WEST LOOP — Starting Tuesday, West Loop residents will have another place to get their morning coffee and tea: inside Vera restaurant.
The Spanish wine bar under the "L" tracks at 1023 W. Lake St. owned by husband-and-wife team Mark and Liz Mendez, chef and sommelier respectively, will now be open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, offering pourover coffee and espresso drinks ground to order, loose leaf teas and pastries.
In Pursuit of Tea, an East Coast purveyor, will supply tea for the opening menu. Varieties range from a hibiscus and elderflower blend to Tieguanyin, an oolong tea.
Janet Fuller said the restaurants will have cookbooks to browse while you enjoy coffee or tea:
There will be five or six pastries from the Pilsen bakery Beurrage, croissants and apple turnovers among them.
The restaurant's deep selection of sherry and other booze won't stand idle. In time, the couple plans to offer amaro, vermouth and sherry pairings to complement the coffee and tea menu. One pairing Liz Mendez had the staff sample the other day was Scarlet Glow tea, the hibiscus blend, with Atxa, a Basque vermouth — great for a hangover, she said.
To extend the cafe vibe, the owners are gathering cookbooks and wine books new and old, many from their own collection, and other food periodicals donated by their peers for a library of sorts, set on shelves in the back of the dining room for customers' perusal.
"Line cooks and sommeliers who are studying can't afford every new cookbook," Liz Mendez said.
She said a nagging question among industry friends has been, "When are you going to open during the day?" The couple thought about doing lunch service but, she said, "We didn't think the nighttime version of Vera would translate" during the day.
A more natural fit, and one that the couple said made sense from an operations standpoint, was serving coffee and tea, which they love, separately and distinctly.
Liz Mendez's English grandmother introduced her to tea when she was a kid. Mark Mendez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has been drinking coffee since he was 10. There is an idiosyncratic element to their relationship: He doesn't drink tea, and she doesn't drink coffee.
They admit they've been able to "geek out" during research. They bought a La Marzocco espresso machine. ("The Ferrari of espresso machines," she said; "More like a Chevy muscle car," he said.)
The tea will be served properly, not as an afterthought as is habit in other places, Liz Mendez said: "Tea measured out, the proper water temperature, the proper time and then poured into a decanter."
Once their library is complete, they hope the vibe will be European crossed with a little Brooklyn, the neighborhood that most reminded them of this one when they opened Vera three years ago.
"You look at a lot of coffee shops in Europe, and lot of them have books," she said. "We hope everyone is going to be in that hospitable nature and not steal the books."
"We just want to get open and make great coffee and tea," he said.
The restaurant will close at 2 p.m. on weekdays and reopen at 5 p.m. for dinner service.
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