Sheesh, pretty people this week has gotten the best of me. It’s not even that I am so busy, it’s more that I am still struggling to find my rhythm back here in Chicago. Remember when I waxed poetic about my own little space back in KC? Well, I am missing it. And not just having my little space for reprieve, but just the simplicity of life when I was there. I am thrilled to be home, it’s just I am currently residing in that nebulous space between one’s old and new “normal.” I will get there. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming (that’s in honor of Winter Storm Nemo).
Thankfully last weekend I took to my list like it was my job, so let’s move onto more exciting…and in this case…yummy things.
Saturday morning was crisp and delightfully sunny out, which was a welcome addition to a rather grey week. We started the day off with some errand running in Lincoln Park which set us up perfectly to check out Floriole Café and Bakery.
I first learned about Floriole while I was sitting in the courtroom in Lawrence, Kansas gearing up to contest the outrageously stupid parking ticket I received while spending the day there. To pass the time as I waited to stand before Mr. Smug Judgey McJudgerson I read this post on my phone. I do not know how I went so many years without knowing who The Ulterior Epicure was, but I so wish we were friends. I think he would like me. I’m kind of fun.
He then mentioned Floriole again in his Best of Desserts post, so I had no choice but to pull an item off his list, and move it onto mine. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
According to their site, Floriole had humble beginnings in an 10×10 tent at the Green City Market here in Chicago. After spending five years selling their French style pastries they moved to the heart of Lincoln park, and just a hop skip and not even a full jump from where I spent four years studying theatre. It also happens to be located just a few doors down from another lovely bakery called Sweet Mandy B’s, which was a favorite spot of mine during those college years. It also might explain why I was twenty-five pounds heavier then. Anyway…moving on…
It came as no surprise to me, to find this little gem packed to the gills with hungry-yet-fabulous Lincoln Park folk. The space boasts lofted wood panelled ceilings, exposed brick, and an awesome windowed back wall which allows customers to peer into the bakeries impressive kitchen.
The real star of the space though is the bounty behind the glass pastry case. Perfectly round lemon tarts with fluffy whips of cream on top and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Deep golden and proudly puffed croissants filled with almond creme. Meticulously layered puddings topped with fresh flowers. It’s truly a feast for your eyes. I stood in awe for quite a while.
Bonjwing Lee aka The Ulterior Epicure specifically called out two items in his post: The almond creme croissant and the Gateau Basque. Well the croissant was sold out, but there were three Gateau Basques sitting there proudly, so we took one. We also grabbed a Canelé, as it is somewhat of a house specialty, to go as well. After all, we didn’t want the Basque to be lonely.
I have seen Canelé’s before but have never tried one. Their adorable shape always intrigued me…it looks like a teeny-tiny jello mold, or a silly little hat. Dainty shape aside, a Canelé is a custard cake flavored with Vanilla and Rum, surrounded by caramelized sugar crust. In a word: delightful.
Having never consumed one before, I am certainly no expert, but this Canelé will be the one by which I measure all future Canelé’s. As you took a bite you were instantly hit with that deep, dark molasses like flavor from the caramelized sugar, followed by a spongy, almost eggy custard center. The interior of the cake was moist and dense without being heavy. Flavors of Vanilla and Rum co-mingled quite well creating a soft boozy quality to the cake.
Next up was the celebrated Gateau Basque, a traditional almond butter cake from France. At first glance it appears rather simple, with nothing but a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. One bite and you realize this dessert doesn’t need fancy trimmings, because the flavor is what makes this cake sparkle. With a tightly woven outer crumb which holds together just until you let it touch your tongue, where it crumbles and melts leaving behind a rich brown butter taste which fills your mouth. With each bite the delicate aroma of almond is laced among the pillowy light butter cake. Occasionally our fork would come upon a hidden raspberry, lightly tucked away, imparting a deep burgundy stain against the pale yellow canvas. Adding a layer of tart sweetness it gave the cake even more depth of flavor and were a pleasant surprise to boot.
In a word: Awesome.
Total cost for two delicious pastries: $8.76
Later that evening, Jürgen who was just having a weekend of impulsive decisions, suggested we swing by Half Acre. He simply meant to stop by their store and pick up a few bottles of their latest release, but being the opportunist I am I persuaded him to have a drink at their newly opened tap room right next door.
Over the past five or so years the craft brew scene here in Chicago has been exploding. For awhile it seemed that Goose Island was the only kid in town, but now everywhere you turn there is a new brewery opening. In my own humble opinion, I would put Half Acre at the top of its class, and lucky for me they brew right in our neighborhood. They have three brews available year round: Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, Gossamer Golden Ale and Over Ale, which is a brown ale. All are quite good, but it’s there seasonal and one-off brews which really shine. The best beer I have ever consumed was their Horizon Ale brewed with mangoseens and hibiscus in collaboration with Next Restaurant for their Tour of Thailand menu. I still kick myself for not purchasing a bottle (or two) while I was at the restaurant. It was incredible.
Outside of producing wonderful beers, it’s the folks behind the whole operation who are so great. Everyone who works there is super laid back, passionate about their brews without being pretentious, and you can tell they are committed to supporting the craft brewing movement here in Chicago.
Their tap room opened while we were away, and I knew paying it a visit was going to be essential when we got home. So I suppose adding this item to my list was a bit of a cheat seeing as I knew without a doubt I would be checking it out sooner rather than later.
When we arrived on Saturday around 7pm it was already packed. Like, we had to wait by the front door because they were already at capacity, packed. Luckily though it wasn’t too long of a wait before we were able to belly up the bar and place our order. Interestingly the tap room space also had lofted wood-paneled ceilings and exposed brick, but they also have a big bear head with wood spikes shooting out of it mounted over the cement counter top bar. So it’s got a slightly different edge than Floriole Café.
They had ten beers on tap that evening and we opted for the Bones and All Belgian Brown Ale, and Callow Knife Pale Ale. Both of which were very good, although to be honest not the best of the Half Acre beers we’ve had over the years. What Half Acre does so well is brew really complex beers, with great balance, unique flavors and aromas. Both of these were very drinkable, but lacked the certain je ne sais quoi which makes you go “wow” after a sip.
But the beers were five bucks each, and they are constantly changing what they are pouring. There is no question that we will be back.
Sooner rather than later.