First Bites

First Bites: Flame Caffe & Grill on Espanola Way's date dining for the right price

Espanola Way has its' charm but for the past 10 years it is often neglected by  locals.  But don't be put off by the tourists who take over the many quaint alcove-like restaurants and shops that flank this pedestrian street.  There are a few hidden gems along the two-block stretch between Washington and Drexel that deserve some tlc, and one such newcomer is Flame Caffe and Grill.  A bright corner spot with large windows and ample shaded sidewalk seating brings casual elegance reminiscent of the old days of Lincoln Road when little cafes that peppered the sidewalk were places to chill with friends.

Inside, the decor is simple yet welcoming with bright white furniture that offsets the warm hues of the walls and the metal "waves" that adorn the ceiling.  We are greeted by an exuberant manager, Volker Haehnchen, who takes us through a menu offering an array of dishes as wide as the waitstaff's smile. 

Featuring an array of soups, salads and appetizers that bring you everything from a smoked salmon and caviar chowder ($9), Thai Som Tam salad ($12) to Italian Carpaccio rustico ($10), one has to wonder if there isn't a bit of an identity crisis going on.  But we are told that because of the location they try to offer a little bit of everything, since they don't know where the next guest is coming from.  

Be it a NY strip steak ($32) served with parmesan-cheese-topped corn and steak fries , short ribs braised with three kinds of citrus or a Live Florida lobster ($36) the portions are large and the food is good and fairly affordable.

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Christina Staalstrom