Foodie needs recs on cocktails and brunch
Will be in Chicago for 3 days and want to know what's new on the cocktail scene. Is there anywhere doing drinks to the level of Audrey Saunders at the Pegu in NYC? Also, need a new brunch recommendation. I have been to the Bongo Room several times and find it to be ok and am looking for somewhere else. I own a wine shop in Boston and am curoius how Juicy wine bar is?
I know I had brunch at Jam at one point, but I see I didn't post anything about it at the time here in the brunch topic. I went back to Jam for brunch today, so here's another detailed report.
I really like Jam, and to me, it's unique. Unlike any other breakfast restaurant I can think of, Jam seems to me like the kind of breakfast-focused restaurant that a truly creative chef, the kind who's qualified to run a fine-dining restaurant, would open. In other words, the aspiration is there to create a fine-dining experience, but for a lighter meal earlier in the day. (Can you think of another breakfast restaurant with braised antelope on the menu?)
Waiting times to be seated today were minimal, with no more than 6-10 people waiting at any given time. I suspect this was due to the rain, and I wouldn't count on this happening on most Sundays.
I love the menu at Jam, which has a variety of savory as well as sweet dishes. In addition to the breakfast dishes available when they open 7 am, they also have lunch dishes available starting at 11 am.
I started with a cup of the butternut squash soup, which was very good. I then had the quiche with lemon-cured trout, which was excellent, custardy with a flaky crust. It was accompanied by a bagel chip "panzanella" (salad). I finished with a half portion of the malted custard french toast with macerated cherries and pink peppercorns, which is one of the best French toast preparations you'll find anywhere, very custard-y (as the name implies).
Jam is at the top of their game, one of the very best breakfast-focused restaurants in a city with many such places.
3057 W. Logan Blvd. (near the Logan Square station on the CTA Blue Line)
Yesterday I had brunch at Batter & Berries. I liked it a lot! And it makes a great place regardless of whether you're interested in savory dishes or sweeter dishes.
I first heard about Batter & Berries in Chicago magazine's Dish column. And, of course, being a big fan of French toast - I'm about halfway through Christopher Borelli's list of "16 choices for fabulous French toast" that appeared in the Tribune in January 2010 - I've been looking forward to trying it ever since. What I found was great French toast, and so much more!
Since it was lunchtime, I started with savory lunch items - specifically, their $9 "lunch trio" special, which consists of a half sandwich, bowl of soup, and small salad. I had half of an "Arthur" sandwich, which was very good indeed - grilled chicken breast, barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions, on a pretzel roll. The soup varies each day; yesterday's was butternut squash, and it was truly outstanding. The salad was nice too - mixed greens with a house vinaigrette. I also had a large cup of their pumpkin spice hot chocolate, which I liked - not much pumpkin flavor (that's okay) and the miniature marshmallows were lightly broiled, a nice touch. (There were other items I didn't get to try, unfortunately, including a Maryland crab omelet special that sounded good.)
After that, I was actually pretty full, but I really wanted to try the French toast, so I forced myself. I got the "flight of French toast", consisting of four types - strawberry, blueberry, lemon, and caramel. They were all excellent, nicely moist, and quite different from each other. (Note that they also offer the "super flight of French toast", which consists of five types, including the daily special, but the special yesterday of peppermint Schnapps wasn't of interest to me.)
The service was friendly the way small casual places usually are. Rylon, the chef-owner, came out to check with everyone to make sure everything was good. And while I've seen this happen at other places, I really loved what he was wearing when he did this - a t-shirt that says "The Chef" on the front of it!
Batter & Berries is a cute, cozy place with outstanding food, perfect for breakfast, lunch, or brunch. It's a welcome addition to our burgeoning brunch scene!
Batter & Berries
2748 N Lincoln Avenue (a few blocks west of the Diversey stop on the CTA Brown Line)
I'm looking for a very specific thing - french toast which doesn't have cinnamon in it. The few places we've been it seems cinnamon is laced in the batter. Normally I'm pretty flexible on whether or not there's cinnamon - since there are so many other options at brunch!, but we're in town for my teenage son's b-day, and french toast (sans cinnamon) is one of his favorite dishes. So I thought I'd give it a shot to see if there are any recommendations. TIA for the suggestions. Oh, and he's a teenager so buffet is best, but we'll consider anything, anywhere from downtown to skokie, using 90/94 as a rough western boundary. Price will also be a factor, but that's a little flexible.
I really don't know which places would have French toast without cinnamon, because it's not always obvious. You would have to ask the individual restaurant to make sure. And even if they normally make it with cinnamon, maybe they could omit it for you. Anyway, here are a few more specific recommendations regarding French toast, noting that I can't assure you which ones do or don't have French toast.
The Tribune did an article in 2010 about the best French toast in Chicago (unfortunately it's no longer on their website). The one they liked the very best of all is Jerry's, in north suburban Winnetka. I've tried about half of the places they listed, as well as others, and the French toast at Jerry's is outstanding. Cinnamon, I have no idea.
Meli Cafe, with locations in River North and Greek Town, has about a dozen different types of French toast on their menu, so maybe some don't have cinnamon, I don't know.
Most of the breakfast-focused restaurants have French toast, but again, I don't know about the cinnamon. Of those, Jam in Logan Square is the one that has the most creative chefs, who could tell you whether theirs has cinnamon and could omit it if needed. Batter & Berries might also be worth trying, since Rylon is so accessible and you could ask him. Beyond that, you've got all the other great breakfast places, including M. Henry, M. Henrietta, Southport Grocery, Marmalade, Bongo Room, and many more.
As for buffets, many brunch places have gotten away from buffets, and some of the buffet places aren't all that great. The Sunday brunch buffet at Shaw's Crab House (see above) is outstanding (particularly if you love seafood). I don't recall having French toast there, but their current menu calls it "baked apple French toast", which sounds like cinnamon is likely, sorry. Oh and it's not inexpensive ($48/pp earlier this year), although considering things like the unlimited shrimp cocktail and crab cakes and the carving station etc, it's not unreasonable.
Another option is to make French toast yourself, of course. You can adjust from a standard recipe (I like to use more vanilla and more sugar) and you can omit cinnamon. Fox & Obel sells loaves of brioche that make great French toast.
And one final suggestion. French toast and bread pudding are very similar; one is egg-batter-soaked bread slices cooked on a griddle, the other is egg-batter-soaked bread pieces baked in a pan. The best bread pudding I've had in the past several years was at Campagnola, in Evanston. Very custardy and vanilla tasting, and I don't recall cinnamon (although you might want to ask). Granted, you would have to go there for dinner, since they don't do brunch, and you would have to call ahead to make sure they still have the bread pudding on the dessert menu. But Campagnola is a solid restaurant, for contemporary American menu items as well as Italian, and it's not terribly expensive either. So I just thought I'd throw that out there too.
Thank you for all the suggestions, Meli Cafe may do the trick! It's just one of those things where the spice really enhances the flavor of the toast and isn't typically notable -- unless you hate the taste.
When we were in town about a year ago, my sister & her family took us to Chief O'Neils, which we enjoyed, all of us except the anti-cinnamon son (ETA: there wasn't anything exceptional here, but it was solid and had enough variety in the buffet everyone one found something they liked well enough. And the price point under $17 pp w/o drinks worked for us).
And I do make excellent frech toast using vanilla sugar (and challah or butter bread), but it'd be difficult to do in a hotel room.
Off to run the suggestions past my sister. Thanks again.
Today I had brunch/lunch at Bel 50, a new restaurant in River North. I liked it; it was a lot of fun. It's nothing fancy - you walk in to a line at a cashier where you place your order, and they bring it out to you. There are some communal tables in the front, smaller tables in the rear where you can watch the kitchen through the glass, and a small bar in between. Very casual.
The thing at Bel 50 is waffles. The menu consists of savory sandwiches, and sweeter dishes, and everything is served on round, fairly thin waffles. The waffles are not overly sweet so they work with the savory dishes as well as the sweet ones. I had a sandwich of braised short rib with horseradish creme fraiche, which was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed, although it could have used a bit more of the horseradish creme fraiche. I then had a sweet dish, the creme brulee, which I also enjoyed; slathered onto a waffle was creme brulee (rather liquidy, almost like a creme anglaise sauce, complete with crunchy brulee pieces) along with fresh berries, then folded over. They have a complete beverage menu, including various types of Intelligentsia coffee, milkshakes and floats, and beer and wine. The staff is young, eager, and cheerful.
738 N. Clark St.
And another report...
Today I had brunch at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, the longtime tapas restaurant in Lincoln Park. I liked it a lot! One thing I LOVED is the flexibility of the menu. It includes the usual (and customary sized) savory egg dishes and sweet dishes like French toast and pancakes, but it also includes pinxtos ($2 portions of several dishes) and many of the tapas dishes from their everyday lunch and dinner menus. (If you go to the menus on their website, you'll see that the brunch menu has two pages, one that's primarily brunch dishes, and the other with their tapas selections and beverages.) So you and your companions can eat whatever you like; if one person likes sweet, another likes eggs, and still another wants more lunchlike items, you can order all of them and everyone can be happy.
My companion and I ordered around eight items (I think) of various sizes, and everything was very good indeed. No, nothing was "oh my god if you go you MUST order the amazing such-and-such", but everything was very good, and there wasn't a thing I didn't like. It was also very reasonably priced; the two of us left stuffed after spending $37 total before tax/tip (we didn't get alcohol). As you probably guessed, they serve their brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays. It wasn't all that busy when we arrived around 11:00 today (a Saturday), but by the time we left around 12:45 (we were relaxing and in no hurry), they were doing a very big business - there were still some empty tables, but most were occupied, and it's quite a large place. So I would recommend making reservations, which they accept on Opentable.com as well as over the phone. www.cafebabareeba.com
Continuing with breakfast reports, this morning I went to Brunch, in River West. It was pretty good. The eggs were good, and I liked the red velvet pancakes, but the French toast part of the s'mores French toast was rather dry. It's a cute place if you're in the neighborhood. And the waitstaff is very friendly and helpful, one of the best you'll find anywhere.
I have a pet peeve about restaurants whose name makes it difficult to find them on internet search engines, though, and this is one of them. But not a concern when you have their information:
644 N. Orleans (at Erie)
This morning I ate at Waffles, the new breakfast/brunch restaurant in the South Loop. My reaction was mixed; I was disappointed by the dishes I was looking forward to, but found one part of one dish that I liked better than I expected.
I started with the "hot chocolate flight". I like the idea of trying different kinds of hot chocolate, like you can find at XOCO. Unfortunately, these were three VERY small (demitasse cups) servings of the same generic, bland hot chocolate, distinguished by powdered flavorings on top of the whipped cream (peanut butter, spearmint, and caramel). And it was overpriced at $6.95.
I then had the "cheddar and short rib waffle". The waffle was light and crispy (good) but had very little flavor at all (bad); it was sprinkled with some bits of shredded cheddar, but this was not a cheese-laden dish. Fortunately, it was rescued by the short rib portion of the dish, which was quite good; it consisted of four nice-sized pieces of braised short rib meat, nicely moist and flavorful and not overly fatty.
I followed this with the "liege waffle". Liege waffles are a specialty of Belgium and contain pearl sugar which caramelizes in cooking. When they are good, they are fantastic. These were not. The center was gummy/gooey, which it should not be. (I asked if it was undercooked, and they said that's the way they're supposed to be.) If you want to try a really great Liege waffle, go to Baladoche in Lincoln Park. Not here.
There are many great restaurants specializing in breakfast/brunch dishes in Chicago. Based on my meal this morning, Waffles isn't one of them.
2905 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657
449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
1400 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL
I went to the Wells Street location of Meli Cafe for breakfast today, and I liked it a lot. I only tried one dish - the "stuffed apple French toast" - but it was very good, with cinnamon, apples, and mascarpone blending nicely with the French toast. Other things I liked about it included the fact that it's quite a large place; there wasn't any wait on a weekday, of course, but hopefully this bodes well for weekends. And they have a HUGE breakfast menu, maybe the biggest one in town, with around eight different kinds of French toast, as well as all different kinds of eggs, pancakes, benedicts, juices, smoothies, etc, you name it they've got it. This is one of two locations; the other is in Greek Town. Note that some breakfast items are only served at breakfast, not when the switch over to the lunch menu.
540 N. Wells St.
301 S. Halsted St.
Incidentally, I'm still working my way through the Tribune's selections of the best French toast in town, which is where I heard about Meli Cafe. I still like Jerry's in Winnetka the best, the one they deemed best also. The full photoessay is at http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran...
There's a new kid in town, and it's great! If you love M. Henry, then you'll love... MARMALADE!!!
I ate brunch at Marmalade in North Center this morning, and it's one of our very best places for breakfast. It's brand new, and has only been open for three weeks. But word sure is spreading fast; it was half empty when I arrived at 8:30 but people were piling in shortly thereafter, and there were already people waiting to be seated this morning just after 9:00.
They have a breakfast menu that they serve seven days a week, and a brunch menu that they serve only on Sundays. You can view both menus, as well as their lunch menu (six days), on their website.
I had three items. (1) I had the Florentine crab benedict from the brunch menu, and loved it. The crab cakes were great (very crabby), the round poached eggs on top were great, the cornbread instead of English muffin was great, and the spicy chipotle hollandaise was great. This was a great dish. (2) I had the Lady Marmalade (French toast) from the breakfast menu and it was good. I liked the fact that they use brioche for their French toast. (I do the same when I make it at home.) However, they don't fully soak the bread; the egg batter is just a thin coating on the outside, so the middle is a bit dry. What helps is that they spread it with marmalade, and they top it with VERY fresh fruit (cherries, blueberries, orange slices) and dried bananas and a dab of creme anglaise. (3) I had the bread pudding from the brunch menu and it was great - even better than the one at M. Henry. Moist, sweet, served warm, topped with VERY fresh fruit - just a great dish.
Service was excellent. Also, the owner, Gus, was around and introducing himself. All very friendly.
1969 West Montrose Street (at Damen)
Chicago IL 60613
This past Sunday I had brunch at Kappy's in north suburban Morton Grove, for my second time. I love this place! It's just like an East Coast diner, a place that's open at almost all hours (5:30 a.m. to 11 or 12 at night), with a wide-ranging menu of American favorites for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The place is full of camaraderie, with lots of "regulars" who treat you like one even on your first visit. The owner has been there on both occasions, and greets all the diners; he even recognized me on my second time there.
The first time I went, I had their outstanding prime rib hash. What a wonderful dish. I also had their apple pancake, which is baked in a cast iron skillet like at Walker Brothers. That particular dish, I was less fond of; I know it's not fair to compare it with the way another place makes it, but it doesn't have all the cinnamon glaze of the Walker Brothers version, and as a result it's somewhat bland and seems... soggy. On Sunday, I started with the soup and salad special; the soup (I chose matzo ball) was excellent, and so was the salad, which was Greek, with feta and olives. I then had the German pancake. Like Walker Brothers, they offer two sizes, so I went with the smaller one. This was outstanding, and very similar to the Walker Brothers version - delicious, not overly sweet but just right, served with lemon wedges and powdered sugar. One difference, though, is that these baked pancake specialties take a while to prepare - 30 minutes for the small German, 45 for the large German or the apple. (Longtime lovers of Walker Brothers remember that at one time they required similar preparation time, but no longer do.) So keep that in mind when ordering. (The menu also notes the preparation time for these dishes.)
Kappy's is quite large inside. When we went on Sunday, it was mid-morning (10:30 or 11:00 and although they were doing a good business, there were tables available and we were seated immediately, which is a big plus. The servers are always diner-friendly.
So far, I've only been there for breakfast/brunch, but I'd like to try Kappy's for lunch and dinner, too. Did I mention that I love this place? :)
Kappy's Restaurant and Pancake House
7200 Dempster St (at Harlem Ave)
Morton Grove, IL 60053
Kappy's Restaurant and Pancake House
7200 Dempster St, Morton Grove, IL 60053
Today I had brunch at Lulu Belle's Pancake House on Southport in Lakeview, not far from Wrigley. I really wanted to try their "Lulu Belle's Famous French Toast", which is the deep-fried version. (They also have a conventional griddled version on the menu.) I thought it was very good - and better than the deep-fried version at Heaven on Seven, which is a bit dry in the middle. I also had their corned beef hash, which I wasn't that thrilled with - rather dry and more like a pile of strings of corned beef and potatoes. And a smoothie, which was okay, a bit light on the fruit I thought. All in all, I wasn't overwhelmed, but if you're looking for a neighborhood place to hang out and use wifi, or a place you can walk in five minutes after finding out the wait at Southport Grocery is excessive, it might be suitable.
Lulu Belle's Pancake House
3819 N. Southport
I forgot to mention - at the entrance to the restaurant, they had a few specials on a chalkboard, and had a table set up showing them. The two pancake specials - one was red velvet pancakes topped with chocolate chips, the other was banana pancakes topped with caramel sauce - both consisted of three huge pancakes topped with a thick, sweet sauce. For those interested in pancakes like that, Lulu Belle's might be a good alternative to Bongo Room, if Lakeview is more convenient or you don't want to deal with the long Bongo Room waits on weekends.
Today we had brunch at Nightwood, and I thought it was excellent!
Nightwood is located in the East Pilsen neighborhood on South Halsted Street, near the intersection of the Dan Ryan (I-90/94) and the Stevenson (I-55) Expressways. One big plus is that they accept reservations (including on Opentable.com) so we were able to walk right in and be seated immediately. Another is that parking on the street out front is free and we didn't have any trouble finding a space.
There are two main dining rooms. One is a covered patio, very pleasant on nice-weather days; the other has big windows facing the street and is mostly brick. The inside room seemed rather noisy, so those for whom noise is an issue might be better off on the patio.
Our server took our drink order and brought our drinks: iced tea (pleasantly strong) and a bloody mary (the spiciest one I have ever tasted).
There was one thing I found surprising at Nightwood: the food! I had looked at the menu on their website, and everything sounded okay, pretty good, but didn't sound all that unusual or amazing, but it was! I loved what we had (more than I expected to) and also everything we saw at nearby tables looked like it was as delicious as what we had ordered. So somehow, I don't think their menu does their food justice, because it isn't as enticing as the food actually looks!
We ordered three items. One was self-explanatory: a goat cheese quiche with red peppers and artichokes. The crust was nicely crunchy and not soggy, and it was one of the taller quiches you'll find anywhere. Another was the "bagel sandwich", which was a bagel smeared with smoked trout cream cheese, piled with slaw, a couple of strips of bacon, and an over-easy egg, all of which was excellent (you can eat it together or take it apart, your choice). And on the side it came with three of their "tots", two-inch fried balls of riced potato. The third dish was a somewhat sweet one, but nicely balanced; it was a green strawberry tart with tarragon custard and rosemary streusel. This was really excellent, not overpoweringly sweet, with the mild herb-flavored custard making a nice counterpoint with the strong-flavored strawberry jam on the plate alongside the tart. We did not get one of their homemade donuts but tables on both sides of us had the bacon donuts and they looked great.
This was one of the best AND one of the most interesting brunches we've had in quite a while. I strongly recommend trying it, and I look forward to going back there again!
2119 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60608
2119 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608
Yesterday I had Sunday brunch at Coobah on Southport in Lakeview. It was generally good, although a few of the dishes were rather strange. I tried three dishes. One was their crab cake benedict, which featured round poached eggs, over crab cakes which tasted okay but leaned more towards bread content rather than crab. I like the corn cakes it used instead of the traditional English muffin. Another was the "kick hash", their version of corned beef hash, which was very un-hash-like; hash normally consists of an item (often but not always corned beef) which is chopped up finely and then sauteed with potatoes. In this case, the corned beef was not chopped at all, merely pulled apart (yes, loooong strings of corned beef) and served over a thin potato pancake. It tasted okay, just wasn't really hash. Finally, I had their French Toast, which they change each week; yesterday's was coconut flavored. It was quite good, the best of the three dishes. Service was superb; even though they were busy, the staff were all working together to make sure everything went smoothly. They serve their brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and accept reservations (including on Opentable).
3423 North Southport Avenue
I also had brunch on Saturday at Polo Cafe in Bridgeport. Their French toast had been featured in the Tribune's photoessay on "fabulous French toast" ( http://chicago.metromix.com/restaurants/essay_photo_gallery/fabulous-french-toast/1701149/content ) and it was indeed excellent (I think they used croissants as a base, and made it in muffin tins). Polo Cafe serves their "bloody Mary brunch" only on Saturdays and is closed most Sundays. I had called in advance but they told me I didn't need a reservation, and they weren't overly busy.
3322 South Morgan Street
I had brunch today (a Saturday) at Kanela Breakfast Club, a new restaurant that has opened on Clark north of Belmont. I started with the loukoumades, a form of donuts with a light honey syrup, and then had the duck confit hash, served with two poached eggs on top. It was all pretty good, although the eggs were somewhat undercooked (part of the whites was clear and runny). They have Julius Meinl coffee too. There was no waiting. It's your basic storefront coffeehouse type decor, and for whatever reason, I thought the room was really really loud, even though it was only a little more than half full.
Kanela Breakfast Club
3231 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
Not a lot of places offer brunch on Saturday as well as Sunday, but one of the places that does is Deleece (on Southport), in Lakeview. We went there today and it was excellent! They have breakfast-y items as well as lunch-ish items on their brunch menu, and we had a little of each - chilaquiles, BLT sandwich, and artichoke frittata, as well a cup of the soup of the day (Thai carrot). Loved 'em all. And of course, it's the same classy neighborhood bistro type place in the daytime as it is at night. It was only about one third full when we arrived around noon, but was almost all full when we finished. Fortunately, they accept reservations in advance, including on Opentable.com Highly recommended! www.deleece.com
Incidentally, the brunch menu looks almost identical at their sister restaurant, Deleece Grill Pub, a mile south on Clark Street. (Parking is easier around the one on Southport though!)
Nightwood in Pilsen has a fantastic brunch as does Longman and Eagle. But ,I definitely give the nod to Nightwood based on the fantastic bloody mary, one of the best quiche I have ever had and the best donut I have ever had. Althought to call that pastry (oaxacan chocolate stuffed donut with almond creme glaze) a donut is greatly underselling it.
Also for more of hole in the wall place that has tremendous cocktails try Bar Deville. A couple of their mixologists also pull shifts @ Violet Hour.
Also on a cosktail tip try the Drawing Room. I would have recomended it even before their head mixologist was nominated for a James Beard award.
The Drawing Room
937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
I'd recommend Branch 27 for brunch (they have great bloody marys, only $5 and include either a meat or veggie skewer, and other great cocktails as well), or The Publican. Violet Hour for cocktails. I'm interested on your take on Juicy. I, too, am from Boston, and walk by Juicy almost daily on the way to and from work (late at night), and I never see the place with many people in it...
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
1371 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642
I'd never heard of Juicy, and their website doesn't appear to work. From the listing on Metromix, it sounds like it's a wine bar...? The location may work against them; River West is not as lively as River North, which has its own wine bars (Pops for Champagne, Bin 36, etc).
I'd recommend Sable for artisanal cocktails. The mixologists come from the Violet Hour, and you can combine those drinks with the great cooking of Chef Heather Terhune. It's not necessarily a brunch dish, but don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!
Sunday brunch at Eve - BAD
Sunday brunch at Café des Architectes - EXCELLENT
Today we had a reservation for brunch at Eve. When we arrived, they were full and did not have a table available for us. We were waiting ten minutes past the reservation time, and noticed that the room was INCREDIBLY LOUD, with everyone shouting at each other to be heard. No thanks. So at that point we cancelled our reservation and left.
We went around the corner to Café des Architectes, where I have eaten numerous times for dinner and always enjoyed it immensely. They were able to seat us immediately, without a reservation, for their a la carte brunch. And although almost all the tables were occupied, the dining room was not terribly noisy at all. We have been there before; the dining room is on the ground floor and is part of the curved glass façade of the gorgeous Sofitel.
The menu includes breakfast dishes (both savory and sweet), lunch dishes, and a "brunch sampler" for $25. I got the latter and really loved it. It includes small portions of a variety of items for each course.
It started with three small glasses of fresh juice, each topped with a piece of fruit indicating one of its ingredients. One was Cape Gooseberry (grond cherry), which was slightly tart and had a very thick consistency, like a smoothie. Another was pineapple and had a strong herb flavor which may have been from fresh mint leaves. The last was blackberry and was the sweetest of the three. I really enjoyed the variety of flavors and textures.
The second course consisted of small portions of three dishes and a large portion of the fourth. The small ones were the smoked salmon napoléon (delicious, smoked salmon on crackers with a bit of crème fraiche), brioche French toast with caramelized apples (also delicious), organic avocado and tomato tian, red Tobiko caviar, pistachio oil (also delicious, think of it as guacamole topped with caviar). The big dish was spicy scrambled Eggs with chorizo, served in a cast iron skillet, very good.
The final course consisted of three smallish desserts: vanilla panna cotta with berries, spice cake, and a chocolate mousse cake topped with nutty crispies. All were excellent.
The brunch sampler also included coffee or tea. I really loved it because it included so many different things and everything was delicious. It was also a great value considering all that was included.
My dining companions got conventional lunch-type dishes (ahi tuna topped nicoise salad, and barramundi as the plancha fish of the day) and enjoyed them as well.
All dishes came with a basket of the most scrumptious French baked goods you'll find anywhere - a sweet brioche, croissants (chocolate, raisin, and plain), a small baguette, and an apricot danish.
Service was friendly and efficient, and the entire experience was very positive. I enjoyed it and I thought Café des Architectes's brunch was excellent.
Café des Architectes
In the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
20 East Chestnut Street
>> Today we had a reservation for brunch at Eve
>> We went around the corner to Café des Architectes
Coincidentally, Martial Noguier, the former executive chef at Cafe des Architectes, will be the executive chef at Bistronomic, the restaurant which is planned for the location where Eve formerly operated. More info at www.chicagomag.com/Radar/Dish/January...
Yesterday I had brunch at Shaw's Crab House in River North. Theirs is an all-you-can-eat buffet brunch. You can see the menu at
Assuming you're in the mood for seafood for brunch, I thought their buffet was GREAT. Shaw's, of course, is one of our best seafood restaurants. One of the big problems with many buffets is the freshness of the food; the food needs to be replenished frequently to be eaten at its best, without having a chance to sit around and get soggy. The Shaw's buffet was excellent in this regard. All of the items were extremely fresh, and seemed about the same quality as when they are made to order.
I didn't try everything, but here are comments about the items I did try, starting with the breakfast items. Their bacon - brown sugar and pepper cured, and thick sliced - was terrific, one of the best I've had anywhere. The scrambled eggs were very good, albeit conventional. The French toast was rather dry until you put syrup or bananas Foster on it. I also liked the mini malted Belgian waffles. I didn't try the create-your-own omelet, but for those who are interested, this is one of the only breakfast buffets I've seen where there was no line of people waiting for their omelets to be custom made to order.
What makes this buffet, though, is the seafood dishes! Their Maryland-style crab cakes are among the best anywhere, and the mini versions on the buffet were up to their usual high standards. Their lobster bisque is outstanding. I loved the way they served the Alaskan king crab legs! They cut them into pieces about an inch and a half long, which made them really easy to eat - no worries about removing them from the shell, they just popped right out, and you only had to worry about removing the pieces of cartilege, which was easy. How good were they? I love Alaskan king crab, and these were terrific! The price of the buffet would be worth it even if it were only for the all-you-can-eat crab legs! I only had the hot ones, although they also had similar pieces but cold on the cold buffet. The French fried shrimp were very good, and they use the really really big shrimp. I tried the beef tenderloin and it was just okay (but I wasn't there for the beef).
The only items I had on the cold buffet were both very good - the shrimp cocktail (again, really really big shrimp) and the Duck Trap salmon pastrami. The desserts were in small portion sizes, which was nice because you could try more of them that way. I had three. Shaw's is the first place I ever had crème brulee, and theirs is still one of the best you'll find anywhere. They also had chocolate pot de crème, which was excellent, denser and more intense than most others (although this is, by its nature, a dense and intense dessert); I found it benefited from extra whipped cream topping from the waffle station. I also tried a piece of their chocolate layer cake but thought it was a bit too sweet and gooey.
So all in all, a few of the items I tried were just okay, but many of them were hits - BIG hits. The bacon, the crab cakes, the king crab legs, and the crème brulee were all absolutely superb - so good that it's surprising to find that level of quality on an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The brunch buffet isn't cheap, at $40. But for an all-you-can-eat meal with some of the best seafood (and bacon, and crème brulee) you'll find anywhere, it was a bargain. And oh yeah, children 12 and under are free (limit two per adult).
They also have a location in Schaumburg (south of Woodfield Mall) where they serve Sunday brunch, and I'm sure it's virtually identical to the one in Chicago; in fact, if you look up menus on their website, it shows the Chicago menu for the Sunday brunch in Schaumburg.
Shaw's Crab House
21 E. Hubbard Street
Shaw's Crab House
21 East Hubbard St., Chicago, IL 60611
Just to put that $40 into perspective... You'll pay less at most a la carte brunches, but you won't be getting all you can eat. Most buffets don't have the level of quality of the food at Shaw's. The higher-end restaurants that do a luxurious buffet Sunday brunch, like NoMI in the Park Hyatt, Seasons in the Four Seasons, or the Lobby in the Peninsula, are all charging $60-70 per person these days. I can't name a single restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet comparable in both quality to Shaw's at anywhere near the price.
Based on nsxtasy's comments above, my girlfriend and I had brunch at Shaw's on Sunday, and it was indeed "great!"
I thought the quality of nearly all of the food was really very good, the exceptions for me were the cold and warm pasta salads which I thought were kind of disappointing. We focused on the cold seafood buffet with oysters on the half shell, jumbo shrimp cocktail, sushi rolls, smoked salmon, and those wonderful crab legs. We both liked the cold crab legs better than the hot crab legs, and thought those and the smoked salmon were tops. The cold buffet also had a roasted vegetable salad and a mixed grains salad that were very good.
Along with the $5 garnish-your-own bloody mary - which was perfectly delicious - this was an excellent brunch.
In my ongoing investigation of places for brunch - hey, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it! :) - today I went to Southport Grocery and Cafe in Lakeview, about half a mile west of Wrigley Field. It was very good!
Southport Grocery occupies a narrow storefront on the west side of the street, with sidewalk seating in nice weather to supplement the seating inside. It really is both a grocery and a cafe, although I would call it a "deli" and a cafe, rather than a grocery, because the items they have to go consist of prepared foods (mostly baked goods) and packaged goods (wine and specialty foods) with no fresh produce or meats the way the term "grocery" might imply. When you walk in, there are some tables in the front, and then two long narrow aisles to the rear where there are more tables. Along the right side of the right aisle is a row of tables with a long bench along the wall; along the left side of the left aisle is the cashier and the carry-out counter; and in between is a long row of shelves with the packaged goods. Much of the seating is rather cramped, and the room is quite noisy, but those are the result of their success, which is due to the high quality and good value they offer.
When I arrived around 11:45, I was told there was a choice of immediate seating at a sidewalk table in the sun, or a 25-30 minute wait for another table. I said that I was happy to wait for a table inside or outside, but not in the sun. After waiting 15 minutes, I was seated. When I was leaving around 1:00, it was starting to empty out and there was no wait. I asked the hostess what typical times to avoid waiting were, and she said that it starts around 9:30 in the morning on Sundays (which seems to apply almost everywhere) and there's often a wait as late as 2:00. Southport Grocery is open for dine-in and carry-out seven days a week, from early in the morning (7 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. weekends) till late in the afternoon (5 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. other days). There is a single menu available all day, with breakfast specialties (including the items I had) as well as lunch items like burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
I had an omelet and tried two of the sweet items. The omelet was spinach-artichoke-tomato-jalapeno-cream cheese. I enjoyed it; it was a nice blend of those flavors. Because they want to keep their kitchen efficiently turning out food, they ask customers to stick to the pre-designated omelets with no variations in ingredients, and I suspect it is for this reason that the level of jalapeno was rather minimal (as was the artichoke flavoring).
Then, on to the sweets! They offer a "pancake taste" of any of their pancakes at a low price of $4, and I loved the sound of one in particular. Quoting from their menu: "bread pudding pancakes · a pancake made with gooey bread pudding topped with cinnamon-sugar butter & a side of vanilla custard sauce (featuring our house-made cinnamon-sugar butter from the grocery)". And that's exactly what it was! It's hard to describe because it's an unusual item, one I haven't seen anywhere else... but think of it as a thick pancake, with the thin outside layer cooked and bready like a pancake, but most of the middle dense and moist like bread pudding. Both accompaniments complimented it perfectly, the rich cinnamon-sugar butter and the absolutely wonderful vanilla custard sauce, which was similar to the creme patissiere (pastry cream) filling of an eclair from a good French bakery. It was superb. I also tried this: "the grown-up pop tart · warm & filled with berry preserves, marscapone cheese and roasted vanilla walnuts (featuring preserves & our house-made roasted vanilla walnuts from the grocery)". It too was very good, and in fact similar to a folded over and stuffed version of the bread pudding pancake, right down to the bready outer layer and the dense, moist inner layer. However, next time I'm going straight to the bread pudding pancake, because the accompaniments really make that dish one that will "wow" any lover of sweet dishes.
From reading the media articles in the waiting area and looking around the place, it seems that they are known for their cupcakes. I didn't get any, so I can't comment on them. (FWIW, cupcakes do absolutely NOTHING for me, and I just don't "get" the excitement over them, anywhere - but hey, if you like cupcakes, by all means please enjoy them, and now you know that this is a place known for them.)
So that was what I had. I really enjoyed my brunch at Southport Grocery. The food was excellent and interesting, and I absolutely LOVED the bread pudding pancake. The only real downside is the same as almost any breakfast restaurant that doesn't take reservations: you're likely to have to wait to be seated if you arrive on a Sunday morning between 9:30 and 1:30.
Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
Returning to Chicago in early November for the SOFA show - Southport Grocery and Cafe just jumped to #1 on the breakfast/brunch list due to the Bread Pudding Pancakes - two of my favorite things going head to head......
Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
This morning I had breakfast/brunch at Milk and Honey Cafe in Wicker Park. This is a seven-day-a-week breakfast restaurant (also open for lunch and dinner, with a savory menu). I had wanted to try it after seeing their French toast in the Tribune article on that subject ( http://chicago.metromix.com/restaurants/essay_photo_gallery/fabulous-french-toast/1701149/content - photo #11).
When I arrived shortly after 9 a.m., they weren't too busy, although the outdoor seating was full. The hostess greeted me, assigned me to an indoor table (fine with me) and placed my number on that table. I then waited in line to place my order, which was brought to my table when ready. Silverware and cold beverages (water, iced tea) are self-serve, so I brought those to my table.
The orange brioche French toast was very good. It was light and fluffy around the edges, moist and well-soaked in the middle. The orange flavor was very subtle. It was good!
When I left about 9:45, they had gotten a lot busier, with the line waiting to order extending out the door. People in line were holding their numbers; I guess no tables were available for their size and outdoor/indoor seating preference.
Milk and Honey Cafe
1920 W. Division Street
Chicago, IL 60622
Earlier today I had brunch at Jam in West Town and I thought it was excellent. Jam just opened within the past year, and has gotten a lot of favorable press. It's small (although I think I noticed additional space outside for outdoor seating in warmer weather), with contemporary decor and a young eager waitstaff that combine to give it a trendy vibe. I wanted to try two dishes and could not decide between them; fortunately, they have half portions available (adults have to eat at least one complete entree but two halves qualify) so I got a half of each. The French toast was excellent; it was covered with rhubarb compote and its tart taste complemented the French toast nicely. The "S'mores" pancakes were excellent too; this was a sweeter dish, basically very good chocolate-flavored pancakes, with not much taste to the graham cracker crumbs on top. There was also a toasted marshmallow on top, which was cute.
Given the acclaim and the restaurant's size, I was surprised to see empty tables even when I left around 10:00, so I asked about it; they said they don't get really busy until around 10:30 or 11:00, and that applies to Sunday as well as Saturday.
They accept cash only, but there's an ATM inside.
937 N. DAMEN AVENUE
CHICAGO, IL 60622
OPEN DAILY | 7AM TO 3PM
(773) 489 0302
Yesterday I had Sunday brunch at Cafe 28 in Ravenswood. It was very good! The menu at Cafe 28 features a combination of dishes: Cuban, Mexican, and American. It's quite a large place, which you wouldn't necessarily know from passing by on Irving. I had made a last-minute reservation on Opentable.com, just to play it safe, but it turns out there were some empty tables the entire time we were there. We had the crab cake benedict and the asparagus and Serrano (ham) benedict; both were very good, with a spicy hollandaise sauce. The crab cake was nice and crabby, and spicy on its own, too. Very enjoyable.
Cafe 28 serves brunch on Saturdays 10-2 and Sundays 9-2.
1800 w irving park rd
chicago, il 60613
Today we had brunch at Perennial, in Lincoln Park. Everything was really wonderful! This is an a la carte brunch. The dishes are slightly smaller than some other brunch places, but the prices are quite low, so it's still a decent value. (The most expensive dish on the menu is their $12 burger.) What's nice about having smallish dishes is that it lets you try more than just one dish, and there are many delicious things to choose from. We started with their breakfast croquettes, seven of them each the size of a ping pong ball, made of eggs, potato, and sausage, ground up with a creamy inside and a nice crusty outside. We then had two main dishes. One was the short rib hash, a superb rendition indeed; lots of short rib flavor, only a little bit of added potato and onion, over a brioche crouton the size of a burger, sitting on top of an outstanding reduction and sopping it up, with a fried egg on top. The other was the duck confit tart, which was very good if a bit overly small, but the poached egg and frisee accompaniments were nice. We finished with their French toast, which was exceptional, made from an almond baguette, nicely soft and moist, topped with diced apples and lemon ginger creme fraiche. You could easily get by with only three dishes rather than four, but we wanted to try all of these items. www.perennialchicago.com
Today we went back to what is now called Perennial Virant, and it is still an excellent a la carte brunch. The room is similar to its previous incarnation; they removed the partitions but they still have the big windows facing the sidewalk outside, although they had sheer blinds drawn on a couple of sides. The food has more intense flavors now, with several dishes packing a pleasant spice to them. We had the freshly-made donut, the omelet, the smoked barbecue pork shoulder, the sausage, and the cheesy grits side, and all were excellent. A photo of the smoked barbecue pork shoulder was posted on Twitter with a link from PV's Facebook page and Opentable page. (The menu items were different from the sample on their website, although similar in style.) Service was very good as well.
Was just in Chicago on business in November - went to event at
Drawing Room at Le Passage, 937 N. Rush Street - - Dinner was Lemon risotto with mascarpone, meyer lemon and lavender gremolata or Skate with sauteed skate wing, baby arugala, roasted sunchoke, sultanas and caper emulsion or Verjus braised pork belly, shaved spicy pecans, smoked eggplant puree and apricot. They also have high end drinks with award winning master mixologists.
Here are reports on Sunday brunch at Big Jones in Andersonville, and Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park.
Today we went to Big Jones, which is on Clark Street across the street from Swedish Bakery (unfortunately, the bakery is closed on Sundays). They bill their food as "Coastal Southern Cuisine", which is a good description, since it includes cajun and creole items you might find in Louisiana, as well as more typical southern items like grits and sweet tea (3 kinds!) that you might find across the south. One of the nice things about Big Jones is that they accept reservations (including through Opentable) so you don't have to worry about the possibility of a long wait to be seated (although during the 12:00-1:30 time we were there, no one was waiting).
When we were seated (at one of the two window tables - yay!), we were brought some excellent complimentary beignets. In addition to sweet tea, we had cafe au lait, which was served in an enormous coffee cup. We started with the fried green tomatos, which were superb, the best I've ever had. They were very hot out of the fryer, the breading (which I think contained some corn meal) was superb, and they were topped with chunks of shrimp and an excellent remoulade sauce. Yum!
We then had two savory dishes and a sweet one: (a) "Eggs New Orleans - Lump crab cakes on fresh popovers with poached eggs, béarnaise sauce, and potatoes O'Brien"; (b) Eggs Romero - Poached eggs, pulled pork in a tangy barbecue sauce, served over a bed of grits (I know it says potatos on the website menu, but the actual menu said grits, which is how they were served); and (c) Whole Wheat Banana Almond Pancakes. All three items were very good. Of particular note was the gigantic size of the three pancakes.
Service was good and friendly, and the decor is understated contemporary in a typical narrow but somewhat deep storefront. All in all, an excellent choice for brunch! Especially worth considering as an alternative to long waiting times at M. Henry, which is half a mile north of Big Jones on Clark Street.
5347 N Clark St.
Chicago IL 60640
A couple of months ago I went to Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park for Sunday brunch. All in all, I was rather disappointed. It's a cute little bistro-ey type place. Hot Chocolate now bills itself as a "restaurant and dessert bar", but when I was there for brunch, they didn't have a whole lot of cakes or desserts (just a few plain-looking ones on an assortment plate), and that was my biggest disappointment, especially knowing Mindy Segal's reputation for desserts and history as a pastry chef. I had the brioche French toast with fruit and a side of sausage, which was okay, not spectacular (the French toast was a bit on the dry side). I also tried one of their several offerings of their namesake beverage - again, okay, but not particularly memorable. All in all, it was just okay; I guess it's worth trying if you happen to live in Wicker Park. I don't, and next time I go to Wicker Park for brunch, I'm much more likely to choose the superb Between instead.
1747 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago IL 60647
Today I ate the "American dim sum brunch" at David Burke's Primehouse in the James Hotel. Bottom line, I thought it was excellent. There were also some noteworthy differences from what I was expecting (and, in general, they were for the better).
When I was seated, I was presented with the American dim sum menu. I had noticed that an a la carte breakfast menu was posted alongside the dim sum menu at the entrance, and asked whether both were available, and was told that they were, and was asked whether I would like to see the a la carte menu; I declined.
The menu was similar, but not identical, to the one on the BRGuest website ( www.brguestrestaurants.com/restaurants/primehouse/menu.php ), and about the same length. The menu showed prices (including $35 for the dim sum, $10 for the all-you-can-drink champagne, mimosas, or bloody marys, $5 for various juices, and $5-11 for various hot tea selections; I ordered iced tea and was not charged for it). I was presented with, or offered, all the food items shown on the menu, with the exception of two of the desserts: the baby sundaes and the fortune doughnuts, which may not have been present on the dessert cart due to their need to be served cold and hot, respectively. However, I was not asked about either (but by that point I was quite full anyway).
One thing I was not expecting was how the meal was structured and served, which was a pleasant surprise. I had assumed there would be a succession of carts rolling around the dining room, and it was up to me to "snag" cart servers, almost at random. Instead, the meal was served as a series of seven courses, in the order presented on the menu. Only two of them involved selections from a cart; the other five courses were served plated, including all the items listed on the menu for each course. The two cart selections were the cold appetizers, shown on the menu as "Chilled Asian and Brunchie Nibbles" (labeled on the website as "Asian Goodies"), and the other was the dessert cart.
I was expecting everything to be well prepared, and indeed it was. In fact, everything was delicious. I am somewhat picky about what items I prefer, and don't always like everything in a meal. No worries here; I liked everything, and there wasn't a single thing I didn't care for. And I tried everything on the menu, with the exception of some of the items on the Asian Nibbles cart - approximately 23 in all. That's a remarkably good record, in my experience. (Oh, I should also mention that most of the portion sizes were small - which is to be expected when you're being served up to 25-30 items! I was quite full at the end of the meal, without having repeated anything. Of course, if you want more of anything, you can have it; see below.)
Oh, and one other thing that I wasn't expecting, is that several of the dishes were unexpectedly spicy, including the eggs benedict and the sauce on the "omelet strudel". This is a *good thing*, in my opinion; I like the occasional spicy item, and don't want restaurants to make their food bland as a "lowest common denominator". Oh, and the spicy items weren't "blow your head off" spicy, just a mild kick to be sure. But those who don't like spicy food should mention this to their server.
There were so many great foods, it's tough for me to single out one or two as exceptional. But if I had to name just a few as "don't miss" items, they would include the omelet strudel, the oatmeal creme brulee ("best in show"), and the "bamboo basket".
The service provided was mostly excellent. The only glitch - and it was not a serious one - is the one mentioned above; the initial seating process. I think the servers can be more helpful if, when a party is initially seated, they ask if the diners have had their brunch previously, and if not, they should (a) mention both menus; (b) describe how the brunch is served, as a series of plated items combined with cart selections, and (c) note that the dim sum brunch includes all you can eat of anything, so if you would like a repeat of any course or any item, you just need to let them know. (I was not told this last item, but I assumed it to be the case. Since I wasn't really interested in repeats, I waited until the end of the meal to ask about it, just out of curiosity, and was told that indeed they are happy to repeat courses/dishes as desired, and it's all included.)
One thing I watch for when dining solo is the level of attention and the pacing of the meal. I don't necessarily expect more attention or "chumminess" but I don't want to be ignored either. Regarding pacing, I'm flexible; I don't mind when the pace of courses is slightly faster than typical with a larger group, but I also don't mind if it's a bit drawn out, as it would be with a larger group. At this brunch, the only quibble was, again, when I was initially seated; my beverage order was taken and served immediately, but there was a bit of a delay (I'm guessing 10-15 minutes) before the first food course was served. Since I hadn't been "briefed" on how it all worked, I was left wondering during that period. But once the food service began, it was smooth and properly paced. Other posts above mention pacing that was too quick; this was absolutely not true in my visit. I ate at a leisurely pace, and the empty dishes were cleaned up at the end of each course and it was at least a couple of minutes (sometimes more) before the following course was brought. I did not feel rushed at all. I ate the meal as eight courses; the meal is normally served as seven (with the "Brunch Goodies" served as two courses, first the omelet strudel and second the benedict and pancake), and I asked for the desserts to be served as two separate courses, which they were happy to accommodate.
To sum up - the food was excellent, the service was mostly excellent, and I'd be happy to go back again. This is one of the best, and most unusual, brunches in Chicago.
David Burke's Primehouse
616 North Rush at Ontario
Chicago, IL 60611
American dim sum brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays
Reservations available through opentable.com
When I went to Burke's, I also happened to be walking through the Peninsula Hotel nearby. I checked out the buffet brunch being served at the Lobby restaurant. It looked very nice indeed. I just called them to ask how much it costs, and they said $62 per person. Just so you know that is not a typo - $62 (sixty-two dollars) per person. I think that's probably the highest price of any brunch in Chicago, aside from maybe a specially-priced special occasion holiday brunch. I know NoMI (in the Park Hyatt) is $55, and my recollection of the last time I went to Seasons (in the Four Seasons) a couple of years ago is that it was $50, although it could have gone up since then. The Signature Room is $42, and I don't know if the food is comparable, but that includes the best view in the city.
By comparison, David Burke's Primehouse is a bargain at $35 (and even more so for the unlimited alcohol for $10).
Yeah, the Peninsula folks still think they're in Hong Kong before the handover. Nobody here spends that much on brunch unless it's on an expense account or they don't know where else to eat. I don't doubt it's tasty at the Peninsula, but for that price you could walk a few blocks north and get as good a brunch for less at Seasons at the Four Seasons in the Bloomie's building.
That said, Walker Brothers and Lou Mitchell's are the local standards for best brunch at the best price -- but Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe on 95th in Burbank comes very close in price and is their equal in quality; besides, Chuck's brunch is New Orleans style, complete with coffee and chicory, Eggs Benedict and variations, and Bananas Foster French toast. Yummy!!
I went to brunch at the Wicker Park location of Toast for Sunday brunch this afternoon, and it was quite good. They have a variety of breakfast and lunch items on their menu. I had the stuffed French toast - two pieces stuffed with mascarpone cream and one with chocolate pastry cream (they have each on the menu, and were happy to prepare the combination when I asked) - surrounded by a nice-sized portion of fresh strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and grapes. Also fresh OJ. All very good.
I arrived at 1 p.m. and was done around 1:30. As a solo, I was able to be seated at one of the half dozen seats at the counter immediately. Throughout that time, there were 8-10 people waiting at the entrance. It's not huge, but big enough that the wait wouldn't have been all that long for those waiting for tables.
2046 N Damen Ave
746 W Webster Ave
For cocktails, try The Violet Hour. Many of the initial reviews have mentioned Pegu.
The guys from Avec/Blackbird came up with the appetizer/finger food.
The drinks have fresh ingredients, house-made simple syrups, seven different house-made bitters, double filtered ice in eight different shapes and sizes....
The guy worked at "Milk and Honey" in NYC.
Just off the Damen stop on the Blue Line.
Caveat--- it's small, gets a long line, no reservations and drinks take a while to arrive.
The Violet Hour
1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622
I would definitely recommend The Violet Hour for both classic and inventive cocktails, in line with Pegu. The decor is beautiful, the lighting dim, and the cocktails delicious. It can get crowded and they often won't let a larger party sit at tables without purchasing carafes of cocktails.
I also think the Violet Hour is great...a little tough to find. It looked boarded up and only had a yellow light above the door and the Home Depot adhesive style address #s (1520). We had to ask in another shop to find it and another customer explained where it was and even caught us later on the street to correct his directions to us! (Chicagoans are so helpful!) Anyway, the drinks were fun (I had a sidecar which is what I like to make at home) and it was very good. We had the deep fried pearl onions and they were interesting...not fabulous, but good. We've already been recommending this place to friends. We went on a Tuesday at about 6, so we walked right in, but it started filling up right after that.
I'm a CH newbie, so thanks for turning me on to this place!
Today we went for the first time to Between in Wicker Park for Sunday brunch, and it was superb; we loved it.
Walk in, and you immediately notice that the atmosphere is comfortable/cozy; I can see why their website refers to it as a "boutique cafe and lounge". There's a long bar along one side of the room, with thickly-upholstered bar stool type seats with backs. There are three kinds of tables: high two-tops with the same seats at them as at the bar; conventional-height four-tops with conventional chairs with matching thick upholstery; and huge overstuffed couches with low tables (like wide coffee tables) in front of them, some of which are behind a thin curtain-like arrangement. Comfy and nice, wherever you are.
We chose Between because the brunch menu on their website (at www.betweenchicago.com/Menus/Brunch.htm ) sounded unique and different from even the usual breakfast specialty places. That's essentially the menu they had there today. We observed the frittata and bacon-croissant bread pudding delivered to the next table, and they looked so good we wondered whether we should have ordered those instead, but as it turns out, we loved everything we got, too. We got their eggs benedict, which may be a misnomer because it's not like any eggs benedict we've had before (and all the changes were for the better!). Instead of an English muffin, they use a yummy buttermilk biscuit; instead of conventional poached eggs, the eggs had whites and yolks mixed, like very light scrambled eggs; the hollandaise was smooth and mellow; and the sliced beef tenderloin was a wonderful addition. The house bacon-potatoes were like excellent (and non-greasy) home fries with bacon chunks added. It was just an excellent dish all-around. So was the duck confit club sandwich. The menu refers to it as "pulled duck confit" but the consistency was more chopped, almost minced. The rest of the sandwich was as described on the menu, with avocado, bacon, arugula, and herb mayonnaise, on wonderful brioche bread; there were also capers, unmentioned in the description. This, too, was excellent, as was the accompanying salad. Both portion sizes were ample, but we decided we had barely enough room to split one of the sweet entrees for dessert. We got the tiramisu waffles napoleon, and they complied with our request to omit the espresso syrup (so they had no coffee flavor). This was another excellent dish, with two layers of waffles, with the mascarpone between the waffles and topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
We arrived shortly after they opened, but even when we left around 11:15, there were plenty of empty tables, so you should have no concerns about long waits like at some of the other Sunday brunch spots.
We were thoroughly delighted with our brunch at Between and look forward to returning in the near future. Highly recommended.
Between - Boutique Cafe and Lounge
1324 n. milwaukee ave.
Chicago, IL. 60622
Sunday brunch 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
I think Orange and Flo are pretty overhyped and not too special in my opinion. I do second the recs on Bongo Room (even though still very hyped), M. Henry (very hyped), Sweets and Savories, and Magnolia Cafe.
I would also add Lula Cafe, which is in the west part on Kedzie. They change their brunch menu every weekend and are known for their creative brunch menu, using local and seasonal ingredients. I've always really really enjoyed brunch there, and have yet to be let down. It's also very reasonable, and I love the crowd and atmosphere. Whatever you do, report and let us know how it went!
I went to Lula, in Logan Square, for brunch last year; I just hadn't posted about it. I enjoyed it. They have a nice-sized al fresco seating area on their front sidewalk, which made it very pleasant. (Of course, that enjoyability is weather-dependent, not suitable for February; similarly, Magnolia Cafe has a few tables on their front sidewalk, but the day I ate brunch there in August was too hot to do so comfortably.) At Lula, I had one of their pancake specialties with mascarpone and fresh fruit and it was very good. Their menu tends to lean a bit towards the country/hearty and a bit more of a seasonal/organic and vegetarian emphasis, in case that appeals to you.
I went around the time they opened, and was seated immediately, but if I recall correctly, a few people were waiting to be seated by the time I left. Lula serves a conventional breakfast menu during the week; on weekends, they offer more creative brunch specialties. Thus they are one of the few restaurants (along with Sola in North Center, and Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook) where you can go for a nice brunch menu on a Saturday as well as a Sunday. (Frontera Grill has brunch on Saturday but not Sunday.) www.lulacafe.com
Oh, and who cares about whether someone thinks a place is hyped or not? I care about how good the food is, and how enjoyable the experience is. Remember, a restaurant is new to anyone who is visiting it for the first time. And if you're going there for the first time, it really doesn't matter how much (or how little) anyone else has been talking about it! :)
We went out for brunch today around noon. We decided to drive past M. Henry to see if they had the usual crowds waiting outside - they did - and we then went to Magnolia Cafe in Uptown. We were seated inside immediately (even though their lovely outdoor sidewalk dining area was rendered undesirable by the current spell of heat and humidity). We had the "Smoked trout hash with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, applewood smoked bacon and hollandaise sauce. Served with two eggs any style" (we chose poached) and the "Crab Cakes and poached eggs over English muffins, roasted red peppers and old bay hollandaise. Served with house Potatoes" (mashed). Both dishes were excellent, with a bit of spice to them. Our accompanying bloody mary and fresh-squeezed orange juice were fine too. This was an all-around great place for a laid-back neighborhood type brunch. Highly recommended. www.magnoliacafeuptown.com
Curious, what is the level of cocktail at Pegu? I used to live in the Village until 2000 and was never terribly impressed with any of the $10+ cocktails I bought in NYC. Granted, mixology was not popular until recently.
There are quite a few interesting places here in Chicago. My favorite is Nacional 27--the bartender, Adam Seger is great and goes so far as to even make his own bitters. There will always be something new he's succesfully mixing, but homemade bitters in the classic old-fashioned is a great way to start any evening. The restaurant is also great, nueavo-latino, and begins to morph to a SoBe-type latin lounge around 10 on weekends. IT's owned by a huge restaurant corp, but don't let that stop you--the chefs for each LEYE restaurant are also owners (like the Chodorow empire).
Brunch is something at which Chicago chefs excel. If you don't mind a wait, I suggest Flo's. It will be the most imaginative mexican-influenced breakfast you've ever had. Flo alse serves wonderful Inteligentsia coffee free while you wait. Its a little bit off the beaten path, but West Town (just over the river from River North on Chicago Ave) is a great 'hood.
Today's Chicago Tribune has several articles on weekend brunches. It includes the following articles (subscription may be required for Internet access):
"The ultimate brunch guide" (with reports grouped by brunches with music, with views, with a family vibe, with fabulous French toast, with a laid-back pace, and elegant and tranquil):
"How to ruin a brunch":
I should add Lou Mitchell's to the above list. Lou Mitchell's has been around since 1923, and is much more of a traditional breakfast place - think of a busy lunch counter where they're slinging hash and eggs and hurried businessmen (and businesswomen) stop there every day for a coffee and this is the place you're thinking of. They're just west of the Loop, near the commuter train stations (no coincidence), and they're open seven days.
Lou Mitchell's Restaurant
565 W Jackson Blvd
Juicy Wine bar was a blast
We had a butter plate coupled with Red Hen's whole wheat honey loaf and drank some fun/cheap/unrespected moscato (i was w/ a buncha eono nooobs so...). Linda, our tender, was clearly a foodie and didn't flinch when i pulled out my Canon to take a pix of the "butter flight".
The whole downstairs space smelled of rochefort cheese. I also saw a unique bubbly sake on the shelf which i have yet to see at Mitsuwa/H-mart. In fact, thanks for reminding me, i'm off to pick up that bottle right now for tonite's kaiseki.
The wine list isn't thorough as some other new-on-the-scene winebars, but it also doubles as a retail store so any wine you can order off the list can be purchased for home consumption.
As far as brunch locales, nix half of the nsxtacy's (btw, are you an Acura driver?) profferings. Bongo / Wishbone / Twisted Spoke / Flo / Kitsch are all completely played out. Long lines, blah blah food (or in Flo's case, overly creative food, with a chef that has zilch palate).
Want quaint high quality brunch? Try an alternative like Yoshi's on Halsted. Biggest freakin' crab cake benedict you'll ever see in the Midwest.
Want haute brunch? Hit up the unrushed Custom House on Sunday and ask if you can see the pastry/cheese/dessert plate for dinner. They'll most likely obliged and you'll end up with a glorious (the entire restaurant is flooded with sunlight) 2 hour, 3-course brunch. It doesn't hurt the place is helmed by a James Beard award winner. IMO, it's also the "better" of all of Shawn M's restaurants.
Want hip S. American inflected brunches, try Bravo on Division, Cuatro on State (? I think it's on state). Nothing like starting off a morning with a pitcher of sangria.
I'd also second (and third, and fourth) the Sweets and Savories rec. By far the best "proper" brunch value in the city, dollar for dollar, ounce for ounce. Just stop spreading it around. It's hard enough to get a table as is. We just had our engagement brunch there last weekend, everyone had a blast. the food, from the hand made scones to the loved-by-ladies palmier, was impeccable. W/o the old efficient service staff, we were entertaining ourselves in between entrees, but it mattered not.
I had brunch at Sola this morning, and I thought it was very good in all respects - food, atmosphere, and service. The Sunday brunch menu was very similar to the one on their website.
Additional note number 1 - no long waits. Granted, this was a frigid morning. However, it is a good-sized place and I doubt that they ever get long waits. Furthermore, Sola takes brunch reservations, and you can make reservations there on opentable.com which lets you see what time(s) they have available. All easy as pie.
Additional note number 2 - The street address of the restaurant is 3868 N. Lincoln, but don't look for it on Lincoln or you'll drive right past it. The restaurant entrance (as well as all of its visibility) is on Byron, the side street.
3868 N. Lincoln Ave. @ Byron
Chicago. IL 60613
I disagree with Tony's remarks about the previously-mentioned places for brunch, the ones in the second paragraph of my post. Based on my experience, they all continue to serve excellent food. However, as I already indicated, these are places (just like the Bongo Room mentioned by the OP) well-known PRIMARILY for their brunch, and as a result, their waiting times can be as much as an hour or more at peak times. There are plenty of other places that are not as well known and/or which take reservations, so there's no need to wait a long time unless you absolutely *must* go to a particular place. In fact, Metromix did an entire article about where to go nearby when you find that one of those popular places has a long waiting time: http://metromix.chicagotribune.com/di...
And as I also mentioned in that post, the listing there just scratches the surface (even accompanied by the posts since added by others). Metromix lists 375 places serving brunch, and over 100 of the ~300 places that take reservations in opentable.com had openings for brunch this morning.
for brunch, I have two recommendations. For a Sat brunch, go and try Frontera Grill; all of his best lunch items are on there, plus some huevos rancheros, etc. for a Sunday burnch, travel to Sweets & Savories on Fullerton. It is nicer than others and reaosnable. three courses for $16, includes: coffee/tea and homemade pastries, appetizer two to choose by the week, entree (have to try the duck hash and the bacon breakfast egg risotto) and get a side of bacon. It also includes one cocktail and they make a mean mimosa and even better, sometimes, if you're lucky, a bellini with fresh pureed mango or some other exotic fruit.
There are tons of places all over Chicago to do brunch. Asking where to do brunch, without specifying a location or any other qualifier, is like asking where you can find a nice dinner. There are literally hundreds of places where you can find a nice brunch, in the city and suburbs.
Places in the city that are known specifically for their brunch (like the Bongo Room is in Wicker Park and the South Loop) include: Kitsch'n in Roscoe Village and in River North; Orange in Lakeview and the South Loop; Wishbone in the West Loop and on N Lincoln; Flo in Wicker Park; and M. Henry in Andersonville. Most of them are busy for brunch, with long wait times.
Fine dining restaurants in the city that serve brunch on Saturday and/or Sunday include NoMi, Seasons, Frontera Grill, and North Pond. The Ritz-Carlton recently stopped serving in the Dining Room, but they are continuing their highly-regarded Sunday brunch in their Cafe. I haven't been to the Sunday brunch at the Signature Room at the 95th, at the top of the John Hancock Building; their food is not generally all that highly regarded, but on a clear day, you can't beat the view.
In the northern suburbs, Walker Brothers is known for their stained glass and their huge baked apple pancake.
And these answers just scratch the surface.
Metromix is the entertainment website of the Chicago Tribune. Their guide to articles on brunch places is at http://metromix.chicagotribune.com/dining/guides/brunch
Links to related websites:
Bongo Room - www.bongoroom.com
Kitsch'n - www.kitschn.com
Orange (no website AFAIK)
Wishbone - www.wishbonechicago.com
Flo - www.eatatflo.com
M. Henry (no website AFAIK)
NoMi - www.nomirestaurant.com
Seasons - www.fourseasons.com/chicagofs/dining.html
Frontera Grill - www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/grill.html
North Pond - www.northpondrestaurant.com
Ritz-Carlton - www.fourseasons.com/chicagorc/dining.html
Signature Room at the 95th - www.signatureroom.com
Walker Brothers - www.walkerbrosoph.com
I ate brunch at Bongo Room yesterday, and was delighted as usual. I always enjoy eating breakfast/brunch at *all* these places, especially ones I haven't been to in a while. What I like about the breakfast menu is that I can get sweeter items (pancakes, French toast) when I'm in the mood for that, and savory items (eggs/omelets, bacon) when I'm in the mood for that. One thing I love about Bongo Room is that they can do a split order for you - IOW, even though their pancakes and French toast normally consist of three pieces, you can order a smaller portion size of one or two pieces at a reduced charge. That way you can try more than one menu item. Yesterday I was in a mood for sweeter items, so I had a blueberry cheesecake pancake topped with almond panna cotta cream - that was HEAVENLY - and the strawberry-mango brioche French toast, which was very good, too. And during the week, there are no concerns about long lines.
Incidentally, for whatever reason, Bongo Room's website is down right now, but you can see their menu at http://chicago.menupages.com
Orange now has a website at www.orangerestaurantchicago.com
They have closed their location in the South Loop, but in addition to the original location in Lakeview, have opened additional locations in River East (Grand at Halsted/Milwaukee), Roscoe Village (Roscoe at Damen), and Lincoln Park (Clark at Fullerton). They are about to open two new locations, in River North (Clark at Superior) and in north suburban Glenview (Glenview Road west of Waukegan Road).