Recently, I joked about the fact that I would not make a good celebrity. I have absolutely no want for doing drugs. Drinking is not something I indulge to embarrassing excess. In the current day and age, sleeping around is a dangerous game of roulette. And I am not one for opening up my mouth and out leaps a frog. Ah, but I love to eat. Paparazzi would grow tired of waiting in front of restaurants to snap photos of me partaking of some morsel or treat basking in a tasty gravy. Tabloids would say that Gino eats constantly but somehow manages to maintain his athletic physique. His life is boring. Doesn’t the man do anything worthy of tabloid fodder?
The answer is NO!!!!!!
A few months ago I had gone to an Ethiopian coffee-house in Chicago’s Rogers Park. Because I was only passing through when I went the first time, I wanted to return for a proper sit-down. I remembered how outstanding the service was and how mouth-watering the food was that I had ordered for take-away. The temperatures in Chicago had been smothering, so I have spent most of my days inside. But with a mild reprieve from the tropical weather we have been having, I wanted to pander to my vegetarian palate and there is no way that you can go wrong with Ethiopian food.
It was back to Royal Coffee at 6764 N. Sheridan Road for my moment of food reckoning. The manager recognized me when I returned — she was sitting with a friend engaged in conversation before looking up and greeting me. There are countless restaurants where I have gone on ongoing basis only to be greeted as though it was my first visit or as if I had painted graffiti on the front door. But at Royal Coffee I got a “hello” that made my trip worth more than its weight in gold and I had not even placed my order.
With the weather being nice, I ordered an iced coffee with milk and a vegetarian plate, and I sat outside to watch the variety of pedestrians strolling down Sheridan Road. After a few minutes of reminiscing about my old neighbourhood, the food came and I snapped back into reality. The iced coffee with milk was a repeat of one that I had on my first visit. Ethiopian coffee is strong and having milk added only takes the bite out of it a little. Strong and good are the only two descriptions that I can use to describe the coffee as I am sure the spirit of Juan Valdez is not appreciative of my shameless plug for how much I enjoy Ethiopian coffee. The vegetarian dish I had from my first visit was packed in a styrofoam container and later heated when I was home, very tasty when I had finally sated myself of it. Eating the vegetarian dish at the cafe was a moment in heaven. The spiced spinach, yellow lentils, red lentils, and the potatoes and peas served up with injera bread had the “outstanding” lever pushed so far that my food barometer tilted. Each dish came out in individual bowls and after I had unrolled the injera bread and spooned each on to the bread, I was ready for action. With each bite I had all I kept thinking was Wow! I have been to every Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago and find it hard to say which one I love the most and now Royal Coffee makes it that much harder. Because I love spicy food, I ordered the vegetarian plate with kick and it was quite evident when I could feel heat rising from my scalp. Yes! Yes! Yes!
I had my usual out-of-control appetite because I finished the entire vegetarian plate. It was practically for two people, yet I polished it off solo. Now that would have been a tabloid feature — celebrity Gino ate a sizeable plate of an Ethiopian dish and stumbled back into the cafe for something else. The something else was dessert. Most Ethiopian desserts are full of nuts and while I am not one with a nut allergy, I have no love for the taste of nuts. I do smile when I see chocolate. So I had a Napoleon. The flaky crust, cream filling, and chocolate topping were well worth filling the room I saved in my belly. Oh how I enjoyed forking that rectangle of goodness into my mouth — right up until the sky turned dark and the rain started coming down like a blooming monsoon, just before I dashed inside to avoid getting drenched.
Royal Coffee is one of those modest cafes that has no flash and flare, but everything about it makes it a magnet that draws you back again and again. As usual, the coffee was super, the food was spectacular, and the service was outstanding. I love Logan Square — where I live — and the feel of community at all of the eateries and specialty cafes, but I will certainly give in to the pull of Royal Coffee that keeps me catching the train back to my old neighbourhood. And when my friends who live in Washington, DC, come to Chicago and want a restaurant to compare to the fantastic Ethiopian restaurants that DC has, I can now add Royal Coffee to the list. Add it to your list. The only regret you may have is not having added it to your list well in advance of now.
7 August 2011