Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Oromo

     Damn! I read the Saturday post from our Ravenswood bureau chief Caren Jeskey and berated myself with: "Why didn't I think of that?" The only thing to do is to wait a respectful period of time—weeks? months?—and then dive into my own complicated relationship with the piping hot brown nectar of the gods. Until then, her report:

Dedicated, in gratitude, to my parents.

     Coffee has been a constant companion throughout my life and I know just why it's sometimes called "the poor man's gold." From before I was born, our house welcomed each day with the sound of a percolator, which was later replaced by the wheezes and gurgles of a good old drip machine.
     For some of us, there are few things as satisfying as the sound of coffee brewing. Well, maybe the pleasure of pouring hot water from the tip of a gooseneck kettle in concentric circles over fresh grounds, and letting them bloom as they release their heavenly aroma. When I grind my beans each morning, carefully reassemble the clean parts of the vessel I’m using to brew that day, heat up water, and add it to the grounds, I am immersed in the ritual and it's comforting.
     From my toddler to my teenage years, my mother kept a giant green thermos full of the pungent dark liquid by her side. This was necessary and justified, considering that she was raising three young children during the day and working all night long until the sun came up. She also went through another period of working full time while raising two of us, co-running the household, and getting various degrees of higher education that she did not have time for in her 20s. My dad was around too, but my mom had to fly solo when he was miles away working long days, and later when he traveled for work. She simply had to stay tanked up.
    In the early 70's it must have taken my dad hours on the bus to get from our white wooden farm-style house on Ridge and Lunt all the way to the Campbell’s Soup factory on 35th and Western where he worked. Legend has it that he took the bumpy CTA trip, day after day, while holding a piping hot cup of the brown stuff. Of course the cup was not covered with a lid — this tough, handsome, south-side greaser of a man was not soft enough for that. I am quite sure he never spilled a drop of the java, gracefully maneuvering his cup as the bus lurched over potholes, as he headed off to support his family with his strong, capable, and steady hands.
     I’m right there with my folks in our love for those roasted little beans. As a young kid I’d pour coffee out of the percolator into a cup, add milk and sugar, and drink away. I've liked the taste of java from the very first time it’s bitterness — not quite concealed in the condiments — hit my taste buds.
     When I was 17 and working the sunrise shift at Granny’s Waffle and Pancake House on Pine Grove and Diversey, my regulars were relieved to see that I knew how many creamers and sugars it took to make a proper Boston. I’d make sure it was well stirred, collect my tip, hand them their prize, and they’d head out to face their days, feeling bolstered by liquid energy. I was a dealer. Speaking of that town, a 2015 study found
 Coffee Drinking 'Not Uncommon' Among Boston Toddlers. In this upside down world we are living in it’s probably all of them by now. On this holiday weekend let’s not get too dreary by focusing on the dangers of caffeine or the fact that South Korea may be the only place that’s getting it right.
     Fortunately I am down to one or two cups of joe a day, with the rare third cup some afternoons. Rather than chugging the battery acid like I used to, and never being able to get enough of it (I once worked at a coffee shop where fellow baristas asked the owner to do an intervention since they were worried that I might achieve caffeine toxicity in my enthusiasm to taste all the drinks), I am able to enjoy a safe amount of homemade deliciousness. There are even days I don’t have any, and I don’t miss it.
Molly & Macallan
    Then there are days like this past Wednesday. I was on a long walk and decided to treat myself to a special coffee at Oromo in Lincoln Square. While I waited in the short line I noticed two young women in front of me. I admired the kicks on one of them; white lace up booties with goldish stripes reminiscent of bowling shoes. I also liked their color palettes— the rusts, browns, creams, and blues fit right in with the simple wood and Turkish tile ambience of the shop. I took a chance and complimented the shoes. Turns out the two are a couple visiting from the St. Louis area, Molly and Macallan, and they had the happy vibe of vacation.
     The little chat — one of very few human interactions off of a Zoom screen I had that day — put me in a brighter mood. I ordered a Pistachio + Rose Latte comprised of fresh pistachio milk, rose syrup, espresso, and rose petals. I sipped my fancy gem as I walked back home under sunny skies in the warmish fall air and I was grateful for the day.


  1. Minor quibble. The Campbell plant was at 35th & Rockwell. Now it's called the Chicago Business Center & has mostly Mexican/American companies in there.
    But the eastern lot boundary would've been Campbell Ave., if that wasn't a rail line there.
    I remember that Jack Dorrance the head of Campbell's & grandson of the founder, kept it open, saying he loved the place, but after he died, the company sold it off.

  2. Personally, I shy away from disturbing the purity of hot black coffee (iced is out too), but I like the looks of your pistachio and rose combination and have long felt the temptation of trying the awesome sounding "macchiato." Maybe one of these days, I'll yield to the attraction of an exotic coffee, but until then, it's pure black coffee from any coffee shop not named Starbucks (way too strong and bitter for me) that I'll continue to gulp down when needing a bit of a kickstart in the morning.


    1. I see you're one of us. :) Don't worry- I drink it black quite often.

    2. I have been inside a Starbucks maybe two or three times in my entire life, and once was merely to use the ATM machine and to kill some time before a Cleveland Orchestra performance. I am not into places where the coffee has long or complicated names.

      Hell, I don't even drink the stuff at home, since I've been a tea drinker for most of my adult life, and so has my wife. We don't even make coffee.. But when I do indulge, away from home, "ordinary coffee" works just fine for me---black with sugar, please. Coffeemaker, vending machine, whatever...the origin matters not.

      Starbucks made me feel stupid when trying to order there, and now if they laughed at me when I hesitated or became confused, or just asked for "coffee", I would probably get pissed, and there would be trouble.

      I'm well past the age where I willingly go into places where I feel uncomfortable. And Starbucks does that. All I want is a lousy cup of Ordinary Joe, not a cup of Chatsworth Osborn Junior with a half-whatever and a twist. Forget that noise.

    3. We are a bit coffee crazed aren't we? Some special drinks are worth it, like a good cortado (just espresso with equal parts steamed milk) when the espresso is good. For me, good is medium bodied, nutty, not pungent and acrid. However, I am happy with the coffee out of a pot just about anywhere, and black is fine with me. By the way, they were probably not laughing at you but perhaps disaffected and aloof in the was bored baristas can be. If they were laughing at you, they just suck. :) Wishing you many more cups of ordinary Joe, as well as good cups of tea.

    4. Yeah, probably just ageist kids, smirking at yet another old geezer.
      I like my coffee black, with sugar. No milk. And hold the snark.

  3. Good morning. Thanks for reading, and for pointing that out! You prompted me to look at the map. I incorrectly had it in my head that Western is 2500 West rather than 2400. The factory was at 2550 or 2600 West (depending on the source, and I’m sure it spanned several blocks).

    And you’re right- Campbell street is located at 2500 West. Funny thing? There was an alderman named James Campbell who the street is said to have been named after:

    He was also a big real estate investor after the fire in 1871. I wonder if he and Joseph Campbell of the soup company were related?


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