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Lunch in the Loop: Ceres Cafe

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.

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[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

I've always been a little shy about going to a restaurant that's tucked inside a random office building. There's a lot of places like that in the Loop, so it's hard to avoid doing that now and then. It feels slightly weird to me knowing I'm surrounded by busy bees buzzing away in their cubicles, while I'm just there to grab a sandwich. It's like I'm invading someone else's home turf.

Now that we have that quirky little bit set aside, Ceres Cafe is just one of those places. It's located on the ground floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and it's mostly known for their extremely strong after-work drinks (for example, if you ask for a whiskey and coke, they'll pour you an entire glass of whiskey and give you a can of coke on the side). But they've got an enormous diner-style menu too, in case you're not going for a three-Martini lunch.

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I was most excited for the Jackson Boulevard ($9.85), a huge-ass sandwich on the Classics section of the menu, which is an open-face turkey, ham, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, and red onion, served with an enormous soup bowl's worth of Thousand Island dressing on the side. Go big or go home, right? Sadly, the thick-cut turkey is mouth puckeringly dry, no matter how much dressing you pour over it. And as a whole, it just somehow suffers from a lack of soul—it's just a bunch of deli meat piled onto bread.

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Surprisingly enough, the grilled chicken breast sandwich (9.35) is a pretty well executed version. I know it sounds boring, but the chicken has a strong char on it that reminds me of a summer grill-out, which is a welcome image to have in the middle of winter. Plus, it's pretty juicy.

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The grilled tilapia tacos ($9.15) live in yet another section of the menu, and are actually decent—if you're not expecting an authentic Chicago Tacos experience. The main issue is that the fish gets lost completely in the lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. Tilapia isn't a strongly flavored fish to begin with, so each bite tastes mostly like the garden on top.

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The corned beef sandwich ($8.15) is of the thickly sliced variety, which is nice to see now and then. It's also an enormous sandwich, but the tender corned beef is dry, which is a common pitfall of corned beef in general.

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One of the tricky parts about being a food writer is trying to take photos of your food with a giant camera without being too annoying. Our waitress, who was a cheerful older Irish woman, watched me with some curiosity as I snapped photos. "Aren't you going to eat any of your food, honey?" she asked. I just smiled at her, since I was busy snapping away. A coworker whispered to her, "He's a food writer."

She said, "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone." Then she pinched my cheeks. I'm almost 32, and I got my cheeks pinched. At lunch. By a complete stranger. My coworkers had a real field day with that one.

Ceres Cafe

141 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604map)
312-427-3443

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.

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