This sleek space is the Chicago coffee purveyor's first café to offer meals with its high-grade caffeine. For lunch you might find an herbal confit of halibut on a soft biscotto-like segment of bread or a mushroom ravioli that balances earthy and al dente. At dinner the chalkboard menu makes room for comfort foods like tender meat loaf atop creamy masheds and juicy pulled-pork sliders with a veil of smoked mozzarella and chile-flecked purple slaw. Desserts come from Cake Monkey (maker of a fine banana bread pudding) and Bottega Louie. Ordering at the counter can be awkward; unless you want their famous coffee with your meal, you'll have to queue up again after eating. A trio of beer taps are on hand if coffee isn't your thing.
Best High-End Coffee Gear, August 2013
Java connoisseurs know that it almost takes a degree in caffeine chemistry to extract a killer cup of joe at home. Armed with an arsenal of contraptions, they refine their jitter juice like coal miners: scoop, grind, measure, tamp, heat, mix, pour, waft. For those whose brewing is more Breaking Bad than breakfast, Intelligentsia in Venice delivers all the paraphernalia to traverse the path from beans to brew. Café-quality equipment, like hot rod-style La Marzocco espresso machines and Mazzer Mini grinders, share shelf space with simple slingers, such as the Joan Holloway-shaped Chemex and the ever-efficient Aeropress. While other brew shops (La Mill and Caffe Vita) stock only a few gadgets, the offerings here deliver the most methods of extracting pure gold from the black stuff.
Best Espresso, August 2011
Whether you favor cappuccinos or lattes, machiattos or mochas, the engine that drives them is espresso. If a shop pulls a bad shot, that foamed milk and sugar are simply masking a flawed product. Born in Chicago and with outlets in Silver Lake, Venice, and Pasadena, Intelligentsia is as famous for its baristas as for its beans. Fruit forward, with a hint of caramel nuzzling under a rich amber crema, its direct trade Black Cat is the only proof you need that espresso can have all the complexity of wine. Don't pass up the single-origin offerings, however, such as the delicate Finca from Nicaragua.
Best Coffee Equipment, August 2009
A Krups will keep you caffeinated, but Silver Lake's Intelligentsia Coffee has about a dozen better devices for getting the most flavor from your beans. Along with several burr grinders (for more uniform grounds), the coffee bar sells a battalion of brewers, from steel French presses to hourglass Chemex models to exotic siphon pots that, with their butane burners and dual glass chambers, look like they've wandered over from a head shop. Espresso drinkers won't find the usual array of middling automatic machines; however, what is available—the Andreja Premium (right) and the Rancilio Silvia (maybe the most lauded among serious entry-level machines)—yields the complex, crema-crowned shots that make coffee geeks geeky.