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Diner’s Notebook: European coffee culture blooms at Vera

BY ANTHONY TODD | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Over the past three years, Vera has become a standby on the Chicago dining scene, a Spanish haven off of West Randolph that always provides outstanding food and, thanks to owner/sommelier Liz Mendez, exceptional wines and sherries. So, what’s next for the restaurant?

A coffee shop.

Ok, it’s not a whole new business, but an extension of the restaurant’s hours into the daytime — with elements of a library, a teahouse and a bar all rolled in.

“Mark [Mendez, the chef at Vera] and I have talked about opening during the day for the past couple of years,” explained Liz Mendez. They waited to expand until the business was running smoothly, and they didn’t want to just start opening the doors for lunch. “We’ve been in that neighborhood for years, and the places that are busy for lunch are more grab and go, rather than sit-down,” said Mendez. “Even if you have a different lunch menu, your dining room might be empty.”

Their solution was to start a coffee and tea program during the day that also offers pastries, both sweet and savory. Unlike most trendy coffeehouses in Chicago right now, Vera hasn’t paired up with one exclusive local coffee roaster. They want to offer the best coffees from all over the country, some of which aren’t available in Chicago. At the moment, they’re showcasing Metric Coffee from Chicago, Supersonic from Berkeley and 49th Parallel from Vancouver. Teas are from In Pursuit of Tea in New York.

Liz Mendez, the resident tea nut, is particularly excited about their tea service. “We’re brewing the tea for the proper time and at the proper temperature, transferring it to a decanter and serving it. In more casual places, people brew the tea too long or leave the water on the leaves, and it becomes bitter.”

Croissants at Vera | COURTESY OF THE RESTAURANT
Croissants at Vera | COURTESY OF THE RESTAURANT

Vera won’t just be offering some new drinks — they’re also adding new alcohol options and starting a large culinary library. “You go to a lot of coffee shops in Europe and they have two things you don’t see here: alcohol and a lot of books that you can read while you are having your coffee,” explains Mendez. Vera has already started adding bookshelves and accumulating books. “If you want to come read your favorite new cookbook or the latest issue of Lucky Peach, this will be the place. They’re also working on a program to pair amaros, sherries, liqueurs and cordials with teas and coffees during the day. Both programs will roll out in the New Year.

Vera has teamed up with Beurrage bakery in Pilsen to offer a full line of croissants, both sweet and savory, as well as apple turnovers, Danishes and more. They’re planning to expand into a small sandwich program in January.

Anthony Todd is a local freelance writer.