Dining at CafÃ© 103 can be an exercise in confusionâ€”even on a Friday evening in August, the dining room can be curiously void of patrons. â€œIt’s not the highest traffic,â€ owner Shirley Makinney admits. She thinks the cafÃ©’s sleepy location probably doesn’t help. â€œWe’d do better if we were on Western.â€
Still, just up the block, urban mansions tower over the restaurant. These folks surely can’t live on Top Notch Burger and Rainbow Cone alone. If they’re skittish because gifted opening chef Thomas Eckert left, they shouldn’t be. His replacement, Rob Kurecki (Spiaggia, Fahrenheit), is featuring accessible ingredients in sophisticated flavor combinations. It’s a change from Eckert’s food (â€œWe love Tom, but sometimes even I had to look up certain ingredients,â€ Makinney remembers), but not necessarily a bad one. Eckert’s signatures have been replaced by crispy-skinned Amish chicken, walleye with a tangy orange tomato vinaigrette and whipped blueberry panna cottaâ€”pure seasonal expressions that could be on the Blackbird or Lula menus.
So it seems that if they can hold out, success for CafÃ© 103 is just a matter of time. Or at least so Makinney hopes. â€œPeople are new to this kind of thing,â€ she admits. â€œBut it’s coming around.â€
1909 W 103rd St between Walden Pkwy and Longwood Dr (773-238-5115). Bus: 9, 103, 112. Metra: Rock Island to 103rd St. Dinner (Tueâ€“Sat). Average main course: $24. BYOB.
This article first appeared in Time Out Chicago in a different form.