Serious Eats: Chicago
Lunch in the Loop: Caffe RōM
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
After my visit to Rōti, I thought I'd pretty much found the only restaurant with the letter ō in its name. But I was wrong. Dead wrong. Because I found another place with that squirrelly little letter ō: Caffe RōM. Wōō!
Caffe RōM is designed after the modern cafes you typically see in the bustling cities of Italy, and it certainly looks the part. There's shiny white paneling with metal trim, San Pellegrino lining the cooler, tiny bottled Italian pear juices, and a backlit cafe menu that's written in a European style font. It was even filled with sharply dressed business people taking a break from their workday for a quick sandwich.
The Jo Jo ($7.69) is Caffe RōM's signature sandwich, featuring prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, basil, and tomatoes, all on a chewy ciabatta roll. I'm not usually a fan of ciabatta bread due to its chewiness, which makes me sound like an old man who needs to gum his food, but its yeasty chew was a good fit for the sandwich. The artichoke hearts are marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, adding a deep, sweet tartness that played nicely with the salty prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. It was finished with a cooling slice of tomato and sharp basil. It's a classic combination for a good reason.
The Pescara ($7.25) is a combination of tuna, marinated artichokes, red onion, capers, sliced egg, and olive oil, on the same ciabatta as the Jo Jo. I'm surprised I don't see this combination more often, because all the ingredients work remarkably well together. You've got the big flavor of the canned tuna, slightly acidic artichokes, briny capers, crumbly hard boiled egg, topped off with the sharp and sweet bite from the red onion.
The Budino di Pane ($2.50) is a seasonal bread pudding for the colder months, so, as the friendly register girl told me, it won't be around for much longer. But it's sweet, custardy, layered with bits of fresh apple, and topped with a thin layer of caramel sauce and cinnamon. It'd be perfect with some coffee.
And no trip to an Italian cafe is complete without some espresso, and the Portofino is a little dose of crema-heavy espresso layered upon a little bit of sweetened condensed milk to take away from the bitterness. There's other attractive concoctions, including the Taormina, which is comprised of orange cream, espresso, and whipped cream, and every one of these little drinks comes out looking like a remarkable piece of art.
So next time I feel like my bulbous ass is fusing to my office chair, you might find me at Caffe RōM taking a break with a sigh of relief.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.