January 31, 2011

Two Hyde Park cafés rank high in city-wide survey

Hyde Park's Istria Café and Robust Coffee Lounge were recently named in Time Out Chicago's list of the top fifteen coffeehouses in the city. Istria, located next to the Hyde Park Art Center on Cornell Avenue, was ranked in sixth place, and Robust Lounge on 63rd street and Woodlawn Avenue scored 14th.

"It's an honor for us. We work hard to do what we do well,” Istria manager Joel Dewey said. “A lot of times coffee shops put their emphasis on either the product or on the community, and there are not many that emphasize both. Here we try bringing the community in, and on being super geeky about our coffee."

Robust Lounge opened in late July and has attracted students and Woodlawn residents. Its owner, Jake Sapstein, has said he tries to learn from other Hyde Park cafés mistakes, keeping it open late and fitting up to 75 people.

The Istria Café and others have enhanced their brewing technique, by adding the "pour-over method" to their repertoire. Like espresso, baristas brew individual cups of coffee by carefully filtering hot water through grounds that rest in a cone shaped device. This method is said to bring out more complex flavors and aromas, and ensures the perfect cup of coffee, which is why Istria will soon be making this their primary method of brewing, Dewey said.

Some of the shops on the list are part of a wave of artisan cafés that have been springing up over Chicago. Topping the list was the Bridgeport Coffee House, Ravenswood's Ch'ava, and the Financial District's Intelligentsia.

The two Hyde Park coffeehouses have built off of each other, distinguishing themselves from more traditional stores by offering their customers a full meal and a more intimate experience. The Robust Lounge has a full lunch and breakfast menu, and the Istria Cafe offers a wide variety of gelatos.