Holiday shopping season is upon us once again, and with it come the magazine stories, window signs, Facebook buttons and individual resolutions carrying the "shop local," banner. It's a noble idea -- to support our local merchants, the ones who give us nice Christmas decorations and put a festive feeling in the air, as well as contribute to the local economy -- instead of doing all our shopping online.
It's certainly something that I am going to try to do as much as I can in the next month or so, but similarly, I have made resolved to "go local" when it comes to food, making the effort when I can to patronize locally-owned restaurants or food stores.
This goes hand-in-hand with another resolution to break out of my "restaurant rut," and try to dine somewhere new more often, as opposed to falling back onto the same two or three restaurants that I regularly visit.
What got me to making this resolution was the untimely demise of one restaurant and the opening of a new cafe, separated by only a few blocks in the Edgewater/Uptown neighborhood. When I noticed a pizza place/bar named Monticchio on Clark Street just north of Lawrence, next to Lincoln Towing, I was surprised that a restaurant would open in such a seemingly inhospitable location -- that stretch of Clark is most notable for the aforementioned towing pirates, a couple garages and a cemetery across the street -- and I made a mental note of the place. I walked or drove past it many times after that, thought it looked cheery and as if time and attention to deal had been paid to the interior and the menu and thought, "I'll have to go there sometime."
"Sometime" never came. Monticchio closed not long ago.
More recently, though, I've seen new signage in the old Monticchio space, for a place called Ceres' Table. This intrigued me, since Ceres was the Roman goddess of grain (I knew that three years of high school Latin would come in helpful some day!), whose likeness graces the top of the Board of Trade building downtown. According to the restaurant's Web site, which, like the spot itself, is "coming soon," Ceres' Table is run by Sicilian-born Chef Giuseppe Scurato, formerly of Topaz Cafe, Boka and the Landmark Grille & Lounge.
I have resolved to visit Ceres' Table, at least a few times.
Only a couple blocks north of the Ceres space is very exciting space (leather sofas and exposed brick excite me, really) that will soon be the home to a new cafe, Winston's. It's on the northeast corner of Clark and Argyle, across from Sofo, in the former Clark's on Clark space. The city has issued food and beverage and "retail computer" (i.e., for an Internet cafe) licenses for Winston's and from peeking in the windows, things appear to be taking shape quite nicely. It's got a nice bar, which apparently will be serving coffee drinks instead of booze (and snacks, since I've seen sandwich/cake cases as well), and the rest of the space has that upscale, soft-loft feel, with leather sofas, coffee tables and plenty of smaller tables for you and your laptop. The space, while unfinished as of Sunday morning, reminded me a little of Andersonville's Coffee Studio, also on Clark, about a mile north of Winston's. While Winston's is a little far from home to be my neighborhood coffee spot, I can't wait to go there, since it seems like it could be a great space.
And while I just do not get the whole cupcake madness, you have got to admire anyone who works to open a cupcake cafe in Uptown, so I plan to visit The Cupcake Gallery, at 1319 W. Wilson, as well. I figure since it is a three-mile roundtrip walk from my front door, I can justify an Uptown cupcake treat every so often.
Like a resolution to shop local, I know it's extremely tough to eat local all the time. I don't believe Starbucks is evil -- I like their coffee, as well as their ubiquity (sometimes I just really need a cup of coffee or an espresso quickly and they do that extremely well), and I appreciate that they've brought coffee culture to the masses. But there are other times when I'd like a nice latte or cafe au lait in a more relaxed setting, and one in which the person behind the counter may very well be the person whose name in on the business license. It's easy to get a sandwich or burrito from the national chain down the street, but it also sometimes make you kind of anonymous. Taking just a little effort to say, get a sandwich at the locally-owned shop a few doors down from the chain store may be more satisfying to you as a customer, may make our neighborhoods seem more like communities and may even make us less anonymous to one another. And you may even discover some surprising food and drinks which could become your new favorites.