Christine McCabe has worked in Chicago for many years. Some of her best training came while working in Trotter's kitchen. But now she has set up shop right behind her former employer, with a location that can only be described as "challenging."
You don't expect much in a Chicago alley -- besides a bunch of garbage cans, maybe. But in this tony part of Lincoln Park, there is a sweet (and savory) surprise in the alley just north of Armitage, and west of Halsted.
"I found the kitchen and it was the perfect opportunity to have a little walk-up window, so we put in a window and started baking," said Christine McCabe.
Ironically, McCabe's place is located behind the old Charlie Trotter's, where she used to work. But the space allows her to be a hidden gem.
"I think that's part of the allure of it. Some people like it. Some people don't like the idea of going in an alley, but I think it's going to be one of the cleanest alleys in Chicago," McCabe said.
Inside, McCabe whips egg whites, which will eventually be folded with cocoa and chocolate chips, for her crispy, addictive meringues. There are homemade pop tarts and cookies, plus fruit tarts for anytime of the day.
"We do all kinds of breakfast pastries in the morning as well as some savory stuff for breakfast; big lunch crowd, sandwiches, soups, salads," said McCabe.
A quinoa-stuffed black bean chili is hard to put down on a cold afternoon, but there's plenty of warmth from her convection oven too. It cranks out homemade focaccia for a vegetarian sandwich with few rivals: a savory tomato jam anchors one side, while roasted zucchini and eggplant cover the other; fresh mozzarella and chopped basil give it that Italian accent.
Even ciabatta is made fresh each day, serving as bookends for her tasty barbequed chicken sandwich topped with a tart slaw.
McCabe says it's important to her to make every component from scratch.
"I think fresh is better and handmade. We like to do everything from scratch here so that's part of it," she said.
And pretty soon, McCabe's sweets and sandwiches will be available to Red Line commuters inside the Grand Avenue stop downtown.
Interurban Cafe and Pastry Shop
2008 N. Halsted Ave.