On September 18 a new cafe opened next door to the Sharp Building at 33 S. Wabash. It’s called Peach & Green.
During my first visit to Chicago, I stayed with my friend, a recent graduate from the Divinity School at University of Chicago (UoC). At the time, he and two classmates were starting a church and trying to choose a name. Not a new religion, I was disappointed to discover, but a Christian congregation. They wanted a name that would appeal to their twenty-something target audience. But not too hip. They knew there was already a popular brunch spot named CHURCH. They settled on Root & Branch, which I thought was tastefully evocative of a small plates, farm-to-table restaurant without directly referencing food, unless you jump straight to root vegetables: Beet, potato, carrot, radish. Hoping to appeal to the same demographic, Peach & Green arrives between Sharp and Goddess & The Baker, an almost identical cafe also at 33 S. Wabash.
Peach & Green was immediately overwhelmed. When I got a hot chocolate there on Sunday, I was one of three customers. I waited ten minutes to order and another ten to get my drink. During that time, a number of people, some dressed as employees, others not, asked if they could help me. None of them helped the barista. One man wearing a backpack offered me a free sample smoothie. He described the ingredients expertly, and then walked out of the store. A good Samaritan?
There was also an ominous tall man who was walking around, sometimes sitting with his laptop, once wearing a nametag, but never seeming to be working, in the sense of taking orders or making food. I think the tall man is the owner — if places like this have owners anymore, as opposed to investors. In that case, he is the creative director or chief operating officer — he runs the place. (And probably manages their Twitter feed.)
While I waited for my hot chocolate a striking woman in an all green outfit with an SAIC graduate student ID hanging from her bag waited to order a coffee.
“I’m a graduate student, too. What department are you in?” I thought but did not say, looking penetratingly at the back of her head.
My artist-mentor also wears mostly green, with occasional blue or tan. Never yellow or red. When I housesat for her I could not find even a book or a piece of kitchenware that did not conform to her palette. Her commitment to blurring the line between art and life deeply influenced me; she gave a me a green painted hook from Estonia that hangs in my kitchen and her index to John Dewey’s “Reconstruction in Philosophy” is never far from my desk. I came to art school to find people like her.
For now, I’ve started photographing people I see wearing green.
The second time I went to Peach & Green was for lunch on Tuesday. It was chaos. Many people looked for a trash can (there’s only one; it’s in the back) and the tall man was floating around, explaining the innovative salad bar. I listened to his explanation — it’s a salad bar. But I always eat sandwiches on Tuesday (at least I have since school started two weeks ago; this morning I didn’t have any food in my apartment). I waited in one line to order but when I arrived at the register, I was told to order somewhere else. Once in position there, my fellow line-waiters and I were instructed to form an L, which I took to mean two lines meeting at a right angle.
“No, no, an L,” he said, “an L!” And he turned us around until we were parallel to the front of the line in a long-armed U. The woman in front of me said, “Learn your letters.” Which is kind of nasty since they just opened, but I agreed.
About 50 frantic employees made sandwiches and salads on the other side of the sneeze-guard, passing ingredient lists back and forth along the counter, as on Sunday, working very slowly. And when it was my turn to order, they skipped me, which I expected and responded to with grace, checking my watch, rolling my eyes, and sighing loudly till I was helped.
A very nice man took my order. Like everything at Peach & Green, he was new. But he was so innocent and nervous, I felt like even I had been there longer, that I should take his order. He had to ask a coworker which bread was which and he chose two pieces from the end, the size of silver dollar pancakes, to make my Cobb salad sandwich with rotisserie chicken. I worked at a sandwich shop for a couple of summers in my hometown and watching him put lettuce and tomato and blue cheese on both pieces of bread like he was making two open-face sandwiches, a feeling of helplessness came rushing to the front of my memory. I considered the possibility that this was the kind of sandwich I had ordered, and which Peach & Green would soon be famous for. How was he going to join the two halves of my sandwich? Lucky for him, or me, or nobody really, because he was in a groove and I was fascinated by his process, a co-worker spotted his error and came to correct it. This is the death of art. She lifted the ingredients from the left and piled them onto the right.
Now, his hands were shaking. People kept taking his cheat sheet and he’d have to find another before he could proceed to the next ingredient: avocado or the house pesto mayo. When he added the bacon I thought he or I was going to cry. He tore small bits from each rasher and placed them gingerly atop the vegetables as if he were building a house of cards, and as fleeting. Bacon fell to this side and that. “Just put the whole strips on there, don’t overthink it,” I wanted to say.
Ultimately, Peach & Green is a place of unsatisfied desires.
The coworker returned and finished making the sandwich for him or me, the line separating us had by now dissolved; I experienced his pain and disappointment and loss and he experienced my anticipation and nostalgic embarrassment. We smiled sheepishly at each other and he disappeared down the line, like Sisyphus slouching down the mountain.
I had returned at this point to the first register where I had been turned away, now with a sandwich in one hand and a twenty in the other. Again, I was directed to yet another line, another register, which I started for — passing the tall man at his laptop, no doubt examining projections for the P&G initial public offering scheduled, I assume, for six months from now —but I thought better of it and made a U-turn and headed out the door, shoving the twenty in my pocket confidently as if it were my change.
My sandwich was fine. It came with chips. It was cut in half but only through the top piece of bread. The bits of bacon and avocado and egg (a Cobb salad shouldn’t be a sandwich) that had fallen out were arranged on top like garnish. What can I say? The price was right.
Later, feeling guilty — or maybe just feeling like I had money to spare and Peach & Green deserved a little charity — I returned for a snack. I thought maybe a lemonade. But when I took the bottle out of the cold case, it was warm. Disconcerted, I asked for a chocolate chip cookie instead. And as if some cosmic wires had been crossed, the cookie was ice cold. I paid for it dutifully and took it to a table.
This is the reason to go to Peach & Green. At least for now, outside of the lunchtime rush, there are plenty of places to sit, tables and couches. The coffee and hot chocolate are not too expensive. And they have free wifi.
Besides being cold, there was a hair in my cookie. I waved down the tall man and he refunded my money.