I was confused by conflicting media and patron reports about berrista, so I decided to try it for myself to set the record straight. I suspect that many professional writers who have written about the place so far have not actually been there. That's probably fine if you're just reporting objectively about a new opening, but I have a problem with it when you report subjective descriptions about a donut being "delicious" and another item being a "must-try dish". Anyway, that's a subject for a later post.
Much of the berrista hoopla has been about its use of the miracle berry. Some reports claim that the berry powder is cooked into the food. Others say that you take the berry first, then eat the food. The latter is correct. According to the guy at the counter and a cook in the back, the berry is not cooked into anything on the menu.
There are media reports that say the whole menu is designed to go with the berry. According to the same 2 guys above, that's not really true. For most of the stuff, they say the berry wouldn't have any effect. The place also has a menu board with icons next to the items that are supposed to be good with the berry. According to the description, these items are good with or without the berry, but the berry works with them. Most of the menu items don't have an icon. That said, I ate part of a "monte cristo panini," and while it didn't have an icon, I can't imagine that the lifeless, watery strawberry jam served wasn't made with the berry in mind. So who knows?
All of the pastries have the miracle berry icon next to them. I tried what was described as an orange-cream donut with chocolate frosting, and also a piece of raspberry coffee cake. I ate part of each before the berry, then part of each after the berry, which is available for purchase for 50 cents. Before the berry, the donut had absolutely no orange flavor, and left an intensely bitter, unsweetened-chocolate aftertaste. It was weirdly spongy. The coffee cake had the texture of playdough, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to swallow it. There was also a heavily spiced cream cheese frosting that tasted like the Grinch got to the Christmas dessert. Before the berry, these were probably the worst pastries I've ever tasted.
After the berry, the transformation was minimal. The bitter donut aftertaste was lessened somewhat, but there was still no orange flavor. The coffee cake was still highly unpleasant. Concerned that I had eaten the berry the wrong way or had gotten a dud, I cut open a lemon and ate a slice. Nope. Sure enough, the lemon tasted like sweet lemonade. Delicious. In fact, I ate the whole darn thing by itself in an effort to get the taste of those pastries out of my mouth.
4219 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60641