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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Palate
by LEE GERSTEIN
2004-01-14

This article shared 1649 times since Wed Jan 14, 2004
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We all have a hang out. A casual, easy neighborhood place, where, if everybody doesn't know your name, they at least recognize your face. About a year ago, one of those opened up in my neighborhood, and I find myself there once or twice every week for a quick lunch or a casual coffee.

Milk and Honey was instantly popular, from the day it opened its French doors to the wide sidewalk of Division Avenue, which acts as the perfect stage for a parade of hipsters during the summer months, when several tables with umbrellas help seat the overflow.

What are customers coming to Milk and Honey for? Sandwiches, salads, breakfasts, snacks, pastries, coffees, and, more recently, beer and wine. Most folks seem to come for sandwiches, and the chalkboard menu lists about 10 varieties, from the familiar to the unusual. Sometimes, they fall in between. For example, the ham sandwich is served with Havarti on a pretzel roll. There's also turkey, roast beef, and, in the winter a satisfying crab cake sandwich. In summer months, the crab cake is switched out for a popular smoked trout, served open face on pumpernickel, with sliced apples.

Picky diners can subtract ingredients, and, for a small cost, add others that you want, like avocado or bacon. And, vegetarians have plenty to choose from, like a roasted eggplant and peppers sandwich with goat cheese, to a popular avocado and cheese sandwich. Whatever sandwich you get, you can have utter confidence in the crusty fresh bread delivered from the wonderful nearby Red Hen Bakery (an outlet recently opened up on Diversey, just east of the big Diversey, Broadway, Clark intersection). The ciabotta is well flavored with olive oil, and full of the customary holes. Sometimes, I'll just order a side of the ciabotta toast, which doesn't even need butter.

If you don't feel like a sandwich, there are always one or two soups to choose from, like black bean with cilantro pesto cream or veggie chili, along with a salad special, often featuring baby spinach. In the front case, you can also choose other salads, like pesto pasta or panzanetta salad, the traditional Italian salad of sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and bread pieces soaked in the oil and vinegar dressing. Delicious.

Sometimes, you can also find a more traditional romaine leaf salad or fresh fruit, which is lightly sweetened, and features oversized blackberries. On the weekends, you can order breakfast until 1. The separate blackboard menu offers about half a dozen items, like a regular pancake special (blueberry, apple cinnamon), a lightly orange-flavored French toast, and a breakfast panini of scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese on that oily ciabotta. In the winter, the menu offers oatmeal studded with walnuts and a generous amount of dried cherries and brown sugar, while in the summer months, the oatmeal is replaced by granola and yogurt. You can also buy Milk and Honey's granola in small bags at the front counter.

One of the most popular breakfast items is huevos rancheros, served casserole style. What that means is your breakfast is served in an individual soufflé style dish, covered with a lifetime's worth of cheese. This is not for the faint of heart. Or, anyone concerned about his or her heart. Come hungry.

A wide selection of home-made pastries is housed in a new case at the front, where you press your nose to the glass, drooling over large brownies, sliced varieties of pound cakes, and cookies—chocolate chip, oatmeal with dried cherries, and white chocolate chip with nuts. You can taste the real butter, and, no, there are no light options. One of my favorites is the lemon bar, which looks typical, but is slightly cakier, and less like curd or pudding.

When you walk into the bright, light room with one red back wall, just sidle up to the counter, where your order will be taken. You'll get your drinks right away, along with a number. When your food is ready, a server will deliver your food. In the meantime, sit at one of the white leather Eames chairs, and warm up next to the fireplace.

Be warned, however. Lunchtime can be busy, though the folks behind the counter keep things moving quickly. Weekends can be even busier, and tables can fill up. When that happens, the orders stop, until a table opens up, and there is a place for you to sit after ordering. This keeps things orderly, and helps avoid the panic of trying to find a table along with those who have come in after you.

If you're in a hurry, Milk and Honey does a great take-out business. You can make things go even faster, if you phone your order in a few minutes ahead of time. There's a loading zone in front, where you can even ditch the car for a couple of minutes.


This article shared 1649 times since Wed Jan 14, 2004
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