Friday, August 14, 2009

Little Branch Cafe, a hidden gem in the South Loop

This is one in a series of articles focusing on small businesses and entrepreneurs in the South Loop.

“We are blessed to have the support that we have…most of our business has come from word of mouth.”

So says Soo Choi, one of the three owners of the Little Branch Cafe at 1251 S. Prairie Ave. The two other owners are Sang Choi (Soo’s sister) and Kevin Heisner. All three, Chicago natives, have known each other for years and were on similar career paths, paths that did not lead to opening a cafe.

The art of the cafe

According to Soo Choi, all three owners have BFA degrees, and had no intention of owning a café like Little Branch. Heisner,  a general contractor, and Choi were originally hired to design and build out the space on S. Prairie Ave. for someone else. The original investor backed out and the deal fell through. So Soo, Sang, and Kevin decided to open a cafe of their own. The name Little Branch refers to the commitment of the three partners “rooted to grow together.”

Hip, cool, and modern

Located on the ground floor of a Museum Park condo, Little Branch Cafe is somewhat unassuming from the outside. When you walk inside , you enter a space that is hip, cool, and modern, but at the same time it's also warm and inviting. Natural wood and stone is the main decorating motif. The framed tools hanging on the wall were created by Heisner. The barstools look like rough-hewn tree trunks. And speaking of barstools, did I mention that Little Branch has a full bar? Well, they do. So, if you visit them on Saturday or Sunday for brunch, you can have something a little stronger than coffee, if you like. And if you’re looking for a place to unwind after work with a glass of wine or a cocktail, Little Branch Cafe could be the place for you too.

Great food and a good cup of Joe

What’s a cafe without coffee you ask? Not much in our opinion, but not to worry, Little Branch serves up a good cup of Joe. They brew Metropolis coffee, roasted locally in Chicago. At breakfast this past Wednesday, one of our friends was raving about how good the decaf was (people generally don’t rave about decaf). As good as the coffee is, the food is even better. With a breakfast menu that features a Frittata Sandwich, made with bacon, cheddar, arugula and aioli (my Wednesday morning choice) that was delicious. We also heartily recommend the oatmeal served with dried fruits, nuts, and served with steamed milk. On the weekend, your brunch choices increase in variety with a delicious breakfast strata (we tried it) and French toast with marscarpone cheese. And don't forget their lunch menu that includes soup and hot panini sandwiches.

Baked on the premises

Little Branch also features pastries and baked goods. One of the better offerings are cupcakes baked on the premises. We tried the chocolate cupcake with the vanilla icing. It was fresh and moist and the icing, well, it would have made a stale cracker taste good. Hey, don’t take our word for it. Check out the reviews on yelp* and find out for yourself.

Your neighborhood cafe

The Little Branch Cafe is the kind of place everyone wants to have in his or her neighborhood. Whether you go to curl up with your laptop (free Wi-Fi) and a cup of coffee, or meet your friends over brunch, you’ll feel right at home. Here’s hoping the roots from Little Branch Cafe grow deep in the South Loop.

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