait staff carries upscale twists on American traditions past the bar area to an expansive patio that’s surrounded by a picturesque wrought-iron fence. Inside, hosts lead diners to seats amid rustic brick walls and decorative wall pieces that organize bottles of French wine by their region. The kitchen staff makes classic cuisine from scratch for weekly events—such as the Friday fish fry and Sunday brunch—or intimate meals. They coat their six signature pasta dishes with one of five sauces and plate hearty helpings of canadian baby-back ribs. The cozy atmosphere grows more festive on weekends, when live music permeates the space and drowns out the play-by-play announcer in your head.
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62-seat Italian eatery, updating the space with an open kitchen, modern patio seating, and paper menus to replace the outdated stone ones.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.
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.
For 28 years, the staff at Christy's Pancake House have worked to replicate the laidback vibe of a meal at home amidst bubbling fish tanks and a wall sign that reads "Keep Your Kitchen Clean––Eat Out." In its turquoise booths, tables populate with warm breakfast pancakes, three-egg omelets, and full-pound burgers from the menu of hearty diner fare. Forks spool Italian-style alfredo pastas beside plates of steaming pork chops and amply stuffed greek gyros. While polishing off a piece of pie plucked from one of the glass display cases, guests can remind the server that it's their birthday for a sundae of choice on the house, or remind a significant other for an awkward meal of excuses and apologies.
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.