Merle's Coffee Shoppe has all the hallmarks of a country coffee shop: a park and playground across the street, a front and back patio where speakers broadcast oldies to commuters on the Brown Line platform and portraits of owner/chef Jeff Scoughton's Aunt Merle presiding over the ten-seat dining room, which is the size of an actual dining room. And in proper country cafe form, Scoughton and his familial staff are well known around town by their Ravenswood Manor/Albany Park neighbors.
The sandwich board advertises six homemade lunch specials a day, many of which are named after Scoughton's family members (like Wilma's French toast and Merle's grilled Reuben). I had chunky beef vegetable soup, an iced tea (choose from 2-3 a day) and the barbecued rib sandwich special, which comes with chips and a zesty black bean salad (you can also opt for potato salad or cole slaw). All for $7. The spicy barbecue sauce was oozing with scallions, and the bread tasted straight from the oven. There is a kids menu and vegan options such as the cheese quesadilla and breakfast griddle offerings.
Merle's does so much catering, from intimate two-person meals to political fundraisers, that the prices and the hours are scanty. So be sure to head over when the kitchen is open.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Robert Duffer