Wicker Park arguably has the best neighborhood selection of coffee places in Chicago. Options abound from the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (they don’t deserve a spot in this review because plenty has been written about both of these places) to one of the only outposts in the midwest (Bagel on Damen) that has the much revered Stumptown coffee.
Here is a rundown of what’s out there and what each brings to the table for today’s discerning coffee drinker and/or anyone that’s ready to break away from the bigger names in coffee. This tour is necessary because those unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not be aware that the place with the best drip coffee (for me, Bagel on Damen) doesn’t have any kind of cappucino to offer. The ins and outs of the local establishment are, for lack of a better word, kind of complex.
Caffe Streets is easily the most pretentious spot around the neighborhood. Apparently, the ability to decorate an entire place with jigsawed plywood brings a heightened sense of self worth. Jigsawness aside, there is a distinct sense of style to the interior and it does seem to come at a price of comfort. Backless wooden stools at the middle of the cafe are not great for long-term sitting (Filter is much more comfortable). However, if someone decides to make an ultra-hip show in the neighborhood, this is likely to be a filming spot. The prices back up this high-end sentiment. Seriously, my first encounter with coffee sticker shock happened at this place.
All the previous snarking aside, this place does take care to make good coffee. They utilize multiple brewing methods and produce the best non-Stumptown plain coffee around. I had a non-blended Kenyan roast (yes, really serious coffee drinkers are starting to sound like Scotch drinkers) prepared by pour over that was really excellent. For the unititiated a pour over is when the hot water is swirled into a funnel with the beans and the coffee comes very slowly out the cone on the bottom. A twelve ounce cup of coffee was $4.
Caffe Streets makes a pretty standard lineup of espresso drinks, and the customer can be pretty sure the coffee being used for the drinks is good quality. The cappuccino was quite well done with the proper swirly look to the foam. I’ve had better espresso drinks, but not (yet) in Chicago. They have some very interesting tea, too. As with the coffee, they take good care in the preparation. Food selection is limited to sweets and pastries.
Overall, if you want a well-made coffee drink in a hip environment (and price is not an object), it’s a solid option.