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.
If you're visiting Chicago and you're chillin' like a villain in the Loop, sometimes it can be hard to find the more unique lunch places. Fast food restaurants stick out like a sore thumb, with their zany bright colors and familiar logos, but a lot of restaurants blend into the scenery. So if you're not careful, you can walk right by Toni Patisserie and Café and not even know it. And that's what I'm here for—to slap the bad food out of your hands and to deliver the good directly into your face.
That being said, skip the La Boeuf ($8.95). Apparently in typical Dennis Lee fashion, I was a boner and completely forgot to take a picture of it. I'm not even sure how that happened. I'm Asian. I'm required to take pictures of my food, right? But overall it's a forgettable sandwich with roast beef, greens, and horseradish, with one major problem—the rustic baguette it comes on turns into a jaw workout. I promise I'm not being a picky wuss, either, between three people, everyone came to the same conclusion: the bread is a little too chewy for an easy lunch.
There's nothing like a piece of quiche from a bakery. Whenever I make one at home, I inevitably screw it up because apparently drinking whiskey while cooking isn't in the recipe. The quiche Lorraine ($7.95) is a classic; Toni Patisserie fills it full of bacon, onion, and a touch of gruyere. It's heavy on the bacon and even heavier on the onion, whose moisture renders the egg custard a little jigglier than most, almost like silken tofu. Personally, I like my quiche custard a touch thicker.
The salade Nicoise ($11.95) is a bevy (yes, I just said bevy) of tuna blended with briny capers, greens lightly dressed in a dijon vinaigrette, haricot verts (aka green beans), tart olives, fingerling potatoes, a hard-boiled egg, and tomatoes. It comes more or less disassembled, but in a combined bite, everything comes together in a bright blended harmony. The picture might make the tuna look a bit dry, but I promise the juicy capers bring the moisture right back.
If there was an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog of food, the Croque Monsieur ($9.95) would be like that one shirtless guy running along the beach with his hair tossed back in the wind. Wait, aren't all the guys in those catalogs are shirtless? I'm terrible at similes. What I'm trying to say is that it's a handsome sandwich. Cut in half with strings of hot melted cheese reaching across the plate, it's definitely a looker. It's not heavy handed with the ham, giving it a nice balance of salt and meat, and the bechamel sauce is like a silky alternative to mayo. Oddly enough, the best part of the sandwich is the crust; it's crisp, toasted, and delicately crunchy without being stale.
Toni Patisserie is located in a convenient place for visitors and Loop worker bees, right off Michigan Avenue. If you're out screwing around town for a while, it's a good choice for a French-style lunch. And if you just want a snack, they've got baked goods like macarons and pastries to keep you happy through any busy day.
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.