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fast-FOO-0126-05.jpg [photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

Get ready for Belly Shack brunch.

Bill Kim is launching a monthly, coffee-focused, pop-up brunch at his restaurant at 1912 N. Western. The first date: Fathers Day, June 19.

It'll be walk-in only, no reservations, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an edited menu of brunch non-classics. "No waffles, no pancakes -- I hate that," says Kim. More like: fried chicken with chorizo gravy. Choose one of five mains for $12; sides will be $5.

For each brunch, Kim hopes to partner with a different local roaster or coffeehouse. The first to be featured will be Ipsento Coffee, 2035 N. Western, just up the road from Belly Shack.

Chicago is the "city that works," and it may be argued that it's the "other" city that never sleeps, but where do Chicagoans get all the energy needed to keep going? Could be all the coffee we drink, according to a report from The Daily Beast.

The website got a list of the cities with the largest number of coffee shops per capita from market research firm NPD Group, then considered total caffeine consumption as measured by the most recent annual caffeine survey, commissioned by HealthSaver and conducted by Prince Market Research in 2008. Cities on its initial per capita ranking that were not accounted for in the consumption survey were given a normalized score.

Additionally, the site considered data on the average monthly spending on coffee purchases in the first quarter of 2010, according to personal budget service Mint.com. Cities in which Mint data was not available were ascribed an averaged value.

It's no surprise that the No. 1 caffeinated city in America was Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks. Seattle has 35 coffee shops per 100,000 residents and the average Seattleite spends $36 a month on coffee, according to the Daily Beast survey. Following Seattle on the list were Portland, San Jose, Denver, and San Francisco, but in sixth place -- and the first non Western city to appear on the list -- was Chicago.

According to the Daily Beast, Chicago, which was the first city outside of Seattle that Starbucks expanded to, has 10 coffee shops per 100,000 residents and the average monthly amount spent on coffee is $29.

Only $29 a month? I wish I could get my coffee budget down to that level.

Slayer rocks!

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slayer-espresso-machine_y5VCz_48.jpg
Some people go for monster trucks; others, their thing is how fast and powerful their computer is, or how much horsepower some sports car has.

Other people -- and you know who you are -- see a gleaming, muscular, espresso machine and say, "whoaaaa."

That was my reaction when I heard about the Slayer, the monster truck/Italian sports car of espresso machines. Made in Seattle (surprise!) the Slayer (yes, that's it's name) is an industrial strength espresso maker that, according to Gizmodo, has gotten coffee nerds all hyped up "because of the way it allows a barista to easily play with pressure to do some interesting things--like start with a low pressure extraction, ramp up to full pressure, then back it down to get different textures or flavors--using the wooden paddles on top of the groupheads that adjust the mechanical valves which control water flow, which is what's unique about the machine."

The Slayer weighs a couple hundred pounds and costs about $18,000. And not just anyone can buy one -- there are only 20 that have been built, so far. It's a machine for coffee shop proprietors who are really, really serious about the quality of the coffee experience.

In other news, the Bialetti stovetop espresso maker I got last week seems to be working pretty nicely, so far, producing something I wouldn't exactly call "espresso," but rather, some nice, quite concentrated, strong coffee.


Cheers to Sal Bednarz, the owner of a cafe in North Oakland, California. I hope what he has done at his cafe catches on.

It's amazing, in a way, that what Bednarz has done has gotten so much attention, but maybe the more attention he gets, the more widespread the practice will become. Quite simply, he has asked the patrons of his cafe to unplug the laptops -- or better yet, leave them at home, at least just for one day. He's asked that patrons of his cafe go "unplugged" from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, in hopes that people may actually interact with one another, instead of hiding behind their laptops and other such devices.

Why is he doing it? Well, as he told a San Francisco paper, "When we opened this place we wanted to create a community. Instead it's just been a room full of laptops."

Even worse, for someone trying to earn a living by operating a cafe, the story points out, is to discourage the practice by patrons of "buying a $2 cup of coffee and spending all day using a table that could be taken by a customer purchasing lunch, visiting with friends or otherwise spending money and then leaving." That's why even the cafes that haven't instituted "unplugged" days now charge for wireless access or give wireless passwords that expire after an hour.

Another North Oakland cafe -- which billed itself as an Internet cafe when it opened -- has reduced its electrical outlets to just one, and it's had a positive impact on the vibe of the place.

"Chatting is now starting to overcome the keystrokes," said Ricardo Moran, manager at the Nomad Cafe. "It's really changed the feeling of the place. It's really nice."

Restaurant resolutions

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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.

By now you may have heard of the nationally-famous 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea shop in Seattle. A nationally-famous neighborhood coffee and tea shop that has just opened this week? How does that happen? Well, it happens when its owner is Starbucks Corp., and when that owner doesn't want you to know that this "neighborhood" coffee shop is owned and operated by the Big Green Coffee Co.

Starbucks' stealth strategy was exposed last week, in stories such as this one in the Seattle Times. The new, or re-branded shop sounds like a pretty cool spot, actually, especially when you consider that this particular Starbucks was slated for closure by the company. Now it will get new life, a new identity and will sell beer and wine along with the coffee and tea, as well as featuring events such as live music and poetry readings, like a real European or classic San Francisco/New York coffeehouse.

But there are people who do not appreciate that Starbucks wants the public to think that this is an indepenent shop. A little honesty early on could have gone a long way to calm down the Starbucks haters. (In the same way that a little honesty a while back could have cooled the civic fury here over the 2016 Olympic bid.) They could have stripped away any remnant of the old Starbucks but somehow, gently, informed diners and the public at large of the connection between Starbucks and "15th Street." People would have complained, as they seem to enjoy doing, about the taste of Starbucks' coffee or the fact that it is an evil global empire, but at least they would be without the ammunition provided them by the company's apparent deceit.

The thing about this new endeavor and Starbucks' fact-finding missions that really angered me, however, was the observation by Sebastian Simsch, co-owner of Seattle Coffee Works near Seattle's Pike Place Market, who, according to the Seattle Times story, "became frustrated last year after large groups of Starbucks employees kept crowding into his 300-square-foot store to look around." Not only did they crowd the shop like a corporate invading army, but they didn't buy anything! Fortunately Simsch called them out on it and cowards that they were, the corporate soldiers did not return.

It seems that Starbucks will transform stores that are in neighborhoods and have taken on a certain neighborhood flavor, so it would seem unlikely that your downtown or airport Starbucks would change. You can bet that this concept won't be limited to Seattle, nor will it only happen in a few stores here and there. And considering that Chicago has long been a favorite test market for Starbucks, how do you like the sound of the "Piper's Alley Coffee and Tea," "Andersonville Coffee" or "Via Taylor Cafe" ?

These days, given the wildly fluctuating temperatures in the Chicago area, where it can be warm and sunny in late-May but cold and rainy in early June, it's understandable that people can get confused. You don't know what's what -- you don't know how you should dress, you never know if it's safe to put that winter coat away for the season, and you certainly don't know if it's time yet for iced coffee.

Fortunately, though, there is a Web site that can help alleviate some of your confusion (well, at least as far as the iced coffee is concerned -- you'll have to overcome the wardrobe challenges on your own). It's called, surprisingly enough, isiticedcoffeeweather.com, and quite simply, the site is nothing more than that question and a spot for you to type in your zip code. Once you click on the question, stated again next to that box, the site somehow, magically, takes into acount all the weather factors it needs to and ... tells you if it's appropriately warm enough for an iced coffee. No more standing and gazing vacantly at your favorite barista when they ask, "would you like that hot or cold?" Just fire up this site on your mobile Internet device and you will know in an instant whether it's iced coffee weather.

I'm sure there are those who will say, "Well, I'm an adult and I'm paying for this coffee drink. I should be able to order an iced coffee or a frappalatta whenever I please, no matter what the temperature is!" Sure you are, and of course you can. You can also wear those cool sunglasses indoors and bring out the grill in winter. I can only wish you'd have a barista like the waitress at the Melrose Restaurant many years ago who, when I asked for a milk shake in January, told me, "Are you kidding? It's 32 (lovely) degrees out!" Sometimes it can be fun to play by the rules.

Tuesday's dreary weather hardly makes one yearn for a cool drink, but a deal from Dunkin' Donuts may be too good -- in a couple ways -- to pass up in spite of the not-so-summery weather.

Today Dunkin' Donuts will be selling 16-oz. servings of its iced coffee all day for just 50 cents, with 10 percent of the price going to Homes for Our Troops (HFOT), a national, non-profit organization that builds specially adapted homes for injured veterans.

In 2008, Dunkin' Donuts donated $100,000 to support 10 "Build Brigades," three-day construction blitzes to get a house framed with doors, windows, roof and siding. This year, HFOT expects to hold more than 30 "Build Brigades" throughout the country.

Coffee Caddy of the Future?

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coffeetop02.jpgHere's another item to file under food- and drink-related concepts, but unlike the Cole UV aluminum can cleaner, this is one that makes some sense and could make life easier, at least as far as that daily coffee trip for you and your officemates is concerned.

Like anyone who volunteers to get coffee for their officemates, I don't mind picking up coffee for one or two of my co-workers when I'm going down to our nearby Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, but what causes me a little bit of stress is remembering how much sugar or cream this or that person wants with their coffee, as well as the thought that I am holding up others by standing and stirring multiple cups of coffee at said coffee shop's tiny condiment stand.

The Coffee Top Caddy by Josh Harris can end such stress for the person picking up the coffee as well as those waiting (and presumably working) for the kind-hearted volunteer to come back with their drinks. Harris's design makes dedicated spaces on the coffee cup cover for as many as two creams and a few sugar packets. So the person who picks up the coffee can just get the coffee from the barista/cashier, insert the creams and sugars atop the cup in their secure spaces, then trot back to the workplace, where everyone will be happy to be able to put precisely as much cream or sugar in their coffees as they wish.

Brilliant.

(More images of Harris's coffee caddy can be found at toxel.com.)

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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