Café fans: look south!

Fri, 2017/09/22

It’s common for students at Illinois Tech to go their entire time at the university without ever setting foot south of 35th Street. Conditioned by parents, peers, or the press, a large portion of our student population is convinced that very little of value to them lies below that boundary line. The truth is, while many neighborhoods near us face significant socioeconomic challenges, they also universally have unique points of interest and cultural assets, and we as Chicagoans miss out on much of what this city has to offer when we draw artificial lines in our heads about where we should and shouldn’t go.

This week, let’s take a look at a type of attraction that usually draws students northward: the coffee shop. Names of businesses like The Wormhole, La Colombe, and Dollop may be familiar to those of us who spend a great deal of time in cafés, but those are all dominant on the north side of the city. Let’s turn our eyes southward instead, and discuss three unique shops to try the next time you have a caffeine craving. And no, they’re not in Hyde Park. If you really want to explore, heading straight to the Lincoln Park of the south side isn’t the right way to do it.

First up, let’s consider a spot that’s right here at home in Bronzeville. Situated just a couple blocks east of King Drive along 43rd Street, Sip & Savor is a popular stop for work-from-home professionals in the neighborhood. With its roots in an older café that went out of business in 2011, Sip & Savor returned with a new concept and a renovated space in 2014, its walls decorated with large-scale works from local artists and its menu expanded with bold blended drinks in addition to coffee-based staples. Sip & Savor has been so popular locally that it’s expanding to a second Bronzeville location soon at the historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments (47th & Michigan), and its owner maintains a location in Hyde Park as well. The shop serves beans from Colectivo, a Milwaukee-based specialty roaster that recently opened up their first official Chicago store on the north side. While Colectivo’s own shop has a large patio, its indoor space is limited, and come wintertime you’ll want to head to Sip & Savor with its selection of comfortable chairs and large space for getting work done and socializing alike.

Veering west to the Latinx-majority neighborhood of Back of the Yards, an even younger coffee shop named after that community area has quickly established itself as a purveyor of well-crafted food and drink alike. Back of the Yards Coffee Co., located near 47th & Western, roasts their own beans, which they source directly from Mexican growers rather than going through typical multi-step supply lines from Colombia. While the beans themselves are special to begin with, where the magic really happens is behind the shop’s counter, where they create drinks like the Xocolatte, which adds chile ancho to a traditional mocha, and the Horchatta Latte, a cold brew-based drink that blends in rice syrup and cinnamon. To back that lineup, Back of the Yards Coffee Co.’s food offerings go beyond the expected coffee shop pastries, including bagels topped with smoked salmon and other unexpectedly fantastic combinations. And if the menu wasn’t enough to convince you to go there, maybe the business’s financial creed will: for every bag of their beans sold, the company puts one dollar into a fund that goes toward nonprofit neighborhood organizations and programs.

Continuing with the theme of cafés that make a social impact in their communities, Kusanya Café in Englewood is itself a nonprofit, focused on providing a neighborhood social space through a large, inviting environment and reasonably priced meals alongside its drinks, which are roasted in house just like those at Back of the Yards Coffee Co. Located at the corner of 69th & Green, Kusanya has an attached events space for activities as diverse as yoga classes and community markets, and the shop provides bags of beans for sale at the nearby Englewood Whole Foods as a way of helping sustain their efforts. Kusanya’s sandwiches and personal pizzas are large enough to constitute and full meal, and anyone who goes there often enough will eventually get to know their staff, who are among the most genuinely friendly baristas in the city.

While these three cafés are among the best on the south side, they are by no means the only noteworthy coffee stops out there for anybody looking to venture off campus for their latte. Build Coffee, P Berry Kafe, Currency Exchange Café, and plenty others all have something unique to offer, from hidden study nooks to facilitation of citizen-led political activism. No matter what sort of caffeinated drink you’re looking for, or what kind of surroundings suit your personality, there’s probably a café that fits the bill south of 35th Street. Now, it’s up to you to discover which one you can call your favorite.