Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: Focaccia French toast & eggs in purgatory, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast with Nutella whipped cream, candied orange syrup, and buffalo butter

Why it’s a Best Bite: I tend to adore Italian-influenced brunch, so this newcomer to the Southport Corridor seemed worthy of a visit. Coda di Volpe excelled equally in the sweet and savory realms, which is not an easy feat. On the sweet side, the focaccia French toast was dense and decadent in the best way. Each substantial slice of focaccia was topped with buffalo’s milk butter and a scoop of Nutella whipped cream, plus candied orange syrup and hazelnuts on the plate as accompaniments. It was a fantastic (and rich) combination of flavors.

Eggs in purgatory and classic bellini, Coda di Volpe

Eggs in Purgatory with baked eggs, spicy tomato, provola, polenta cake, and fennel sausage; and classic bellini with white peach and prosecco

On the savory side, the eggs in purgatory were sizzling in both spiciness and temperature. I loved every part of this dish, from the polenta to the sausage to the baked eggs bathed in tomato sauce. To quench the heat, I sipped a refreshing bellini of prosecco and white peach.

Our table also shared an order of bomboloni with three dipping sauces. The dough itself was slightly less sweet, so the orange, grape, and chocolate sauces were more necesssary for balance.

Bomboloni, Coda di Volpe

Bomboloni with candied orange syrup, chocolate sauce, and concord grape jam

The details: Coda di Volpe, 3335 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

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Chicago, Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Brunch at Knife & Tine

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Knife & Tine Brunch

Breakfast sandwich, Knife & Tine

Breakfast sandwich with coffee-cured bacon, fried egg, cheddar, and house mayonnaise with fingerling potatoes

Best Bite: I’m happy to report that my first-ever Restaurant Week brunch was a major success. Knife & Tine’s menu price included an entree, two sides, and a drink, so our group of six ordered strategically in an effort to taste as many different things as possible. I was floored by the sheer variety of rich, creative dishes that eventually hit our table: cheesy grits, smoky pork sausage patties, buttery fingerling potatoes, nutty pumpkin bread, fluffy biscuits with cardamom-scented cara cara orange jam – and those were just the sides! My breakfast sandwich combined many of the best flavors on the table, especially the mingling of fried egg with bacon cured in brown sugar, coffee, and cinnamon.

Salted butterscotch croissant-style donut, Knife & Tine

Salted butterscotch croissant-style donut

Other notes: They weren’t technically on the Restaurant Week menu, but the salted butterscotch croissant-style donuts were fantastic (and helped me understand the cronut craze a little bit better). I also loved the cinnamon biscuit beignets, a plateful of sugary, bite-size rounds with a vanilla bean dipping sauce. As a bonus, our group was fortunate enough to sit at the chef’s table, enclosed by silver-toned wallpaper and a crystal chandelier overhead.

The details: Knife & Tine, 1417 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #10: Fried chicken and waffles, GT Fish & Oyster

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Fried chicken and waffles, GT Fish & Oyster

Fried chicken and waffles with Burton’s maplewood farm syrup

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: Tucked amongst GT Fish & Oyster’s menu of generally seafood-leaning brunch dishes is their perfectly executed version of chicken and waffles. The generously battered chicken stayed exceedingly juicy atop fluffy waffles, all drizzled with pure maple syrup.

View another brunch Best Bite from GT Fish & Oyster.

The details: GT Fish & Oyster, 531 N. Wells St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #5: Savory almond crepe, Lula Café

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Savory almond crepe, Lula Café

Savory almond crepe with jarlsberg cheese, sweet potato, lamb pancetta, grilled chicories, anchovy vinaigrette, and sunny side egg

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: It shouldn’t be too surprising that a dish from Lula has landed on this list for the third year in a row, since I go there more often than nearly any other restaurant. This brunch special stood out for both its striking appearance and its comforting flavors. Crispy lamb, sweet potato, and cheese were ensconced by the fluffiest of crepes, with greens and walnuts to balance out the richness of the egg on top.

View two more Best Bites from Lula Café brunch, one savory and one sweet.

The details: Lula Café, 2537 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

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, Chicago

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, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake, baked egg & more from brunch, Avec

Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake with apple-rosemary compote and whipped cream

Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake with apple-rosemary compote and whipped cream

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: After a decade of being dinner-only, Avec launched brunch service last summer – an announcement that made the Chicago food world collectively squeal with delight. While I’ve already blogged about Avec’s legendary stuffed dates, which we ordered almost reflexively, the other stellar brunch plates merited a post of their own. The day’s special was the wood-fired pancake, a velvety stunner cooked in a cast-iron pan and topped with fragrant apple-rosemary compote and mounds of whipped cream. Its Dutch Baby–style texture was unbelievable. Meanwhile, the baked egg dish showed off Avec’s Mediterranean leanings. Its sauce was layered with surprising flavors: chickpeas, roasted peppers of all kinds, and salty feta, all begging to be sopped up with the bread on the side.

Baked egg with roasted peppers, chickpeas, guanciale, feta, and breadcrumbs

Baked egg with roasted peppers, chickpeas, guanciale, feta, and breadcrumbs

Marinated butcher's steak with squash polenta, charred radicchio, pepita pesto, and a fried egg

Marinated butcher’s steak with squash polenta, charred radicchio, pepita pesto, and a fried egg

Another favorite was the butcher’s steak, probably the most beautiful steak-and-eggs in history. The fried egg was perfect, and the steak, ultra-tender from the marinade, shone even brighter with bold accompaniments of charred radicchio, squash polenta, pesto, parsley, and crunchy pepitas. As hard as it was to see this meal come to a close, the indulgence of the stuffed dates at the beginning was evenly matched by the petite nutter butter squares at its conclusion. Don’t miss these: the peanut butter-chocolate base, subtle feuilletine crunch, smooth ganache, and a sprinkling of sea salt made it the ultimate last bite.

Nutter butters as a final bite

Nutter butters as a final bite

The details: Avec, 615 W Randolph St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2013 Best Bite #11: Brioche french toast, Longman & Eagle

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola

Brioche french toast with foie gras frosting, pistachio custard, macerated strawberry, and candied granola

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Much like Lula yesterday, Longman & Eagle is another neighborhood favorite that inevitably made the list again this year. Any brioche french toast that involves strawberry, pistachio, and granola is already a winner, but there was one last ingredient that took it to a totally new place: foie gras frosting (yes, you read that right). Adding subtle balance to an otherwise sweet dish, this silky, umami-boosted buttercream would have won over even foie-squeamish eaters.

View another Best Bite from Longman & Eagle.

The details: Longman & Eagle, 2657 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2013 Best Bite #10: Risotto al forno, Lula Café

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Risotto al forno with lamb, cauliflower bechamel, leek, roasted corn, sungold tomato, 60-minute egg, and parmesan

Risotto al forno with lamb, cauliflower bechamel, leek, roasted corn, sungold tomato, 60-minute egg, and parmesan

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: It’s no surprise that Lula popped up as another one of my favorites this year; I go there frequently (I often acknowledge how spoiled I am to live so close by) and am impressed by dish after ultra-seasonal dish. This breakfast-slanted risotto was an especially glorious taste of summer’s bounty: toasty cauliflower, roasted corn, golden tomatoes, leeks, and slow-cooked 60-minute egg, with a protein boost from local lamb and topped with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. I savored each creamy bite as I read my Bon Appétit August issue and soaked up some rays at my patio table.

View another Best Bite from Lula Café.

The details: Lula Café, 2537 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: 11 City French Toast, Eleven Lincoln Park

11 City French Toast, with challah, strawberries, bananas, and toasted coconut

11 City French Toast, with challah, strawberries, bananas, and toasted coconut

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: South Loop brunch favorite Eleven City Diner recently opened a second location in Lincoln Park, complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain and other charming touches. With so many promising savory options (bagels and lox! Latkes! Egg dishes galore!), I even surprised myself when I went with the signature french toast instead. But now it’s hard for me imagine ordering anything else because it was just. That. Good. The fresh-baked challah is the star, striking that elusive french-toast balance of a crispy, golden crust outside and a super-soft inside without being the least bit soggy or overly eggy. Fresh strawberries and bananas with a dusting of powdered sugar always make an excellent topping, but it was the extra crunch of the toasted coconut that brought the dish to another magical level. It was too much toast to finish on the spot, but the challah held up well as leftovers.

The details: Eleven Lincoln Park, 2301 N Clark St., Chicago

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