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Mystery Diner: Little Traveler’s Atrium Café a dainty oasis

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 6:59 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 1:03 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kane County Chronicle photo)
The Atrium Café – located inside the Little Traveler in Geneva – serves soups, salads, quiche, sandwiches, pie, assorted teas and wine.
Caption
(Kane County Chronicle photo)
The Atrium Café serves seasonal pies such as blueberry a la mode.

The Little Traveler is a Geneva landmark, and tucked away within its walls lies a quaint, bistro-style café serving dainty fare in an equally dainty setting.

The Atrium Café serves soups, salads, quiche, sandwiches, pie, assorted teas and wine – a spread that hasn’t changed much since the Atrium’s earlier days.

According to The Little Traveler’s website, the house was purchased by one of Geneva’s most prominent families – Edmund and Kate Raftery – in the 1920s, and became a “shop” for the carriage trade not too long after. The atrium originally served as a setting for lunching chauffeurs, who would drive the friends of Kate Raftery to Geneva from the North Shore of Chicago.

According to the website, the drivers were served homemade sandwiches, soups and pies while dining in the Little Traveler courtyard, which is now the indoor Atrium Café. The simple fare served years ago, continues to grace the pages of the café’s pink, pocket-sized menu today.

From a corner table looking out over the atrium, it’s evident that the café is paying homage to its former days as a courtyard by bringing the outdoors in. A floral-encircled fountain with the peaceful sounds of trickling water anchors the gardenesque space.

Delicate, white bistro tables set with brightly-colored dish ware, coffee cups and fresh-cut flowers give the room a fresh and lively feel. Stark white shutters border windows fit with lace curtains, awnings protrude from doorways and plants hang overhead.

The artwork scaling the forest-green striped walls fetch a moderate price if you should feel so inclined to buy a woven tapestry depicting a country villa or wood-paneled painting. 

A thick layer of snow coated the atrium skylights, not allowing for much natural light, but – regardless – the café’s atmosphere helped to curb my cabin fever by simply APPEARING al fresco.

The Atrium Café is largely geared toward a female demographic, and makes a great location for book-club meetings, tea parties and mid-afternoon wine-cravings. Yes! They serve wine by the glass ($5), and all of it is made by local vintners.

The café even offers a three-course English Afternoon Tea from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Afternoon tea comes with finger sandwiches, breads, scones and a sweet plate for $12.95.

Saving my tea indulgences for a proper Thursday or Saturday event, I ordered the hot chocolate made with Ghirardelli chocolate and a dollop of whipped cream ($2.95).

Since the menu said to ask the server about specialty wraps, that’s exactly what I did. I even ended up ordering one – the Tuna Avocado wrap with red onions, olive oil and mixed greens with chips and coleslaw. My dining companion ordered the Homemade Chicken Salad Sandwich with lettuce and tomato over a croissant ($7.50).

Other enticing options included the Adult Grilled Cheese ($7.25) with sliced tomato, ham and fontina cheese over toasted country bread;  the Shanghai Chicken Wrap ($8.50) with roasted chicken breast, mixed greens, mandarin oranges, water chestnuts, chow mein noodles and cucumber Shanghai sauce wrapped in a honey-wheat tortilla.

Soups change daily, and my dining companion and I split a bowl of the homemade Mushroom Beef Barley soup.

“This is great,” my dining companion mentioned in between slurps.

The sandwiches both tasted light and fresh, and would have been perfect on a hot summer day. This may sound strange, but I have to mention the pickles that came on the side of the Chicken Salad Sandwich. I would have ordered a side – or jar – of these crunchy, sweet and juicy pickle slices had I known how good they were going to taste.

Trying to keep in stride with what the chauffeurs ate in the carriage trade days, I had to try a slice of pie. The café has a vast array of pie options, and most of them are not on the menu. Strawberry rhubarb, the ever-popular apple, turtle pie, grasshopper pie and blueberry came rattling from our waiter’s lips. We ordered a slice of blueberry pie – heated – a la mode.

The combination of creamy, cold vanilla ice cream alongside the pie’s crispy, buttery crust and warm, oozing blueberry compote made me a very happy diner.

• 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.

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