Arts & Entertainment

A taste of Europe in Chicago

Roast beef sandwich// Photos courtesy of Regina Merrill

Some restaurants can make you feel like you are in a different time or place. At Julius Meinl, (3601 N. Southport Ave.) a cafe off the Addison Red Line stop, I felt like I had been transported to Vienna. My friends and I took the 152 bus to the cafe, but you could also walk the five blocks from the Addison Red Line stop with a little determination (which we did on our way back). After stepping through the door, I felt like we had entered a cafe in Europe instead of Wrigleyville.

Hardwood floors, a rich yellow wallpaper and stately leather booths illuminated by brass overhead lights give Julius Meinl an old-world feel. After looking at the website, I learned that an Austrian company designed the cafe and imported the decor from its workshop in Vienna.

A full-service coffee bar is at the front of the cafe, and shelves around it offer various types of tea and coffee. There is also a pastry case on either side of the coffee bar with traditional European desserts such as apfelstrudel (apple strudel), black forest cake, cookies and croissants. If you are pressed for time, they have a separate register at the coffee bar so you can order a drink and a pastry to go.

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Aside from the standard espresso drinks, the cafe offers drinks such as Earl Grey tea lattes, smoothies, frappes, Italian sodas and a large selection of teas.

Julius Meinl is a well-known coffee brand in Europe, and its commitment to quality beverages is evident in its extensive drink list. Aside from the standard espresso drinks, the cafe offers drinks such as Earl Grey tea lattes, smoothies, frappes, Italian sodas and a large selection of teas.

The latte was excellent, and you could taste the high quality of the espresso used to make it. After we had placed our drink orders, I had a tough decision about whether I wanted to order off the breakfast or lunch menus. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m. and includes items such as baked eggs, a truffled croque madame, Kaiserschmarren (Austrian style pancakes with cinnamon and raisins) and both sweet and savory crepes.

The baked eggs served with a Rosti potato pancake, caramelized onions, parmesan and truffle oil sounded particularly enticing, but I eventually decided that I was in the mood for lunch instead.
Julius Meinl offers many sandwiches and salads, and also has a section of the menu dedicated to spatzle, a type of soft egg noodle. I’d never tried spatzle before, so I decided this would be an authentic place to try it.

Spatzle mixed with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and bacon
Spatzle mixed with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and bacon

I ordered the kasespatzle, which was spatzle mixed with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and bacon. My friends also ordered off the lunch menu. One got the roast beef sandwich, which came on a pretzel bun with apple-horseradish spread, and the other chose the pear and blue cheese salad.

When my spatzle arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. This would be the ideal dish for a Chicago winter — the sharpness of the Swiss cheese and the sweet caramelized onions combined perfectly with the smoky, thick-cut bacon (of which there was a lot). It was a hearty, filling dish.

My friend enjoyed the roast beef sandwich and said that the pretzel bun was particularly good. My other friend liked her salad as well, and said the pear vinaigrette was light and refreshing paired with the flaky blue cheese pastry that came with it. No one was disappointed with the food, and the menu had many things that I would go back to try.

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Pear and blue cheese salad

Despite the delicious food, there were a few things that were disappointing at the cafe. It did not seem to have any air conditioning that day, which would have been fine except that it was an unusually warm fall day. Also, our service was a little slow even though the restaurant wasn’t very busy.

There was about a 10-minute gap between the time we ordered our drinks and our food, and it took a while for our waiter to come back for our checks at the end of the meal.

My friend and I would have ordered dessert, as we wanted to try the Mozart torte — made of dark chocolate mousse, pistachio mousse, chocolate cake and pistachio nougatine — but we realized it would take a fair amount of time and we had already sat long enough. I am willing to overlook these issues, though, because the food was very prepared.

Whether you want a quality cup of coffee, delicate dessert or taste of an authentic European dish, Julius Meinl is worth the trip. The interior is beautiful and the amount of choices on the menu ensures anyone will find something to enjoy.

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