A couple of weekends ago, I left to run some errands and realized it was a beautiful Saturday—one of those sunny and warm days that reminds you spring is coming. (Sadly, the following week implied winter was not only here to stay, but might actually move in with me.)
I had plans to meet a friend later for drinks, but on a Saturday that beautiful, it seemed almost CRUEL to delay things until dark. So I called Lisa and suggested we head out early to try some thrify tapas and pre-sundown sangria.
I'd heard that Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Lincoln Park has two tapas deals for hungry Spanish food fans: $3 tapas from 4 to 6 p.m. daily and from 10 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday nights.
The catch? You have to sit in the bar area, which, at first glance, looked full when we arrived at 5 p.m. Luckily, we ventured around the bar and found an empty table in back. But I’d suggest going early, because by the time the dinner rush starts, free tables are hard to come by.
Since standard red sangria isn't my fave, I was excited to find that Ba-Ba-Reeba offers a variety of flavors, including peach and passion fruit. We opted for a half-pitcher of white sangria, which took an unusually long time to arrive—but was tasty once it did. Filled with fresh fruit, it had a strong flavor beyond just the alcohol taste (unless the bartender figured out how to make liquor taste and smell like a fresh pear).
Suddenly starving, we ordered up $3 spicy potato salad with tomato alioli, which was tart without being too hot—and I'm a spicy-food wuss. Delish!
The tapas are a great deal, but beware: Not all tapas are available at a discount. There are less than a dozen options, most of which include meat or fish. Since I'm a vegetarian, we were forced to splurge on some full-price tapas, including the warm goat cheese and marinara sauce dish, my favorite tapas plate. (I think a strain of goat cheese mixed with marinara has been running through my veins in lieu of blood since the mid-1990s). And although it wasn’t the best I've ever had—the cheese was a bit bland, and the bread served with it a touch too hard—it still tasted pretty good.
We contemplated ordering the $3 roasted eggplant salad with goat cheese, but we were fairly full—and yet, not too full for dessert. We decided to try the restaurant's $2.75 bite-size dessert menu, which offers nine options, including a caramelized banana with vanilla ice cream, flan and sorbet.
Lisa and I took a vote, and opted for the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and a small slice of chocolate cake that was mousse-y in nature. The tasty apple crisp was a great bargain, with a heaping scoop of ice cream. But the tiny sliver of chocolate cake was a little too spongy and soggy for me; if a food has the consistency of something I would use to clean my kitchen with, I'm just never too comfortable eating it. (No hard feelings, paper towel cupcakes!!)
It was about that time when we discovered one major problem with sitting in the bar: Other people waiting for tables who were sitting in the bar—or, more specifically, the hostess who was calling out to them. She would literally scream names into the sound system, and we winced every time. Forget about a table for two: I needed a hearing aid for four.
As the clock ticked toward 7, the wait grew longer and more wincing occurred. It was hard to even get through a few minutes of conversation, so we decided to head down the street to somewhere quieter for a cocktail.
Hungry for a tiny taste? Head to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, 2024 N. Halsted St., (773) 935-5000, or visit cafebabareeba.com for more information.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.