Among life’s many simple pleasures, reading and eating are two of my favorites. Trips to the bookstore are generally laborious in nature – at least for me. I rarely go with an idea of what I’ll be walking away with. So, the fact that St. Charles’ Town House Books incorporated a café for patrons to refuel while book browsing, instantly bated me.
The bookstore’s charming outdoor courtyard café is attached to a large Victorian house in the middle of the historic Century Corners, along the quiet tree-lined 2nd Avenue (east of the Fox River). The cozy neighborhood vibe of the area made my dining companion and I feel as if we were having lunch at an old manor rather than a retail establishment.
The café offers a few different options for where and how to take in a meal or cup of coffee. A couple unoccupied tables rimmed the outside of the building, where patrons are encouraged to enjoy a self-service-style cup of coffee ($1.75/$2.25) or an Iced Tea ($2.25) while reading the newspaper or a piece of literature purchased at the bookstore.
As we entered the café, it was buzzing with activity: Customers chatting, slurping soups and wrangling over-sized sandwiches. Most of the tables within the cozy dining room were taken during the lunch-time rush. I also noticed a small breakfast bar for those opting to dine solo. A few ominous clouds outside weren’t enough to keep us inside on a 76-degree day, so we opted for the back patio (open May through October).
“Can we eat outside,” I said to a friendly employee who greeted us at the door. “Of course,” he answered leading us through a small hallway, out the back door, down some steps and finally to our corner table with a view.
The outdoor courtyard was just as busy – a great sign. Brick walls and rustic iron-gating enclosed a cobbled-brick patio set with tables fit with canvas umbrellas. Stately potted plants, shrubbery and a large tree poking out from the inlaid brick flooring, made it look as if the courtyard had been sculpted around the area’s natural elements, giving it a “Secret Garden”-esque quality.
A creative assortment of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and soups make the cafe an ideal option for weekday lunching, although a separate Sunday brunch menu outlined a plethora of breakfast items from Eggs Benedict ($9.95) to Tequila Sunrise French Toast ($8.50) stuffed with raspberry, cream cheese and bananas, as well. The café also offers a condensed morning menu with a few breakfast options like the Town House Quiche of the Day ($6.95) and Granola Fruit Salad ($8.25).
Giving the lunch menu a once-over, I read that the café used fresh, wholesome ingredients; soups and desserts were made from scratch, and fresh-baked breads were delivered every morning.
On a recommendation, I ordered the homemade Tomato Bisque Tortellini soup to start, and a full-sized portion of the Town House Turkey sandwich ($8.50). My dining companion went with the Avocado Tuna Melt ($8.95). Half-sandwich and salad- or soup-lunch combos are also offered for the same price as a whole sandwich.
The soup tasted fresh, and my sandwich was the equivalent of perfection on two slices of Crusty Italian bread. It was a thing of beauty. Hefty portions of herb-roasted turkey, tomato, red onion, avocado, lettuce, smoked mozzarella and spicy mayo created a beautiful palette of rich and appetizing colors.
After devouring my sandwich bite-by-bite, I quickly realized that one napkin couldn’t handle the abundance of ingredients seeping from the sides of the Town House Turkey – never a bad problem to have.
My dining companion, in-between mouthfuls of albacore tuna salad with avocado, tomato, Havarti dill cheese, Dijon and mayo on pumpernickel, kept recanting the same four words, “This is so good.”
Salads such as the Apricot Chicken ($7.95), Tuna-Herb ($7.50) and Mixed Greens ($6.96) all come with choice of homemade dressing from spicy buttermilk ranch, raspberry poppyseed and herb vinaigrette. Customers also have the option to create their own sandwich, but with this place, when it comes to making sandwiches, I recommend leaving it to the professionals.
They also serve beer and wine by the glass, but you have to ask your server for a separate menu. I’ve never really considered becoming a restaurant regular anywhere, but I may have to make an exception. The overall ambience, flavorful food, fresh ingredients and attentive and friendly staff, rendered me a Town House Café devotee.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants during the month and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.