Photo credit: The Bourgeois Pig
The Bourgeois Pig Cafe | 738 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago | Neighborhood: Lincoln Park | 773.883.5282 | Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, Sun 8am-10pm | Internet avail. with purchase of drink | Credit Card: Purchases over 3 dollars
At times, an author can find himself at a loss for words. This is usually an issue, of course, as it’s his livelihood. But sometimes, the inability to speak comes from inspiration, a calm in which the writer’s environment has entranced him with enchantment, or disgust, or fascination. We call this a “muse.” People like Fitzgerald found it in parties. Hemingway and Byron found it in women. For me, the muse is a Pig.
Mixing well with the colonial homes of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the Bourgeois Pig is an antique, a home reclaimed as a restaurant and coffee house. From its arch entryway bearing an Eiffel Tower replica overhead, it transports you into an age where coffee houses meant more than frowning attendants in green aprons. In this time, you are greeted by wood and bookcases and many portraits of men who were alive many, many decades ago. It feels like a place where big things happened or are happening. And as a writer, you just feel like you’re writing the Great American Novel (even if it’s just a restaurant review).
While here, don’t let the hunger for literary greatness consume you. Instead, consume the literary greatness. The Bourgeois Pig has a plethora of sandwiches, all named after classic works of literature. Among them are The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises and The Catcher in the Rye. Their respective advocates always in hot debate over which reigns supreme, Gatsby’s fans prize the measured decadence of Bourgeois’ take on the club sandwich: panini-toasted focaccia spread with mayo and basil pesto, bits of bacon, slabs of turkey, avocado, Swiss, tomatoes and spinach. Biting into the sandwich is like eating a caprese salad, a BLT and a turkey + Swiss at the same time, and it’s an excess you never knew was necessary until you tried it… But if you ask a Rye fan, they’ll tell ya Gatsby is just an overdone, over-complicated bite; they’ll tell ya, “If you really want to hear about it, the sweetness of the classic reuben’s recipe is well enough to leave alone!” But, alas, I stand in neither of their corners… Because The Sun Also Rises is an unconquerable masterpiece. Toasted sun-dried tomato bread spread with nutty homemade hummus linger above savory turkey and creamy Swiss like a Mediterranean sunrise. Fresh tomatoes, onion and sprouts add a spring relief to the heaviness of those flavors. The balance and freshness and originality of the ingredients make for the highlight of the Bourgeois Pig’s menu.
But that’s merely one side of the Bourgeois Pig. When you enter the Parisian gate, sandwiches are served entering the left door. The right door is the coffee shop. And it is every time I enter the right door I realize the real value of the Bourgeois Pig. Amongst the paintings of old men, the smell of mahogany and lovely attendants rises the scent of coffee. It’s the same smell my grandparent’s house has in the morning. Undoubtedly, it is a smell everyone is familiar with. And it is this familiarity which brings the Bourgeois’ image together as a whole; all the bits and pieces which were pretentious or novelty prior, suddenly become meaningful when the aroma of coffee is introduced. And the coffee itself isn’t even spectacular. Of course, you’ll get it in a mug, and the brews are always perfectly extracted because along with expertise behind the counter, Metropolis Coffee Company’s roasters know when to say when and don’t roast all of the flavor out of the bean.
Carlos — my favorite barista — can make a mean latte. He steams the perfect amount of milk to the perfect sweetness, in perfect sync with the espresso’s piquant flavor. In more complex drinks Carlos remains precise: in the Caramel Bianca, vanilla and caramel syrups highlight the sweeter almond notes in the latte. I presume most baristas at the Bourgeois Pig are as adept in making these beverages as Carlos. So, in other words, you won’t be disappointed if you’re ordering coffee. It’s just there are certainly better places to get a cup if all you’re interested in is coffee. But only at the Bourgeois — and my grandmother’s house, and Italy, and Paris– will a cup of coffee mean immersing yourself in the magic of nostalgia its founders have spent years creating. And it is for that reason which I’d rather come to the Bourgeois every weekend than anywhere else. So buy a damn cup of coffee. Take a seat upstairs, downstairs, left or right. Just make sure you take it all in.