“I’m so mad at you right now,” my husband said as a plate full of Nutella laden waffles drifted past our table and arrived to a group of cheerful, teenage girls busy taking hundreds of selfies.
He was eyeing the waffles with the jealousy of someone who wasn’t also about to indulge in decadent, chocolate treats. David had left the ordering up to me, and was now regretting that choice as he watched amazing creation after creation parade past our table. I had chosen the Nutella grilled baguette, croissant french toast, and nutella coffee drink with gelato in it. Those now sounded subpar.
“Ours is going to be good!” I insisted.
“It better be,” he said, in a threatening tone that felt misplaced after a lazy, perfect day of walking around Chicago, enjoying sunshine, and preparing to feast on some hazelnut chocolate of the Gods.
But everything looked so good, it was easy to get nervous about our choices. When you’re about to go all out with a lunch comprised entirely of chocolate, you want to know you’re getting your calories’ worth.
When I realized that a 24-hour trip back to the midwest for my cousin’s wedding would coincide with the opening of Chicago’s Nutella Cafe, I immediately decided that visiting the restaurant was priority #1. Spending time with my adorable niece and nephew was important too, but like….IT’S A NUTELLA CAFE. One doesn’t hear the words, “Nutella cafe opening” without making a visit there. That would be absolutely insane.
Plus, it gave us an excuse to get downtown during our trip. Downtown Chicago in the summertime is something that every human should experience. There is no city in the world with a happier population than Chicago in June, July, and August. The feeling of joy and goodwill radiates from every corner of the city. For Chicagoans, they’ve just gotten through what was inevitably another horrible winter. Summer feels like everyone just survived storming the beach at Normandy as one big group. Every single year, people come out of their houses the minute it hits 50 degrees. They wear shorts and tank tops, grinning like Kimmy Schmidt ascending from the bunker.
Every time we’re in Chicago in the summer, passing swarms of people walking to Cubs games, drinking large beers on the hundreds of bar patios that spring up, and enjoying the endless street festivals and block parties, we think, “We have to move back here! Why did we ever leave?” It’s a question best left for February in Chicago. You know why you left in February.
This was Chicago summer though, and so everything was at the height of its magic. We journeyed to the Nutella Cafe after visiting a friend in Andersonville, the anticipation growing by leaps and bounds as we headed downtown. It’s hard to describe the feeling of pulling onto Lakeshore drive to go into the heart of the city. There’s sparkling lake Michigan with people biking, skating, running, and playing on one side, and gorgeous cityscape to the other. With the windows rolled down — a cool, lake breeze cutting through the warm air as you speed towards one of the best city skylines in the world — you’re in heaven.
Add in that you’re about to gorge yourself on Nutella, and boy, is it a good day.
The Nutella Cafe is located near Millennium Park. So, the area is completely swarming with tourists. As we walked up, the line was wrapped around the block to get in. I’m not the only person who was pumped about the opening. Lots of people were willing to wait an hour in the sun for the opportunity to experience the first ever Nutella cafe. I felt lucky that I had emailed them before coming by and that they would be bringing me in to try a few things without having to wait. There are perks to writing about food.
Once inside the cheery little modern cafe, we were greeted by a couple of reps who told me that the excitement and response to the opening has been overwhelming.
“The people just keep coming,” one said. “The other day we gave away 400 croissants in 45 minutes.”
Before stepping away, she offered some suggestions of her favorite things on the menu. One of which is a liège waffle that I ended up not choosing (much to my husband’s despair).
We sat to watch the parade of delicious treats go by. The smell was that intoxicatingly sweet, hazelnut and chocolate mix that made me change the whole itinerary of our trip in the first place. A few minutes later our ‘meal’ arrived (can you call something a meal when it’s entirely made of sugar?), the Nutella grilled baguette with toasted hazelnuts, Croissant French Toast, and a coffee with Nutella and Gelato.
Both dishes were delicious, as all Nutella things are, though whether or not I would have happily waited in line for an hour for them… that’s harder to say. The baguette was basically toast with a thick spread of Nutella on it. I loved every second of eating it, but it’s something you can very easily make at home. The croissant french toast felt at least a little more special. The buttery french toast paired well with a dash of Nutella. I only wish there was more of it. The portion sizes felt a little small. I guess my disappointment came in feeling like the first ever Nutella Cafe could (or should) have been a little more inventive with their menu.
That being said, eating a bunch of chocolate butter was still an absolute treat, and I can see it very quickly becoming ingrained in the quintessential downtown Chicago experience. I remember being in college on the northshore of Chicago when the bean sculpture was put up in Millennium Park (It’s called the Cloud Gate, but it’s just a giant silver bean in the middle of the city and everybody knows it).
“That’s the stupidest sculpture, I’ve ever seen,” I said more than once. But now, a decade later, the bean is a Chicago icon, and the most visited tourist spot in the midwest.
The Nutella Cafe, nestled on the edge of Millennium park with its chocolatey confections, seems ripe to join the ranks of one of Chicago’s loved tourist spots, the kind of thing you must do when passing through the city. Movies will be shot there. Tourists will flock. The people around me when I visited were so genuinely happy and delighted by their meal that I couldn’t help but also feel like I was experiencing something special. You’re eating Nutella treats for lunch in one of the greatest summertime cities in the world, what’s there to be unhappy about? There are a myriad of better desert spots in Chicago, a city with really awesome food. But few with such an immediate name recognition draw.
You know exactly what you’re getting when you visit the Nutella Cafe, and if you love Nutella, that’s exactly what you want.