The Gist: A local-seasonal restaurant near DePaul restaurant featuring the cuisine of Dale Levitski, a locally grown chef with significant accolades ranging from time at Trio and Blackbird to Top Chef appearances and Beard Award Nominations.
The Why: Sprout’s brunch menu had always appealed to me, but unfortunately the vast majority of my trips to The Windy City included driving or flying home early Sunday morning. This time with late dinner plans and the intention to drive home on Monday it seemed a perfect opportunity to check out Levitski’s highly acclaimed and often sold out brunch.
The Reservation: The website claims brunch reservations are recommended, but my gestalt is that they mean after noon reservations are recommended. I booked through Opentable but the space was never more than 1/4 full during my visit.
The Space: Sprout is a large restaurant, both in terms of surface area and in terms of the feeling conveyed by the high ceilings, open floor plan, and large windows. With a bar dominating one side of the room and banquets on the other dark woods, beige walls, and cloth chairs dominate the interior while decorations are mostly organic forms such as branches and vines. With light music playing overhead it should be noted that despite the comfortable and homey appearance, right down to the brown paper overlying the white tablecloths, this space gets quite loud even at low capacity given the close spacing of chairs.
The Service: When I arrived I was the only person in the restaurant. It was 10:30am and the hostess opted to seat me at the far end of the room, which was fine. Seated for ~5 minutes before my server, Jeremiah arrived with menus for both food and cocktails water was filled and I was left to peruse my options. I asked for coffee at this point, but the request elicited no response and when Jeremiah returned I had to ask again, to which he suggested “oh, I thought you would want a cocktail first” before disappearing and eventually returning to fill my coffee and take my order. Bearing in mind that I arrived at 10:30 and it took nearly 15 minutes to order coffee I would still leave the restaurant before 11:15 – and that is considering the fact that I ordered three plates which Jeremiah took the liberty of condensing to two courses…I guess that is what happens when you attend only to the two elderly females ordering mimosas, leave the responsibility of dropping off plates to your back servers, and never check in on the solo all the way in the back whose coffee sat empty for far longer than it would even at Denny’s.
The Food: 3 dishes A La Carte, Plus Coffee.
Coffee: It came from a pot. It was hot. There were appropriate sugars and sweeteners. It was refilled once during my visit and it was entirely unmemorable for $3.50. I did like the squared off mug though.
Peach Poppyseed Turnover $6: Served as the warm half of an opening duo that I’d expected to be two separate courses this dish was listed as a Blackberry turnover on the menu but, in his one showing of actually being more than an automated server-bot, Jeremiah informed me that since peaches were seasonal they were being used instead. Fair enough, I thought – peaches are one of my favorite fruits. What he neglected to tell me was that the chef had apparently only received one peach for the day and as such the pair of turnovers would contain no more than 1 ounce of peaches total and only slightly more pastry. Conspicuously small but served with a copious amount of citrus butter and poppyseed cream I hoped that what these pastries lacked in size they’d make up for in flavor, but alas they did not; the pastry buttery but lacking layers and the peaches rather bland while neither accoutrement really did much to help.
Foie Gras, Green Eggs, and Smoked Duck $12: Part two of my opening duet and served chilled, when yo take three of my five favorite foods and put them in a single dish there is no way you can fail, right? Wrong. Served as five halved deviled eggs, two with what seemed to be a sort of pea infused mayonnaise and sprinkle of what I assume was the smoked duck and three with a shockingly flavorless foie gras mousse this dish was simply a tragedy – everything lacking flavor save for the semi-sweet mayo and the eggs overcooked to the point of being rubbery, and really so bad that the obvious question of where the other half of the third egg went became irrelevant…it wouldn’t have been worth eating anyhow.
Apple Crepe – Fig, Root Beer, Bacon, Vanilla Mascarpone $12: At this point coffeeless and bored despite only sitting down twenty-five minutes prior it was no more than five minutes after I finished the last egg when my ‘main course’ arrived, along with a requested coffee refill. Faring better than the previous two dishes and actually quite good in its composition save for a crepe that was too much egg and too little flour, where both of the previous courses had lacked in flavor this dish had it in spades; the apples finely diced with skin on and pleasantly tart, the mascarpone light and sweet, the bacon lightly applied for a savory touch, and the fig/root-beer compote something like a sticky toffee pudding in flavor and actually the highlight of the meal by a substantial margin.
The Verdict: Considering the quality (or lack thereof) of service a sub-10% tip was left, rounding the bill off to $40. $40 for food that was largely underportioned, underflavored, and certainly no better than the average diner breakfast in any way save for perhaps the ingredients. In a city I consider to be the premier brunch city in America, housing personal favorites 2 Sparrows, Southport Grocery Café, M.Henry/Henrietta, Bongo Room, and more I cannot think of a single reason to return to Sprout…except maybe to ask what they do with that other half of an egg.