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One Friday Morning at Chicago’s Nutella Cafe

Nutella waffle!

Nutella waffle with strawberries and fresh hazelnuts. Oh, yeah.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I attended our second Chicago entertainment convention of 2019, a scant three weeks after the last one. Before and after each day’s festivities we found a few opportunities to see more of the Windy City that we hadn’t checked out on our last several trips. One restaurant in particular proved exactly the breakfast wonderland we needed.


Nutella Cafe!

Down in the Loop, corner of Michigan Avenue and Lake Street. The other door is fancier, but this side was the one we entered.

We expected the day of the Episode IX trailer to be a nonstop endurance test. We needed the right breakfast to propel us for the next several hours, through the long lines and beyond the grasp of mediocre convention center concession stands for as long as possible. Household-name sweet toppings seemed the way to go.

Enter the Nutella Cafe — opened May 31, 2017, as one of the few American storefronts dedicated to peddling that world-famous chocolate hazelnut spread by the bucketload and even putting its name in the title.

Nutella Wall!

Nutella chic: catch the nuttiness!

Nutella is an occasional guest star in our home, but not a permanent cast member. Sure, we can buy Nutella at our local groceries, stay home, and spread it on our own toast, bagels, Eggo waffles, Aunt Jemima pancakes, Ritz crackers, biscuits, Triscuits, and stale cake slices brought home from work pitch-ins. I’ve done all these things and more, especially the stale cake because the older I get, the more I find ordinary cakes a pointless use of calories. This may beg the question of why I would bring one home in the first place. The obvious answer: I knew at home I had the materials to augment it and/or make it less tedious to eat. We have a few local companies that manufacture creatively flavored peanut butters that’ll likewise resuscitate lingering snacks in their waning hours, but it’s hard to go wrong with classic Nutella if you don’t mind that it costs slightly more than Peter Pan or Jif.

Anyway. Yes, using Nutella at home isn’t hard. But we weren’t home. And the Cafe’s interior decorator can beat up ours, made all the easier by the fact that our interior decorator is George Glass.

Nutella Fireplace!

A cozy fireplace whose heat we couldn’t feel, and faux-IKEA plastics that felt flimsy to this hefty guy. Together they were another prime exemplar of the Duality of Man.

The Nutella Cafe offers at least one temptation we crave but can’t replicate at home: baked goods, most of them coated with Nutella in artful, thoughtful, decadent forms. They sell breakfast, lunch, and dinner as part of their full-service café design. Each phase includes a variety of non-Nutella dishes, but who cares. I can get plenty of not-Nutella at any restaurant.

We’d read crowds are a frequent hindrance and long waits aren’t unusual. At 8 a.m. on a cold Friday morning in April in Chicago, only two other customers occupied the Café with us. Maybe that’s the magic time to drop by, as opposed to a summery Saturday night.

Nutella Clafoutis!

Display items such as this Nutella clafoutis lined up to form a tasting checklist for some future visit.

It’s in Chicago and therefore not cheap, but the prices were competitive with the other places we ate that weekend. In our lead photo are Anne’s waffles, which kept her wired for nearly half the day. My breakfast (see below) wasn’t super-sized or measured in pounds, but it hit the spot for the time being.

Nutella Buckwheat crepe!

Nutella buckwheat crepe with bananas and fresh hazelnuts. Between the fruit and the unappealing buckwheat color, I’m pretty sure this counts as diet food.

I also ordered a latte, which I equally lack the tools to make at home. It was fine for what it was even though they carried no sugar-free syrups, which I should’ve assumed for an establishment that flaunts their sweets in the masthead. Biggest annoyance: I couldn’t find any coffee condiments. I assume the proprietor is that kind of refined, frowning coffee connoisseur, by which I mean the opposite of me. “Black or GET OUT” is not my coffee credo. Next time we’re in the Loop, I’ll just have to try a Nutella dish with some milk, or see if they’ve perfected a Nutella latte by then.

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