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The Salad Bar Series: The Cafe

By Marilyn Ferdinand

Restaurant: The Cafe

Location: 233 E. Chicago Ave.

Description: It's hard to call The Cafe a restaurant. Hidden on the second floor of the massive American Dental Association building just off the Mag Mile, this cafeteria-style eatery isn't going to attract tourists and residents with the kind of income it takes to live and shop in this corner of Streeterville. The Cafe is designed to feed working stiffs who have just enough time to pull up an unpadded, formed-plastic chair for a quick bite to eat.

Salad Bar Comes With Meal? As with any cafeteria, the salad bar is a la carte and is priced by the ounce. In addition to its small soup and salad bar, The Cafe has pre-made pizza slices, sandwiches, and hot food from the griddle. I had a decent-sized salad and satisfying bowl of soup for a total tariff of $6.30.

Sneeze Guard: Clear plexiglass provides ample coverage for average to tall people. Shorter people or children could present a hazard.

Estimated Length: Three feet, two rows of items.

Reachability: Everything is in easy reach, and the well-lit room ensures you'll know what you're getting ready to put in your mouth.

Best Ingredients: Organic spring greens and chipped romaine pieces are crisp and fresh, adding more proof that iceberg lettuce, like the 60s kitchens that served it, may be a thing of the past. Raw zucchini spears tasted great, as did a seasoned corn "relish". The food service director said their vegetable choices are seasonal, and spinach and yummy asparagus tips are just around the corner. The soups, which I always think should be part of a salad bar, are awesome. I had a black bean soup that was just the right amount of spicy and thick, and I could break either saltines or whole-wheat crackers into them.

Unusual Ingredients: Quinoa, the much-touted supergrain, is on offer. It's kind of flavorless, but it's so loaded with nutrients that it's worth spooning around the salad. Broccoli is not an unusual salad bar ingredient, but getting cooked, chilled broccoli is; the flavor is so much better that I wish more kitchens would take the time to offer it on their salads and salad bars. Cooked chicken breast, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are nice protein alternatives to the more common chopped eggs and cottage cheese.

Dressings: Different flavors of oil/vinegar, Lite Italian, and Caesar are nice choices. But this is a great salad bar for a Ranch lover like me, offering as it does Southwestern Ranch, Lite Ranch, and regular Ranch.

Comment: The Cafe doesn't advertise itself on street level, so if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there. Remember, it's more like a lunchroom, so if you're an MCA patron looking for something artistic or a patient looking to be coddled before you have a speculum inserted where the sun don't shine at neighboring Northwestern/Prentiss Women's Hospital, go somewhere else. If you're a Streeterville wage slave who's into getting a tasty, healthy, inexpensive meal, The Cafe is a great choice.


Previously in The Salad Bar Series:
* La Villa. Fake shutters, red vinyl, adequate sneeze guard.
* Chuck E. Cheese's. An adult sneeze guard for pint-size sneezes. Plus, beer.


Posted on June 1, 2009

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