Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meli Cafe

In case you haven't picked up on this yet, brunch is a big deal in Chicago. It's tough to go somewhere too close to lunch time and avoid a wait. People just love it, and there's so many good places to hit up. I was shocked when I realized that the last time I posted about brunch was Flo, and that was about 2 months ago. So last weekend, my sister Lisa took her Step 2 board exams, and to celebrate our parents came downtown to take us to brunch. We decided to try out this place in the West Loop (right in the heart of Greek Town) called Meli Cafe.

It was a Sunday morning, and the Kekambas (our 12 inch softball team) had a doubleheader that afternoon. Because of the time constraints we decided to go around 10:30 to brunch. We even got there closer to 10:15, but it was no use. A crowd had already formed outside the storefront, and the wait was 40 minutes. So I parked my car down the street (at $2.50 an hour, what a scam), and we decided to wait it out.

We got sat right at the 40 minute (applause for accuracy). We were walked through the amazingly cramped restaurant to this nice window table, but it was a real hassle to get to and from the table (or move in any direction at all for that matter). Also, because the table was so packed in the corner, no one seemed to get water refills besides me because I had the most accessible seat. It was like 90 degrees out that day, and after waiting outside for 40 minutes, it was a major disappointment that the restaurant was hot on the inside as well. So we were hot and crowded (if only I could've made some joke about being flat).

The waitress was pretty attentive and efficient, but her demeanor was very cold and somewhat rushed. Not like I need to be pampered or anything, but I didn't really want to ask her any questions about the food either. Most importantly, this place is pricey for what you get. The simple egg combo dishes were around $9, but most anything that was interesting was between $12 and $15. Also, I guess they're "known" for being a juice bar of sorts by blending together a bunch of fruits, but all the mixed juices were $5. So if you aim to go here and get something that makes this place unique, you'll probably come close to $20/person which is way too much for brunch in my opinion (unless your Zach Frankel at IHOP). Even then, I guess it'd be ok to splurge on a breakfast if it were really good, but lets talk about the food.

The Food
As I mentioned above, they're known for their juices. Lisa ordered the Banana Orange Juice, and I went with a glass of regular old Orange Juice. The Orange Banana was frothy and tasty, but again, not worth the cost in my book. If any of you have been to Egg Harbor, the Strawberry OJ there is way better.

 The Orange Banana Juice

For our meals, Mom got the Portabella Benedict, Dad got the Gruyere and Bacon Fritata, Noam got the Cajun Scrambler, Lisa got the Breakfast Crepes, and I got the Farmland Skillet. Mom's Benedict was alright, nothing fantastic. The hollandais could've been thicker, and the eggs were a little messy in their preparation. Dad seemed to like his fritata which seemed well loaded with cheese and canadian bacon. Noam liked the kick in the sausage in his scrambler. I was really unimpressed with Lisa's Crepes. They were filled with Spinach, Mozzarella, Tomato, and Scrambled eggs. The crepe itself was bland and lacking in texture. I think it says a lot that she was considering not taking home half of her dish at the end of the meal.

The Cajun Scrambler

The Gruyere and Bacon Fritata

The Breakfast Crepes

The Portabella Benedict 

The Farmland Skillet

I really didn't like my dish. It was a skillet, so lets start from the bottom up. The potatoes were garbage. They had absolutely no crisp, were far too large, and seemed just like quartered boiled red potatoes. How can a place survive on bad potatoes, especially when they're on half of the dishes? The veggies (Spinach, Zucchini, Portabella, and Tomatoes) were a little scarce and overly cooked making them too mushy. There was probably a pound of Havarti Cheese on the plate, and I love cheese, but this was way too much. There was also a nice pool of oil sitting in the dish after I ate it. Worst of all were the eggs. I asked for them poached. Ask Danny Weiss or Molly Kaplan, and they'll tell you that I'm very particular about my poached eggs. They should be a little runny, which is the point of getting them on a skillet so that the other ingredients soak up the yolk nicely. These eggs may as well have been soft boiled. There was no run to the yolk. What makes this so bad is that the menu is plastered with notifications that they only use the best organic eggs. Well organic or not, it only takes a minute to poach an egg, and they should've done mine correctly.

It can't be that hard to make good breakfast food, can it? Clearly at Meli Cafe they run with the philosophy that if you throw enough butter and cheese on something it's good no matter how improperly you prepare it. I guess most of the dishes were alright, but none of them were worth their cost or the wait. Even if the dishes were under $10 I wouldn't think they were worth it. What's so frustrating is that people seem to love this place enough to wait for a long time. I'm giving Meli Cafe 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Meli Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. wah wah...poor jeff...hated this restaurant and yet licked your plate clean.

  2. I've been curious about this place, living in West Loop and all. I'm glad I have fellow eaters like you to help me avoid the bad and indulge in the good! Happy eating!