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.
Now that we're well into spring, I find myself craving fruits and vegetables. There's just something about the smell of spring air that says to my body, "Dennis, stop shoving those fries in your face and eat something fresh. No, Dennis, that's not a tomato. That's ham. How did you make it to 31 years old?" The other part of spring I really love is being able to reconnect with old friends after the isolating season of winter, so I hauled my friend Carla along for the trip.
With my mind, my body, and my friend all in agrement about the consumption of fresh produce, Sopraffina Marketcaffé looked like to the perfect place to go.
I don't often see casual lunch places serving fish that's not on a sandwich, so the chilled roasted salmon plate ($5.29 for salmon, $6.10 for two choices of antipasti) is something I almost always order. The salmon is cooked with a healthy dose of black pepper, but is somewhat under salted. Luckily, that fact isn't enough to distract from the rich meaty flavor of the salmon. The fish comes with a light yogurt dill sauce, which I've always been on the fence about; the sauce is lacking in fat and salt, and is mostly a vehicle for dill.
But what you really want to check out is the large and varied menu of antipasti. The caprese salad (on the right) is a blend of roma, grape, and yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Rather than being dressed with balsamic vinegar, Sopraffina opts for lemon juice along with the usual extra-virgin olive oil, which brings a brighter, higher flavor, plus it keeps the tomatoes and cheese attractive without turning them into a purple-brown mess. The tomatoes are beautifully fresh and sweet, the mozzarella supple and rich, and the anise-like flavor of basil tops it all off.
The wheatberry salad (bottom) is a unique item I haven't seen at other nearby lunch places. The wheatberries are the entire grain of wheat (except for the hull), and with the outer layer of bran intact, is chewy in a rustic way. Roasted asparagus lends a slightly bitter flavor and the sun-dried tomatoes add a tangy punch to the starchy wheatberries.
Remember my turkey sandwich from Jaffa Bakery? I've found another variation, and it's just as delicious. The Firenze ($4.09 for half sandwich) features roast turkey, cranberry walnut chutney, balsamic onions, lettuce, tomato, and mustard-sage mayonnaise on a flat Italian bread. It's pressed and toasted in a panini press, rendering the bread crisp and crackly. The flavors that come out the most are the cranberry chutney and the balsamic onions, which work together to add a boldly sweet flavor to pair with the roast turkey.
The Hilltop salad ($6.99) is a mix of greens, walnuts, pears, dried cranberries, and gorgonzola, dressed in balsamic vinagrette. My lovely dining companion subbed out the funky gorgonzola with creamy goat cheese, which ended up working well with the blend of fresh fruit and nuts. I would have liked to see less greens and more of the other components since the salad did feel a little lettuce-heavy.
So after a long morning at the office, there's nothing an old friend and some fresh food can't fix. And to me, the best part of spring is knowing that summer is right around the corner.
175 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60606(map)
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