Starbucks fans have no doubt already heard about the coffee giant’s 35,000-square-foot location along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. It debuts Friday to the general public. But what about the food and beverage inside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery? Customers who have visited Princi, the West Loop bakery Starbucks opened in 2018, somewhat know what to expect.
In some ways, the roastery’s food selections rival Eataly, the sprawling Italian market and food hall a few blocks west. Food is available on all four floors, ranging from gelato to breakfast sandwiches to pizza. Tourists and weekenders will have more time to access the fancier drinks residing on the upper floors.
Locals who patrol the Mag Mile on a regular basis will probably be content to hang out on the ground floor. Starbucks serves its standard drinks there, charging $4.50 for an espresso, which is more than what customers will pay at garden-variety Starbucks locations. Customers can also find a rotating supply of well-made Princi pastries, including fresh croissants (cornetti) and other laminated goods. Cannoli, cheesecakes, and other tarts are available for sweet teeth.
Princi pizza, panini, and pastas are found on the second floor. The pizza compares well to the square cuts found at acclaimed Roman import Bonci Pizzeria. The bufala mozzarella on the panino caprese almost makes up for the soggy arugula. Meanwhile, a prosciutto sandwich on olive brioche was overly salty. The combo didn’t work.
The chain features barrel-aged coffee on the third floor. There’s only one flavor, a cold brew made with Guatemalan coffee. The vanilla notes would be at home at Chicago’s Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers that took place last weekend. The cold brew looks like a barrel-aged stout without the head. Starbucks ages the coffee in Knob Creek bourbon barrels. Reps wouldn’t say for how long: “It’s proprietary,” said Shiami Ranasinghe, a Starbucks Reserve brand manager and barrel-aged coffee expert.
The barrel-aged coffee might be a solid base for a spirit-free drink, adding ginger ale and lime. One of the biggest proponents of spirit-free drinks has been Chicago bartender Julia Momose of Oriole and Kumiko in the West Loop, who is a drinks consultant for Starbucks and worked on the beverage menu for the new Chicago roastery. Two non-alcoholic cocktails live on the drink list, including the “All Day Spritz,” which is supposedly a tribute to Chicago’s lively brunch scene. It’s made with Starbucks’s Teavana brand Mandarin mimosa tea, strawberry and honey shrubs, elderflower tonic water, and orange peel. The exclusive elixir looks like a non-boozy Aperol spritz. Momose worked with a pair of Chicago bartenders, Annie Beebe-Tron (Fat Rice) and Rachel Miller (Community Tavern) on the Starbucks project.
The bartenders aren’t the only local talent Starbucks hired. Uzma Sharif of Chocolat Uzma, a confections store in Pilsen, is Starbucks’s official chocolatier. Sharif uses Pakistani flavors in her unique chocolates. Customers will find spices like cardamom, black salt, and turmeric in Uzma’s sweets. They can pair truffle tastings with two or three cups of coffee. One pairing, which comes with Starbucks Reserve Christmas coffee, stars a truffle that starts smooth and then hits with flashes of ginger at the end. These tastings — and visiting the roastery in general — could be a popular activity to escape holiday shopping off Michigan Avenue.