Le Pain Quotidien:
At this point, Le Pain Quotidien is as globally ubiquitous as One Direction, though curiously it took until now for a Chicago location to rise from the bread ovens and into our hearts. The Brussels-based cafe boasts a myriad of locations overseas and across the U.S., with New York City selfsihly hogging dozens of them. But at long last, Chicago has a Le Pain Quotidien of its own, with more to follow. And I am here to tell you: LPQ is as good as I dreamed. For all you Chicagoans who have yearned for your own taste of LPQ, here you go:
Curating a cozy atmosphere in the West Loop, adjacent to the Chicago French Market and nestled amidst a flurry of train commuters, is a tall order. The area is typically plagued with frenzied folks scurrying about to and fro work, pausing briefly to shove food and drink in their mouths. A refteshing breath of calming air is LPQ, a cozy oasis of leisure and comfort. True to LPQ's signature motif, the inaugural West Loop location features polished rustic wood throughout, with shelving reminiscent of a rural general store, communal tables, an ample bakery section, and the best part of all: a baking kitchen surrounded by windows, providing a front-row seat to the bread action. The kitchen even has a window that looks out onto the street, allowing passersby a glimpse into the carb action. Unlike anything else in the area, LPQ is a realm of solace, a Mecca of relaxation and nourishment. Patrons range from solitary diners getting work done on their laptops to moms, groups of friends, business lunchers, and anything in between.
The menu at LPQ is as heartwarming as the space. Perfectly nailing the middle ground between hearty and healthy, the menu seamlessly incorporates baked goods alongside wholesome products like hummus, quinoa, and hemp. For example, the incomparable tartines. These things are the stuff of open-faced sandwich dreams and it's easy to see why LPQ would cite these fork-and-knife 'wiches as their bread and butter. Numerous tartine options include one shellacked with black bean hummus, another with curried chicken salad, and another with mashed avocado, because avocado toast is so en vogue right now. The bakers clearly know what they're doing, because the texture, aroma, and delicate flavor of each bread sliver is sublime. The quinoa cake is an ideal example of a dish that simultaneously nails the comfort food-meets-health food philosophy. It's at once nourishing, satisfying, and decadent, immersed in tomato sauce, heaped with avocado. Don't overlook the baked sweets, either, as LPQ has quite the array. All the traditional confections are on deck, from chocolate chip cookies to Belgian chocolate brownies, along with more outre items like hemp seed blondies and brown rice pudding. The coffee program is pretty killer as well, and don't miss the verdent mint lemonade.
Look for more Le Pain Quotidien locations to open in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park in the coming months. The West Loop location serves as the central hub for baked goods for all Chicago outposts.
- Matt Kirouac