This River North
breakfast/lunch spot is essentially the next step for those who like Panera and Corner Bakery but are a little tired of ordering the same soups and salads. E.leaven Food Company – a name formed from the owner's first initial and one of the more vital processes of bread – offers the same sort of bakery-cafe cuisine, with a little more emphasis on breakfast options, a little more creative styles of bread, and little more of a warm, welcoming storefront.
Walk in and try to resist the breads and pastries glowing and glinting underneath the glass. If you're smart, you'll go home with a loaf of multigrain, rye, sourdough or challah bread. There's seemingly endless combinations of bagels and cream cheese – choose asiago, jalapeno, rye, oat bran, pumpernickel, whole wheat, bialy, chocolate chip, egg, marble, blueberry, etc., for the bagels; and strawberry, garlic herb, olive and pimiento, scallion, jalapeno, walnut and currant for the cheese. That's just bagels, mind you - there are also eggs, omelets, waffles and pancakes available for breakfast. By lunchtime, you'll probably have salads on the brain, and E.leaven offers nine varieties from avocado to tarragon chicken. The joint also has one last way to one-up Panera: burgers, served on a challah bun.
It's difficult to pin down, but there's something a bit warmer about the dining room here. Perhaps it's the pleasant colors, the sunlight soaking in, or maybe it's a picture of a gorilla standing defiantly in the rain forest, watching all those eating egg and cheese sandwiches in its dominion. There's something pretty comforting about eating next to that primate.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert