The cafe—which relocated over the summer to the crusty stretch of Milwaukee I happen to inhabit—is staffed by a maximum of two people, no matter how busy it is. That's two people to punch in orders on the ol' iPad, take money, make the coffee drinks, and cook the food, i.e., scramble eggs, heat up slices of quiche, press the panini. The only time there are not two people behind the counter is when there's only one person there to perform the aforementioned tasks. I had stress dreams for a week after watching a gangly twentysomething try to go it alone while an increasingly agitated Sunday-morning crowd—en route to the Logan Square Farmers Market, no doubt—gnashed their teeth and rolled their eyes. (I should mention that, other days, the place is dead and none of this is an issue.)
Ultimately, the question I have to ask myself: How much mental preparation am I prepared to engage in before noon? The answer, provided I'm not overwhelmingly hungry/hungover/thirsty/emotionally fragile: just enough, because of the bread. The delicious, delicious bread.
It's possible that La Farine's front of the house operates a little bit like it's an afterthought because it is a little bit of an afterthought. La Farine is a wholesale bakery. A huge one. Owner Rida Shahin apparently relocated it to Avondale from its previous space in Noble Square to increase baking capacity by 300 percent. La Farine's wholesale clients have include the Four Seasons hotel, the InterContinental Chicago, and Henri—so this is a real score for Avondale.
Since it opened over the summer, I've gotten loaves to go (the whole-wheat baguette is a crowd favorite; I'm partial to classic white), innumerable cups of coffee (the brew is from Bridgeport Coffee and it's wonderful), and grown progressively more obsessed with their Romano Panini, a breakfast sandwich that's great for a couple of reasons that I'll get to in a minute, but especially because it comes on their ultracrusty, salt-flecked ciabatta.
Chain and fast-food restaurants have spent the past decade or so marketing the shit out of sandwiches built on a dense, spongy, flour-caked bread product they've referred to as "ciabatta" because it sounds fancier and more exotic than "shitty bun." I imagine it's poisoned the ciabatta well for lots of people. As a Romano Panini, La Farine's ciabatta is topped with a couple of eggs, salty-bitey pecorino romano, and a salty-sweet caramelized onion jam. Simple, delicious. La Farine's Not Your Mama's Grilled Cheese is served on ciabatta slathered with a flavor-rich, pleasantly acidic homemade adobo sauce (plus cilantro, onions, and tomatoes) and is also great, especially considering it was made by a harried counter person in a "kitchen" that consists of a two-burner hot plate and a panini press. The ingredients—the homemade sauces and, of course, the bread—are good enough to overcome the less-than-ideal conditions in which the sandwiches are constructed.
Also recommended: the savory baked goods. The quiche—usually tomato, spinach, and feta—is light, eggy, and satisfying. Occasionally there'll be a savory tart in the cake case, a sort of pizza rustica made with meat, cheese, and veggie odds and ends in true pizza rustica fashion. And I'm not much of a sweets eater, but I can vouch for their macaroons.
La Farine, 2909 N. Milwaukee, 872-829-2002, lafarinebakerycafe.com