I have a goal to hit two coffee shops this weekend. If I’m going to hit 57 by next January 15, I better get sipping. One of my local favorites has been closed for the month of January. Since this area is a vacation spot for summer Chicago travelers and a sleepy little rural Michigan area otherwise, January is a popular time for shopkeepers and restaurants to close. I get used to planning an outing and having to punt because the place of interest has a closed sign on its door. Luckily for me, the Whistle Stop Grocery had opened for the season yesterday.
The Whistle Stop has been in business for 20 years, so I visited when I lived here before. Back then it didn’t have specialty coffees and wasn’t nearly as nice as it is today. Three years ago, the new owners purchased it and invested in making it a gourmet grocery, bakery and coffee shop all in one. There is no indoor seating with the exception of a small bar, but the outdoor seating is phenomenal. In the summer, I’ve spent many an hour mingling with the tourists on their patio. It was a tad too chilly to sit outside today.
Emily, the store manager and one of the owners, said this place was really special to her family. She remembers vacationing here as a child and walking down the country roads with her change to buy candy at the Whistle Stop Grocery. She’s thrilled to be part of its transformation from a grocery store to something truly special. All of the food they sell is made on the premises, and they currently employ a bakery chef and pastry maker. I met the barista, Jess, who is also an experienced coffee roaster, and she told me their plan is to have their own roast in the not so distant future. For now, they brew Madcap which you’ll remember from my previous coffeehouse reviews.
My mocha was delicious, and I almost got away without buying any of the sweets but was stopped dead in my tracks by the coconut pecan biscotti. I am a devoted biscotti fan, but I’m picky enough that it’s hard to find one that I really like. They are more often than not flavorless or just so hard you have to dunk them to eat them (or break them with a hammer). This one was perfectly crisp and flavorful. I had my choice on whether to eat it out of hand or dunk it in my coffee. I chose to do a bit of both.
I had hoped my friend Alan who lived near the Whistle Stop could join me this morning, but he was busy being a helpful neighbor to a friend. When I mentioned Alan to Alex, the young man who sold me my coffee, a big smile came across his face, and he assured me that he knew Alan and all of the regulars. In fact, he said the best part about working at the Whistle Stop was the people. In the summer, the crowds swell exponentially, and the grocery just reorganized to handle the growth comfortably. He said it’s really cool when the occasional Chicago celebrity pops in, but he really loves getting to know the local people.
I will be back to the Whistle Stop sooner rather than later. It’s one of my favorites in this area. Don’t worry, I won’t count it again. But I think I’d like to check out their own roast when they get that new roaster, and I’d of course like to have some more of that biscotti!