Caffè RōM is an Italian-style coffee shop with three locations in downtown Chicago: Prudential Plaza, the Hyatt Center, and River East. They specialize in Fair Trade coffee creations, gourmet Panini sandwiches, and freshly made gelato. The River East location is the only one with weekend hours, so for the most part Caffè RōM is mostly geared towards downtown office workers looking to grab a coffee or a quick lunch that’s a little more exciting than Potbelly or Jimmy John’s. For this review, I visited the Prudential Plaza location at 180 N. Stetson.
If you don’t regularly visit the Prudential Plaza to eat—it does have a few fast food and restaurant options other than Caffè RōM—and check Google Maps, you’re likely going to go in the entrance on Stetson where you’re greeted with security people guarding elevator banks and not going to know where to go. Instead, walk through the Prudential Plaza along Lake Street and Stetson, a very nice little area with a garden and two fountains. Enter the Prudential building through there and head toward the back past Panda Express where you’ll find Caffè RōM nestled in.
Tucked into the Prudential Building’s grey marble in this back basement area is a vibrant, bright European-style coffee shop. There’s a lot of color and everything really pops. Walking in you immediately become over stimulated by glass cases filled with sandwiches, cookies, and gelato. There is a little bit of seating inside the shop with a few chairs outside, but this is more of a place to get your sandwich or whatever to go. If you do plan to hang around and it’s a nice day, I’d recommend walking out by the fountains and flowers in the plaza where there are tables and other places to sit.
Caffè RōM provides quick counter service. Generally when I go into review restaurants, the staff knows what I’m there for and is on their best behavior. Still, I can’t say I’ve so far encountered people as friendly as the staff at Caffè RōM. While I was eating, I observed how they interacted with each other and the other customers, and all the women seemed genuinely happy to be working there and with each other. Everyone was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the menu.
They serve everything from drip coffee to espressos, lattes, iced coffee, and some elaborate concoctions with chocolate and nutella that I would have tried had I not had my eye on some gelato. I’ve been on a big smoothie kick lately, so I tried their Frulatti which is basically a fruit smoothie with a slight coffee kick to it. A caffeinated smoothie is pretty much the best idea ever, and I’m not sure why you can’t find them at more places. I also liked how they had a more varied selection of bottled drinks like Bruce Cost Ginger Ale.
Caffè RōM specializes in Italian paninis using fresh and imported ingredients. The sandwiches are already prepared ahead of time and sitting in a cooled, glass display case. They can be served cold or heated up. I went with the JoJo, a prosciutto Panini topped with generous fresh mozzarella slices, tomato, basil, and artichoke all under baguette-style bread. Though it was already prepared, everything tasted fresh. The tomato and basil were perfectly ripe, the bread was soft with a little crunch to it, and I enjoyed the interplay of the saltiness of the artichoke and the creamy fresh mozzarella.
My lunch guest had the Fico, another prosciutto Panini enhanced with a fig preserve, a blend of four cheeses, mixed greens, and a balsamic reduction. He stressed how much he enjoyed the cheese blend and that the fig provided just the right amount of sweetness.
Ever since moving next to Black Dog Gelato, I’ve become a total gelato fiend to the point where regular ice cream doesn’t get the job done anymore. Caffè RōM carries more traditional gelato flavors compared to my beloved Black Dog, but the quality of the gelato is just is good. My lunch companion was recently in Florence and said the RōM gelato was comparable. I tried their chocolate hazelnut and pistachio; both were rich and flavorful, the chocolate hazelnut is incredibly decadent, with a fresh, smooth consistency. I’d suggest ordering a small unless you plan to share.
Caffè RōM also has a selection of pastries and cookies. I sampled a few different cookies including a Nutella cookie, a glazed lemon cookie, and a shortbread-style cookie. These were all very good, especially that Nutella one, but I’d recommend the gelato unless you’re looking for a sweet treat a few hours later.
While this is definitely not the place to come and get cozy with a laptop all day (at least not at the Stetson Ave. location), it definitely serves its purpose for people working downtown Chicago. Caffè RōM is a terrific place to stop at in the morning before work for a coffee and pastry, at lunch for a fresh Panini, and right before you leave for a sweet gelato treat. And it’s certainly a much more exciting option than going to Starbucks every day.