Karen Gruber founded The Perfect Dinner to confront the dilemma she saw facing “working, commuting, chauffeuring moms”: either burn out trying to cook after long days, or grab fast food and end up feeling guilty. The Perfect Dinner aims to break the cycle with crowd-pleasing family dinners made fresh each day and available for pickup or delivery.
Convenient containers can go straight into the oven, microwave, or refrigerator, with three size options ensuring that there's enough for all family members and any dishwashers demanding sustenance. Each day's menu is marked to clarify which items accommodate special diets, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and nut-free choices.
The Perfect Dinner also caters feasts with platters, plated dinners, casual party fare, and other options tailored for each event, whether hosts need assorted quiches for a brunch event or 20 flank-steak sliders to fuel cheers during badminton matches.
True to its name, Eastgate Cafe can seem like a gateway to another world entirely. In a cozy nook with bistro tables and a golden-tufted banquette, guests can take time out from their busy lives to feast on pastries, salads, and sandwiches. The cafe stays open from early morning to late evening; on select nights, musicians strum guitars and harps to usher in an air of romance. The cafe also boasts an eclectic shop where guests can purchase decorative beer steins, wine racks, and bowls.
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.
To find many of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that underscore their Mediterranean menu, Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits' chefs only need to walk a few steps away from the kitchen—to the restaurant's own greenhouse. Although it's hard to get more local than that, many other ingredients are sourced from Cakeridge Farms in the Ohio River Valley, owned by head chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge. Both worked under James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano in Chicago before perfecting their Mediterranean cooking and wine-bottle-juggling on Spain's Costa Brava.
At Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, Dan and Beth whip up fresh pasta, flatbreads made to order, and small plates inspired by French, Spanish, and Moroccan cuisine. A lengthy wine and spirits menu makes it easy to pair each dish with an apropos beverage, including small-batch and organic options. Diners can enjoy their meal on the restaurant's three-season patio or inside at tables crafted from fallen ash trees harvested from Cakeridge Farms.
Vito Brancato is a man of many trades: indie filmmaker, pro wrestler, and—at his neighborhood cafe in Berwyn—a purveyor of rich, earthy coffees and espressos and mouthwatering Italian cuisine. One of his online films series, At the Coffee Shop, even stars Caffe Palermo as the front for a Chicago gang's illicit activities. The tagline is "An espresso shot can be deadly," but have no fear upon entering; in real life the cafe is welcoming place to grab a bite—and not a bite out of crime.
Here, guests celebrate afternoons with paninis featuring Pecorino romano cheese on foccacia, and adds touches of decadence to patrons' morning commutes with their caffe mocha spiked with swirls of Nutella. As the anti-chain-store signs in the window proudly declare, each item on the menu is handmade by locals with care, from the Sicilian-style cannolis and lemon knots to the beans used to create every cup of espresso.
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.