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Breakfast out, rants and raves

Why is it so hard to get a good breakfast out? This post is spurred by my second, and sure to be the last, visit to Orange on Clark. On the first visit, I realized too late the huevos rancheros were served with 'bean puree', and the 'poached medium' egg yolks were so crumbly solid I sent them back immediately. On the second visit, my eggs Bene had burnt muffins and floury Hollandais with little lemon taste. And, not a solid potato in sight, just mashed Russets.

I have had the good fortune to work briefly under a completely insane yet fantastic breakast cook, so I know how simple it is to make breakfast if you know what your doing. It really doesn't take much, and the two of us sometimes cranked out 140+ meals in three hours. It is very easy to make brown-crusted and spiced home fries. 'Easy', 'medium', and 'hard' mean very specific numbers of seconds (for eggs over) or minutes (for poached). Why can't places do this????

Here are the parameters:

1) breakfast should be quality comfort food
2) buttermilk pancakes, huevos rancheros, corned beef hash, and home fries cannot be substantially improved upon over their basic form
3) above foods out of cans or pre-mix do NOT qualify as quality
4) any use of organic or all-natural ingredients is to be sought out and lauded

The basic problem is, the first two and last two items above seem to be mutually exclusive. I cannot seem to get free range eggs without also being forced to have chocolate chips and/or orange zest in my pancakes.

Raves go to Milk and Honey, where the ingredients are great and the huevos rancheros casserole, although only really sharing ingredients with the classic, still shines as comfort food. Another rave goes to Square Kitchen in Lincoln Square, with their chiliquiles and decent quality ingredients without the foo factor. A qualified rave goes to one specific morning chef (the female one) at HB, with quality ingredients, genuine homemade corned beef hash - when idiosyncratically available - and real pancakes, yet a dismal concept of potatoes (there's occasionally another morning chef at HB who doesn't cut the mustard, so I'm still trying to work out their schedules). Also, in the Greek diner mold, a rave goes to Tempo, the best of the traditional lot - despite pre-mix pancakes and standard-fare hash and potatoes, the combination of good fruit, solid no-frills egg expertise, honest portions, consistency, and fast service make it a reliable pleasure. Another rave goes to Nookies on Halsted near Armitage, which is old-school like Tempo and a close runner up (beware the Nookies farther north, see rants below).

Rants go to Orange, as I led off. Another rant goes to the Bongo Room, which I know will get hearty disagreement from some, but I went in there and found excellent quality ingredients but found my comfort food disturbingly mangled. Another rant to Nookies on Halsted near Buckingham, which had old-style ingredients (i.e. canned, premix, etc.) but compounded them with poorly prepared food and bad service in a relatively empty restaurant.

And, please, please, can somebody point me to any (preferably kid-friendly) place in Chicago, east of the highway and north of downtown where I can find huevos rancheros approaching one magic breakfast at a roadside diner in the Redwood Forest circa 7am July, 1991? Over easy eggs on black beans and a corn tortilla with salsa and sour cream. Nothing fancy. Just a revelation of basic ingredients, textures, and tastes to start off a long motorcycle ride in the crisp morning air. The motorcycle is long gone but isn't it funny how a seemingly innocuous meal unexpectedly becomes a permanently defining experience? But that is another subject entirely...

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  1. I hate eating breakfast out for all the reasons you list, especially the fact that no one seem to know that hash browns are supposed to be well done and spicy. People with whom I've discussed this say it is their FAVORITE meal to eat out but I don't get it. I'd rather cook my eggs exactly the way we like them, it's so easy; I'm almost always disappointed in breakfast out, and I don't have to get dressed to enjoy it either!!

    1. Orange is way overrated! Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square, Ina's on Randolph, and Wishbone are far better. Yes, even Nookies Too is better.

      1. We tried Orange once and were extrmely unimpressed. Our favorites for breakfast are Uncommon Ground and M Henry. I do aggree though about the home fries, I have just given up.

        1. Ina's on Randolph, about one year ago, was one of the worst levels of inept service I've experienced in restaurant dining since a horrible (never to be repeated) experience at the Chicago Chop House 10 years ago. The hostess seated us right away, but no waiter or waitstaff acknowledged us for at least 10-15 minutes. When the server finally did acknowledge us, she asked if we wanted coffee (which we sorely needed), then brought us none for another 15 minutes. 15 minutes after that, we finally got to order, got our food, and it was just OK. Been there, done that.

          1. We have enjoyed breakfast/brunch meals at Toast (on Damen) and Hot Chocolate recently. Toast seems like a more traditional meal, Hot Chocolate seems more innovative.

            1. Gracie's on Webster has the worst service at brunch. I attempted to go there this past Sunday (Aug 5) with some family. We waited at the hostess stand a bit before someone actually came by. She seated us immediately, said she'd be right back with water and we never saw her again. We waited at least 15 minutes, never got water, never got even a hello. When we overhead the woman behind us complaining that the kitchen messed up her order, we knew there was no hope, so we got up and left. No one seemed to care, I think that's what they were hoping for.

              If your kitchen can't stay sober enough Saturday night to do Sunday brunch, then just don't do brunch.

              Pauline's in Ravenswood is a great breakfast place. Tasty food and pretty good service.

              Wishbone is also another good one. Kid friendly too. They have three dining room options: outside, family room, adults-only. I haven't had their huevos rancheros, but I enjoyed what I did have.

              1. Our current (and longstanding) faves --

                (1) Flo on Chicago Avenue. I don't know about the huevos rancheros, but friends usually order them and love 'em.

                (2) Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

                (3) Hilary's Urban Eatery (closed and moving, I think/hope due to open again soon further West on Division).

                Common theme for all three - unpretentious, relaxed, not trying too hard. I love all three, and have never left unhappy.

                1. These are a lot of promising suggestions.

                  I've tried Wishbone twice, just haven't figured it out yet. I think I didn't order the right things...overall I found the food was OK, nothing to rant or rave about. Great for kids, decent service, nice space.

                  The Selmarie suggestion is intriguing, I didn't know they did breakfast. It's quite close to the Old Town School of Folk Music, so quite convenient for certain kid-centric mornings. I'll have to try it for breakfast (dinner was quite good once).

                  Erwin on Halsted has an excellent brunch, though a tad $$$. If you have a group, it's especially convenient that they take brunch reservations.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: ShortOrderHack

                    Cafe Selmarie is not an early breakfast place. Metromix lists
                    opening times as 8:00 on Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 on Sunday and 11:00 on Monday. There are lots of kids eating there although not to the extent as at Costello's at lunch.

                    1. re: ShortOrderHack

                      I really liked the food that I had at Wishbone and the coffee was excellent. Nice and strong. The wait is a little much, though. Both to get seated and also for the waitstaff. Once we sat down, the waiter was pretty cool.

                      1. re: Suburban Sandy

                        Selmarie is not a *very* early breakfast place, but from their official website as of 08/11/06 (http://www.cafeselmarie.com/dining_br...) Sat 8am-12pm and Sunday 'brunch' 9am-3pm. Once upon a time, 8am was not quite early enough but for us, now, blissfully, it is (Still haven't tried it - Old Town is scheduled for fall and breakfast is on the agenda


                        Q for Sandy: which Wishbone location? ChowSpouse reports fond 10-year-old memories of breakfast at the West Loop location, which I have never been to, but agreed with my so-so rating of the Wrigleyville location. What did you order?

                        1. re: ShortOrderHack

                          Seconds to Sandy on Wishbone. I'm a big fan of the Lincoln Avenue (@ School Street) location. One packed Saturday a few weeks ago, my pal and I cruised past the line of folks waiting for tables and got seats at the counter. Excellent service; we were right by the kitchen door. My standard order: a peach or mango pancake and an order of cheese grits with a slab of ham. Other companions have given good reviews to the huevos rancheros and the corn cakes.

                          1. re: Sassafras

                            It was the one on Washington and the breakfast was one of the New Orleans-style choices. "Andouille Hash
                            Sauteed andouille chicken sausage (no pork), potato, peppers and onions served with two eggs and choice of corn muffin, biscuit or toast. "Andouille Hash
                            Sauteed andouille chicken sausage (no pork), potato, peppers and onions served with two eggs and choice of corn muffin, biscuit or toast." The andouille chicken sausage was really tasty. Dining companion had the Yankee omelette which was also great. Loved it and the price was right!!!

                    2. Has anyone tried Tweet in Edgewater?

                      Sandy, I had the Andouille Hash at the Lincoln location, and it just didn't stand out...I didn't think it was bad, but I remember it being very salty and a bit oily for my taste. Who knows...I might give it another shot.

                      1. Short Order,

                        Unfortunately, very few things are too salty for me! :-) Never tried Tweet. I'm out in the 'burbs, so most of my breakfast jaunts are in the area and no real standouts. Although Elmhurst Restaurant on Lake Street in Elmhurst (just west of York Rd) has the best Eggs Benedict I've ever tried...and then I have them bring me more heart attack, I mean hollandaise....yummy!!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Suburban Sandy


                          What do you think of Christopher's on York Road? I wouldn't try eggs benedict there (for those I prefer the Bongo Room) or anything very elaborate (it is a diner, after all), but I've always found their omelettes (particularly feta cheese) to be top-notch and everything else to be fresh and made with care.

                          1. re: Suburban Sandy

                            Singing the praises of great hollandaises!

                          2. You know, I've never been to Christopher's but my neighbor goes there religiously for breakfast before or after church on Sundays (no pun intended). Since you have now piqued my interest for a feta cheese omelette, I may have to go check it out this weekend. I am one of those folks who LOVES to go out for breakfast. Call me crazy! I love omelettes, pancakes, skillets, all of it. And I love not having to clean up the kitchen :-) Don't know what it is, but it's the only meal I'm not fond of cleaning up after. And Short Order, is there really anything better than a well-made hollandaise? You could almost bathe in it!!! Arteries be damned!!!

                            1. Generally, I'm not a fan of brunch, but I can't rave enough about M Henry in Andersonville. Very child friendly, but like many good brunch places in town, the waits can get long, although there are benches to wait on outside on a nice day. I've had both their sweets (hot cakes with an amazing berry-rhubarb compote and granola) and savory lunch dishes and they are great. Portions are gigantic, everything is homemade and there's lots of fresh ingredients.

                              An online menu I found doesn't list huevos rancheros, but does list "Jorge's Black Bean Cakes and Eggs" - two spicy black bean cakes topped with chipotle sour cream, with two eggs and house potatoes, and the "Latina Omeletta" with black beans, tomatoes, sour cream, wisconsin sharp cheddar, green onions and cilantro topped with chipotle sauce and served with sweet plantains and house potatoes.

                              Former M Henry chefs opened Over Easy in Ravenswood earlier this year, but I was not as impressed with their offerings.

                              1. Update on Selmarie - we tried it recently for breakfast and it was quite good. The corned beef hash was homemade, my 2-yr-old loved her whole wheat mouse-shaped pancake and fresh fruit bowl, and the ChowSpouse enjoyed the French Toast. Highly recommended for breakfast.

                                1. Update on Ina's - went there two weeks ago. I found the service quite good despite a full house, so maybe they have overcome their service issues. No problem getting a table around 9:00 am, although it was pretty full when we left at 10. Waitress came fast, knew the menu, very efficient. Bread, water, coffee on the table fast. I had the vegetable hash - OK, but a little short on character. I found the food as good as, if different from Wishbone. I like the free parking in their lot. Still looking for the can't miss breakfast spot, but I'd go back to Ina's.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: wak

                                    Here's my take on Ina's (and I've been going there several times a year since it originally opened in the DePaul area):

                                    Dependable, convenient with just enough character and innovation to distinguish itself from other restaurants/diners of its ilk. The food is generally well-prepared, with fresh ingredients, and its atmosphere and service in my experience have always been homey and pleasant. But why do I always feel, when the tab is finally tabbed, that I'm paying 10-20% more for the quality of the experience than I should be paying? Oh well, I guess that's not such a big deal, since I keep on coming back when I'm in the neighborhood.

                                  2. i don't do breakfast, but i definitely do brunch.

                                    Brunch places that rock:
                                    Custom House (ever had dessert + tea w/ your brunch? if not, time to start)
                                    Hot Chocolate
                                    Dodo Cafe
                                    Bin wine cafe
                                    Sweets & Savories

                                    even Tavern on Rush isn't half bad

                                    places that suck/annoy:
                                    milk & honey
                                    twisted spoke
                                    bongo room/112 eatery
                                    (and that place on Taylor, o gosh, you know... the one that's packed even after 10" snow storm)

                                    they might not suck because the food's bad. but... it's breakfast, i'm hung over, i don't want to wait 40 min for mediocre boring traditional american food. ever. i don't want to hear screamy kids tossing their $6 bowl of "steel cut irish oatmeal" onto the floor...

                                    1. We love to have breakfast at Julius Meinl. It isn't kid friendly exactly, unless your children are well behaved Austrian tea and coffee drinking toddlers, but the soft boiled egg, the simple but good slice of ham, the pot of tea. It's perfect for a breakfast alone with a good book or the Sunday Times or WSJ. When I have to tote along the kids, I always choose Ann Sather on Belmont. It just seems solid, and comforting every time, even if the Swedish sausage is a bit weird, I still love it, and the pancakes.

                                      1. I LOVE Janik's Cafe on Division/ Damen! One of my favorite breakfast spots!

                                        1. Have to disagree with you; that place on Taylor is the very good Sweet Maple Cafe!

                                          Place that sucks: Wildberry in Libertyville, expensive and overly contrived, iHop quality with Starbucks prices.