Sweet Maple Café

Outside Sweet Maple Café

Jessica Geiger

For quite some time after moving to Chicago from a small farm town, I searched for anything that tasted like home.  To my surprise, what I was looking for was just a stone’s throw away from UIC’s campus at Sweet Maple Café. Living on campus as a student at the university, I was so happy to find the comfort of home only a few blocks away.  Owner, Laurene Hynson, has been serving up breakfast and lunch with a home-style country feel at her restaurant since 1999.

Sweet Maple’s décor makes diners feel as though they are in the Hynson family’s kitchen, which makes it easy to forget that they are in one of the largest cities in the country.  Most of the menu is based on family recipes, and the home-style feel is complimented by old family pictures that line the walls.  Not only is the menu and environment family-based, but the hours of business shows the importance placed on family.  Back in 1999 Hynson was parenting two children and wanted to do something that would not affect the time she had to spend with them.  Being opened until 2pm fit the requirements perfectly.

Each table is covered with a red tablecloth and has a small bouquet as a centerpiece. Daily specials are written on a chalkboard on the back wall directly above a window looking into the kitchen. Once seated in one of the high-backed wooden chairs—usually accompanied by a cup of coffee or glass of juice and soft jazz music—patrons are ready for a casual breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Whether diners have a sweet tooth, an urge for meat and potatoes, or are looking for the staple breakfast of eggs and toast, Sweet Maple Café has it.

Holiday French Toast

One of the staples of Sweet Maple Café is the “Holiday French Toast,” one of many popular recipes taken from Laurene Hynson’s mother.  For this dish, two thick pieces of bread are smothered in vanilla custard with a kick of nutmeg before being toasted up and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Now, it should not go without saying that this stack of goodness is served with a huge helping of grade A butter and a generous portion of pure maple syrup.  After asking patron Ryan Geiger what he thought of this dish he said, “I’ve had a lot of French toast in my day and I’ve gotta’ say, this ranks pretty high.  That nutmeg is what makes it a winner.”

Biscuits

But it’s the sides that are really king at Sweet Maple Café.  The restaurant prides itself in its sweet milk biscuits, muffins, and applesauce—all of which are homemade.  The most popular of their five muffins is their banana chocolate chip. Make sure you are hungry and arrive early if you want to get your hands on one of these filling muffins…they go fast.  Another Southern staple, grits, is also offered as a side if diners want to get the full experience.  One of my personal favorite sides, a generous serving of biscuits and gravy, is plenty for a meal on its own.  This is the dish that got me hooked.  When I eat it, I feel like I should be sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, still in my pajamas.  A restaurant that serves food that can make me feel like I’m somewhere else is definitely a place I will keep returning to.

Smoked Turkey Club

Although Sweet Maple Café is best known for their breakfast dishes, lunch is also available Monday through Thursday after 11:30.  The lunch menu includes an array of soups, salads, and sandwiches, the most popular sandwich being their Smoked Turkey Club.  This monster of a sandwich is topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, choice of cheese and Sweet Maple’s very own herb mayo.  However, if patrons are looking for a more Southern experience, they can never go wrong with a fried chicken sandwich.  Sweet Maple’s version is served on a choice of onion or wheat bun or bollo, a Spanish bread roll, and either herb or garlic mayo.  All of Sweet Maple’s sandwiches are served with coleslaw, pickle, and potato chips…homemade of course.

No matter what diners decide to indulge in, they are certain to receive more than a generous portion, which is great considering the price.  Nothing exceeds $11, and people can fill up on one of the huge muffins for just under $2.  Some dishes, like one of the many entrée-sized Country Scrambles, are even perfect for sharing.

Sweet Maple Café is a portal out of the city and into a country kitchen.  On any given day, a variety of patrons can be found reading the morning paper, groups of students enjoying a late breakfast, or professors grading papers.  No matter who is sitting in the café, in Sweet Maple Café everyone is family.  This might be part of the reason it has established itself as a neighborhood favorite and a go-to spot for visitors to the city as well.

Sweet Maple Café is open from 7am to 2pm every day.  As their slogan says, “It’s more than just breakfast.”  More than just breakfast is right.

Check It Out:  Sweet Maple Café

1339 West Taylor Street

www.sweetmaplecafe.com