The Gist: Upscale breakfast and brunch spot in the Lincoln Park area helmed by a former Charlie Trotter’s Chef and Dining Room Manager.
The Why: My fascination with kitschy breakfasts, dessert-like pancakes and French toast, and good coffee – plus foie gras poptarts and bacon donuts.
The Reservation: Not taken, walk in only, can get crowded on weekends. In Lincoln Park so parking is at a premium.
The Space: Upscale but cozy with a hostess stand near the door, dining areas to the back left of an open kitchen and up front near the floor-to-ceiling windows with great people watching on the day of my visit, St. Patrick’s Day. Sleek wooden tables and chairs with an industrial interior of metal and reclaimed wood, cement floors, and hand blown red-orange glass chandeliers. Plenty of space between tables and a light indie rock soundtrack plus sounds from the open kitchen, but not loud by any means.
The Service: Pleasant, efficient, and hip without being over the top. Coffee and water were refilled copiously and all the workers seemed to really enjoy their job, as well as the restaurant’s concept. My server, Jackie, was particularly entertaining and chatty, almost always a plus when dining solo.
The Food: Four Plates served in Three Courses, A La Carte.
Coffee – Considering my caffeine addiction, free refills are always a plus, but when those free refills are a single origin Ecuadorian bean roasted by Metropolis for $5 you pretty much had me at hello. Rich, velvety, and surprisingly well extracted coming from a pot as opposed to a press this is probably the best bean I’ve ever had with free refills and at a $1 upgrade from the $4 blend (also from Metropolis) which I asked to taste later on it was every bit worth it.
Maple and Bacon Doughnut –Without a doubt the best savory donut I’ve tasted, and by a decent margin. Yeast raised but at the same time more dense than that at Doughnut Vault (or Dunkin’) with a good sponge not dissimilar from the Baba the night before at Nellcote. Slathered with a smoky pork imbued maple glaze and further complimented by the addition of supple thick cut bacon this is a must order and all the better as it is served warm.
Foie Gras and Cherry Preserves Pop Tart – Having grown up (and grown fat) as a youth on frosted cherry Pop-Tarts each and every morning this was clearly a must order item and although my tastes and habits have clearly changed over the years there was such a degree of nostalgia to this that I do not even think I can judge it fairly. From the flaky butter pastry baked to a golden brown to the intense filling, half house-made black cherry preserves and half creamy duck liver, my only critique would be that the fillings weren’t exactly evenly dispersed leaving some bites as sweet as the treat of my childhood and some unctuous like a torchon on brioche… if only all of life’s problems were so enjoyable.
Belly Sandwich: My main course, featuring a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, perfectly cooked pork belly with crispy skin giving way to supple meet, a sunny side egg, and perhaps most interestingly a pile of lightly brined sweet pickled onion proving an ample foil to the otherwise rich flavors. Served alongside, “tots” and fresh housemade ketchup, the later sweet with notes of garlic and paprika while the tots were more like hashbrowns formed into nuggets and fried crisp with just a touch of salt.
Cherry Bread Pudding with Sour Cherry Caramel Sauce and Honey Mascarpone: First off, I did not mean to order this. I swear. I didn’t even know there was a dessert menu until I finished the sandwich and Jackie asked if I wanted to see the menu. At first I said no, but then I decided it wouldn’t hurt to look…and then there was this…the best fruit based bread pudding I have ever had, bar none. Beginning first with the bread, a thick cut brioche soaked overnight to form a custard-like consistency on the interior and then baked and finished in a skillet to caramelize the edges, it was perfect on its own and only better studded with fresh cherries. Moving next to the sauces – tart and salty caramel plus lightly sweetened whipped cheese – a deft balancing act in texture and flavor gilding the proverbial lily.
The Verdict: Best breakfast ever. Period. Perhaps Griddle Café has more absurd options and a better ‘scene,’ perhaps Southport Grocery Café has a whole store and bakery plus amazing food, and perhaps Bouchon at the Venetian is more ‘upscale’ but none of them put together the total package of amazing and unique food, great service, a hip but pleasant setting, and stellar coffee with refills the way 2 Sparrows does…besides, foie gras and bread pudding for breakfast. I’ll be back.