The junction of North, Milwaukee and Damen avenues in Wicker Park is probably one of the best-known intersections in Chicago. (Some refer to this intersection as "Six Corners" but others say this is incorrect, as that nickname belongs to the Portage Park confluence of Milwaukee, Cicero and Irving Park avenuesbut that's a story for another day.)
And at the Wicker Park intersection lies, among other businesses, a cool restaurant with a laid-back vibe and excellent food: Cafe Robey (1600 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Immediately upon entering, several things appealed to me, from the friendly, diverse staff to the views to even the soothing music that spanned jazzy covers to trip-hop. It all made for a pretty laid-back vibe that lends itself to hours of conversation. (And as for those views, there isn't a bad seat in the house at this corner restaurant, as every spot allows for much people-watching.)
However, the visit wouldn't be so delightful if the food didn't please. Thankfully, it doesand then some.
Executive Chef Michael Elliott's summer menu will surely delight patrons as he offers dishes such as green curry mussels (with coconut broth and Fresno chiles), harissa-glazed salmon, and potato-and-ramp pierogi (with goat-cheese onion sauce, asparagus salad and pickled rhubarb). There'll be more on the salmon in a minute.
Starting with the appetizers, few items are tastier or more comforting than the bread service, which is anything but standard thanks to the house-made focaccia and the pesto butter, which just melted into the hot, soft bread. My friend and I also went for the house-made ricotta. Now this dish shows Elliott's inclination to embrace the heat as the honey-topped ricotta came with cherry-pepper jam to spread on the ciabatta. It all was wonderful, but you'll quickly learn what ricotta-to-jam ratio works for you. (Other app options include orange-braised beets, tempura shrimp, steamed mussels and the aforementioned pierogi.)
And the entrees are pretty enjoyable, as well. My friend had the salmon and I reluctantly tried itafter all, harissa has a reputation for being spicy. However, we both really loved it, with my friend telling the surprised server that harissa and herbed yogurt made for more of a spicy/tangy mix that a hot/cool combinationand I agreed. I actually went for something pretty simple: the double cheeseburger (which I had cut in half). It was absolutely decadent and the accompanying potato wedges (tasty and crispy) only added to my bliss.
Should you have room after dining on those, Cafe Robey offers some lovely sweets. We both went with the delectable peanut semifreddo, which comes with a flourless chocolate cake, peanut-butter ganache and artistic, crispy marshmallow on top. However, feel free to try the key lime bar or chai bread pudding (with rum-braised pineapple and horchata ice cream)or you could just go with a good old-fashioned serving of ice cream or sorbet (with flavors of chocolate banana, coffee or poached pear).
As for the cocktails, I really enjoyed the Cafe Fashiona heady mix of Bombu rum, maple syrup and bitters. However, others may gravitate toward the mimosa (with prosecco and a choice of juice), the espresso martini or even Oaxacan on Broken Glass (and I love a good pun). The Oaxacan contains Banhez Mezcal, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, lime and hellfire bitters, and again shows how Cafe Robey doesn't shy away from the spicy.
And there's also a daily brunchalthough some items are served all day, such as the pancakes; the brown rice-and-quinoa bowl; and the delightful duck hash (which I've had previously).
Regarding Cafe Robey, you should come for the food and stay for thatand everything else.
Cafe Robey is open seven days a week, usually 7 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. (On Fridays and Saturdays, the evening hours are 5-10 p.m.) Visit www.caferobey.com .
Note: This visit was arranged.