Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Brunch at Appellation

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Duck confit and vegetable hash, Appellation

Duck confit and vegetable hash with cheddar grits and poached egg

Best Bite: Appellation is the full-service restaurant attached to Pastoral’s relatively new Andersonville location, and was among those offering brunch this year. I’m usually more of a savory brunch person, so the duck confit hash with delicata squash, carrots, and poached eggs was just what I wanted. The cheesy grits at the bottom of the bowl were also a welcome switch from the typical potato base. However, the dish that left the very best impression on me was actually the pancakes. I’m not sure whether it was the dense texture of the cakes or the orange butter on top, but they were excellent.

Buttermilk pancakes, Appellation

Buttermilk pancakes with orange butter and warm maple syrup

Other notes: The baked eggs in squash cream were another creative take on a classic savory dish, especially because you could load up each slice of baguette with a pile of prosciutto, arugula, and the creamy eggs. I was so full at the end of the meal that I didn’t even browse the cheese and artisanal food selection for which Pastoral is most known – that will have to merit its own separate visit.

Baked eggs, Appellation

Baked eggs in squash cream with proscuitto San Daniele, agro dolce onions, arugula, and baguette

The details: Appellation, 5212 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Brunch at Bar Siena

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Cherry almond granola, Bar Siena

Cherry almond granola with Greek yogurt, chia seed, cherry swirl gelato, and mint

Best Bite: Bar Siena is the sister restaurant to Siena Tavern, one of my go-to recommendations, so booking their Restaurant Week brunch was a no-brainer. We were originally disappointed that the caramelized waffle was no longer available as a first course, but the remaining option turned out to be the greatest revelation of the day. Cherry almond granola suddenly became much more exciting when layered with chia seed-flecked yogurt and topped with a scoop of cherry gelato. The parfait was a bright and creative start to the meal.

Breakfast sandwich, Bar Siena

Bombo breakfast sandwich with pancetta cured bacon, pork sausage, scrambled eggs, and American cheese

Other notes: The main course had everything you need in a classic breakfast sandwich: fluffy eggs, smoky bacon, spicy sausage, and a melted slice of American cheese, all on a soft bun. And I loved looking up at the tangle of white-lit branches that stretched across the ceiling from the living tree in the middle of the restaurant.

Cocktail No. 5, Bar Siena

Cocktail No. 5, with Botanist gin, lavender honey, aperol, Lillet rose, lemon, thyme, and tonic, in front of the dining room’s two-story tree

The details: Bar Siena, 832 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

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Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Breakfast caesar salad and Bloody Mary, Super Miss Sue

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Breakfast Caesar, Super Miss Sue

Breakfast Caesar with charred Cos, crispy ham, eggs, pickled onion, and salad cream

I wasn’t sure if upscale brunch would be as popular in Ireland as it is in the States, but Super Miss Sue made it clear that Dublin takes the leisurely weekend meal just as seriously. And if I know anything about brunch, it’s that most of the best ones start with a great Bloody Mary. This one was exceptional: lots of peppery spice and savory worcestershire kick, plus brine from the pickle and char from the shrimp. It felt classic and fresh all at once.

Bloody Mary, Super Miss Sue


Classic Bloody Mary with a prawn and pickle

My entree veered even further away from tradition. It was a breakfast version of a Caesar salad, so poached eggs landed atop croutons, dressing, and charred romaine leaves. Crispy ham and pickled onions rounded out all the different textures, and also added more color to an already beautiful plate. I wouldn’t normally choose a salad in the morning, but this one definitely satisfied. And closing out the meal with coffee and gelato is never a bad idea, especially when one of the trio of flavors tasted just like Ferrero Rocher.

Coffee, vanilla, and ferrero-rocher gelato with coffee, Super Miss Sue

Coffee, vanilla, and ferrero-rocher gelato with coffee

The details: Super Miss Sue, 2–3 Drury St., Dublin 2, Ireland.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Custard french toast, pork rinds & Smokin’ Mary, The Publican

Pork rinds, Publican

The famous pork rinds

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I’m happy to finally be writing about The Publican, one of the first restaurants I learned was something special when I started getting into the Chicago food scene. It was where I celebrated with family and friends right after my culinary school graduation, and it also happened to be this month’s pick for the “brunch club” organized among several of my friends. I hadn’t been back for brunch in years, so I was excited to try the Saturday menu.

Whenever I recommend The Publican to anyone, I always add that they have to order the pork rinds. To be honest, I never thought I’d have a favorite pork rind, but anyone who’s tried The Publican’s version knows they’re like none other. The first bite is the loudest, most satisfying snap-crackle-pop you can imagine, and then the spicy, porky flavor just melts away in your mouth. The rinds are dusted with cheddar, malt vinegar, and espelette pepper powder, a bright orange combination that you’d notice was getting all over your hands if you weren’t so absorbed in all the crunching. Chicago magazine made a great step-by-step video of how Chef Brian Huston puts them together.

Custard French toast, Publican

Custard french toast with grilled peach, spiced granola, and whipped ricotta

I’d heard the french toast was not to be missed, and the fact that it involved fleeting summer peaches made it an even easier sell. The custard-soaked bread was creamy on the inside and deeply caramelized on the outside, with more toasty aromas from the grilled peaches (I would have loved even more slices) and an especially nutty, seedy granola. Even after adding syrup, the slathering of mellow ricotta kept the dish from being overly sweet.

The Smokin’ Mary was another hit – I really loved the smoky depth of the stout and chipotle mix, and the white whiskey by Evanston-based Few Spirits is always a no-brainer in cocktails. Simple garnishes and a pilsner sidecar made it a balanced, manageable Mary.

Smokin' Mary, Publican

Smokin’ Mary with Few white whiskey, chipotle house mix, stout, and Krombacher Pils sidecar

Lighting, Publican

The Publican’s now-iconic globe lighting

The details: The Publican, 837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Open-faced breakfast burger, Grange Hall Burger Bar

Open-faced breakfast burger, Grange Hall Burger Bar

Open-faced breakfast burger with grass-fed beef burger, cinnamon-raisin french toast, canadian and applewood bacon, maple syrup, sharp cheddar, and sunny-side-up egg

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I’ve blogged about my sweet-savory brunch dilemma before, and it remains my most difficult decision on any morning menu. So if there’s a dish that combines both in one, you can bet I’ll be ordering it. Only available on the weekend Farmer’s Breakfast menu, this open-faced burger immediately reminded me of a gourmet, locally sourced, next-level McGriddle (in a good way, of course). It packs three kinds of meat – canadian bacon, applewood bacon, and the grass-fed beef patty – plus cheddar and an chive-flecked egg, all atop a slice of syrup-soaked cinnamon-raisin french toast. While it’s certainly decadent, the portion is still manageable and satisfied every brunch craving at once. The setting is just as pleasant: from the cheery red door flanked by fresh tulips to the farm-themed decor throughout the restaurant, I felt right at home.

Grange Hall Burger Bar entrance

A weathered red door and fresh tulips at the entrance set off the farm décor

The details: Grange Hall Burger Bar, 844 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Japanese pancake and Feijoada fries, La Sirena Clandestina

Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) with asparagus, kewpie mayo, bean sprouts, and green onions

Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) with asparagus, kewpie mayo, bean sprouts, and green onions

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: La Sirena Clandestina is a South American-influenced restaurant that’s been on my list for a while, but moved up toward the top once I saw their out-of-the-box brunch menu. Faced with too many interesting options, my friend and I split a breakfast empanada to start, then shared two other dishes (and we must have been onto something, because the women at the next table over copied our order exactly). The okonomiyaki was a thick, scallion-heavy pancake with two complementary, umami-rich sauces. This version rivaled the ones I’ve had as appetizers at Japanese and Korean restaurants in the past, but still managed to feel like a morning dish. The fries were what I would imagine Brazilian poutine to be like, generously doused in black beans and gooey cheese with surprising notes from the pickled fresnos and mustard sauce, plus a fried egg to tie it up in a more breakfast-y bow. I loved the whole design of the space, too: turquoise walls, light streaming through salvaged windows, beautiful wood everywhere. To top it off, La Sirena made a spicy, no-frills Bloody Mary with pisco and Fernet that far exceeded the usual brunch benchmark.

Feijoada fries with black beans, provolone, pickled fresnos, green onions, sour cream and mustard sauce, and fried egg

Feijoada fries with black beans, provolone, pickled fresnos, green onions, sour cream and mustard sauce, and fried egg

Bloody mary with Peruvian pisco and Fernet Branca

Bloody mary with Peruvian pisco and Fernet Branca

The details: La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W Fulton Market, Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Lobster club and parmesan-sage fries, Siena Tavern

Lobster club, with citrus-poached lobster, frisee, pancetta-cured bacon,  tomato, herb aioli, toasted brioche, and parmesan-sage fries

Lobster club, with citrus-poached lobster, frisee, pancetta-cured bacon,
tomato, herb aioli, toasted brioche, and parmesan-sage fries

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Siena Tavern has been on my radar primarily because of executive chef Fabio Viviani, best known for appearing on Top Chef and whom I got to meet at Chicago Gourmet a few years ago. I went for the first time for brunch over the weekend, eventually choosing from the lunch side of the menu. The lobster club sandwich had a lot going on, in a good way, while still letting the citrus-poached lobster be the star of the show, enhanced by smoky bacon. The juicy tomato and frisee made it a little messy, but the bright herb aioli soaking into the brioche held everything together. And I’m a fan of crispy sage on pretty much anything, but it worked especially well on the fries, also tossed with salty parmesan and garlic. Aioli and ketchup were both served in metal measuring cups, which added a nice rustic touch to the plate. My leather barrel chair also happened to be outlandishly comfortable, which made the experience extra luxurious.

The details: Siena Tavern, 51 W Kinzie St., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Maple pancakes from Jam and shrimp & grits from Carriage House

Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, sugar, citrus, Jam

Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, Indian sugar brûlée & citrus rind conserve, Jam

Shrimp, grits, gravy & tasso, Carriage House

Shrimp, grits, hunter gravy & tasso, Carriage House

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I had two excellent brunch dishes this week, and they were different enough – apart from their color scheme, apparently – that it was too difficult to choose a favorite. On the sweeter side, these citrusy pancakes from Jam were like a light lemon crème brûlée with a maple foundation from the cake itself. The toasty sugar and candied rind added great crunch…and don’t even get me started on the bacon-sausage I ordered on the side (that’s right: sausage made from bacon). I think I liked these even better than the decadent chocolate ones I featured from last year – and I also promise that Jam has more than just pancakes!

On the savory side, these shrimp and grits from Carriage House, which I first visited during Restaurant Week, were just the classic I was hoping for. The head-on shrimp were nicely cooked, the grits were creamy, and the gravy didn’t skimp on smoky, meaty flavor. I was also satisfied with the portion size, especially since we couldn’t pass up a little skillet cornbread on the side (I still can’t figure out their secret, but it is delicious).

I fight the sweet vs. savory battle on every brunch menu. Savory usually wins, so I’m glad that in this case, I can call it a tie.

The details: Jam, 3057 W Logan Blvd., Chicago; Carriage House, 1700 W Division St., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: The Kedzie breakfast, Grandma J’s Local Kitchen

The Kedzie, Grandma J's Local Kitchen

The Kedzie, Grandma J’s Local Kitchen

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I was overjoyed by this unique take on eggs benedict on a recent weekday morning. The poached eggs sit atop cheddar jasmine rice cakes, crispy on the outside and cheesy on the inside, with hollandaise, pico de gallo, and black beans to tie it together. Large pieces of grilled pineapple and red pepper also make a statement as garnishes, joined by a pleasant arugula salad. It’s filling and a little exotic, meant to be enjoyed with coffee and a good read (in my case, the never-ending quest to catch up on magazines).

Sunny interior, Grandma J's Local Kitchen

Sunny interior, Grandma J’s Local Kitchen

Walking into Grandma J’s is like stepping into someone’s living room, mismatched furniture and all. Bold art, antique photos, and knick-knacks huddle under the colorful fabric panels that adorn the ceiling, and an armoire surrounded by wall-mounted clocks holds an array of hot sauces, a gentle reminder that it’s still a restaurant. The service is casual and friendly, and the open kitchen makes it feel like you’re pulling up a stool to watch Grandma cook (if Grandma was younger, with hipster sensibilities). It’s tucked away in Humboldt Park, a block from my old apartment – I so wish it had opened while I still lived there, as it would have been a dream to have brunch like this within walking distance. If you go, make sure to also stop for a treat at 100-year-old Roeser’s Bakery, just across North Avenue.

Mason jars and cozy details, Grandma J's Local Kitchen

Mason jars and cozy details, Grandma J’s Local Kitchen

The details: Grandma J’s Local Kitchen, 1552 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Fat Elvis waffles, Little Goat Diner

Fat Elvis waffles, Little Goat Diner

Fat Elvis waffles, Little Goat Diner

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I’ll just say it: these waffles were crazy in the best way possible. It was the kind of New Year’s Eve brunch dish that said “2012, let’s send you out with a sweet, bacon-y bang.” The texture of the waffles was just dense enough, the bacon syrup and bananas were indulgent-yet-balanced toppings, and the peanut butter butter simply defied logic with its creaminess. Of course, the waffles were even better washed down with a couple cups of Stumptown Coffee, one of the best roasters around. I could only eat half in one sitting, but it also made for killer leftovers.

Needless to say, I’m already planning my next visit, as my dining partner and I found it very difficult to decide on just one dish from perhaps the most comprehensive, enticing, otherwise mind-boggling diner menu I’ve ever seen. From the food to the décor, mastermind Stephanie Izard nails every detail – just look at the wallpaper! We also stopped into Little Goat Bread, adjacent to the diner, and swooned over the gorgeous bar (espresso by day, liquor by night) and the ingenious idea of mixing Girl & the Goat’s “life-changing” green beans into cream cheese for bagels.

Stumptown coffee, Little Goat Diner

Stumptown coffee, Little Goat Diner

The details: Little Goat Diner, 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

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