Friday, March 9, 2012

Must-Visit Brunch Places and Must-Eat Brunch Dishes


The November 2011 issue of Chicago Magazine presented what seemed to be a comprehensive list of “Best Breakfasts in Chicago and the Suburbs: Great Restaurants to Try Now” (http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2011/Best-Breakfasts-in-Chicago/).  Including in their round-up many diners and bagel joints and French bistros, the list offered a wide variety of brunch possibilities.  Among them, some of our favorites include Lula Café, M. Henry, Café Selmarie, Over Easy, and Tre Kronor.  There were also places on that list that we have tried for dinners that we are curious about brunching in, like Takashi (for their Sunday ramen brunches) and Sola (with their Hawaiian theme).

As full as the list was though, it was not exhaustive.  There are two more places that I would add—though at least one is quite new and might not have been offering brunches at the time of Chicago Magazine’s compilation.  In fact, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t rather let these two other brunch places stay under the radar since part of their irresistible charm for me is that they are accessible.  While M. Henry and Lula Café both serve exceptional breakfasts, it’s a bit discouraging to think about having to be in Andersonville at 7:58am and no later than 9:07am at Logan Square for these two stand-outs.  That just doesn’t resemble my idea of a relaxing Sunday brunch…

Thus far, Libertad (in Skokie: http://www.libertad7931.com/brunch/) and Prairie Grass Café (in Northbrook: http://www.prairiegrasscafe.com/index.php?page=brunch) have not been discovered enough for their brunches—though their bustling dinner service on most nights indicate that they have indeed been “discovered” by enough people.  We enjoy being able to stroll in at 10:00am to either place and having absolutely no trouble getting a table.  Prairie Grass opens for breakfast at 9:30am on Sundays and is large enough that the restaurant is not filled at 10:00am.  Libertad is smaller, but they don’t open until 10:00am anyway, so it’s a perfect match for me and Will on Sunday mornings.

Of course, this post about Chicago-area brunch places might not be much help to those who reside elsewhere, but ultimately this post isn’t about specific restaurants so much as (strictly personal) observations about what dishes brunch places should definitely include on their menu.


1) Some type of Eggs Benedict:
The picture above is of Prairie Grass’s Signature Benedict with sauteed spinach, crumbled bacon, and roasted tomato Hollandaise sauce.  Perhaps I might prefer a tad more their Portobello Mushroom Benedict which consists of two eggs over panko-crusted and fried Portobello mushroom caps, and also smothered with a roasted tomato Hollandaise sauce.  It’s a pretty special dish, and vegetarians might appreciate a change-of-pace from the spinach eggs benedict which is the usual option for non-meat-eaters.  Of course, I enjoy other benedicts as well (traditional Canadian ham, salmon, crab cake, etc.).


2) Some type of Belgian waffle dish:
Not everyone has a Belgian waffle-maker at home.  Even those who do (namely, us) have discovered that it’s not the easiest thing to make fluffy and crisp Belgian waffles first thing in the morning if you have not planned for it ahead of time.  The best waffle recipes seem to require an overnight rest of the yeast batter or dough and so this is not the spontaneous brunch option for most people.  I love Belgian waffles on their own, but at restaurants I also expect to be offered something special.  Like the yummy Belgian Waffle with mango ice cream and fresh berries, pictured above, from Prairie Grass.

Prairie Grass's bacon waffle with Valrhona chocolate sauce was not as successful—with the crispiness of the waffle muted by the bacon, and the delicate texture overwhelmed by the chocolate sauce which was more milk chocolate than I expect from a Belgian sauce. In fact, Will's Liege-style traditional Belgian waffle (firmer texture, with pearl sugars bursting through)--drizzled with a chocolate sauce I made from Callebaut dark chocolate and accompanied, in the photo at the top, with a small scoop of pistachio gelato--might have been a better combination.  It doubles nicely as dessert too.  (Click here for a good streamlined recipe for Liege-style waffles.)


3) Some type of special French toast dish:
Many restaurants offer different foundations like banana-bread French toast and pumpkin-bread French toast.   Those are great options, but even just a regular French toast is acceptable too—as long they are accompanied by something singularly interesting.  Libertad serves their French toast with habanero-butternut compote (it’s got a sweet and kicky flavor, and you do taste the habanero!) and roasted pineapple ice cream which provides a sweet cool contrast to the spicy heat of the butternut compote.


4) Some type of breakfast sandwich or burrito:
It feels a little special to have what sounds like lunch or dinner food in the morning, so breakfast “sandwiches” are nice additions to a brunch menu.  It’s even better when your runny egg and bacon torta is accompanied by chimichurri fries the way Libertad serves it.  Remember though that breakfast sandwiches which include runny fried eggs are quite messy to eat, so you might want to save this dish for when you are with someone you don’t need to impress.    


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