The first of Chicago’s many neighborhood festivals began with Mayfest this weekend in Lincoln Square. Nearly every neighborhood in Chicago has at least one festival during the summer and fall months, celebrating the area’s ethnic roots (eg “German Fest”) or a particular food (eg “Ribfest”).
t was unclear to us what Mayfest was supposed to be celebrating, (for one thing, it was no longer May) but Empanada Boy and I decided to head over to party it up with our neighbors. We planned to meet Sir Cheesealot and Butternut Squash for some outdoor eating and revelry. As we walked to the square, large droplets started to fall. We opened our umbrellas, but by the time we got there, the drops had turned to torrential downpour with lightning and thunder. Instead of trying to squeeze ourselves under the tent filled with drunk, sweaty people, we waded through the sodden streets to Café Selmarie, a pretty little bakery and restaurant in the heart of the square. Sir Cheesalot and Butternut Squash met us shortly thereafter.
Not everything on the dinner menu at Café Selmarie fits my budget, but about half of the entrees, including everything we ordered, are less than $12. We started with a beautiful bottle of Spanish white wine and an order of two crab cakes (see photo above), which we split between the four of us. These crab cakes were written up in the Tribune a few months back, so we felt obliged to give them a try. These were indeed exceptional— soft, tender crab meat pack loosely into a cake and barely seared on either side. These were not crispy like many others I’ve had, but their texture assured that the meat wasn’t overdone and that its flavor came through. A creamy garlic mayonnaise, fingerling potatoes and a relish of tomatoes and piquillo peppers formed an equally flavorful backdrop.
Empananda Boy and Butternut Squash both ordered the chicken pot pie. This had a nice, flaky, buttery crust, but the inside was a bit of a disappointment. Personally, I have never met a chicken pot pie I really liked, and this was no different. The filling was creamy and rich cream with chunks of chicken, peas and carrots mixed in. It was certainly better than past examples I’ve tried— more fresh tasting, less lumpy and less like a can of cream of mushroom soup— but still not my thing.
There are also a number of daily specials on the menu. Sir Cheesalot opted for the wrap of the day, which contained a firm white fish that I can’t recall. It looked delicious, and I can vouch for the tastiness of the thick-cut sweet potato fries that accompanied it. I picked the duck egg salad, which had a large, deeply flavorful fried duck egg on top and thin slices of smoky Spanish chorizo scattered through the vinaigrette-coated mache.
Café Selmarie is perhaps best known for its desserts and breakfast pastries (a brunch review may be in order). Empanada Boy pushed us to try something from the dessert case. He selected a slice of raspberry marzipan cake, and we each got a spoon to taste it. This wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it turned out to be quite delicious. In many ways, the experience with the cake is emblematic of the entire night. The visit to Café Selmarie wasn’t what I’d planned, but it turned out to be just as good anyway.
4729 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625