The winter wind comes howling up the St. Clair Avenue hill from the Flats like a pack of coke-crazed bachelorettes, so if we suggest that you take the short walk from the Warehouse District to West 10th Street, you have every right to expect that we have a damned good reason. And indeed we do, in the form of the recently opened Gilly's "Not Just Donuts" (959 W. St. Clair; 216-479-0216), a trim, contemporary café with strong coffee, fresh pastries, and long hours well suited to the needs of Warehouse District workers, residents, and partyers.
The 40-seat coffeehouse is owned by baker and businessman Gil Vergel de Dios, and is an offshoot of the legendary carryout doughnut shop in Little Italy. Not only is the new location vastly larger than the original; it also houses a modern, glass-enclosed pastry kitchen, where manager and baker Tracy Campbell (a graduate of Tri-C's Cordon Bleu pastry program) crafts an aromatic array of cookies, muffins, éclairs, pies, cakes, scones, and more. (The plump, shiny doughnuts still come from the Little Italy location, Campbell says, although eventually they too will be made on-site.)
Beyond the sweeties, there is a small menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as a daily lunch special. On the day we visited, the dish du jour was a brick-sized portion of saucy homemade lasagna, capped with cheese, piqued with spicy pepperoni, and served with a decent tossed salad and small beverage, for a mere $4.25. (At that price, we won't grouse about the plastic cutlery, paper napkins, and Styrofoam plates.) As the café's clientele grows, the menu will be expanded.
Gilly's is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; and from 7 a.m. Thursday through 6 p.m. Sunday. For now, it's carryout-only after 10 p.m.; hopefully, by the time warm weather returns, late-night seating will be an option.
Bread Ed . . . All this talk of baked goods is enough to make any self-respecting home chef drag out the breadboard and the yeast. Whether your particular skill level calls for in-depth instruction or simple motivation, you can find inspiration aplenty when bakers from Panera Bread take over the classroom kitchens at the Viking Culinary Arts Center (in Lyndhurst's Legacy Village) on the evenings of January 27, February 23, and March 12, for a series of bread-baking sessions. Besides hands-on instruction, participants can also count on receiving recipes, a bread-making guide, Panera gift certificates, and plenty of bread samples. Register online at www.panerabread.com/classes.