Meal Review: Meli Café in Chicago, 500 S. Dearborn St.

Breakfast on a Saturday night anyone? Walking into Chicago’s Meli Café, there’s a dim-lit ambiance and suit-and-tie wearing greeter who asks the number in your party before sauntering off to seat you at a sizable table with heavy leather chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows giving a clear view of S. Dearborn St. and W. Congress Pkwy.

A respectably cheerful waitress in all black asks your order, complements you on your scarf, then smiles and leaves briefly to retrieve your meal. Pladow! The vegetable omelet, baby red potatoes and rye toast are laid on the table looking picture-perfect. But at the heart of the matter, Meli Café does not live up to its well-known eating experience hype, because of lack of flavor, room temperature/ cold food delivery and hidden ingredients. 

Fork-in-omelet, the fluffy egg-consistency is thickly laced with mozzarella cheese. It's a beautiful sight. As you pull off a portion of the cake-like omelet for consumption, the cheese stretches like bubblegum. Twirl a full amount on the fork and take a bite. Egg and cheese is all you get. It’s a slap of disappointment since the vegetable omelet you ordered should also have broccoli, onions, spinach and mushrooms. Spanish only appears throughout the omelet because the leaves are chopped, making them easier to scatter within the dish. For $12, why does the vegetable omelet not have full spinach leaves, some sautéed mushrooms and flavorful chopped onions? And the egg dish definitely would have catered to expectations if it came hot-and-ready, fresh out the skillet; it’s not that hot sitting in front of you now. Then, uh-oh, three-quarters of the way into the dish and a fork full of omelet delivers a gritty crunch—eggshell. The vegetable omelet (which takes up half the plate), although filling, had only three pieces of broccoli and they were hidden inside the middle. So “deceiving” is a good word to describe the main course since there is a gradual disinterest in the dish as fork-in-and-out you make your way through it.

Butter is available, but there is no need for the spread since the toast was too hard and cold by the time you got to it. Guests will need two hands to pull when trying to get a good bite of the toast. And beware of a chocolate-colored swirl designed in the rye toast that provided an awkwardly minty aftertaste, it especially may surprise you if you enjoy chocolate treats. The room temperature diced baby red potatoes were definitely a necessity, but only to assist in adding texture and subtle flavor for when eating the hefty vegetable omelet. There’s no interest in fishing them all. Oh and shall we discuss the flavor, or lack thereof? For a restaurant that vales vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free preparation, Meli Café should try a little harder to excite the taste buds. Mixing ketchup and hot sauce (made available with the meal order) only put a Band-Aid on the bland situation. Where’s the garlic, parsley, any seasoning? There’s no attempt to bring guests to question a secret ingredient. 

Finishing the $12 meal is a matter of obligation. Who saves an omelet and a few cold potatoes for later? No to-go box for this dish. So, finish-up the last bite, but feel free to take your time—there's no big rush. That sweet waitress hasn’t forgotten about you. She waits for her cue (i.e. telling eye-contact with a smile or a head nod) before approaching the table. In addition, there's no way you will be thirsty. Like clockwork a waiter tops-off your half-empty glass saying, “ma’am” or “sir” as they proceed to make the refill. Done with your meal? Find the eyes of a waiter or waitress and your dishes will be taken away. Sit and socialize if you like, enjoy the restaurant’s charming nighttime grandeur, or if it is time to go, someone will service your check-in a snap, and you’ll be on your way. Unfortunately, exceptional service and food don’t go hand-in-had at Meli Café on Dearborn. 

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