Dimly lit exposed brick interiors teem with local artists’ work as a smattering of patrons enjoy their morning coffee and pastries. The Grind, a cafe located on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s yuppie mecca Lincoln Square, offers a quiet atmosphere, friendly staff, and delicious drinks (and eats!).
You will find me at The Grind on any given day. Seriously. I’m the redhead with glasses hunched over my laptop in the corner with an egg sandwich and a mocha. And, believe me, the egg sandwiches and mochas alone are enough to get me in the door every single day. But The Grind has so much more to offer. The ambiance can’t be beat. Warm exposed brick, tiny, twinkling overhead lights, and walls plastered with local artists’ offerings make the place a cozy shelter from the bustle on Lincoln Avenue. A handful of tiny wooden tables (all of which tilt to one side or another) are crammed inside, and nearly always filled to capacity. It’s a daily reminder of how to interact with your neighbors, asking to share a table with a stranger, arms laden with coffee cup, pastry plate, napkins and water glass. Most people are happy to oblige, and it’s an easy way to work “making new friends” into your schedule. The staff keep an ever-changing playlist of eclectic music on shuffle One day it’s 60’s pop, the next day, more modern offerings. The music is always low, loud enough to appreciate, but unobtrusive enough to not distract you from your book or laptop screen.
The best part of the ambiance, however, is only available when the sun shines. The Grind hides a charming outdoor back patio, easily doubling its seating capacity in the spring and summer. The narrow courtyard space brims with picnic tables, umbrellas to shade from the afternoon sun, and bright pots of herbs and flowers.
As lovely as ambiance may be, however, the real reason you visit a coffeeshop is for the coffee, and The Grind delivers. Their in-house Grind Blend is from Intelligentsia, as is their espresso, and they offer a rotating selection of Counter Culture coffees on a daily basis as well. The staff are all brilliantly consistent in pulling shots of espresso, and each drink is a delight. They also offer a wide selection of teas, sodas, and smoothies, if coffee isn’t your thing.
The food is phenomenal as well. The menu seems a little restrictive at first, but every single item is delicious. My personal recommendations are the spinach and feta pie, and the Italian Med or Caprese sandwiches. The Grind is great about having many vegan and gluten-free options on their menu as well, and can accommodate a range of requests. Nearly all of their soups (which rotate on a daily basis during the fall-early spring) are vegan and gluten-free. Pastries are available from a variety of sources, some produced in-house, others from Southport Grocery or Bennisons (a Chicagoland local bakery).
Lastly, the staff are warm, friendly, and eager to go above and beyond. In Chicago’s typical independent hipster-cafe culture, it is rare to come across a group of individuals so passionate to share their knowledge about why the product they sell is the best, but The Grind delivers every single time. I’ve been in other independent coffeeshops with fantastic (and sometimes even unique) coffee, but the apathy of the staff killed both the experience, and the cafe, in the end. The Grind is never in danger of that.
If you happen to find yourself in Lincoln Square, particularly on a sunny spring day, do yourself a favor and walk the extra half-block from the Starbucks on the corner. You won’t regret the experience.