IRVING PARK — Finom Coffee, a new spot in an historic Irving Park building, opens its doors Saturday.
Counter Culture coffee, tea from Rare Tea Cellar and baked goods from Spilt Milk Pastry are all on the menu alongside “longform small plates,” intended to be enjoyed leisurely alongside a cup of coffee.
“The food can sit and still taste good,” said Rafael Esparza, co-owner with Daniel Speer of the new coffee shop at 4200 W. Irving Park Rd.
“We went about creating the menu to pair with coffee in the same way you would pair with wine,” Esparza said. “We’re using an Ethiopian blend from Counter Culture with chocolate, floral and berry notes, so we’re looking to complement and cleanse palates — mellow, mild and appropriate flavors, rather than assertive and overwhelming.”
Starting Saturday, Finom’s hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The word finom means delicious in Hungarian. Speer said he and Esparza aim to emulate the tradition of older style, European coffee shops where writers and artists would congregate. The focus on Hungarian cuisine is also an homage to his wife, who is Hungarian.
Continuing the theme, the coffee shop’s logo, which the owners created with Luis Rodriguez of 978 Designs, also features a vintage capitalized font and two birds that were influenced by a Hungarian TV program featuring children’s folklore.
“Hungarian or Magyar cuisine is primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread and dairy products and cheeses — and paprika is the quintessential spice and pepper used prominently in a handful of dishes,” Speer said. “Hungary is also famous for the high-quality and relatively inexpensive salamis and sausages it produces primarily from pork.”
Finom’s inaugural menu draws heavily from Hungarian food culture and includes Marrow Toast, a mousse of veal brains and chicken liver, smoked pork belly, radish, peppers, pickled tomato and dill on toasted pHlour Bakery ciabatta ($7).
Another item is Lecsó, a thick vegetable ragoût that features gypsy peppers and onions stewed in lard, kolbász sausage, tomato, and paprika, topped with an egg and served with toast from pHlour Bakery & Cafe ($7).
And as a nod to one of Hungary’s national dishes, Finom will also have a shepherd’s stew of beef cheeks, paprika, and other spices called Gulyásleves ($6.50).
The menu will also include a rotating selection of pastries from Oak Park-based Spilt Milk include savory hand pies, sour cherry turnovers, and Mexican hot chocolate cookies.
Ari Franco, formerly of Brew Brew Coffee & Tea, has created specialty drinks like the Turkish Delight Latte — which has rosewater, cardamom and candied rose petals ($4.25) — and the Coconut Chocolate Matcha Atole — which is his own spin on a masa-based hot beverage ($4.25).
A full menu will be available at finomcoffee.com.
The building Finom occupies is the oldest mercantile structure in Irving Park. Originally built in 1889 by Henry E. Nichols, it first housed Nichols & Son Grocery and had a second-floor living quarters that was typically occupied by the store’s owner.
“In terms of architectural design, the simple two-story frame structure of the Nichols grocery store building evokes images of generic Western saloon architecture by the boxiness of the overall form,” according to a report submitted to the city’s landmark commission in 1989. “In its original configuration the store was distinguished by the fineness of its details. The first floor storefront was delicately proportioned, the facade opened up with wide expanses of plate glass framed by thin wood members.”
Increasing property values in Irving Park after it was annexed by Chicago led Nichols to sell the property in 1890. From that point forward, the store operated as a drugstore, library, possibly a toll station and most recently as a tavern called the Whistle Stop Inn during late 1980s and early 1990s.
Over the years, some of the building’s various owners remodeled it without preserving its history. Many of the original architectural features were lost. Beginning in 1986, the then-owners of the Whistle Stop Inn used a historic photo of how the building initially looked to recreate its original exterior.
As a reflection of that history, Finom’s interior includes vintage furniture and décor, as well as taxidermy and local art adorning the wood paneled walls. A copper countertop was installed along the existing wood back bar, and the coffee counter was constructed from reclaimed wood.
“We wanted Finom to feel like it has always been here,” Esparza said. “We’ve built a space we want to hang out in.”