Review: Meli Cafe
Author & Photographer: Nikki Kasal
Meli Cafe’s sunny yellow awning was a sharp contrast to the gloomy, late February weather when I arrived for brunch one Saturday morning, a vibe which carried over into the interior, which was warm, spacious, and brightly lit in spite of the rainclouds outside. Effortless seemed to be the operative word here, which was reflected in the cafe’s simple yet elegant layout, sweeping windows, and the sprays of wildflowers decorating each table. The golden color scheme tied the whole atmosphere together--apt for an eatery whose name (Meli) means honey in Greek, a nod to its Mediterranean influences.
Boasting three locations across Greek Town, River North, and Printers Row, Meli Cafe identifies as “a neighborhood restaurant, cafe, and juice bar” specializing in all-day breakfast and lunch. It’s gained a well-deserved reputation as a popular Sunday brunch spot in each location’s respective neighborhood, and the wait time on the weekends can be formidable. Nevertheless, my companion and I were seated quickly and were soon sipping steaming hot coffee as we perused the menu.
Some of Meli Cafe’s particularly famous dishes include their savory, egg-laden breakfast bowls and their Symphony crepes--lacey chocolate pancakes stuffed with Nutella and pecans, bananas, and strawberries. They also boast an extensive juice menu, offering fresh-squeezed blends ranging from orange-mango to wheatgrass.
While all the sweet options sounded fantastic, I opted instead for their vegetarian omelet with fresh tomatoes, peppers, and feta cheese, while my companion decided to try their spicy shakshouka. Service was remarkably fast, another facet on which the cafe prides itself--our meals were perfectly cooked and arrived in under fifteen minutes.
The omelet was unsurprisingly delicious, with the juicy tomatoes and peppers providing a bright contrast to the generous chunks of salty feta cheese. However, the real star of the meal was the shakshouka, a dish not typical of most conventional breakfast spots. This shakshouka consisted of two eggs poached in a flavorful tomato sauce seasoned with chilli, cilantro and paprika. It also came with a few slices of chewy, garlic-encrusted pita bread, which was the perfect accompaniment to the spicy stew. The helping was generous and the sauce was zesty without being over-seasoned. Both dishes were also well-priced and indeed on the lower end for downtown brunch spots.
By the time we left after several more cups of coffee (yes, even their brew is delicious), the sun had finally come out and brought with it several more groups of hungry diners. I would recommend Meli Cafe to anyone wanting to break out of the cycle of Yolk and Medici weekend brunches, or really, to anyone looking for a quick, hot breakfast and a fresh cup of juice. Don’t let the weather stop you--Meli Cafe’s cheery atmosphere is sure to brighten any rainy day.