Brunch last Sunday with my friend Aileen at her favorite place for Sunday brunch: Bakin’ & Eggs on Lincoln, south of Belmont. There was no champagne and there was only one strip of bacon, but I survived. So will you. (There’s bacon IN the waffles.) So get out there on this Sunday and get your brunch on. (Did I just say that?)
The amazingly so-good-but-so-so-bad ham and egg sandwich at Frontier on Milwaukee, one of my locals. I probably shouldn’t be eating this. But I don’t plan on eating again until somewhere around midnight (this will all become clearer shortly), so I am justifying it all.
I like Frontier. I like the menu. I like the service. I hate the volume of the music at times, and the ladies room is designed for people with no knees. But otherwise, I’m glad to have it around. Especially early on a Saturday when my cupboards are, once again, bare.
Happy weekend, everyone.
Ooh, I’m way behind. I blame the airlines. And Design Star on HGTV. And my cousin George, who was in town for all of six days and managed to completely redecorate my apartment, rearrange my kitchen cabinets, and fix anything and everything that has bugged me since I moved into this damn place nearly exactly a year ago. (Who knew the top rack of my dishwasher was adjustable?) Exhausting, all of it.
I tried to entertain George food-wise, but here’s what I learned: he’s a picky eater. He likes Red Bull. And cookies. And pretzels. And could happily survive on all that for breakfast and lunch. I think he also likes Chinese food, but I denied him his second take-out in the hopes I could convince him to go to Ruxbin. Denied. More in a bit.
Paris Club, River North: I made reservations ages in advance at Paris Club, and the charcuterie — for two — was pretty damn amazing. However, it should have been labeled “For two very large Americans” or “For four plus-sized French people” because it was really way too much food even for our table of four to do justice to. Our server was fantastic: I spilled a glass of wine all over myself (Long Island girl, talking with her hands) and he brought me a replacement glass, no problem.The atmosphere at Paris Club is very lively, but in a ”What? What did you say??” kind of way. Finally to the food…my ahi tuna main dish was pretty disappointing. Too salty.
I’ve been thinking about salt lately and have to list it out as one of the main differences between eating in the US vs. eating in the UK. Everything in the US is sooo disgustingly salty. And we wonder why we have high blood pressure. (I’d also say it’s because we don’t walk enough.)
Randomly…I went to use the ladies’ room at Paris Club on the main floor and there were six girls in line. For one toilet. Good times. About 10 minutes in, a staff member told us that there were more loos downstairs, but by that point I was next. I ended up using the men’s room, and you know what that’s like. The Verdict: Out. There are things I want to like, but that salty main dish was just too much. Oh, and my cousin George would like you to know that he and my friend Matt were two of the only men in the dining room at 8 pm on a Friday night. Odd.
Gilt Bar, River North: I went to Gilt Bar nearly exactly a year ago when I first arrived back in Chicago, but for some reason never wrote about it. Although I would like it better if I could see my hand in front of my face while I’m eating (flashlight, anyone?), I do love the food here. My truffle pasta was the dish that kept getting passed around the table. I also really like the music at Gilt Bar; they played The XX, only one of my fave albums of 2010. (OK, OK it came out in 2009 but still.) Great cocktail bar downstairs…all very chill and mellow.
Feast, Bucktown: I asked my cousin what he likes to eat for breakfast. He says — and I quote –”I’m not really a breakfast person.” You can guess where this is going. Every morning, I would wake up, make breakfast for myself, eat it, and then he would say, “What are we doing for breakfast?” Ahem. As we were up abysmally early on Saturday, so I thought we’d try for The Bongo Room. Let me point out two things. It was Saturday — not Sunday — and we arrived at 9:15 am. 9:15! They had been open 15 minutes!! And told us that we’d have to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a table. 30 to 45 minutes! So we went to Feast instead and had some pretty luscious peach and blueberry challah French toast. This place totally needs a lick of paint and our table was too wobbly for its own good, but those are minor quibbles in the face of a breakfast this nice.
The Boundary, Wicker Park: George wanted to eat outside, so I pulled up along Division and suggested Prasino. He ix-nayed it because it “looked too healthy” so instead we made our way to The Boundary, where we watched the cars go by as we snacked on some burgers and tomato soup. Everything was fine here. PS Did you know there are no parking meters on the main stretch of Division? (OK, not meters but that green machine ticket-y thing. You know what I’m talking about.)
Pizza Metro II: I wanted to go to Ruxbin. George wanted Chinese. We compromised on pizza because I wanted a salad. Hah! This place is more a take-out place than anything else. We brought home our 1/2 potato (him) and 1/2 pepperoni (me) pizza, along with my salad, and enjoyed it in front of HGTV. George said, “Yeah, this wasn’t really that great.” I would concur. Fine, nothing special. Could have used a better more bubbly crust.
I have more coming up…Blue 13, GT Fish & Oyster, Prasino, and um I decided to go to London for the weekend last week so there’s that too. Brace yourselves.
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Victim: Julie
The Damage: About $25 each. Beers.
The Background: Sunday April 10th was a GORGEOUS day in Chicago. Over 80 degrees. Amazing. It made me momentarily forget the Blizzard of 2011 that kept me trapped in my apartment with a German exchange student for three days, forcing me to skip my work trip to Israel and head straight to Dubai instead.
I tried to get Julie to buy some proseco or champagne and sit in Wicker Park with me and eat strawberries. Maybe if we closed our eyes tight enough, we could pretend we were in Hyde Park (London) or Hampstead Heath. Somehow, this didn’t work out and we ended up at The Southern for a late brunch.
LATE brunch. Which for me, makes it time for real food…real food, not breakfast food. Sadly, The Southern was only serving their brunch menu. Which means I couldn’t have their regular mac & cheese — the dish they’re most famous for — I had to have their breakfast mac & cheese instead. (I tried people. I tried.)
The breakfast mac & cheese arrives and it is soupy. Don’t let the smattering of breadcrumbs up top fool you. The rest of it is just cream of some sort. Soupy soupy cream. (The menu lists the ingredients as smoked gouda, andouille sausage,toasted bread crumbs, and scrambled egg.) I scoop up the sausage and the scrambled egg, but the mac & cheese itself is a disappointment to mac & cheese everywhere. (Which will only become clearer when I have the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had in my entire life when I hit Spuntino in London at the end of April. Mac & cheese in London of all places!)
I got most of it to go and take the rest home and with the help of Twitter, I improved upon it.
The Verdict: Everyone loves The Southern. I should probably give it another shot. But not so impressed right now. Sorry dudes.
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Victim: Joe aka Chicago Food Snob
The Damage: $20 each
The Breakfast: I am a bad American. I’ve never been much one for big American-style breakfasts and brunches. Waffles and pancakes and all that. If given the choice, I would happily have Chinese food for breakfast every morning. Or roast chicken. This is why the UK suited me so well. Sunday roasts!
But when fellow Chicago food blogger Chicago Food Snob suggested we meet up for brunch at Jam, I of course said yes because firstly, he is Chicago Food Snob and secondly, Food & Wine magazine voted Jam’s Malted Custard French Toast as one of their best dishes of 2010.
I did not order the French toast because it sounded a bit too dessert-y for my liking. (I was catching up on No Reservations on my flight back from London yesterday and was glad to hear Tony B announce that he too is not a huge dessert fan and is more a savory person. See I’m not crazy.) Instead, I opted for the Spanish Omelet, with chorizo, roasted peppers, melted onions, garrotxa Cheese, and fingerling potatoes. For $1 extra, I added white anchovies.
It was a pretty little omelet of manageable size. The chorizo was excellent; my only wish would be for larger chunks, as the chorizo was diced up quite small.
All-in-all, this was very well done. A very good breakfast indeed. One complaint would be that they don’t put salt and pepper on the tables and I would have liked some salt for both the potatoes and the omelet. Then again, I probably could have asked our server and I didn’t. Lazy beans.
Service: Antipodean (we don’t get many around these parts) and quite nice.
The Verdict: Nice.
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, February 20th, 2011
The Damage: $15
The Background: Bunny and Brandy were kind enough to ask me to be their third wheel for brunch the other weekend. I was kinda hoping they’d let me pick a name so I’d fit in. Baby? Bailey? Bella? Barbie?
This was a distracting game I played with myself as we waited for our table. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. I think we were at about 40 minutes of waiting before they called out “Brandy? Party of three?” Waiting outside in the drizzle. Because Over Easy is super small. But thoughtfully of them, they do provide free Julius Meinl coffee as you wait.
Ah America, this is why you’re fat. My order of Sassy Eggs came tarted up like a drunk girl on Mardi Gras, loaded down with strings of salsa, parsley confetti and well, a whole lot of guacamole. My stomach churned a bit at the thought of partaking in the two eggs over chorizo-potato hash with cheddar cheese, red peppers, jalapenos, guacamole, sour cream, & ancho ketchup.
I would have liked more chorizo.
And I also would have liked the dish HOT. My sassy eggs had lost their sassiness ages ago. Tepid, at best. Sad.
The Verdict: Too long a wait, too cold a dish, too much STUFF. Call me a purist.
Lovely company though! We’ll have to do it again soon, ladies!
5020 N Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL 60640
Date of Last Visit
Caravan: Monday, August 2, 2010
Tweet: Sunday, August 8, 2010
Tweet: Aileen, Christina
Tweet: $20 USD each
The Background: I’m writing this with the benefit of hindsight. You see, today, I’m sitting in my corporate apartment in Chicago, just returned from brunch, American style. And brunch was bad. Bad bad bad. Too much food. And not enough good food. And it had me longing. Longing, longing, longing. For the chorizo baked eggs at Caravan. Wait, let me rephrase that…the chorizo baked EGG–singular–at Caravan. Because you can choose…one egg…or two eggs. I chose one.
Compare this to the four egg omelette (FOUR! For the love of God! FOUR!) my friend Aileen had at brunch today and well…THIS IS WHY YOU’RE FAT, America. And the tomatoes…who grows tomatoes like this and what sort of government subsidies are we giving them because it is TOO MUCH!
I can’t compare my day of visit between the two establishments. At Caravan, I visited on a dreamy and warm Monday at 8:30 a.m. where there were just a few entrepreneurs (Americans, of course!) talking business. The music was soft and light, and the service was sweet and attentive. At Caravan, I felt calm, cool, and collected. (Check out the lead photo and you’ll get the drift.)
Tweet, in contrast, I visited on a drizzly and cool Sunday at 11 a.m., where there were 20 parties before us on the wait list and I managed to throw my champagne and peach schnappes all over myself with the assistance of our friendly server. I felt wet.
But I can compare the menus. Caravan’s menu is small and compact. I can choose from this. Now take a look at Tweet’s menu. How can they possibly do all of this well? (Although of course, in America, we have the benefit of an army of short order cooks.) This is a menu with velcro, by the way.
And then I can compare the food. Here is my baked egg with chorizo. It’s inventive (Greek yogurt! And chorizo! Combined! Deliciously so!) and lovely. The only fault I can find is with the bread. It’s not very delicious. It looks nice and healthy and grainy. But it’s missing something…maybe salt? It tastes like cardboard. Ah…and the orange juice was too large and had too much ice in it and had that taste that reminds me of drinking orange juice from a can when I went camping with my family when I was a child. I’m not saying this was tinned juice at all…I’m just saying it tasted funny to me.
And then here’s my crabcakes hollandaise at Tweet this morning. This is a heart attack on a plate. The English Muffin the eggs and sauce rested on was flabby and soft, perhaps toasted, but just barely. (And you know how I feel about toasting. Particularly English muffins, which are just begging to be toasted!) The crabcakes didn’t seem to be cakes but rather just a pile of crab. In some ways, this was not a bad thing. I like crab. But I could barely see the crab through the hollandaise so can’t tell you if it was fresh or tinned. My guess is tinned, but this is just a guess. But it was all just so…blah. (The hollandaise itself was very bland. I’ve had better. Much better.) There were two saving graces: a lovely fresh fruit bowl and the hash browns. The hash browns were nice.
And now let’s talk about the bill. I paid by cash at Caravan, but I am positive they take cards. At Tweet, they don’t take cards. At all. Cash only. BUT…they will direct you to their ATM which charged me $3.00 for the pleasure of providing me cash. Yuk. Here’s my thought…if even a nail salon can take cards, so can you.
Although I did not visit the loo at Caravan, I can tell you squarely…never, never ever visit the loo at Tweet. Because there is a sign in there that explains how the door doesn’t lock well and that you really need to make sure that the door is locked while you’re, um, taking care of business. So you spend ages trying to make sure the door is locked but you’re not sure it is so and of course…the door opens up INTO the restauarant….
Apparently, no one at Tweet has ever heard of a locksmith. Or Home Depot. Let me just say…if you need a sign, surely–SURELY–there must be a better way.
To be fair, the service was equally sweet at both establishments.
Caravan: Go! Now! But be careful on the weekend, because I’ve been thwarted before.
Tweet: I’m sure many people will like it here. Just not people who have had the baked eggs at Caravan. (Sometimes less is more, you know?) And that whole no cards thing is BS. Big time. (And you know it.) You are a large restaurant, and this is the 21st century. And well sometimes, people want to see a man about a horse and not put on a show at the same time.
The Grocery Kitchen
54 – 56 Kingsland Road
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, February 15, 2009
The Victim: Me
The Damage: £12
The Background: I felt like a little wander around Columbia Road, and I was up way too early on a Sunday. So I thought I would pop into The Grocery Kitchen for a croissant.
The Entrance: They don't really have croissants on the menu at The Grocery Kitchen. So smoked salmon and scrambled eggs it was. The pricetag was a bit hefty–£8.50–but after the £14.50 smoked salmon and scrambled eggs at The Wolseley the other day, this was a bargain.
The dining area is all sanded tables and mis-matched chairs and brickwork. I kinda like it. Plus, they have a lot of newspapers lying around, and someone has written an entire article about blogging!
The Food: I thought my food was super great. The scrambled eggs were perfect. And look at that toast! Real grill marks! Nice and buttery too. The smoked salmon was excellent as well, although I was initially concerned by its pale appearance.
The Verdict: I thought this was a GREAT breakfast–a million times better than breakfast at The Wolseley–I am sad I didn't discover The Grocery Kitchen sooner.
The News Cafe
800 Ocean Dr
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, December 20th, 2008
The Victim: Dad
The Damage: $40. For breakfast. Uggh.
The Background: I am a sucker. A big sucker. I've never spent much time in Miami Beach, but I've read enough to know that The News Cafe is famous. So that's where I take dad for breakfast.
And we're suckers. We get totally ripped off. $40 for breakfast? And the orange juice isn't freshed-squeezed? I don't think so. Apparently, The News Cafe is famous because it creates suckers like me.
The Food: I get the Huevos Rancheros and it's served like Eggs Benedict, only on tortillas. It's okay. But just okay. Not enough beans for me.
More Background: Once the crazy guy sits down next to us, we get out of there. Only to find that they've automatically added 18% to our bill as a tip. This doesn't happen much in the U.S. Only when your party is 6 or more and/or you're at a restaurant frequented by non-Americans, who don't tip more often than not.
Oh yeah, breakfast at every other place on the beach? $4.50.
I really am a sucker.
The Verdict: Don't go here. Get yourself a $4.50 breakfast somewhere else. Preferably with fresh-squeezed orange juice.
287 Upper Street
Tel: 020 7288 1454
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, September 28th 2008
The Victim (Literally): Me
The Background: I love Ottolenghi. But I also hate it, hate it, hate it. The thought of going into Ottolenghi on a weekend morning fills me with dread, no matter how delicious their salads are.
Why? It's because it's a freakin' FREE FOR ALL. All these random people (yummy mummies, young urban professionals, where hair gel goes to die, etc.) squeezing into the little entranceway, trying to place a takeaway order WHERE THERE IS NO SYSTEM. No system at all. It is total and utter CHAOS.
There's no deli counter ticket machine. What I wouldn't give for one of these (thanks to snowdeal on Flickr)…
The Verdict: Go. But forewarned is forearmed.
Date of Last Visit: May 10th, 2008
The Victims: Al, Louise
The Damage: They paid while I was in the loo! So angry.
The Background: Louise and I are getting our ass kicked on a weekly basis. Her name is Bridget and she makes us run through Highgate Wood. OK, she doesn't really make us do anything. She's helping us. Because in July, we're running the British 10k. We're crazy.
So after an ass-kicking session, Al & Louise introduce me to Pick More Daisies. Can you see the menu? They have HUEVOS RANCHEROS. Wow. I should have gotten this. Instead, I did the sensible thing and ordered the California Sunshiine and had peach sorbet for brunch. Along with two poached eggs, some wheat toast, and a whole lotta fruit. Life doesn't get much nicer than that now, does it?
The Verdict: Nice. I wouldn't mind a return visit.
Tel: 020 3116 2000
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, March 5
The Victims: Kristi, Adrien
The Damage: 22 quid each. (Two cocktails each.)
Oh I do miss Sunday brunch. Real proper brunch. Not just beans and toast and weird bacon. But lovely fun brunch with interesting breakfast-y options that aren’t quite breakfast but aren’t quite lunch either.
I picked up K&A outside Liverpool Street station on the most perfect of days. Very blue sky. Very bright sun. A little crispness in the air. We wandered towards Spitalfields and settled on The Giraffe for brunch. It was early (11) so we easily got a table. They ordered Bloody Mary’s (yuck) and I ordered a Mimosa (or Buck’s Fizz, as they call them here). My Fizz was very orange-y and pulpy. Very nice. This is interesting because I don’t really like pulpy orange juice. But throw a little champagne in there and I’m totally fine with it.
Kristi and I went with the Tostada for brunch. It arrived with some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. They were so perfectly light and fluffy. Someone really knew what they were doing. Honestly perfect. Then, there were black beans cheese and a little bit of salsa. Perfect. I did not find any Mexican sausage, but I didn’t mind. I forget what Adrien ordered, but he really liked it so it was fine.
Service was very friendly and nice. No complaints.
We left around 12 and there were 20-million people waiting to get in. This is something I don’t understand. Don’t people know that on Sundays, you don’t show up at a restaurant you want to have breakfast at at 12? You show up at 11 so you get a seat.
The Verdict: It is a chain, so my guess is that food will be random. But whoever they have in the kitchen today knows what they’re doing. So I’ll go back.