Tucked away in a strip mall in a bend of McCormick, just south of Devon, you’ll find the best cevapi ever—period—served alongside other Croatian dishes and music, a full coffee bar and cheap cocktails. What more could you want in West Rogers Park?
Wait a minute, what is cevapi, you say? Pronounced chay-vah-pee, it is a delectable Croatian meat patty made from beef, pork and spices. Of course, the cevapi and all the food at Pure Café is delicious because the three Croatian owners, Frango (pronounced frahn-yo), Jago (yah-go), and Tony (toh-nee) use only the most authentic, age-old family recipes. They also pride themselves on ordering organic, wholesome ingredients from which all their dishes are made.
Other delicacies of which I had the great fortune of trying (thanks to the generosity of Jago, of course) were the spicy tortellini, the grilled calamari, and the raznjici (pronounced raz-nee-chee)—a tasty skewer of pork. For dessert (as if I could fit any more food inside), I had two crepes: one with plum sauce and the other with Nutella and strawberries. The latter was definitely the winner of the two, as Nutella (a hazelnut-flavored spread) is to Europeans as peanut butter is to Americans.
Now for the drinks… I have finally found the spot for late night espresso that I have been seeking during my tenure in Chicago. However, and no offense here, if you go to Pure Café on a Friday night, ask waitress Paola to make your espresso. She certainly knows how to pull a good shot! Hot tea from Benjamin Tea Company is also available.
Perhaps you’re thinking, what about the booze? Well, I can say that the pomegranate martini certainly outdid everything else that I’ve had at Pure, and this is coming from a girl who generally leans towards hard drinks—like Johnny Walker Black, neat. The pomegranate martini was just right: not too sweet, not too sour, perfect. Pure also offers a nice Malbec. Other specialties I plan to try on future visits include the plum brandy Sljivovica, the ouzo, and the Pelinkovac—a Croatian spirit most similar to Jägermeister. Since the building housing Pure Café lacks a basement, it’s impossible for them to offer beer on draft, but they offer a decent bottled selection.
Upon entering the Pure Café, one sees the bar directly ahead and to the right, an elevated eating area and small stage to the left, and a lounge/VIP area in the very back, ahead of the bathrooms. The floors are covered with tasteful stone tile and the ceiling is open, with metal beams crisscrossing overhead. The walls are painted maroon, some of which feature paintings and upon others hang flatpanel TVs. “Anything you want,” is the response I received when I asked which stations I could choose from. Pretty good answer, Jago!
To make the night complete, a nice Balkan-flavored band called Ludi Ritam played on my last visit. Ludi consists of various handsome men of Eastern European descent and they really have a lively spirit about their music, almost Cajun. Ludi has been together off and on since 1995 and play mostly at weddings and banquets, although I think that they are good enough to go on tour.
The idea behind Pure Café is to have a Eastern European-style café in Chicago. According to proprietor Jago, an abundance of late-night spots in Eastern Europe are called cafés, which serve various liquors, coffees, entrées, and desserts. This puts our limited American versions of cafés to shame; Starbucks could never top these Croatians’ entrepreneurial ideas, no matter what type of beer or wine they plan on incorporating into their menu in the coming months. And the hours of Pure Café are perfect for whatever your needs may be. Pure is open from 11am to midnight Sunday through Wednesday, from 11am to 2am on Thursday and Friday, and 11am-3am on Saturday.
Whether you work in Evanston, Skokie or the Far North Side of Chicago and are in need of a great lunch spot, or are in search of a great lounge with plentiful spirits, wonderful food, and awesome music, Pure Café is the place. You will certainly find me there! If you like Pure Café, you might also like Uncommon Ground (Edgewater & Wrigleyville) and Map Room. For more information, check out the Pure Café website. Živjeli!