Ah, Kovler. I have experienced many a sustaining, if not satisfying, lunch in your tile-floored, overpriced (but very friendly!) establishment. While our favorite Harper Center cafe is an adequate option for a quick bite, if you have more than half an hour for lunch, do yourself the favor of venturing beyond HC’s walls.
First stop: our 58th-and-Woodlawn neighbor, Plein Air. Steps away from old home HC, this chic cafe adjacent to the fantastic Seminary CoOp Bookstore is a killer option for breakfast, lunch, and coffee. Have time to sit down for breakfast? Order their Continental, which comes with a buttery biscuit, house-made plum jam, a perfect hard-boiled egg, a few slices of prosciutto, and a ricotta- and honey-stuffed date. Their pour-over coffee is enough to make me—a coffee philistine—understand coffee connoisseurs. Go for lunch (which, despite growing crowds, benefits from quick service and deceptively adequate seating) and order a savory pie—the Indian-inflected chicken pie is especially tasty. Grab a complimentary glass of sparkling water from their tap to wash it all down.
If you’re game to venture a tiny bit further, visit the cash-only Grounds of Being, the Divinity School coffee shop. The “Div School café” sells inexpensive hot and cold lunches from establishments all over Hyde Park: Think sushi, Thai noodles, Indian, sandwiches, and so on. Seating may be tough to find, but on a spring day, take your lunch to the quad and people-watch the undergrads.
A few steps beyond the Div School are the food trucks on Ellis, serving up a smorgasbord of possibilities on the daily. Follow @UChiNOMgo on Twitter to get daily updates on the offerings, which can include fried chicken, mac and cheese, cupcakes, popsicles, tamales, and on Mondays, our very own Eastman Egg Company.
Have an afternoon to kill and no shame about day drinking? Make the 10-minute trek from Harper to the modern, natural-light-filled Logan Center Café and grab a crisp glass of $6 Pinot Grigio (or a more restrained coffee). The Ida Noyes pub may not open until 4pm, but Café Logan’s got you covered.
Just want a great sandwich? Head to 57th Street, where you’ll find Zaleski & Horvath, or Z&H. With creative names and tasty combinations, Z&H serves up salads and sandwiches that are as healthy as they are delicious. A few steps away is Medici on 57th, whose deli-bakery turns out great sandwiches with the option to craft your own “monsterpiece.”
Finally, if you find yourself in Hyde Park on Sunday nursing a hangover curable only by the restorative powers of hash browns and pancakes, brunch at the cafeteria-style Valois (pronounced vuh-LOYCE) has your back. Gourmet? Nah. Fun? Definitely. Experience this Hyde Park institution—one of President Obama’s favorites—that embodies this historic neighborhood, one of the most diverse in the city of Chicago.
No excuses: If you’re hungry and stuck between classes, get out of the Booth bubble and into the wide world of Hyde Park. Those chicken pies aren’t going to eat themselves.
Miriam Goldberg Owens is a Hyde Park food enthusiast.