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
Every morning, the dough masters at Aracely's Bakery rise before dawn to craft house-made cupcakes, pastries, and sandwiches to bejewel their display cases. Confectionary artists transform dreams into fondant-covered reality by crafting custom cakes for birthdays, baby showers, and Eat a Portrait of Your Boss day. Meanwhile, traditional Mexican recipes lend sweetness to cakes and spice to 11 kinds of sandwiches, whose ingredients include avocado, chihuahua cheese, and secret sauce, and pack flavor into handheld meals.
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.
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 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.