This is a tale of two pancakes: the pancake soufflé at the Albert in the EMC2 Hotel and the lemon ricotta pancakes at Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook. Both of them are different enough to snag the diner's attention, and both of them are delicious enough to be habit forming. There's more to the tale, but first, a short quiz and a smidge of culinary history.
What do hoe cakes, johnnycakes, journey cakes, buckwheats, griddle cakes, crepes, galettes, latkes and flapjacks have in common?
They're all pancakes, a format that's been around since the Stone Age. The ancient Greeks and Romans made pancakes with olive oil, wheat flour, curdled milk and honey. As time went on, pancakes were made with a myriad of flours, seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices, enhanced with fruits or veggies, and finished -or not-with something sweet, rich or fruity.
Chef/partner Sarah Stegner (Prairie Grass) credits cookbook author Marion Cunningham with the genesis of the restaurant's lemon ricotta pancakes.
"I've always loved them," Stegner says, "but they're fragile and difficult to make in a restaurant kitchen where the orders have to be expedited quickly. There's not much room for errors or recipes that need a lot of last minute attention, not in a restaurant that can do as many as three hundred orders during a Sunday brunch."
Cunningham used cottage cheese in her pancakes, but Stegner opts for ricotta cheese instead.
"And a lot of lemon zest," she adds. "What makes the pancakes really tricky is the egg whites. They have to be beaten separately and added at the last minute."
The finished pancakes are light and flavorful enough to stand on their own. But a pancake is a pancake, and for a lot of people, a pancake isn't a pancake unless it's topped with something. So at Prairie Grass, diners have the choice of eating their lemon ricotta pancakes "naked," topped with maple syrup, or partnered with creme Anglaise and a raspberry coulis.
At the Albert in the EMC2 Hotel in Streeterville, it's the pancake soufflé that turns heads at brunch. Baked and served in individual cast iron skillets, the pancakes are made with whipped egg whites. Sweet or savory, it's the whipped egg whites that provide the height that makes a soufflé a souffle.
It's also the whipped egg whites that make soufflés so labor intensive. Not only do they have to be whipped at the last minute, but they also have to be carefully folded into the batter. This isn't something that can be hurried or fudged. It takes patience, and "patience" takes time, and "time" takes diners who understand the process.
Pastry chef Vanarin Kuch serves the pancakes with maple syrup, whipped butter, and a fruit compote. The fruit in the compote depends on quality and availability. Like every other ingredient, the quality of the fruit is crucial. A first-rate dish is made with first rate ingredients.
the Albert in the EMC2 Hotel, 228 E. Delaware 312.471.3883
Brunch Saturdays and Sundays
Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie Blvd., 847.205.4433
Brunch Saturdays and Sundays
Special Bites Around Town
The Ambassador Chicago is planning a series of holiday events. Santa kicks off the festivities with visits to the Library Bar on Sunday, December 16 and 23 from 11am-2pm. In addition to a chat with Santa, guests can enjoy decorating cookies and sipping hot chocolate. The event also includes a toy drive benefitting Catholic Charities. Gifts should be unwrapped and suitable for children ages 3-18.
The Holiday History Tea Series ($42 per guest) includes Booth One's all new tea service, complete with tea sandwiches, seasonal scones, miniature tarts and assorted macarons. A guest history speaker will lead a discussion on Chicago's Leading Ladies, the civic-minded entrepreneurial women - many of them residents of the Gold Coast- who supported the social advances of the Golden Age.
And if you're looking for something different for New Year's Eve, Hot Doug's, including owner Doug Sohn is doing a single night pop-up ($100) in the Library bar from 9pm-1am. Expect unlimited gourmet sausages (a.k.a. encased meats), including Sohn's signature Foie Gras and Sauternes Sausage with Truffle Aioli and Foie Gras Mousse, along with his legendary duck fat fries. Also on tap is a cash bar with cocktails, wine and beer priced under $10 and a live DJ with a playlist curated by Sohn.
Ambassador Hotel, 1301 N. State Parkway, 312.787.3700.
The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group is pleased to announce the inaugural West Town Holiday Market featuring local vendors and one-of-a-kind gifts on Saturday, December 8 from 11 am-6 pm. Located at Homestead on the Roof, just one block from the Damen and Chicago Jolly Trolley stop, the market coincides with the West Town Winterfest.
Homestead on the Roof, 1924 W. Chicago Avenue, Saturday, December 8 from 11 am-6 pm.
Boka is launching a new, once-a-month dinner series featuring chef Lee Wolen in partnership with a prominent Chicago chef. The first dinner, a match-up on December 11 ($50) with chef Jimmy Papadopoulos (Bellemore) is sold out, but there's lots more to come.
Boka, 1729 N. Hasted Street 312.337.6070.
Pinstripes is hosting Santa on December 2,9,16, and 23. The brunch is $36 (with one mimosa) for adults, $15 for children 6-12, and free for children 5 and under. There's no charge for the chat with Santa.
Pinstripes Chicago, 435 E. Illinois Street 312.527.3010.
Hanukkah at Prairie Grass Cafe
Sarah and George have added a Hanukkah Brisket special at dinner and will be offering each table a complimentary Firecakes jelly filled Bismarck donut to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Plus Dec. 2 brunch featuring hand blown glass gifts.
Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie Blvd., 847.205.443
Filed under: brunch