Asado Coffee, Pickwick Place

A beautiful espresso in a classic white cup, served at Asado Coffee, Pickwick Place.Asado is a small coffee shop/roaster chain with three (soon to be four) branches in downtown Chicago. I’d already planned to visit Asado’s branch on Jackson Boulevard (Pickwick Place), a block from an old favourite of mine, Intelligentsia, when I was coincidentally introduced to Jeff Liberman, one of Asado’s co-owners. As a result, I got a behind the scenes tour, which you can read about in Brian’s Travel Spot.

Asado occupies its own private alley, Pickwick Place, a narrow dead-end on the north side of Jackson Boulevard. If that doesn’t sound very appealing, then think again, since it’s one of the best locations I’ve seen for a coffee shop (in good weather, at least!). Sheltered on both sides by tall buildings, all the seating (bar for a single chair) is outside in the alley, a beautiful, south-facing sun trap.

Asado roasts all its own coffee, each of its locations having its own bespoke analogue roaster. Due to space limitations, Pickwick Place is the exception to this rule. Despite this lack of space, it still manages a full espresso menu, pulled on a beautiful Kees van der Westen lever machine, plus individual hand-poured filter, supplemented with bulk-brew filter when it’s busy.

August 2016: I’ve just heard that the shop has changed hands and is now Pickwick Coffee.

September 2017: on my return to Chicago, I discovered that Pickwick Coffee is no more and that it is now a branch of Hero Coffee Roasters.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The first sign you get of Asado on East Jackson Bouvelard is the quirky A-board...
  • And I do mean quirky.
  • The other side of the A-board.
  • Just in case you're not sure where you are...
  • A look down the alley...
  • ... and from the other direction.
  • It's always worth looking up... A long way up!
  • Another view of the alley, this time looking from Asado bcak towards Jackson Boulevard.
  • Again, it's worth looking up. Check out the lights strung across the alley.
  • A view of the alley, looking down from the balcony above the shop.
  • Back at ground level.
  • You can sit in the sun, or you can sit in the shade...
  • One of the tables in more detail.
  • I loved the brickwork of the arches.
  • Talking of brickwork, check out the brickwork at the back of the alley.
  • Again, it's always worth looking up.
  • Time to step inside.
  • A panoramic view from just inside the door. That's pretty much all there is to Asado...
  • ... except for this little nook to the right of the door.
  • Detail of the beautiful tiling on the counter, plus the soft drinks fridge.
  • The retail shelves on top of the counter.
  • Immediately to the left of the shelves is the filter rack...
  • ... and behind that, the EK-43, bulk brewer and hot water system for the filter coffee.
  • There's also cake, seen here perched in front of the espresso machine.
  • The cake, in more detail.
  • The interior is absolutely lovely. Here's some of the original brickwork at the back...
  • ... while here is an old electricity conduit in the wall, plus its modern counterpart.
  • The lights are just as gorgeous, especially these six which hang from the ceiling.
  • There are all sorts of lights though, including these spot lights at the back.
  • Pairs of lights...
  • Lights on their own...
  • Talking of which, this one is above the menu...
  • ... which is to the left as you come in.
  • The heart of the operation, the 3-group lever Kees van der Westen espresso machine.
  • Asado only uses lever machines, by the way.
  • Some of the Kees van der Westen's output: one of the best espressos I've had in a long time...
  • ... and a very good cortado in a lovely glass cup.
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Pickwick Place has only been open since October 28th last year. From the street, your first hint is the quirky A-board at the entrance to the alley. Glancing in, you’ll see a row of tables running down either side. South-facing, with high-sided buildings as its neighbours, Pickwick Place is beautifully sheltered and yet catches the sun. That said, the buildings provide some shade, protecting you from the worst excesses of a Chicago summer’s day. The only downside is that when it rains, there’s not a great deal of cover. It’s bright enough in daylight, but overhead lamps strung across the alley ensure it’s well-lit when it gets dark.

The tables, four on each side, are small and round, each with a pair of chairs, although you could probably rearrange them if the fancy took you. If you go past them to the back of the alley, you’ll find the coffee shop itself. This is built into a beautiful brick structure between the two buildings, faced by a blue, half-timbered door, windows on either side.

It’s one of the most attractive spaces I’ve been in for a long while. The only downside is its size: there really is no space for any seating, save for one solitary chair to the left, snuck in between the menu and the counter. Honestly though, if I were a regular, that seat would be mine, from the moment I arrived until the staff levered me out (or locked me in) at closing time! Chair aside, there’s only enough space inside to wait while you order and collect your coffee before taking it back outside with you.

The interior is faced with original, bare brickwork and has incredibly high ceilings, from which six lamps are suspended on long cords. The L-shaped counter is an amazing tiled affair, with a lovely wooden top. L-shaped, it occupies the back half of the space, the bottom of the L extending forwards on the right-hand side. Here you’ll find the till, followed by a beautiful Kees van der Westen three-group lever espresso machine (Asado only uses lever machines). Along the long part of the counter, facing the door, there’s a couple of shelves with Asado’s beans and some coffee kit for sale, then comes the filter rack. Behind the counter, against the back wall, is an EK-43 for the filter coffee and a bulk-brewer for when it’s busy.

I visited Pickwick Place twice, once on my whirlwind tour, and again two days later, when I was well looked after by the lovely Jake and Anna. Due to space limitations, there’s only one grinder, so there’s no decaf or single-origin espresso, just Asado’s Reserve espresso, a blend of Ethiopian Sidamo and Java Island. I had a shot of this and I have to say that it was one of the best espressos I’ve had in a very long time. It was beautifully balanced, a complex set of tastes, all in perfect harmony, and with a glorious mouth-feel. I followed this up with a cortado and while I liked it, I have to say that I felt the espresso didn’t go quite as well in milk, the milk not quite achieving the same perfect balance as the espresso alone. Either way, though: two damn fine cups of coffee!

December 2015: Asado was a runner-up for the 2015 Coffee Spot Award for Best Espresso.

May 2016: You can also see what I made of Asado’s River North branch, which opened at the end of 2015, although I got a behind-the-scenes preview tour!

Monday 06:30 – 18:30 Roaster Asado Coffee (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 06:30 – 18:30 Seating Tables Outside
Wednesday 06:30 – 18:30 Food Cake
Thursday 06:30 – 18:30 Service Counter
Friday 06:30 – 17:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 09:00 – 15:00 Wifi No
Sunday CLOSED Power No
Chain Local Visits 8th, 10th June 2015

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