I know this will fall well short of Antonius Melville's recent "Masi Dick", but thought I'd pass along a little discovery of my own on the bakery front.
The other morning, after partying all night and then (still wired and wide awake at sunrise.... no comment) trying to get some creative work done, I looked up and noticed it was about 7:30. Well, shoot, might as well get some errands done! Afternoon naps are my favorite anyway. So - off to the bank, the dry cleaners, top off the old gas tank while I'm at it, oil's looking semi-clear and up to the top, tire pressure's a-ok, Hey Mrs. Johnson, your peach pies smell terrific! Tell Timmy I'll show him the ol' curveball after Sunday School! Ok, then! Yep, just another great Saturday morning in the happy little burg we call Chee-cahhgo. Thought I'd finish up this little round of necessities with some personal care; happy-go-lucky and whistling a gay little tune ("Night and Day", I believe) I made my way over to the barbershop for a trim and a visit with Franco, my Clark Street consigliere
on all matters tonsorial and the simple vita dolce
of a working man who does one thing and does it damn well. (Non-food endorsement - Franco's Hair Styling Shop, 2544 N Clark, since 1966. A tradition of good service, haircuts, and friendship. "You're always welcome." According to the gift calendar from Franco's which sits on my desk, Feb. 27th is Longfellow's birthday (1807)... must be something poetic in the air. ANYWAY....) I get to Franco's (and find parking on Clark directly in front of the shop... gotta love Saturday mornings) about 1/2 hour before he opens, and find that my buzz is rapidly wearing off. If I am indeed to make it through this haircut, much less the ride home, I need coffee. Of course, this being Lincoln Park/Lakeview, I take two stones, throw them in opposite directions, and, yes, sure enough, one of them hits a Starbucks (which happens to be located under a porch which looks... oh, never mind.) As I approach the Green Monster (a mere 100 feet or so from Franco's), the distinctly Teutonic, red and white square checks so representative of Austria jump into my field of vision, followed by the words, "Oesterreichische Baeckerei." (Though with umlauts in their proper places). A Scooby-Doo like "Ehhr?" audibly emits from my mouth as I slowly scan the front windows of this heretofore unknown establishment, finally making my way to the front door. One step inside the warm, woody yet modern room, and one deep inhalation later, I am back in central Europe. Fresh breads, pastries, coffee on the brew, a case of Boar's Head and imported cold cuts stare out at me and dance a little jig in the part of the medulla oblongata which controls sense memory and appetite. Eyebrows raised, mouth open, I must have looked like an outpatient to the owner who, regardless of my condition, greeted me with a friendly "good morning!" as he came around the counter to retrieve the fresh coffee from the brewer and put it in the carafe. Sensing an actual Austrian in front of me, I kick into German gear and start rapping with the man. I soon find out that he is Herr Michael Mikusch, certifed Master Baker (diploma hanging proudly on the wall) from the Steiermark region (near the city of Graz) of Austria. Having earned his stripes in the old country and then taking his lumps for five years in Manhattan, Herr Mikusch was finally able to open his own business in Chicago a few months ago. He tells me that if I choose to have something to eat in the shop, the coffee is free. Seeing the Illy logo, I was well prepared to drop a couple of clams on a cuppa joe. This only made an already sealed deal sweeter. The almond croissant I chose from the case had the proper tender, buttery, textured and resilient qualities one seeks in such a product; none of this flaky, crusty, exploding-into-crumbs item one gets so often from corporate or chain bakeries. The mellow, rich almond filling was smooth, not grainy, and nutty and sweet. Perfect foil for the simple, full, round-tasting (and free) coffee. Starwho? Whatbucks? As I polished off the croissant and went outside to enjoy a fine Treasurer cigarette with the remainder of my coffee, I counted (and had to internally chide and cackle at) no fewer than 15 people make their way in and out of Starbuck's in about 5 minutes time. Luckily, Herr Mikusch has already developed a discerning and loyal clientele; I just happened to arrive 15 minuted before them. Before I know it, there are customers six across and two deep at the bakery counter, clamoring for bread, Sacher Torte, a special order birthday cake, cold cuts, pretzels, rolls, and whatever else Michael and his two lovely, Slavic assistants can wrap up and cash out. Finally, the storm dies down, and I have a chance to leisurely pick out a nice wholegrain bread, some pretzel rolls, Sacher Torte and cinnamon buns, and get a pound of Boar's Head smoked turkey breast (in perfectly uniform and paper thin slices, too, a la Meyer Delicatessen). I bid the Masterbaker and his two assistants (Olga and Christina) farewell, and make my way to Franco for my cut and commiseration. Later that day, after a sleep filled with uneasy dreams, I wake dazed and starving. Suffice it to say: turkey sandwich on toasted whole grain bread followed with Sacher Torte and glass of milk. The restorative powers of food baked by the hands of a simple yet highly skilled artisan, combined with rest and reflection, should never be underestimated. Especially in this day and age, when such powers are most in need. Guten Appetit.
Austrian Bakery and Deli
2523 N Clark St.