First Nibbles: Pastoral opens in the Loop

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Pastoral, which has operated for years from a Lakeview storefront (2945 N. Broadway), opened for its first lunch rush today at its new location, at 53 E. Lake. Among the customers the general response seemed to be: "We’re so glad this place has come to the neighborhood."

According to owner Greg O’Neill there were many reasons this spot made sense. "We might have ended up farther north, in someplace like Evanston," he said, "but frankly, this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. The Loop is exploding with many high-end residential buildings, then there's the embedded Loop working population--over a quarter million in a quarter mile--and tourist hotels going up all over." In addition, of course, we Chicagoans like us some cheese.

I decided to grab lunch, and when I asked a counterman about his favorite sandwich, he pointed me to the Bocadillo de la Mancha, a well-balanced blend of salty "Black Label" serrano ham, slightly creamy Manchego cheese, and membrillo, a quince paste with a sweetness that complements both the ham and cheese. For dessert, I picked up a few ounces of Crater Lake Blue Cheese, a relatively mild and soft Roquefort-style cheese pulsing with delicate tingles of mold.

Pastoral is the first local artisanal cheese store to open a second location, and the new digs give O'Neill and co-owner/proprietor Ken Miller the space to offer 150 rare, hand-crafted cheeses, in addition to hams, wine, and accompaniments. And this is only the beginning: Marion Street Cheese Market plans to add a wine bar and expand its space by seven times, and New York's Artisanal is scheduled to open a vast cheese emporium here next year.

I asked O'Neill about the growing popularity of fancy cheese, and he replied, "People have the sense that 'if I’m going to be bad, I might as well be bad with something good.'"

The new store is open from 10:30 AM to 8 PM seven days a week. Tables and chairs are on order, and once they’re in place at Pastoral, you’ll be able to take out or eat in.

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