March 22, 2012
Spring has just begun, and yet we've already had more than a month of agreeable weekend-brunch weather. The mind-boggling warm weather we've been enjoying lately has me thinking that balmy Sunday afternoons will continue forever. Which is crazy, of course, but one can dream, right?
Brunch in Chicago is as hot as the weather; so many restaurants offer brunch on Sundays, and even Saturdays, that diners' options have never been better.
Easter is a couple of weeks away, and then will come Mother's Day, but why wait? Brunch on "normal" Sundays is less stressful, less crowded and often less expensive (some restaurants kick up their prices, sometimes scandalously, for Easter and Mother's Day).
BLT American Brasserie
This River North newcomer has yet to find a big audience for its a la carte Sunday brunch, meaning, for now at least, the atmosphere is sedate and sophisticated. Brunch, like lunch and dinner here, start with complimentary black-pepper popovers, so good they justify a visit all by themselves.
The menu includes dishes from the evening menu, including the hefty BLT sandwich deluxe (with its stealth jalapeno component, $16) and the hefty butcher burger ($18) with caramelized onions. Morning-type selections include the lively eggs piperade with coins of chorizo sausage ($13); a smoked-gouda and jalapeno frittata ($13); and out-of-this-world, crispy-edged pancakes ($11). And do not skip the bread basket ($12), a virtual cornucopia of baked goodies, including croissants, cranberry-orange scones, banana-walnut muffins, madeleines, pain au chocolate and jalapeno corn bread. A novel aspect to BLT's brunch is that, for $26, you can select any egg or brunch entree and enjoy bottomless champagne for one hour. Given the bubbly being poured, however, this only becomes a deal with the third glass, and is that a good idea? Better to skip this option and focus on the savory stuff. 500 W. Superior St., 312-948-8744
This beautiful, middle-of-Lincoln-Park oasis is so consistent and reliable it's easy to forget just how good Bruce Sherman's food is. The three-course brunch, $33, will remind you. Start with a pair of spiced, intertwined shrimp over herbed polenta and lobster bisque sauce, or a poached egg with black-trumpet mushrooms and truffled hollandaise. Move on to brilliant-red beet gnocchi with beets, orange segments and goat-cheese emulsion; a roulade of pork with mojo rojo or whitefish with carrot-cardamom broth.
Desserts are delicious and artful, none more so than the deconstructed chocolate-pecan "turtle," with ancho marshmallow and graham-cracker tuile. Consider also North Pond's superb location, with its park, pond and city skyline views, and it's hard to imagine a more perfect brunch setting. 2610 N. Cannon Drive, 773-477-5845
Old Town Social
Attention may have shifted from this Old Town neighborhood pub to its sister property, the recently opened Nellcote in the Market District, but OTS still puts out a terrific Southern-themed brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. People line up before the doors open to dig into sugar-dusted beignets ($5; as faithful to the Cafe du Monde original as you can get), superb jalapeno-cheddar corn bread with honey butter ($4); first-rate biscuits and gravy ($8); and sausage and waffles ($12), in which each quarter-waffle is topped with a hunk of house-made grilled sausage.
Best of the bunch might be the BLT benedict ($9), a buttermilk biscuit topped with smoked pork belly, poached egg, peppery arugula and roasted-tomato hollandaise. OTS is something of a beer-drinker's paradise, but I'm a fan of the just-spicy-enough, meat-garnished Southern Mary cocktail ($12). 455 W. North Ave., 312-266-2277
The glass-enclosed front room of this Lincoln Park restaurant is irresistible on a sunny morning, a great place to decipher the nothing-quite-as-it-seems menu by executive chef Dale Levitski, who uses more air quotes than a bad stand-up comic. Granted, there's an actual waffle contained in the "waffle" dish ($17), but, paired with barbecued rabbit and cornmeal-fried pickles, this camera-ready presentation is hardly your standard brunch creation. Eggs benedict ($18) richly deserves its quote-mark status, given the fried green-tomato base, the short-rib topping and pickled-raisin garnish.
Among the side dishes are irresistibly soft, bacon-filled Lithuanian buns ($7), served with vanilla butter (outrageous) and perfectly crispy, thin frites ($5) served with a "bloody mary ketchup" that would make a serviceable cocktail sauce. Wash this all down with one of Sprout's specialty cocktails, especially the tart and slightly bitter Corpse Reviver ($9). 1417 W. Fullerton, 773-348-0706
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