Reviewing Princi, Starbucks’ sophisticated Italian cousin

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princi - starbucks - italy

It’s a prime illustration of modern restaurant genre-bending: bakery, counter-service spot, fancy coffeehouse and bar. And it’s all very good

 

This ready-for-its-closeup, Starbucks-related operation that launched in mid-September is a prime illustration of modern restaurant genre-bending. For sure, it’s a bakery, with magnificent loaves of artisanal bread, along with party-perfect pies and pastries. It’s also a sophisticated take-out-or-eat-in, counter-service spot, with breakfast starting at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends) and Roman-style pizza, focaccia sandwiches, salads, soups and a few hot entrees available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s also a fancy coffeehouse, with premium brews not found at neighborhood Starbucks outlets. And a bar! You can have crafty cocktails and snacks till 9 p.m. daily.

Feeling unmoored? We were, too, at first. Princi (“princhy”) is cafeteria-ish but with no big trays and no line to shuffle along. It’s a “visual menu,” you’ll be told by staffers behind the cases in which the edibles are alluringly arrayed, and it changes often. At lunchtime, diners gape as if in a lavishly art-directed dream, getting in touch with their desires. Up for pasta? Something sandwich-like? Sweet? Boozy? Caffeinated? The kicker is that the food is delicious, making meals here not just quick and casual enough for its youth-centric, increasingly techy neighborhood, but also indulgent.

WHO OR WHAT IS A PRINCI?

It’s a person. Milan-based Rocco Princi opened his first bakery in Italy in the 1980s. Over the years, he expanded its offerings and increased its locations—currently 12 worldwide, with similar menus. Starbucks joined forces with him as an investor in 2016. Expect to see some Princi offerings in the Starbucks Reserve Roastery when it opens next year in the Michigan Avenue space that used to house Crate & Barrel.

Starbucks
LAY OF THE LAND

Pastries are at the far end of the U-shaped counter, to the left as you enter. They segue, rightward, into savories; salads and more sweets are around the corner, near the door. The third side of the U is the coffee bar, with liquor. Pay stations are inconspicuous; your server will direct you. Sleek, wide-topped stools at communal tables and at the bar accommodate 75 diners.

WHAT TO EAT

Olive-studded sfilatino (a knobby, super-skinny baguette) filled with pistachio mortadella ($5) is a brilliant sandwich. Among the scissor-cut pizzas, we like the bountiful 4 Stagioni heaped with olives, artichokes, mushrooms and ham ($8 per serving), the more laidback speck and scamorza ($8.50) and the gorgeous grilled vegetable ($8). Beef lasagne ($9.50) is a meaty delight, with sheets of delicate pasta holding things together. Primavera salad ($6) makes a nice, leafy accompaniment to heavier offerings. A wedge of intensely chocolatey tortino cake ($5) goes well with espresso ($3.50).

EXTRA CREDIT

Bread plus chocolate is a combo that doesn’t get enough play, in our opinion. Princi’s oversized loaf speckled throughout with bits of dark chocolate ($10) knocks the ball out of the park. Bring one back to your office and amaze your friends.

by chicagobusiness.com