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The Upstairs Café, located trackside at the Evanston Central Street Metra station, celebrates its fourth anniversary Nov. 4, by making good on a long-running inside joke with regular customers: The café will actually serve pancakes.
That has been merely a joke to date because flapjacks would be a little difficult to fry up every day in large enough batches in the café’s modest kitchen – and they are also a bit impractical for nattily dressed commuters to take on the train, especially if they add syrup.
But Upstairs Café customers have developed a serious addiction to the café’s fresh-baked goodies like homemade granola bars, banana chocolate chip bread and the wide variety of scones, as well as treats like chilled oatmeal with strawberries—a customer suggestion and the popular “Slider Friday,” a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a slider bun.
“All the food is made here in the café. It’s being baked as people sit here,” says Elizabeth Hubbard, who purchased the business four years ago, along with friends and culinary-school-trained bakers Gail Doeff and Shelley Patterson, from longtime owner Mary Lou Smith, who ran it as Top of the Tracks for nearly a quarter-century.
Ms. Doeff says, “We know customers’ names and they know our names. We ask about one another’s kids. We’re a constant, even more than the person on the train platform, a unique and welcoming spot in some people’s mornings.”
“We’re not Ogilvie. We’re a neighborhood station,” Ms. Hubbard says. “We know a lot about a lot of our customers.”
As they look forward to the fourth anniversary celebration, “We’re happy to be here going forward for a while, Ms. Hubbard says, but adds, “We’re not promising 24 years like Mary Lou.”