Chicago Tribune – Good Eating, September 2003

  • September 3rd, 2003
  • Comments Off on Chicago Tribune – Good Eating, September 2003

Upscale market lets customers shop – and then eat

by Barbara Revsine
Special to the Tribune

After more than a decade in the insurance business, Lisa Santos knew she was ready for a change. Culinary training at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago was the first step, opening Southport Grocery and Cafe less than a mile from her house was second.

“This place lets me use everything I’ve learning,” Santos says, her eyes quickly surveying the sleek and very contemporary scene. “My culinary training gets a workout, both in the cafe’s kitchen and when I select the products for the grocery. This isn’t a large place, so I have a to make every inch count. That’s where my business skills really make a difference.”

Southport’s 24-seat cafe offers comfort food for an adventurous, 21st Century palate. The short ribs are braised in a ginger-soy sauce, the mashed potatoes are made with mascarpone, the cheese in the grilled cheese sandwich is brie, and the dessert menu includes banana ravioli and the creme brulee of the day.

The grocery side is similarly skewed. Leaving the mainstream to the full-service supermarkets, Santos stocks the industrial shelving with products designed for a discriminating and knowledgeable clientele; top-quality imported and domestic pasts, cheeses from artisanal producers, infused vinegars and oils, and -in the near future- a carefully selected inventory of wines and beers.

Chef Emily Lamb, who works with Santos on menu items, occasionally uses products from the grocery in dishes for the cafe and carryout menu, a savvy marketing strategy with long-term benefits. In addition to introducing diners to a particular product, it offers irrefutable proof that if you’re selective, cooking a wonderful meal doesn’t have to be an all-day event.

The cafe’s eight-seat communal table can be accommodate large parties with sufficient advance notice. Outdoor seating is available during the warmer months.

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