17 Garfield Place
Situated across from leafy Piatt Park (also known as Garfield Park) in downtown, Café de Paris is the type of place that entices you to relax and linger over café au lait while the rest of the world rushes by one block to the east. When the weather is nice a smattering of bistro tables adorn the sidewalk outside, and unlike other downtown restaurants offering al fresco dining, customers at Café de Paris do not have to contend with a lot of traffic fumes and noise. Tables get snatched swiftly, but benches in the park make it easy to enjoy a sandwich or salad with the rest of the nine to five crowd.
The cozy restaurant fills up quickly at lunch, and with good reason. The superb French fare is served up fast, friendly and fresh. The cheery “bonsoir!” you hear upon entering is owner Khaled Atallah, oozing French charm and class as he buzzes around the counter, jotting down orders.
The inviting café is a vegetarian’s dream. They serve up fresh fruits, baguettes and bagels for breakfast, as well as Egg a la Mediterranee, a toasted bagel topped with a steamed scrambled egg, tomatoes, olive oil and cumin, served with a side of hummus. Each weekday finds several daily specials - one of which is always vegetarian, served with a side of pasta salad, green salad or fruit for only $6.45.
There are seven vegetarian salad specials, including a homemade hummus plate served with chopped vegetables and pita bread, and their specialty – Salade de Chavignon, which includes fresh greens with tomatoes and cucumbers, garnished with thin baguette slices topped with toasted goat cheese. It is gorgeous.
It is their sandwiches, however, that keep me coming back again and again. Le Vegetarien is brimming with avocado, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, onions and your choice of swiss, cheddar, havarti, brie or boursin. The Sandwich au Fromage sports brie cheese with lettuce, tomato and alfalfa sprouts, and Croissant Foure aux Epinards is a delicious toasted croissant stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. All are served with tiny gherkins on the side, but for a little extra you can add pasta salad to any sandwich if it strikes your fancy.
I am fairly picky about bread, having fallen in love with freshly baked European breads on my many travels overseas, and most of our local restaurants offer what I would consider to be an inferior product. No so Café de Paris. Their baguettes are divine, as are the croissants. Each bite is a little bit of heaven for me, and when you factor in the fresh vegetables and mouthwateringly good cheeses on offer, well, it’s a wonder I can tear myself away from the counter and return to work.
The restaurant is open M-F 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. It is well worth repeated visits. Vegetarians will not be disappointed.