Remember the miracle fruit? A few years back, a little cranberry lookalike with the power to trick tastebuds into perceiving acidic, tart flavors as sugary sweet was the subject of many a trend piece. For a while, it was supposed to be the next big thing, a way to sate sugar cravings without causing a subsequent energy crash. So far, it hasn’t proven to be the obesity-fighting junk food cure its fans believe it could be—the flavor-tripping berry just hasn’t found a widespread outlet yet.
Enter Homaro Cantu, Chicago’s chief culinary nerd, the chef behind Moto, and the author of the Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook. He’s envisioning his now-open café, Berrista (4219 W. Irving Park Rd., Old Irving Park), as said outlet. In addition to a high-powered coffee program (with beans from local heavyweights such as Dark Matter and Big Shoulders and a super-high-tech Steampunk brewer programmed by tablet), the main attraction here is pastries and other treats such as doughnuts and scones made with the miracle fruit in lieu of sugar. There’s also an indoor hydroponic farm, décor inspired by an Irving Park front porch, and chicken and waffle sandwiches with sugar-free maple syrup.
Cantu’s planning for world domination here—and direct competition with the Starbucks just down the street. He’s already scouting out his next outlet in Chicago. But the big question remains: Does the stuff taste any good?
I stopped in last week for a preview tasting, and the answer is yes. Under the berry’s influence, the sugarless lattes and mochas tasted rich and sweet (and, as an added benefit, didn’t induce the, err, gastrointestinal struggles that some sugar-free foods can cause). The scones were light and flaky, a minor miracle when you consider the chemical balancing acrobatics that are required to make a baked good actually turn out right. If you hadn’t told me the miracle berry was in play, I’d never have known the difference.
Which is exactly what Cantu is hoping to hear.