If you haven’t experienced the charm of Lincoln Square’s Julius Meinl, then head out this Thursday, May 27, as the self-proclaimed “coffee bar” opens its doors for its seventh “Meinl Infusions Neighborhood Dinner.” This Thursday;s dinner will feature dishes infused with Julius Meinl’s signature coffees, espressos, and premium loose-leaf teas, and Jeff Adamek, who heads the store’s culinary operations, is hoping that the dinner will help reshape the existing menu at Meinl.
“Originally, when we were new to the neighborhood, we came up with the concept of the Neighborhood Dinner as a way to get to know the community and for the community to know us,” Adamek says. “The community embraced the concept, and it has stuck.”
The four-course family-style menu will feature produce from local farmers, farmers’ markets, and Meinl’s sustainable garden. For example, fingerling potatoes and Highland Toffee Japanese tea eggs will be tossed with Meinl’s own garden-harvested greens and radishes. Adamek says the store will also use its coffee as an ingredient in some meals, like the roasted duck, which will be soaked in coffee and served with spring onions and mushrooms from the farmers’ market.
“I am hoping that by using our coffees and teas in our food, we can expand our horizons on what we want to do and we can expand the menu to incorporate this idea,” he says.
Adamek says he likes “keeping things as local as possible,” and to help promote the event’s “community” theme, one large U-shaped table will be set up in the back room so “everyone shares the dishes and really get to know each other,” he says.
The evening will also include live classical music performed by violinists Naomi Culp and Sharon Tenhundfeld, who are both currently playing with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
Every time I walk into Julius Meinl at 4354 N. Lincoln Ave., I remember waiting for international flights at Washington Dulles airport in Virginia. In order to pass time, I used to prop myself on one of the benches in front of the Starbucks located in the middle of the late-afternoon traffic and watch the daily comedic tragedy unfold. It always went something like this: A look of horror passed over the face of the unidentified European patron as the barista questioned (in one long breath):
“Tall, venti, or grande–skim, two percent or soy–foam or no foam–[quick gasp]–with whip or without?”
A long pause would undoubtedly ensue, and the patron would shake his head with a collective “yes” and say espresso or macchiato and then glance back to his fellow comrades, tossing a pompous smirk in their direction for having successfully passed “the interrogation.” Moments later, eyebrows raised, nose scrunched, and eyes narrowed, he would peer quizzically at his café macchiato (which he was handed in a paper cup), and would stand motionless, staring despairingly into the abyss of a sea of skim milk in search of – coffee.
I remember these afternoon scenes whenever I stop by Julius Meinl. The Austrian coffee import is a place where porcelain cups are carried on silver trays, the pastry case spills over with a rapture of patisserie sculptures (most look too beautiful to eat), and the vitalizing smell of roasted seeds suffuses the air.
But what truly makes Julius Meinl distinctive to the area is that it is a place where locals can come together and unwind (soaking up the sun on balmy summer mornings), a place filled with laughter and conversation, and where, for a moment, we are all invited to experience the allure of a true European café.
The dinner will begin promptly at 7 p.m. at Julius Meinl (4353 N. Lincoln Ave.). $40 for adults/$20 for children (exclusive of tax and tip). For reservations, call (773) 868-1876.