Visiting Madame ZuZu’s in Highland Park

One of my favorite elements when traveling is making wishes come true. However small or silly they may seem. A good example is when I was in San Francisco a few years ago. Growing up, baby Mary dreamed of getting her picture in front of the Full House house. It was my favorite sitcom. Despite numerous times in town over the years, I still had never pursued finding it. On that trip, I, at last, made it happen. The memory still makes me happy. I like to think I made baby Mary proud.

The latest time I had a “moment” like that was last month on my Quad Cities venture. Although I was nearly three hours away from Chicago, that’s much closer than when I am here in California. Since my favorite band is the Smashing Pumpkins, I’ve been wanting to visit Billy Corgan’s cafe, Madame ZuZu’s, just outside of the city in Highland Park. Despite it was a trek and my time extremely limited, I made it happen. How could I not?

Driving to Highland Park

As someone who is all about making dreams happen, it’s not a surprise I squeezed in Madame ZuZu’s. The Smashing Pumpkins have taken me on whirlwind adventures before. I became a fan in 2002, a few years into their break up. When Billy announced he would be reforming the band, I was there for it. Then, I found out their tour would be a residency in San Francisco. My situation at the time made it a fat chance that I would get to go. Then, sure enough, I did get to see them during that time. It was one of the first times I realized it’s possible to make dreams a reality sometimes. To quote Billy, “The impossible is possible tonight, tonight.”

My ride to Madame ZuZu’s was long. I forgot that “pit stops” often look different outside of LA. It was mostly fields, dirt, and some farms. As I got closer to Chicago more “life” came back. I found a great college Jazz station that was playing songs about animals. Old Disney tunes like the Ugly Bug Ball and the Monkey’s Uncle blasted from my rental car. It made for the perfect soundtrack as I arrived in the stately city of Highland Park. The atmosphere and architecture reminded me of San Marino here in LA or even Solvang.

I love the brick buildings in Illinois. (c) Mary Farah
Beautiful mural by Katelan Foisy. (c) Mary Farah
Vintage vibes at ZuZu’s. (c) Mary Farah

Arriving to Madame ZuZu’s

Madame ZuZu’s sits at the front of an unassuming plaza. Their noir logos and classic decor immediately grabbed my attention. The windows say “plant-based” and “gluten-free” so if I wasn’t on my way here already, I would make a beeline. Compared to pictures online, the space was much more ample than I’d expected. To the right is seating and a small stage where Billy and many others perform frequently. To the left is the counter, bakery, and bits and baubles to purchase. The shop selection is vast. There are records, candles, children’s books, and of course, Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts.

Just across from their retro photo booth is a rack of raincoats from Maison Atia. Billy’s partner, Chloe Mendel, is the founder and CEO of the faux-fur luxury brand. I geeked out seeing some of her apparel in person. A geek in the USA, no? (If you aren’t a Smashing Pumpkins fan, you have no idea at that reference). The raincoats are even made out of recycled water bottles. How cool is that?

Adjacent to the coats is a pre-World War II era “Chop Suey” Chinese restaurant neon sign that Chloe recently purchased as a surprise to Billy. Word is it will have its official home displayed in ZuZu’s once preserved. Until then, it’s situated near the window. Since I followed along on her Instagram about the purchase, I loved seeing it up close.

Shop at ZuZu’s while you wait for your order. (c) Mary Farah
Madame ZuZu’s tea selection is vast and the aroma beautiful. (c) Mary Farah
Stage view. (c) Mary Farah

Gluten-free at Madame ZuZu’s

Of course, I had already read the menu for Madame ZuZu’s many times. Everything is plant-based and most plates can be prepared gluten-free. Although I contemplated during my ride whether to get the banh mi sandwich or meatball sub, I knew I had to go classic. I’ve seen too many posts highlighting their grilled cheese and tomato soup. I decided on that along with a blue matcha latte and two snickerdoodle cookies. I was hoping to try the kitchen sink cookie but alas, it’s not gluten-free.

The cookies and latte did not disappoint. I’d never heard of, let alone had, a blue matcha latte. I wasn’t sure what the best milk would be to in it. I’m already an oat milk person, and the barista agreed that’s her favorite way to enjoy it. Blue matcha is derived from the butterfly pea flower while traditional matcha from camellia sinensis leaves. The drink was warm, creamy, strong, and hit the spot. Blue matcha often does not contain caffeine, but it does at ZuZu’s. It tasted nearly identical to a green tea matcha latte. I gave it the star treatment and enjoyed dipping my cookie in it.

The grilled cheese and fries took me back to my childhood. A “trend” I’ve found with gluten-free grilled cheese is that the bread doesn’t grill well. Not the case here as it was grilled perfectly. Even though I could tell the cheese wasn’t dairy, it melted well and was delicious. The tomato soup was very mild, somewhat watery, and only lukewarm; a bit of a letdown. Although I enjoyed my meal I’ll change up my order whenever I visit again.

The Insane Grilled Cheese with Chloe’s Tomato Soup. (c) Mary Farah
The blue matcha. (c) Mary Farah

Until Next Time….

The rock stars at Madame ZuZu’s are the staff. Both employees were so hospitable and friendly. The barista who took my order asked if I’m a fan of Billy, and told me some tidbits about the menu. They also asked if my gluten-free request was an allergy or preference. As I was leaving, they were getting ready to close up and made sure to give me space as I took some final pictures and asked me how I enjoyed everything.

There’s no doubt that Madame ZuZu’s is a must for Smashing Pumpkin fans. Even for those who don’t know every lyric of Siamese Dream, it’s an ideal local hangout. Now that I have a kiddo myself, I appreciate finding places where both parents and kids can make memories together. Billy Corgan and Chloe Mendel have expertly done that with Madame ZuZu’s. Until next time. Xo