Saturday, January 27, 2007

Almost the Lula Cafe of Ukrainian Village

Dodo: (Ukrainian Village) Chicago
935 N. Damen Ave.

Original post: Saturday, 20 January 2007

Tofu Scram at Dodo Cafe_2.jpgThe moment I walked in I liked the place; and it wasn't just because of the bike rack that I locked to directly out front. Dodo holds a warm eclectic feel that reminds me of Lula Cafe - the Logan Square vegan-friendly brunch institution that I've loved ever since they were on the first Veggie Bike and Dine in 2004 (as a matter of disclosure though, I have co-produced these events and am a big fan of supportive restaurants). Dodo sports vibrantly colored walls, cooks partially visible from the tables, well hung local artwork, and small unpretentious tables with well presented food. Dodo doesn't have a liquor license, but from talking to the co-owner, William, it sounds like they'd like one if they decide to open for dinner. William's co-owner stood behind the counter cooking up her magic besides another cook, and the hot pans turned around from the stove and came up to the counter to finish plates for the servers.

Tofu Scram at Dodo Cafe.jpgThe place was jumping when I rolled in just about 11 a.m. on a Saturday. I got the last good two-person table, and as more groups flowed in, William nicely asked them to "hang out in" the gallery that runs beside Dodo. My server told me the art here is mostly from people in the building, and some is from one of the owners. The art refreshed me; some of it looks ambiguous and colorful, with roughly outlined characters. My server kept me happy with seemingly endless strong coffee.

Dodo tries to do one vegan special on the weekends, my server told me. William added that sometimes they have seitan; but this time, it's tofu scram tossed with, as the specials card puts it, "an abundance of crisp veggies, toasted grains & sunflower seeds." In other words, it's no ordinary tofu scram. Their core menu (available on weekdays, too) offers more vegan choices: McCan's steel cut Irish oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar (sounds like it's made without milk by default), fresh seasonal fruit, house granola with banana slices, various toasts plus a toasted ciabatta with tomato and cucumber (hold the cream cheese), and maple sauteed banana (hold the yogurt). William told me that today the hash could be made vegan, too (hold the pancetta).

They're not kidding about the goodness of the tofu scram; mine floored me. Tiny slices of mushrooms, Asian flavors, a hint of citrus, and just the right amount of oil to lightly coat the tongue with each bite finish the scram quite brilliantly. It's an incredibly generous serving of tofu, millet and quinoa (sometimes they use rice), and perfectly sized shreds of red onion and leeks. The kale is ripped small enough to make it all toss together quite evenly. The eighths of red potato root the dish along with discs of carrot and parsnip. It arrived quickly garnished symmetrically with tiny cubes of chilled tomato on both sides of the plate.

Dodo is almost the Lula Cafe of Ukrainian Village. Sure, Dodo is less refined, and I don't know if their non-vegan options are as impressive, but if they made bakery like Bleeding Heart does, they might take over the world.

Bringing Mom and Dad: Saturday, 27 January 2007 update

Mom loved Dodo. They're very accommodating; she got just what she wanted. After our server checked in with the cooks in the prep room behind us - one whose wall-lined shelving units make it look like a warehouse of food that happens to have a prep table in the middle and whose door was always open for inspection during our visit - they were glad to give her the french toast topped with their waffle's mango compote. Mom commented on Dodo's extensive menu and that everyone here of far-reaching ages looked well put together. I loved the dodo pictures on the bathroom's walls, the casual two-person grey-topped tables put together to make space for four, the boxy camelback sofa along the wall as a booth, and the thick and dark warm-looking wooden floorboards.

Service was great down to their astute passing in tight areas, softly pulling aside to let you go first just as good hosts do, and just like Lula Cafe has perfected. The staff operates charismatically, too. A kind man with a green bandanna around his neck came to pick up Mom's plate before she was ready; after Mom finished and he returned, he joked "finally" with a full smile that I think all of us appreciated.

I'm glad I came here the first time a week ago; I almost didn't. The co-owner, William, didn't make it sound very vegan-friendly on the phone; but I think he knows how much they offer now. This time, the vegan special was a seitan burrito topped with twisted tomato slices and avocado pouring out, filled with seitan sliced thick like gyro meat, herbed lemon potatoes and a twig indicating fresh thyme in case you couldn't taste it, radicchio that came with a warning of its bitterness as I ordered it, over bed of tabbouleh with adzuki beans and greens. Their tea menu describes each option, and the variety of tea leaves you'd find in Irish Breakfast, English Breakfast, and all the others.

Photos: Christopher Brunn


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