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This delightful Irving Park café avenges the sad, cellophane-strangled coffee-shop sandwich with Hungarian small plates alongside high-grade coffees and tea.
There’s no denying that the quality of coffee and tea across Chicago—not least of all in coffee shops—has never been better. So how come coffee-shop food, on the whole, still sucks? This quandary so irritated Rafael Esparza (Yusho, Kimski) and Daniel Speer (Nordstrom’s former corporate chef) that they decided to open a café of their own.
Finom’s tight, affordable food menu draws on the meaty and paprika-tinged cooking of Speer’s wife’s native Hungary. Relying on little more than a toaster oven and an induction burner, Esparza and Speer Macgyver everything from veal-brain pate on toast to custardy scrambled eggs to sausage-and-pepper ragout. It’s delicate yet sustaining—like the dainty, mismatched china it sits on—and, frankly, the sort of food we should expect alongside a $3.50 cup of coffee.
My mom and I arrived on a sunny weekday to Esparza’s warm greeting, his figure obscured by a hulking manual-lever espresso machine on the wood-paneled bar. Finom lives in a 200-year-old two-story frame structure that’s housed a grocery store, pharmacy, bar and even a spa in its lifetime. The owners leaned into its time-worn vibe, outfitting the wood-paneled space in vintage bureaus, tchotchkes and a handful of squashy upholstered seats.
The decor seemed to match my Turkish delight, a fragrant latte from beverage manager Ari Franco (Brew Brew Coffee & Tea) comprising espresso and steamed milk kissed with ground cardamom and rosewater syrup, then framed preciously with dusty-sweet dried rose petals.
We shared the gulyásleves, a simple goulash soup you might find a variation of bubbling away in every Hungarian home kitchen. Finom’s paprika-stained version teems with silky beef knuckle meat, sweet Gypsy peppers and flour-and-egg dumplings—a nourishing lunch that Esparza affectionately dubbed the tryout dish among most patrons of Hungarian descent. “They always test the gulyásleves first. Once they okay it, they’ll order more stuff,” he says.
An unctuous pate of veal brain and chicken liver is cleverly imbued with smoky bacon, then spread across slabs of pHlour Bakery toast and gilded with bracing watermelon radish and edible flowers. We all but licked clean a shallow bowl of mushroom paprikás—a velvety-thick mushroom and paprika sauce cradling crunchy enoki mushrooms, truffles, eggy little nokedli (spaetzle-like dumplings) and a dollop of sour cream crowned with glistening caviar. I swore the pale green blobs dotting the dish were olive purée, later learning it was just parsley pureed with super-fresh olive oil.
Tucking into an unadorned sandwich of toothsome Hungarian salami, house-cultured butter, nutty Swiss and crunchy-sweet raw peppers on ciabatta transported us to my German immigrant grandmother’s kitchen, where my opa (“grandpa”) used to liberally slather his cold-cut sandwiches with European butter. Mom and I quickly proclaimed it an Opa Sandwich—also code for one you shouldn’t eat every day. But damn, did it taste special as we sipped coffee that betrayed aromas of cocoa powder in a historic building on a nondescript Tuesday.
As Esparza later told me, “Why should we settle for shitty food just because it’s not dinnertime?”
Atmosphere: Steps from the Irving Park Blue Line stop, this charming café hearkens to Europe’s cozy, time-worn coffeehouses, offering hearty Hungarian small plates and a high-quality lineup of coffee beverages and tea.
What to eat: Flavorful Hungarian-inspired bites will warm your soul, like lecsó, a garlicky kolbasz sausage-and-pepper ragout topped with sunny egg, and scrambled-egg croissant sandwiches with smoked butterkase. Finom also proffers rotating pastries and bread from Spilt Milk in Oak Park and pHlour Bakery & Cafe in Edgewater.
What to drink: In addition to Counter Culture coffee and Rare Tea Cellar teas, specialty lattes show off coffee consultant Ari Franco’s barista prowess. The indulgent Choco Spice is a “dirty” Mexican hot chocolate with espresso, Ibarra chocolate, paprika and whipped cream.
Where to sit: Lounge on the couch in back or one of few comfortable armchairs, or grab one of a handful of café tables. (And yes, there’s free WiFi.)
4200 W Irving Park Rd
|Opening hours:||Mon–Fri 7am–7pm; Sat, Sun 8am–5pm|
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