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Vella Cafe = panini nirvana

Vella Cafe = panini nirvana
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  • Vella Cafe = panini nirvana

    Post #1 - May 30th, 2007, 4:02 pm
    Post #1 - May 30th, 2007, 4:02 pm Post #1 - May 30th, 2007, 4:02 pm
    While whizzing down Western today, I noticed that the paper was off the windows and there was activity inside the Vella Cafe spot, under the Blue Line L tracks. Scrreeech! I pulled into the parking lot (ominous sign threatening to tow me if not a bank customer, but whatever...) and stepped into the sunny, inviting Vella Cafe.

    Being that I made the cutoff for the Commuter Special (7AM-11AM weekdays), I decided to get one to go, for my "commute" back to my home office. The special is $6 and includes a medium coffee (excellent Intelligentia roast, didn't catch the name) plus a choice of panini - vegetarian or sausage frittata - or stuffed french toast, or another breakfast item I don't recall right now.

    I chose the sausage-caramelized onion-butterkase-adjvar mayo frittata, and...WOW! Creamy cheese and spicy sauce with hearty, delicious chunks of sausage and onion and perfectly cooked eggs on fresh, country bread, nicely toasted and still crispy after the 10-minute drive home. Next time I will try the vegetarian version, which the menu promises roasted tomato, cremini mushrooms and herbed cream cheese. Or maybe the fruit and orange-honey-cream cheese-stuffed french toast.

    While waiting the few minutes for my panini to be pressed by one of the smiling owners, I noticed that weekend brunch (or BLUNCH as they call it) will probably be fantastic: the breakfast stuff I already mentioned, plus several kinds of crepes, a spicy polenta dish, "sammies" or other lunch-ish panini, and salads. Oh, and the items on the bakery case stared at me while I waited, too... so I decided to add a strawberry-rhubarb muffin to my order. I just ate that now for my mid-afternoon snack. Yum! If the other pastries they bake are this good, commuters who hop on the L at Western are in for a real treat. It was better than the last couple of muffins I've had from Red Hen, though not quite as perfect as Letitia's raspberry-almond muffin...but the combination of those early spring fruit flavors and the crunch of cinnamon on top was heavenly.

    They must be expecting crowds (perhaps for weekend brunch?), because the bright and cheerful cafe looks to seat 30 or so people. When I stopped in this morning at 10, there were only diners at three tables and it felt empty, but not lacking energy. It has a very clean, open feel, and nice decorations in the windows. If it weren't for the rumbling of the L overhead, and the relaxed mood, I might have thought I was in the chi-chi shopping areas on Division or Damen. I liked the vibe, kind of like what Milk & Honey Cafe was like when they first opened.

    I'm very excited Vella Cafe is finally open and looks to be a delightful spot for breakfast or lunch. Let me know if you agree after you try one of their panini. Mine was fantastic!

    Vella Cafe
    1912 N. Western Ave.
    t: 773.489.7777
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #2 - June 1st, 2007, 7:23 am
    Post #2 - June 1st, 2007, 7:23 am Post #2 - June 1st, 2007, 7:23 am
    Well after the review in the Reader I had to go check it out--especially as it's near my office. I bought two sandwiches, planning on eating half of each for lunch and the rest the next day. I got the Morcoccan chicken and the smoked turkey. Total bill (no drinks, no sides) was $15 and change I think.
    The place looked nice. Kind of a mix of Bongo Room & Milk And Honey (they even had the stands to put numbers at your table ala M&H). The service was very friendly. But it was also EXTREMELY slow. The place was MAYBE a 1/3 full (meaning 5 tables) and my to go order for two sandwiches took 20 minutes! I bumped into a friend so we chatted for a few minutes to kill the time.
    I got my lunch and went to the office to eat them. And they were just okay. The bread was nice but I kinda was expecting something a bit more unusual or special. The smoked turkey especially tasted simply of deli turkey and sliced deli cheddar cheese. It was something I would expect to get anywhere. It was nowhere near as good as something from Milk And Honey..or the Leo's for those who remember that Wicker Park institution. And moreover it was $7 or 8 dollars! The chips and pickle slice (you don't get a whole pickle at that price) were both nice.
    The chicken was better but lacked a certain something...some sauce, or condiment or vegetable to kick it up. It was nicely grilled chicken with no real character and some nicely carmalized onions and...and that was about it. At $4-5 it would be a nice sandwich to have now and then. But with Irazu down the street (where a sandwhich IS $4-5) I see no reason to buy this for $7-8.
    Suffice to say all in all I was very disappointed and I won't be back. At least not for sandwiches. And my friend who I bumped into emailed me later that day saying "Lunch was fine. Nothing special. Hope your's was better." It wasn't. :(
    Dirk van den Heuvel
  • Post #3 - June 1st, 2007, 9:10 am
    Post #3 - June 1st, 2007, 9:10 am Post #3 - June 1st, 2007, 9:10 am
    I had the Amaranth pancakes there yesterday and I thought they were great. Not too cakey, but slightly thicker than Swedish pancakes, with a nice glop of lingonberries on top, and a generous side of cinnamon whipped cream. I usually can't eat a whole order of pancakes, but these disappeared alarmingly quickly. Our coffee drinks were good, too, and I agree that the space is very nice.

    I'm looking forward to trying "blunch". (But seriously, people: brunch. Not "breakunch", not "blunch", just brunch, unless you want the Cutesy Patrol to pay a visit. I'm talking to you, Dodo.
    Anthony Bourdain on Barack Obama: "He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."
  • Post #4 - June 1st, 2007, 9:58 am
    Post #4 - June 1st, 2007, 9:58 am Post #4 - June 1st, 2007, 9:58 am
    Dirk, I'm glad you told me about the relatively basic and somewhat dry sandwiches. I would say that my breakfast panino was totally opposite of that - favorful and really saucy - so it give it a try some day. Also, I think the commuter special, at $6 bucks, was a good deal. It's about what I pay at Half & Half next to the Damen L stop, so that's my barometer.

    Agree that there is still competition of Irazu at lunchtime (mmmm, veggie burrito with mushrooms and an oatmeal shake!), but is there anything else around that intersection for breakfast? I mean, besides McDonald's?
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 12:37 pm
    Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 12:37 pm Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 12:37 pm
    My wife and I ate here about a week and a half ago around 10am during the week. She had the aramanth pancakes and I had the sausage pannino.

    I don't mean to damn the place with faint praise, but everything was solid. The pancakes may have (but shouldn't have) delayed the order, but our wait was about 15 mins. On that day, the timing was fine, but don't know how I'd feel if I were in usual "commuter" mode. Sandwich was deceptively filling; it was 4pm before I got hungry next. Pancakes were loaded with berries.

    It's almost around the corner from us, so I'm sure we'll be back. Very nice addition to the area, but I wouldn't recommend it as a special trip based on our last experience.

    z
  • Post #6 - December 2nd, 2007, 4:17 pm
    Post #6 - December 2nd, 2007, 4:17 pm Post #6 - December 2nd, 2007, 4:17 pm
    Breakfast this am was quite good. We watched the motorcycle toys for tots parade go by. Due to the icky weather, it may have been quieter than usual, it was never more than 1/2 full.

    I had polenta with tomatilla salsa and some other things, with eggs. Very good! The DH had amaranth pancakes with some sort of stewed fruit on it, and a side of sausage. The coffee was fresh and hot, the staff pleasant, the room warm and bright.

    We'll be back!
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #7 - February 4th, 2008, 11:23 am
    Post #7 - February 4th, 2008, 11:23 am Post #7 - February 4th, 2008, 11:23 am
    We really like to go to Vella for brunch. I love the sweet potato scramble with twin oaks ham. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Sometimes they have delicious homemade jelly filled doughnuts. I was skeptical but they did not disappoint - they were not greasy and the jelly tart jelly balanced the sweetness of the doughnut.
    In response to some of the other reviews . . . I think that the timing and the food has improved. I recall waiting for a long time the first couple of times that we went there. To be fair, this was when they first opened and were slammed.
  • Post #8 - February 4th, 2008, 7:10 pm
    Post #8 - February 4th, 2008, 7:10 pm Post #8 - February 4th, 2008, 7:10 pm
    I've been going for the spicy tofu scramble w/faux chorizo, sweet potato, avocado and brown rice. Excellent. I should eat it more often. I also had a great bowl of Vindaloo soup last wk when it was snowing hard.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #9 - February 15th, 2008, 11:45 am
    Post #9 - February 15th, 2008, 11:45 am Post #9 - February 15th, 2008, 11:45 am
    Jazzfood wrote:I've been going for the spicy tofu scramble w/faux chorizo, sweet potato, avocado and brown rice.

    Motivated by Jazzfood's unbridled enthusiasm for Vella Cafe Steve Z and I accompanied him for lunch. I wasn't sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find the open airy space with the occasional city scape rumble of the El and flavorful clean tasting food much to my liking.

    I was a wee bit apprehensive of Jazzfood's signature tofu/faux chorizo scramble, I'm a fan of tofu in all forms, but have not had much luck with vegetarian sausage. While still not convinced as to ersatz chorizo, the overall effect, with fresh roasted poblano, zucchini, brown rice and scallion was satisfying, in a healthy fashion.

    Spicy Tofu Scramble w/soy chorizo

    Image

    Had a small taste of Steve's smoked turkey panini, nicely crisped, sharp cheddar with caramelized onions adding a slightly sweet note. Accompanying slaw, with hints of toasted sesame oil, made for a bright crunchy counterpoint.

    Smoked turkey panini w/sharp cheddar

    Image

    I quite enjoyed my Sausage frittata panini, thought the ever so slightly spicy ajvar mayo a particularly nice touch. But by far the best part was the Smashers, super crisp lightly crushed oven roasted potatoes. Similar to a crispy Smashed potato dish RevrendAndy makes.

    Sausage Frittata Panino w/caramelized onions, ajvar mayo, butterkase served with Smashers

    Image

    Vella Cafe Smashers

    Image

    Chocolate dipped macaroons and Mexican wedding cookies capped off a very pleasant lunch.

    Image

    Reasonable prices, comfortable seating, friendly, actually very friendly, staff will have me back for panini and smashers soon.

    Parking on Western can be nigh on impossible, there is an abundance of meter parking on Milwaukee just West of Western Ave.

    Vella Cafe
    Image
    Image

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Vella Cafe
    1912 N Western
    Chicago, IL 60647
    773-489-7777
    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #10 - February 15th, 2008, 12:56 pm
    Post #10 - February 15th, 2008, 12:56 pm Post #10 - February 15th, 2008, 12:56 pm
    I am going to make a trip just for that tofu scramble, that looks and sounds delicious. Thanks for the pictures!
  • Post #11 - February 21st, 2008, 8:32 pm
    Post #11 - February 21st, 2008, 8:32 pm Post #11 - February 21st, 2008, 8:32 pm
    I stopped in again today, and it had been a while. The only things that had changed on the menu, as far as I could tell, were the "blunch" term (which was annoying) now called the more-conventional "brunch," and the fact that stuffed french toast is not part of the commuter special (if offered at all). The baked goods case was filled with interesting treats, much more so than in the past.

    The breakfast panini (panino?) was fabulous, as it has been every time I've had it. Coffee was excellent, too. I am so happy there were at least 8 tables filled when I was in at 10AM, because I want this place to stay open!

    A note on parking: it sucks. This is the reason I hadn't been there in a while. Everything on the side streets is zoned. There is no parking on Western for blocks. The totally vacant and locked parking lot owned by Cole Taylor Bank is unavailable for use (the owner told me it's because of "liability" they will not Vella Cafe patrons use it, as she shrugged with a sad face). The best alternative for carry-out is one of the spots in front of the Green Eye bar where you can park with flashers on for 15 minutes. Or if you're thinking ahead, park on Milwaukee at one of the metered spots.
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #12 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:06 pm
    Post #12 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:06 pm Post #12 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:06 pm
    Susan wrote:A note on parking: it sucks. This is the reason I hadn't been there in a while. Everything on the side streets is zoned.


    The side street just north of Vella has sections of non-zone between Western and the viaduct, and maybe a bit beyond. We have never had trouble finding a spot there.
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #13 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:38 pm
    Post #13 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:38 pm Post #13 - February 23rd, 2008, 12:38 pm
    Parking is plentiful northwest on Milwaukee or west on Armitage, and only requires a 2 minute walk. (Plus a quarter for the meter).
    Anthony Bourdain on Barack Obama: "He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."
  • Post #14 - February 23rd, 2008, 1:03 pm
    Post #14 - February 23rd, 2008, 1:03 pm Post #14 - February 23rd, 2008, 1:03 pm
    Parking schmarking. Why even attempt it when Vella's literally downstairs from the blue line Western stop? Easy as pie.
  • Post #15 - December 4th, 2008, 11:34 am
    Post #15 - December 4th, 2008, 11:34 am Post #15 - December 4th, 2008, 11:34 am
    Vella is now open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. And it's BYOB.

    As a semi-regular breakfast/lunch patron I thought I would check it out last night and was quite pleased.

    Note: This review might seem urgent because, well, it is. I had an excellent dinner at Vella last night, but we were the only people in the place. Yes, the weather was nasty, but I fear that the Vella Cafe dinner experiment might go the way of Arrested Development if food-lovers don't come in to try it out. So go buy a bottle of wine and try it for yourself. For more info keep reading...

    The dinner menu mostly consists of personal-sized pizza's and a couple of salads. There is also a mac n cheese option and a daily homemade soup special. This might seem sparse, but there is enough variety in the pizzas to please all kinds of hankerings.

    I ordered the Margerita Pizza and my friend ordered the mac n cheese with a side salad. Like most BYOBs in the neighborhood, Vella is very accommodating: they immediately brought out glasses and opened our bottle for us.

    The pizza was excellent. The crust is thin but not crispy, and doughy around the edges (my mom makes here pizza exactly like this--I love it). The owner explained that their chef has a background in baking and took great care in creating a tasty dough. The ingredients of the pizza were noticeably fresh. I ate the entire pie, though I think one could easily take home some left overs.

    The real treat of the night was my friend's macaroni and cheese. Now, I fancy myself somewhat an aficionado of mac n cheese (check out my research of the "World's Greatest Macaroni And Cheese" on the Eleven City Diner thread) and I was struck by Vella's offering. Seriously, it might be the best I've had in the city. It's a crock of flat noodles in a mixture of cheeses, baked and topped with bread crumbs. Perfect. Real cheese but not so fancy to sacrifice flavor. If anything, it might be a little too much--taking down an entire bowl might require a serious nap.

    There is also a dessert menu that looked very intriguing, but my friend and I were too full to explore. We opted for tea.

    Our dinner came out to a recession-friendly $19.50. Pretty impressive for a quality meal.

    As noted earlier, the place was empty. Hopefully, that was due to the wintery mix last night and not the regular capacity. The neighborhood needs another solid dinner place since it can be hard to get into Irazu and some times Honey One is not quite romantic enough. I recommend checking out Vella for dinner and doing it soon.
  • Post #16 - December 4th, 2008, 12:19 pm
    Post #16 - December 4th, 2008, 12:19 pm Post #16 - December 4th, 2008, 12:19 pm
    I love it. It's usually closed when I am hungry tho.
  • Post #17 - December 4th, 2008, 12:42 pm
    Post #17 - December 4th, 2008, 12:42 pm Post #17 - December 4th, 2008, 12:42 pm
    lookjerk wrote:I love it. It's usually closed when I am hungry tho.


    Yep that is always been my problem too. I do think they tried this "experiment" a while back with not such grand results...

    SSDD
    He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.

    Deepdish Pizza = Casserole
  • Post #18 - December 4th, 2008, 2:12 pm
    Post #18 - December 4th, 2008, 2:12 pm Post #18 - December 4th, 2008, 2:12 pm
    I'll throw in a plug for Vella, and especially for the owners who are passionate food lovers and service professionals. They're open and responsive to customer feedback, so if you go and have something to say - say it! The food at Vella uses high quality ingredients in uncomplicated ways, and the results are usually delicious.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #19 - December 4th, 2008, 9:24 pm
    Post #19 - December 4th, 2008, 9:24 pm Post #19 - December 4th, 2008, 9:24 pm
    The dinner menu's online here.

    At the bottom, there's a note that you can have wine delivered from Red & White on Milwaukee. That's a nice touch that I haven't seen before.
  • Post #20 - December 8th, 2008, 12:21 pm
    Post #20 - December 8th, 2008, 12:21 pm Post #20 - December 8th, 2008, 12:21 pm
    All -

    After reading this last week I stopped in over the weekend to give it a whirl.

    I went around 12:50PM on Sunday and the place was in full swing. All tables were full and then a slight line at the counter.

    I ordered the breakfast burrito and a house blend intelligentsia coffee. The burrito took maybe 10 minutes to come out and the de in fact use the aforementioned Milk and Honey number style.

    The burrito was delicious. Not too large and grilled like you would expect a panini. It was filled with black beans, spinach, carrots, eggs and some other items which I have since forgotten and a small side of a green salsa and then a sour cream.

    The burrito with the green salsa and the sour cream was delicious. It had good structure and wasn't too large and overwhelming to eat. The green salsa itself was really good and proved to be fantastic compliment to the burrito.

    Coffee was also good.

    All in all a great spot that I will most definitely go back to again.
  • Post #21 - December 11th, 2008, 4:01 pm
    Post #21 - December 11th, 2008, 4:01 pm Post #21 - December 11th, 2008, 4:01 pm
    I've been lingering over free wi-fi and excellent breakfast at Vella pretty frequently. My standard order includes Chicago's most delicious oatmeal (steel-cut, cooked with coconut milk and served with toasted coconut flakes and reconstituted dried sour cherries) and excellent, juicy and flavorful chicken sausage...

    Image

    Image
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #22 - December 13th, 2008, 11:13 pm
    Post #22 - December 13th, 2008, 11:13 pm Post #22 - December 13th, 2008, 11:13 pm
    I went this afternoon, had the Sausage Frittata Panino and thought it was wonderful. A real panini, with the crispy and the melty, even a little burnt cheese out the outside to make it just that much more irresistible. Every other I've had lately (that is, not at Vella) has been chewy, sometimes even hard to bite through. Very well-balanced, and nice to see a scrambled egg cooked so perfectly - fluffy and not even a little brown. The smashers I could have done without. Not bad, but they just didn't do anything for me.

    Bonus for me was the special latte of the day - cardamom. I can't resist anything with cardamom.
  • Post #23 - December 17th, 2008, 11:03 am
    Post #23 - December 17th, 2008, 11:03 am Post #23 - December 17th, 2008, 11:03 am
    Dinner = the baconegger pizza rules. I can't believe I didn't think of it myself. Fried egg and bacon on pizza is probably one of the greatest ideas ever. I wish I could get it for lunch!
  • Post #24 - December 18th, 2008, 10:51 pm
    Post #24 - December 18th, 2008, 10:51 pm Post #24 - December 18th, 2008, 10:51 pm
    Two things everybody should try: (1) The brisket sandwich when they have it. It's great. (2) proscuitto, fig jam, goat cheese, and basil crepe.

    I'm not sure if they're still serving them with regularity, but those are really the two standouts I've had. Oh, and the stuffed french toast is really good as well.
  • Post #25 - December 20th, 2008, 10:27 pm
    Post #25 - December 20th, 2008, 10:27 pm Post #25 - December 20th, 2008, 10:27 pm
    We went here for breakfast today, we try to try somewhere new for breakfast most weekends and usually it's fine-- it's breakfast, you can't mess it up too much-- but Vella went on my short list of places where breakfast was as satisfying as a dinner would be. My wife and I both ordered the sweet potato hash, which was the best composed dish of its type as I've had in a long time, popping with bright flavors of green onion, cheese, ham, fried potatoes, and corn salsa. Older son's stuffed French toast with orange-caramel sauce was also first rate. And they were very nice-- observing younger son's diligence in shutting the door (which didn't quite close adequately in this cold weather), they showed their appreciation by bringing out a couple of small cupcakes for the boys, gratis. We will be back, though I suppose tomorrow would be a bit soon.
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