If anyone was going to open a café designed around the miracle berry, a fruit that temporarily makes you perceive acidic items as sweet, it was going to be Homaro Cantu. Cantu employs geeky techniques in his molecular gastronomy kitchen at Moto, he dabbled in miracle berries at the now-shuttered iNG and he’s the author of The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook. Now he has Berrista, an Old Irving Park café that opened in December with the slogan “Enjoy your vices.”
There are pastries, sandwiches, flatbreads and other café items, along with coffee from Big Shoulders, Intelligentsia, Bow Truss and La Colombe. At the counter, there’s a card outlining the four ways to ingest a miracle berry (a whole berry, a pill, an icy cube or liquid), which cost extra. Some menu items, like doughnuts and pastries, have a little red dot next to them, which means they’ll benefit more from the miracle berry, versus more savory items, like a grilled cheese.
“So what if I get a sandwich? Do I eat it before I have the miracle berry?” I asked the barista. “Do I even need to get a miracle berry?”
It’s confusing, but basically, the miracle berry works best with the items that would normally be sweet, like coffee cake, while you wouldn't notice a difference with items that aren’t typically as sweet. I guess this is an attempt to make Berrista more than just a gimmick, and so people will also go for lunch. In theory, if you’re going for lunch, you can skip the berry and not miss out, but for breakfast, you might want to add on a berry.
But in practice, the berry didn't do much. I ordered the chocolate-bacon doughnut, raspberry coffee cake and chicken and waffle sandwich, which came with syrup on the side. I tried everything before eating the miracle berry, and the doughnut was slightly bitter but perfectly fine for those of us who don’t like things too sweet. The coffee cake was acidic, while the waffle sandwich tasted just like a fried chicken sandwich. After the berry, the doughnut and sandwich tasted almost exactly the same, while the coffee cake was slightly sweeter.
The bigger problem is that none of the food was very good, with or without the berry. The cake-like doughnut was decent, while the texture of the coffee cake was sticky and the berry didn’t greatly improve the flavor. The fried chicken was juicy and crispy, but the scallion waffles were floppy and accompanied by a single piece of wilted lettuce.
Berrista was packed on my Saturday-morning visit, but the only reason I’d go back is for the coffee. A solid lineup of locally roasted beans are used for drip coffee, espresso drinks and coffee brewed on a Steampunk, a rather high-tech system that allows single cups of coffee to be brewed at a time, but beyond that, I’d rather enjoy my vices elsewhere.