With new restaurants opening every day, particularly in big cities such as NYC, LA, and Chicago, it’s rare that one causes excitement that reaches pandemic levels. Yet that’s exactly the case for Chicago’s brand new Nutella Café — which is causing such a frenzy, it’s expected to draw crowds of 400 or more come its opening day of May 31, including celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito.
Featuring a sweet AND savory dine-in menu, a mouthwatering selection of Nutella-based pastries, and coffee, the restaurant was a must-see for us. We headed over to the café’s intimate two-story space on the Magnificent Mile for a sneak peek, and trust us when we say — you’re in for a treat.
From the moment you enter, everything about the space pays homage to the iconic and creamy spread that inspired it: The ceiling has smooth, dark wood planks assembled in waves, and the accent light fixtures are shaped like yellow hazelnut flowers — all to remind guests of the delectable spread.
On the ground floor, a pastry counter beckons hungry patrons with inviting baked goods and fresh bread (sourced from a local fourth-generation baker across the street). A quaint overhead menu boasts of everything from gelato and desserts to savory lunches. Seating includes wall-side tables with elevated stools, low communal benches, plus cute and cozy tables for two.
Head upstairs, and you can expect a roaring fire in the fireplace come wintertime (a big draw for Midwesterners who are all too familiar with the season’s bone-chilling temps) and even more space to relax and kick up your feet, or maybe just catch up over a rich latte. But since it’s spring, the fireplace was more of a nice visual.
We tested four of the café’s sure-to-be hot-ticket items: the Liege Waffle, a Panazella fruit salad with yogurt, a spec ham (a thinly sliced lunch meat reminiscent of prosciutto) and Gruyere panini, and a trio of salads.
The salads were a kale and quinoa with hazelnuts; a standard arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette; and a mixture of orecchiette, fresh mozzarella, and snap peas.
It was nice to know there are light, refreshing, and savory options available — a very intentional move made by the culinary staff, no doubt. In fact, with so many salads to choose from, paninis, and soup options besides, you could actually get through an entire meal without having a single drop of Nutella (though we’re not sure why you’d ever want to!).
And while the lunch food was delicious, the sweet dishes were, not surprisingly, the star of the show.
We had a mighty hard time choosing between the Instaworthy liege waffle (which was a caramelized brioche and “pearl” sugar waffles with warm green apple compote, their signature chocolate-y trickle, and toasted hazelnuts), and the chef-favored panzanella fruit salad.
In the end, however, it was the sweet panzanella, which was pound cake croutons and toasted hazelnuts on a bed of yogurt with four kinds of berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries) and a healthy drizzle of Nutella, that had us hooked. We loved the unexpected touch of basil and orange zest. In fact, we’re practically drooling just thinking about it!
Is it May 31 yet? We’re ready for round two.
Which Nutella dish are you most excited to try? Let us know over @BritandCo.
(Photos via Kevin Cherello)