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The Ultimate Veggie Burger

Biting into Kopi Cafe's tempeh wonder.
Tuesday Mar 21, 2006.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

The world's best vegetarian burger.

There is always mad research to do when devising an upcoming trip itinerary. It's such an exciting process, from the actual decision of the location (I usually go for the tropical) to the purchase of the ticket (thank God for frequent flyer miles) to the extensive emailing (setting up hotel arrangements and such). And there is no better place in the city to get globally inspired than Kopi Cafe, 5317 N. Clark St..

This Indonesian-influenced (but completely worldly) cafe is one of the warmest, brightest spots in Chicago to just chill and grab a cup of African tea or a slurp down a piping hot cup of fair-trade coffee (Kopi is Indonesian for coffee). I try to make my way up to Andersonville as often as I can, if only to sit a spell and dig through its library of travel tomes, phrase books and guide books for sale.

Sitting next to the dusty bookshelves with a vegan peanut butter chocolate bar in hand, I happily watch the bubbly troupe of globetrotters plow in from their latest trip (leather-bound journal in tow) and deconstruct their adventures to anyone who will listen (the wait staff is always delighted to hear about your journeys, as well as receive a post card from you from the road).

But my all-time favorite way to pass a few hours is by savoring one of Kopi's humongous Blue Burgers. This is the ultimate vegetarian burger, and one of the most coveted items on the menu, especially when you're a hard-core veggie craving a juicy, cheese smothered hunk of ground beef.

Kopi's version takes tempeh (made from soybeans) to a whole new level. If you're unfamiliar with this wonder food, here are a few random facts: The Indonesians have been cultivating it for thousands of years. It's the perfect meat substitute because it absorbs all of the flavors it's cooked with. And, when done right, it makes for the most delicious meat substitute ever. Bless you, Indonesia.

So as I scrutinized my plans for an upcoming two-week trip to Bali, I dove into what was one of the finest Blue Burgers I've had here. I don't know what was going on back in the kitchen, but when this mama rolled out, it was brilliantly thick and even slightly charred. Covered in melted Swiss cheese and crumbles of tangy blue cheese, it had the consistency of a bona-fide cheeseburger, which was exactly what I've been craving all winter long.

I also love the veggies at Kopi, as it always seems to be in season no matter how dark the days are outside. Crispy green lettuce, thin slices of ruby red tomatoes and long slivers of sauteed onions hole up on top of the burger, and the soft whole grain roll it's all perched upon is lightly toasted. Served with a side of tortilla chips and a crisp green pickle, it takes vegetarian cooking to a whole new (meat-craving) level.

Now that I'm on my way to Indonesia, it will be interesting to see what the motherland does with tempeh, but know this: I'll be heading straight to Kopi upon my return.

The Final Rave: There's a tiny boutique in back of the cafe that has a sound import/export business rolling. You'll find glorious strands of silver, Indian incense and handy travel bags in spades.

Keep It Going:

Read it:
Nick O'Neill, a former writer for The BootsnAll Travel Network, moved to Bali a few years ago and keeps the world up on all things happening on the island with this fascinating and informative blog.

Eat it: Fresh Picks
Cleanse your body this spring with this fabulous new take on delivery food. Totally fresh produce, fruits, meat and dairy delivered straight to your door. Plus, it's affordable, which is always a good thing.

Drink it: Arak
If you can get your hands on some of this famous Balinese liquor, you'll enjoy a sweet wine made from coconut palm flower that contains more than 50 percent alcohol. It just sounds so much more refined than Everclear, no?

Get crazy with it: Nyepi-Day of Silence
On March 30, the Balinese claim this day as the Day of Silence. No electricity, no cooking, no traffic, no lovemaking. Make like the Gods do by cleansing your soul and starting anew. After this downright hellish winter, we all need it.

Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.


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