Healthy Eats & Sweet Treats at Meli Cafe

November 12, 2014

Last week, my brunch partner-in-crime and BA (Brunch Authority), Sharon, joined me for a Saturday brunch at Meli Cafe. Meli (which means honey in Greek) has three cafes in River North, the Loop, and Greektown. We stopped by the River North location around noon and it was pretty packed.

Here's our take on brunch, with special guest commentary from Sharon, the Brunch Authority herself (BA), and yours truly, The Ghost Guest (GG)!

My Brunch Date Sharon
BA: I would categorize Meli as an upscale diner, somewhere to take the family, or someone you’re comfortable conversing with during the lengthy wait for a table, to enjoy elevated classics done with quality ingredients. I appreciated that almost everything is made there in house that day (with the exception of the soup, which stews (pun!) overnight). 

GG: I was pleasantly surprised by the bright and warm atmosphere! The restaurant is lively and just makes you feel like you're making a good choice by starting your day there. The menu is quite large, so your best bet is to make a plan of action (breakfast? lunch? omelet? waffle?) before you show up.

BA: I was surprised that their juice was served at room temperature but the taste was still enjoyable and fresh. Everything tasted fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh. (Who knew there aren't more synonyms for fresh to describe food?) So the huge, important difference with this place and say a regular corner diner, is that things taste light and you can taste the quality.

GG: I tried the skin hydrator juice with kale, pineapple, lemon and cucumber, which sounded kinda gross but came recommended by our server. I actually loved it--not too sweet and also didn't taste like I was drinking rabbit food. I wasn't a fan of the room temperature nature of the juice though. Meli has a huge menu of juices including blends, straight shots and standard juices like apple or orange. And the price is right--most juices are only $4-$6.

Skin Hydrator Juice

BA: The homemade marmalade was fresh and delicious. Homemade ketchup? Cool! (I guess years of Heinz have ruined me since I would have enjoyed the regular version) 

GG: Just like an Italian restaurant that makes its own pasta, I'm always a fan of restaurants that make their own condiments. I didn't try the ketchup, but I liked the marmalades. I also liked how the flavors are changed seasonally--a nice little touch.

Housemade Marmalade and Butter

BA: Their flamenco omelet is an example of how they evolve a classic. It has chicken chorizo which adds flavor and I enjoyed how tasty and spicy the dish was. We were told they had tried out different chorizos in the dish and everyone kept voting for the chicken, which I can understand why. Their menu mentions flavors with a Mediterranean twist, but I think that depends on your order – our selection was more Spanish (which is where Flamenco originated, thanks Wikipedia).

GG: The spicy flamenco omelet was the best thing we tried. First of all, the thing was huge and perfect for sharing. Second, it had a nice blend of flavors from the chorizo, jalapeno, and avocado. I just wish there was more avocado on top instead of one sad, limp slice. Poor avocado. I was actually surprised by how much I liked the baby red potatoes on the side. Maybe it was the seasoning or the soft texture.

Spicy Flamenco Omelet

BA: We also tried one of their seasonal offerings, s'mores pancakes. The description sold me, but the execution felt short of my unrealistic expectations of enjoying fluffy flapjacks around a campfire (disclaimer: I still ate/licked the whole plate. When a girl's hungry no pancake is safe). The pancakes did taste like graham cracker as promised but were dry. I needed to add lots of syrup (100% maple- they serve the good s***) to moisten them (GG comment: don't say the "m word".). I think the dish might benefit from a sidecar of the chocolate and marshmallow sauces, but the presentation was spot on.

Our server did mention they do ½ orders of some dishes…which might be the way to go with some of their adventurous offerings. We didn’t order the Chicago-style popcorn French toast (also on their seasonal menu), but part of me might find myself back there soon, just to try that out.

GG:  So the s'mores pancakes were a bust. They were kinda like those pretty little fruit tarts and French pastries you see on a buffet line--they look better than they taste. As Sharon said, the graham cracker pancakes were really dry. They kinda reminded me of whole wheat or bran pancakes because they were more dense, and less light and fluffy. The menu also said they were stuffed with chocolate. They had a few chocolate chips but that was about it. More chocolate inside definitely would have helped with the dry pancake texture. The chocolate and marshmallow sauces on top were OK, but I honestly expected them to have more flavor. 

S'mores Pancakes

BA: In conclusion, I see you Meli, with your three locations – keep up the good work! People will come to enjoy FRESH, quality dishes. I would say stay if the wait is under an hour (for a table of 4, but people learn larger parties for brunch are basically a sin). If they quote you longer – I’d say thanks for playing, but try again another time.

GG: I appreciated the fresh ingredients and wide variety of menu items at Meli Cafe. While I was disappointed with our choice of pancakes, I did enjoy the omelet (despite the lack of avocado) and the fresh juice. I also love a place that serves fresh squeezed juices and doesn't make you pay an arm and a leg for it. Meli is a great place to bring out-of-towners for brunch, or friends and family when you're looking for quality food in a relaxed atmosphere.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts Sharon!

Note: our meal at Meli Cafe was complimentary; however, the opinions expressed herein are our own.

Meli Cafe
Three Chicago locations
Meli Cafe on Urbanspoon

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