In high school, I drove over an hour away to find a prom dress out of necessity. Growing up in rural North Carolina, I didn’t have boutique shops, a mall, or even a Target at my disposal. Shopping was an all day affair simply because of the distance to get to good shops.
Needless to say, Mag Mile is my Disney World. Though touristy, it’s still a novelty to bustle along the sidewalks window shopping and people watching.
I was thrilled when Mag Mile heavyweight Café Spiaggia invited me and a guest in for a complimentary brunch. Bitches Who Brunch previously featured Café Spiaggia in 2016 and gave it a 5 flute rating. I brought along my friend Em, who is new to Chicago and always a willing accomplice for a weekend adventure.
The restaurant was relatively quiet on a Saturday morning, and we had our choice of seats. We opted for lakeside views, and our small table faced the window where we could see a sliver of a calm Lake Michigan. I could watch the lake all day, and Café Spiaggia has great views without the transient feel of a seasonal, lakefront restaurant.
It’s important to note that while it is a café, this Italian restaurant will not be your traditional brunch spot, simply because they only offer a lunch menu. No mimosas, no Bloody Marys, and no traditional breakfast dishes. But when in Rome! We started with a glass of sparkling rosé each. It was crisp, not overly acidic, and a nice alternative to my usual brunch mimosa. I haven’t accepted fall yet, so I will continue to drink summery rosés and Aperol spritzes until it’s socially frowned upon.
Our first plate was the Emilia Romagna, named after a region in Northern Italy. Our rough English translation: fried gnocchi, succulent prosciutto, fondue, and a balsamic drizzle! The gnocchi were pillowy, airy, and delicious. Honestly, I could have ordered between four to five more plates of this, but in the interest of providing a thorough review, I forged on. You’re welcome.
Next, we split the burrata, already speared open and garnished with blackberries, blueberry drizzle, honey and thyme, served with crisp farm bread. This is a great shareable appetizer because you can customize your cheese to bread ratio and there’s more than enough to share. Most of my burrata orders have been savory in nature, but this dish could double as a tasty, fresh and sweet dessert.
For her main meal, Em ordered the arugula and chicken salad, with peaches, nuts and a flavorful, nutty cheese. The stone fruit was pretty bland, which is to be expected this late in the season. The dish came deconstructed, which was beautiful plating but more difficult to eat. It reminded me of a joke by comedian Demetri Martin, who rightly points out that eating a salad is just about making a mini salad on your fork each time. Restaurants should mix salads. Less attractive, but also less work.
I went with the gnocchi with a tomato sauce, wild boar, Parmigiano Reggiano, and basil. This dish is a staple at Café Spiaggia, and I fully endorse it. The gnocchi was spectacularly constructed to be soft and delicate, but what really made this meal a winner was the sauce. It was bright, not overly acidic, and fresh. I would order this dish time and time again.
We finished with two desserts, selected by the lovely staff. The first was the toffee cake, with Earl Grey gelato, brown sugar, and stone fruit. Again, the peaches were lackluster, but Em and I were both a fan of Earl Grey gelato, which was reminiscent of subtle Fruity Pebbles. This dessert was light, so if you want dessert but are stuffed, it’s a good thing to share.
The other plate was the pizzelle panino, which was gorgeous. This ice cream sandwich waffle came wrapped in lavender paper, stabbed with a knife, and garnished with thick flakes of salt. However, inside of the cone was a burnt almond gelato that just tasted burnt. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this dessert with another flavor of gelato. But sadly, we left most of it to melt.
The Bitches Say: four Champagne flutes
Café Spiaggia is the ideal brunch spot to impress out of town guests with sweeping views and delicious food. Take your mother for a plate of pasta, a glass of wine, and split some dessert before indulging in an afternoon of shopping.
Café Spiaggia serves lunch Monday through Saturday.