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Growling Rabbit Not Yet Ready to Roar

By John DiGilio in Food on Sep 7, 2011 4:20PM

Economic doldrums be damned, Chicago's cafe culture continues to grow. What better way to beat the morbid financial news than to hole up with a warm beverage and a sweet snack someplace quiet and cozy? The owners of Rogers Park's new The Growling Rabbit - A Cafe want you to cafe your cares away in their very own rabbit hole. Though their start appears to have been less of a leap and more of a small jump, this place has the opportunity to bunny hop its way to a bright future.

The Growling Rabbit's proprietors are the same folks behind Sweet Attila's - A Bake Shop that has hung its own shingle just next door. You may have sampled some of their sweet treats at your local famers' market. They specialize in vegan and better-for-you baked goods. The cafe is designed to bring those goodies, as well as a selection of soups, sandwiches, and other savories to their growing fan base. The Growling Rabbit has been advertising its opening for quite sometime, so we were excited to see it finally opened. Debuts can be difficult, but first impressions are important nonetheless. Our first visit brought us a mixed bag . . . tasty, but mixed.

First, the good. The sweets and sandwiches at The Growing Rabbit are imaginative and delicious. Once we figured out what was available (see next paragraph), we ordered a selection. The veggie and hummus wrap was a very tasty combination of hummus, beets, zucchini, and more. For how thin it looked, it was bursting with flavor. The prosciutto and brie sandwich with its mixed greens and whole grain bread was also quite nice. Both were served with a side of quinoa salad that was light and refreshing. It's slightly sour taste was the right accompaniment to the savory sandwiches. From the sweet side of the menu, we tested out the intriguingly-named jitterbug tart. It featured candied beets for its filling. Had we not been told what they were, we would not have been able to guess. It was fruity and fun. The raspberry kangaroo, which was kind of like a muffin with soft, jam-like filling, was cakey and just sweet enough to top off the meal.

Now the, well, not so good. When we walked in, we felt as though we had stepped up to Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. The shelves of the pastry cases were bare! The best way to keep someone who wanders in off the street inside your establishment is to give their eyes a feast that their tastebuds will covet. We initially feared there was nothing left for us to try. Luckily there were baked goods in the back. They really need to be front and center. Also, there was nothing written on the menu boards above the counter. We only found our options by looking down at a small sheet of paper beside the cash register. It was a good thing we could read the small print. The crazy bright green paint that floods the interior is just about as strong a wake-up call as the coffee (which belongs in the paragraph above, by the way, for its smoothness!). Finally, this hare was no cheap date. The sandwiches and sides were on the small side, whereas the prices were not. Two sandwiches, two coffees, and four tablespoons of quinoa came in at almost $20. We needed the sweets to fill us up, even if our wallets got even lighter still.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to The Growling Rabbit enough to say that we will definitely try it again. For a grand opening, they got a lot right. A fun menu, healthy choices, and great flavors are nothing to be discounted. The staff was friendly and eager to please. That in itself is worth more than a single stop in. For sure, they have some tweaking to do. In a step in the right direction, they are inviting patrons to hop on in, sample their wares, and then leave feedback and suggestions on their Facebook page. If they keep the improvements coming, Rabbit season may very well come into its own.

The Growling Rabbit - A Cafe is located at 6981 North Sheridan Road.