Beach trips and picnics are summer fun staples, but there’s nothing like lazing away an afternoon at brunch. Forgo your regular haunt and consider checking out the new brunch service at these eight restaurants. As an added bonus, five have outdoor seating so you can soak up some rays with your sunnyside-up eggs.
Brunch review: Hash House A Go Go
1212 N. State Parkway 312-202-0994
Rating: !! 1/2 (out of 4) Take it or leave it
*Outdoor seating available
Some people have brunch to nurse a hangover. Some want an excuse to sip fun cocktails before noon. Others live to Instagram their entree the second it comes to the table. New Gold Coast restaurant Hash House A Go Go has the potential to fulfill all of the above. An Indiana-raised chef founded this restaurant in San Diego more than a decade ago on the idea of “twisted farm food,” which apparently translates to an obscenely large menu of comfort food served in obscenely large portions. I stopped in for during opening week to find out whether it would be good or just a gimmick.
Why everybody's waffling: Anyone serving chicken and waffles within a 5-block radius of fried chicken king Art Smith’s Table Fifty-Two has guts. So Hash House goes all out with a version that's stupid huge: A steak knife holds two fried chicken breasts atop four bacon-laced waffles and a gigantic sprig of rosemary and fried leeks stick out of the top, looking like hay straight out of a farmer’s bale. My server suggested I discard the rosemary “Christmas tree” on top, remove the knife, unstack the chicken and dig in. It's a good strategy, but I still barely made it through half the food on the plate. This sweet-and-salty calorie bomb ($15.95) isn’t as good as Smith’s—but then again, his $24 version costs nearly ten bucks more.
Sweet stuff: Buttermilk pancakes—called flapjacks here, of course—actually are a pancake, singular. A 14-inch pizza-size one, to be exact, with flavors such as mango-coconut, blackberry-granola and Snickers. The caramelized sweetness of the brown sugar-banana version will lull any sweet tooth into submission, and it’s a ton of food for $7.95.
Day drinking: Apparently Hash House also has four locations in Vegas—which doesn’t surprise me when I see that the more-is-more philosophy continues on the drink menu. Desserty espresso drinks include the s'mores mocha, crowned with marshmallow fluff and graham cracker garnish ($6.95), while the 20-ounce B.L.T. bloody mary ($10.95) comes with lettuce, tomato and bacon in the glass plus two pieces of toast. Then there's the O’Hare of the Dog, a 24-ounce canned beer in a paper bag served with five slices of bacon ($4.95). If the decor weren't so understated—think black-and-white farm photos and tractor seats on the walls, but no overalls or hay bales—I'd feel like I was in a theme park.
Bottom line: The eat-to-excess philosophy could work in this corner of the Gold Coast best known for its drink-to-excess tourist-trap bars, especially with a late-night weekend menu (Something tells me the food will taste even better after a couple rounds). If you're looking for a refined brunch experience, this is definitely not your place, but for a novelty brunch when you're sick of The Bongo Room, it'll do.
>>Hash House A Go Go serves breakfast 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Monday-Friday and brunch 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Select breakfast dishes also are served on the lunch, dinner and late-night menus.
Brunch review: Grandma J’s Local Kitchen
1552 N. Kedzie Ave. 773-227-3626
Rating: !!! (out of 4) Off to a good start
Nana, Grammy, Oma, Abuela … whatever you call your grandmother, chances are she’d want you to eat a wholesome breakfast before you start your day. That’s the mission at Grandma J’s, a quirky, comfortable BYOB Humboldt Park cafe that packs a lot of sentiment into a small storefront. From black-and-white portraits to an Etta James-heavy soundtrack to board games, the dining room has about as much vintage kitsch as a yard sale. But it’s not artificial nostalgia—owner Layla Malia Krause named the place after her mother (Grandma J herself), who has five grandkids, and Krause aims to channel her comforting culinary presence.
Good eggs: The menu leans heavily toward the savory category—the only sweet dish is a trio of light, just-off-the-griddle French toast sticks ($5)—and that means cage-free eggs top nearly every breakfast offering. The Works ($11) nestles two perfectly runny poached eggs atop mounds of healthy spinach, kale, mushrooms, potatoes and grilled tomatoes, and includes a base of prosciutto and super thick toast (baked just around the corner at Roeser’s) to soak up all the creamy yolk and hollandaise. On the simpler side, Egg in the Hole ($8) delivers two slices of bread—go with the Hawaiian bread option if you want a bit of sweetness—with a silver dollar-sized hole cut out of each center to make room for a fried egg.
Day drinking: Your granny might not approve of imbibing before noon, but Grandma J’s surely doesn’t mind. Bring your own champagne to mix with the three juices on the mimosa platter ($6), which are served with chilled flutes and sliced berries. The pineapple and cranberry juices are a nice change of pace if you feel stuck in an OJ mimosa rut, or opt for the virgin bloody mary fixings ($4) if you’ve brought vodka.
Is it lunchtime yet? From an individual bacon-wrapped meatloaf to a substantial organic beef burger, there are just as many lunch dishes as breakfast offerings. Chicken is free-range and the bacon’s nitrate-free, making the cobb sandwich ($9) an especially wholesome and hearty choice.
Bottom line: The menu at Grandma J’s is as straight-forward and American as apple pie: no fuss, no frills, just classics made with fresh, local ingredients. Like a brunch with Bubbe, though, you probably won’t get up from the table in less than an hour, leaving lots of time for reminiscing while you wait for your food.
>>Grandma J’s is open 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. and is cash only.
6 MORE NEW BRUNCHES TO TRY
Nellcote (833 W. Randolph St. 312-432-0500) in the West Loop serves an $18 prix fixe brunch that includes one entree (choices range from lobster hash to a sunnyside-up egg pizza) and a plate of pastries, cheese and charcuterie to share with tablemates. Experiment with fun brunch drinks such as a green bloody mary with apple, jalapeno and tomatillo ($10). 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. *Outdoor seating available
Bar Toma (110 E. Pearson St. 312-266-3110 in the Gold Coast takes favorites from chef Tony Mantuano’s Italian dinner menu and brunches them up, including the much-loved bomba (a puffy balloon of pizza dough) served with eggs and bacon ($9) and a caprese salad-inspired bloody mary with roma tomatoes and basil ($5). 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. *Outdoor seating available
G.E.B. (841 W. Randolph St. 312-888-2258), Graham Elliot’s new eatery in the West Loop, serves variations on classic morning dishes including fried chicken with a corn waffle and stewed collard greens ($14) and oatmeal with medjool dates and a shot of whiskey ($7). 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. *Outdoor seating available
Yusho (2853 N. Kedzie Ave. 773-904-8558) in Avondale recently started a $20 Sunday noodle brunch that includes a bowl of ramen or soba plus a drink and soft-serve ice cream for dessert. Noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
The Peasantry (2723 N. Clark St. 773-868-4888) in Lincoln Park doles out brunch dishes both sweet (walnut cream-stuffed French toast with cherry bourbon syrup, $6), salty (short rib pastrami hash, $13) and a little bit of both (pancetta-chocolate waffle, $9). 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Tavernita (151 W. Erie St. 312-274-1111) in River North offers a brunch deal designed for sharing: For $12.50 per person, order four dishes to split with pals. Choices include fried chicken and churros, a fun spin on the down-home combo of chicken and waffles. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. *Outdoor seating available