Restaurant Review: Make Prana Cafe your new study oasis

Amber Gibson, Columnist

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Evanston’s newest cafe is tucked inside the first floor of an unassuming office building west of campus. Prana Cafe, 1840 Oak Ave., might be off the beaten path for students, but it’s worth checking out. The walls are cozy shades of persimmon, sand and dark cornflower blue. Sturdy reclaimed pine tables and free WiFi encourage lingering. Everything on the menu is under $10, from salads to sandwiches and a daily soup special based on family recipes. To drink, choose from fresh fruit smoothies, Metropolis coffee, Rishi tea or Oogave natural agave soda. Prana’s owners have a commitment to healthy, organic food and local vendors, including Jo Snow syrups and Milk & Honey granola.

One of the owners, Griffin Cox, is just 19 and decided to start his own restaurant business while taking a gap year from the University of Chicago — no big deal. He’s the young guy with hipster glasses who will likely ring you up and make your coffee. Cox is working on his latte art and recently perfected drawing pumpkins.

The sauteed mushroom and Havarti sandwich on crisp ciabatta is co-owner Ken Cox’s favorite, and with tender baby portabellas, spinach, bell peppers and stoneground Dijon mustard, I can see why. My sandwich arrives with textbook grill marks and a generous portion of toppings. Mustard adds a sharp kick to otherwise pedestrian veggies. Other interesting flavor combinations include a pear, pecorino and prosciutto panini and a grilled chicken sandwich with made-in-house pesto, olive oil, Italian herbs, roasted peppers and provolone.

Each panini comes with a small side salad, topped with granola. I’d never tried granola on greens before, and it might sound bizarre, but the oats add the same sweet crunch you might get with candied nuts. I loved the creativity and drizzling the salad with a touch of balsamic reduction doesn’t hurt either.

For those avoiding carbs, there are five signature entree salads to choose from. The spinach and strawberry salad with feta cheese, sliced almonds and balsamic vinaigrette is enticing. Another popular salad is the walnut gorgonzola, with red peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes.

Pastries are baked fresh each morning and include a selection of scones and cookies.

Although both Griffin Cox and his father have adopted a paleo diet, eschewing carbs and dairy for fruit, vegetables and meat, they both admit to cheating a bit while at the cafe. But with the quality ingredients they’re using, it’s OK to have a little bit of everything in moderation.