- May 23rd, 2005
- Comments Off on Concious Choice Review
Eclectic Delights at Southport Grocery & Cafe
by Janine MacLachlan
I first stumbled upon Southport Grocery and Café in search of special ingredients for a dinner party. I was so taken with the relaxed atmosphere and interesting menu that I stayed for lunch and have been going back ever since. This attractive blend of specialty food store and casual dining spot is a neighborhood delight, brightly lit with walls shaded Hershey bar brown and a wispy pale blue called cumulus cotton.
The place was crawling with moms and kids at lunch time, happy kids drawing with crayons on the white butcher paper at a long row of tables for two and a communal table for eight. And a few hipsters taking a late lunch. And me, enjoying a glass of Fleur de Carneros Pinot Noir, a wine I fell in love with several years ago and have a hard time finding these days. This lighter version of the popular grape variety is a lovely lunchtime wine, and drinking a bottle in the restaurant costs the same $20 you’d pay to take it home. I felt only slightly like a scofflaw, deviating from the suggested wine to go with my tuna sandwich ($8) with olives, roasted red peppers and feta on a bold ciabatta bread.
A Menu Built for Personalization
Southport Grocery and Café has something for everyone. While most people order from the menu, one group bought a box of Vosges chocolates and a bottle of bubbly, then sat down to enjoy it at the café tables, which delighted owner Lisa Santos, who wants patrons to enjoy the space, and the food, in flexible ways. Children frequently choose a snack from the grocery section while the rest of the family orders from the menu.
The portions are flexible. Starters and salads come in tasting portions for those who want just a little something. Many might opt for coffee and a cupcake ($2), the house specialty, at least in my opinion. While I’m typically a chocolate fan, vanilla is my choice here. And the staff isn’t above showcasing the baked goods to get what they want. On one visit my dining companion and I were bribed with the sour cream coffee cake ($3) as we were invited to move to another table to make room for a larger party. The request was made so graciously, and the coffee cake so delicious, it made me willing to move anywhere they wanted.
The menu offers breakfast and lunch, and evolves with the seasons, with pumpkin pancakes leaving until the fall, replaced by buttermilk pancakes ($7) with roasted vanilla walnuts, corn flakes, wheat germ and fresh berries. Other breakfasts include four variations of omelettes ($8), including spinach and tomato with Bravo Farms sage white cheddar. A house-made crunchy chai spice cereal ($7) with vanilla vinaigrette is on my list to try next.
For lunch, I like the ginger carrot bisque ($6) and the cod sandwich ($9) topped with citrus-pepper mayo and tempura vegetables, pretty to look at and scrumptious to eat. But I find a lot of tablemates stumped by the sandwich varieties ($7-$9), including veggie selections like grilled brie or cucumber, tomato and greens with herb cream cheese and provolone.
Stocked with Food Exploration
The grocery shelves are stocked with culinary delights, including local delicacies such as Terry’s Toffee, Urban Accents spices and Gary Poppins popcorn, as well as food and drink from far-flung areas, like pasta from Italy. Santos has chosen products well, including Traderspoint Creamery yogurt ($5.50 a quart), a pourable, flavored yogurt made from organic, grass-fed milk from an Indiana dairy, available at Chicago’s Green City Market in summer but surprisingly scarce in the off season.
I spotted cookie dough to take home and bake for hot-from-the-oven cookies or enjoying by the spoonful straight from the container, and cinnamon sugar butter for cinnamon toast with your morning coffee. Many custom-made condiments are on the café menu, as well.
The final word
Owner Santos, the creative force behind the recipes, the grocery selections, even the Hershey-bar walls, left the insurance business to enter food 24/7, and she’s served up an interesting menu with a good value that appeals to the neighbors, particularly those with children. The kids menu lists half a dozen items for the younger set, including a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grilled cheese and buttered noodles (all $4). Maybe the kids weren’t happy just because of the crayons.
Janine MacLachlan is a freelance writer, cooking school owner and farm groupie who seeks out restaurants that focus on well-raised food. Her website is www.rustickitchen.com.