The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Spotlight On May St. Café

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Feb 8, 2006 4:00PM

2006_02_maystcafe 002.jpgOn our "My Name Is Earl"-sized list of places to dine out (so named because something always gets added to the list and we'll never truly fulfill it) May St. Café was always near the top. When we finally decided to scratch that particular itch in autumn the Pilsen restaurant was closed, however. We never thought that we'd have a second chance to check out the place. But while the Seahawks and referees conspired to hand the Super Bowl to the Steelers the other night, a friend of Chicagoist mentioned that May St. Café had re-opened. So we thanked whatever higher power that answers our prayers for the new opportunity to cross May St. Café off our list.

2006_02_maystcafe 008.jpgOur visit was during a particularly slow lunchtime session: actually we were the only customer. But it afforded us the opportunity to meet and talk with owner/executive chef Mario Santiago. With regard to the closing, Mr. Santiago (pictured to the right with partner chef Guadalupe Aguilar) said that he "just wanted to try out some new things." Those new things included rehabbed bathrooms, plans for an herb garden on the roof of the restaurant, outdoor seating, new artwork for the building facade, and locating new sources of organically grown produce for May St. Café's amazing take on the cuisines of Latin and Central America. As Mr. Santiago explained, "This restaurant is always a work in progress. As long as the quality of our food stays consistent, our old customers will come back."

The old clientele has indeed returned, along with some new customers. Chicagoist can now proudly count itself among the latter category. And we're coming back with friends.

2006_02_maystcafe 003.jpgFor lunch the Bridgeport Bureau started with a cream of carrot soup. This surprising dish- which also contained sliced dates, served with horseradish cream and a light dusting of ground cinnamon, was a cacophony of sweet spices and bold flavors that blended together amazingly well. Our succulent Cuban-style roast pork sandwich was another hit. Mr. Santiago and Ms. Aguilar roast the pork in house to their exact specifications. It's then served on toasted Cuban bread and served melt-style with Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles (we held the mayonnaise); a side of potato salad complemented the sandwich with a pleasant, but not overwhelming, touch of garlic and mayonnaise. Dinner is just as bold and creative, with an array of fresh catch fish specials, steaks, and other dishes Mr. Santiago terms "eclectic Latino cuisine" to choose from. May St. Café is BYOB, so bring a bottle (or box) of wine to complement your meal. They also offer a full catering menu if you wish to throw a dinner party but don't want to sully any dishes.

2006_02_maystcafe 006.jpgOrganic produce is a major component of May St. Café's menu. Mr. Santiago buys a sizable amount of his produce from The Resource Center's City Farm Initiative. "I get my heirloom tomatoes, chives, bell peppers, and a majority of my herbs from them." It was Mr. Santiago's relationship with City Farm that inspired him to build the herb garden on the roof. The dining room is minimalist and inviting: with a dark bar, low music in the background, and seating for about fifty people it's an amazing out-of-the-way location for Valentine's Day dining. Add all this up and one can see why May St. Café is called "(Pilsen's) little restaurant that could."

May St. Café is located at 1146 W. Cermak Rd. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Dinner hours are 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are accepted (and slightly recommended on the weekend) by calling (312) 421-4442.