Chicago Sun-Times
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Comfort on the menu at First Slice Pie Cafe


CHEFS CHOICE.jpg Comfort food. It's that time, right?

That overused phrase resonates when you're talking about First Slice, the nonprofit started eight years by chef Mary Ellen Diaz (right).

Diaz, in a nutshell, feeds Chicago's needy. The former North Pond Café chef has been doing this since 2001, first out of a church kitchen, then in her current space at the Lillstreet Art Center on North Ravenswood.

The core of First Slice is its subscriber food program. For $65, you get three meals a week for a family of three; that money helps pay for the same meals for 20 needy individuals. Proceeds from the café on Ravenswood, and from the First Slice foods on sale at Chicago's Downtown Farmstand, also help fund the program.

A few weeks ago, Diaz opened a second café inside the old Pumping Station at 163 E. Pearson.

It's Tourist Central, this new spot. Customers don't know that Diaz once headed the kitchen at North Pond, or that she left a pretty sweet gig at Lettuce Entertain You, or that her nonprofit has recently partnered with the Night Ministry to feed homeless kids on Wednesdays and Fridays (she's hoping to get some kids into her kitchen to learn the ropes). Customers don't know that the end goal of all of this expansion is to start a job-training program.

Customers come in looking for brochures, and pizza. Diaz doesn't mind. "They're more hungry," she says. "It's fine."

Most of Diaz's staff from North Pond have followed her. "That's a cool litle part of this program, too," she says. "And that's why our cooking is really good."

You'll find salads made with local greens and Michigan cherry pie year-round at First Slice Pie Café. Diaz puts up a lot of summer produce, just as she did in her white-tablecloth restaurant days. There's also quiche and cookies. And pizza. You know - comfort food.


Hi Jodi, I'm writing an article about First Slice and looking for subscribers to their program. Could I ask you a few questions about you experience with First Slice? My email is Thanks!

The Pie Cafe in the Pumping Station is top notch for a terrific, yet quick bfast, lunch or even a light dinner when you're on the go downtown. I had a slice of spinach and goat cheese quiche today, which came with a nice-sized, simple side of salad. Fresh and wonderful for lunch while I was in the hood for a Dr. appt. at NW. After I ate, I enjoyed my hot and cozy cafe au lait in a leather chair on the other side, right next to the cute, miniature branch of the Chicago Public Library (who knew?) Had I had more time, I might have perused the books, or checked my email on the computer.

First Slice is a great organization too. We have been subscribers of their program and it's great to know that others are benefitting while you're eating the yummy dinners made with fresh, many times local ingredients! Way to go First Slice!

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on January 8, 2010 5:28 PM.

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