In early March before the world that we once knew was plunged into pandemic mode, I met a friend for breakfast at Chef Sara’s Café at 7201 S. Exchange Avenue in Chicago’s South Shore neighbourhood. Another friend had spoken highly of the café and I had set a tickler for a visit. Nevertheless, days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months had turned into years. As we neared our “in shelter” warning, I got in one last restaurant outing before hibernation.
Let’s just start with the welcome upon entering the café. Think sitcom shows where a regular cast member walks on the scene at an establishment and everyone has a round of hello and “How ya doing?” and “Come on in and make yourself at home.” I was not a regular cast member at Chef Sara’s Café, but you never would have known otherwise. My friend who met me there noticed the same “you’re at your family’s house” feeling.
For breakfast, we ordered several landings and took our time with each since we had planned to sit and catch up for a few hours. While I started with a cup of Ethiopian coffee, my friend had a berry smoothie that I would gladly drive to the South Side to have. First to the table was a salmon and spinach omelet served with toast. What a bonanza this was, as the spinach was not wilted and the salmon was not fishy. And with the toast having been grilled rather than toasted, this was a highlight.
The next that we tried was a plate of chicken and waffles. If you are expecting fried chicken atop a Belgian waffle, you will be in for a surprise. The chicken is baked into the waffle and while there is no crust, that’s all the better. Neither my friend nor I had chicken and waffles prepared this way and the dish seemed that more appetizing because of the preparation. Plus, we didn’t have to fight with being neat while cutting the chicken and waffle.
We later eased into trying some of the soups from the menu. The cauliflower and leek soup was simply outstanding. One would think that the soup would be slightly bland, but that was not the case. Seasoned nicely without being salty and served with warm cornbread, this put a lot of artisanal soups to shame that I have had over the past few years. The same can be said of the bowl of black eyed peas with smoked turkey, although this reminded us of Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house. The seasoning was spot on, not being heavy handed and not needing anything added. And because we were so caught up in the energy, I hadn’t gotten photos of all of the dishes. I did get video; see below.
Given the flow of people who came through after which there were greetings by first name, it became evident that Chef Sara’s Café has a steady stream of regular customers. Once you get to enjoy anything from the menu, engage everyone in conversation, or find yourself dancing to the music played in the background, you will no doubt find yourself being a regular patron. It is rare in today’s environment that you can go into any establishment as a stranger and leave as a part of the family. Chef Sara’s Café will be the first café or restaurant I go to for a proper sit-down after the pandemic eases. I always enjoy going back home.