Narrowing the List.
I take my breakfast seriously, so trying to determine Chicago’s 10 Best Go To breakfast spots has been both joyful and painful. First, I asked myself–what makes a great breakfast spot? Is it the tender corned beef cooked on the premises, the frothy hollandaise sauce, the mimosas, the French toast, the fig-infused vodka topping on the pancakes, the coffee, the service, the ambiance, the crowd, the buzz, the clientele, the atmosphere? I considered all of these but mostly I was trying to find the quintessential ingredient that says, I’m am Chicago!
Here is my list of ten. Drum roll, please.
1. Bongo Room.
If quality and attention to detail is what you are looking for go directly to the Bongo Room. Start with their house brand coffee, Inteligentsia, then add an order of banana bacon pancakes topped with a warm praline sauce and a mimosa with fresh squeezed orange juice. Expect to wait a while in line–I have heard of 2 hours waits–especially on weekends. Two locations: Wicker Park, 1470 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773 489 0690 and South Loop, 1152 S. Wabash, 312 291 0100. Weekdays 8a.m. to 2:30p.m.; Weekends 9a.m. to 2p.m.
2. M. Henry.
What is it about this Andersonville hangout that keeps breakfast aficionados coming back for more. It’s clean, it’s comfortable, there are healthy choices, the house coffee is organic, there are vegan choices and exceptional service–but it is so much more than that. Try the blackberry bliss cakes and you won’t be sorry. If you want a kick with your meal just remember M. Henry is BYO. 5705 N. Clark (second location in the works). 773 561 1600. Short wait on weekends usually less than 30 minutes. Tuesday through Friday, 7a.m. to 3p.m., Weekends, 8a.m. to 3p.m.
New kid on the block, Jam (2009), offers an urban vibe with silver walls, clear plastic chairs and a sculpture filled “backyard” garden space. The emphasis is on a great menu with chef Jerry Mauro (formerly
Trotter’s and North Pond) pulling out all the stops by elevating breakfast to a gourmet delight. Look for pork cheeks, pork bellies, innovative infused toppings, pickled plums, beautiful benedicts and each entree accompanied by an amuse-bouche prelude. 937 N. Damen Ave. 773 489 0302. 8a.m. to 9p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays). BYO. Cash only.
4. White Palace Grill.
The White Palace Grill screams Chicago. You’ll think you’ve walked into an
Edward Hopper painting as you step into this 24-hour Chicago diner. The place has been here forever–or at least since 1939. Call it an urban oasis, the stereotype Chicago diner that has survived while many of its neighbors have gone away. Rub shoulders with city workers, policemen, fireman, college students and politicians. If you’ve had it up to here with the infused sauces, pickled plums and malted custard french toast–run, don’t walk to the White Palace Grill and a fried eggs sandwiches squished between two pieces of soft white bread (probably Wonder bread) or try the 2 pork chops, 2 eggs combo–you won’t be sorry. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Extensive menu, reasonable prices. 1159 S. Canal, 312 939 7167.
Some may disagree with this choice, but it I felt Pauline’s needed to be on the list if for nothing else its charming painted red-brick exterior and its out of the way location–a residential corner in Andersonville. To me, Pauline’s says quintessential Chicago. Inside the atmosphere is bright and cheerful, the service can be spotty. Expect typical American breakfast fare, large portions and reasonable prices. 1754 W. Balmoral (corner of Ravenswood and Balmoral). 773 561 8573. 7a.m. to 3p.m., Open 365 days a year.
6. Valois Restaurant.
What would this list be if it didn’t include at least one cafeteria. If Valois, is good enough for the Obama’s (one of their favorite neighborhood haunts), it works for me. The historic Hyde Park eatery offers typical American breakfast food at old-fashioned prices. Grab a tray and try two eggs for $1.50, three slices of French toast for $2.65, a Denver omelet for $3.95 or go crazy and get the huge platter of steak and eggs for $9.95. 1518 E. 53rd. 773 667 0647. Open daily 5:30a.m. to 10p.m. (breakfast served to 4p.m.), cash only.
7. Ann Sather’s.
Ann Sather’s offers Swedish American style food. Did you know there really was an Ann
Sather who founded the first Ann Sather’s restaurant on Belmont Ave. over 60 years ago? I can’t help but picture her standing over the oven baking her to-die-for cinnamon rolls. The Swedish American restaurant know for its huge portions, decadent food and sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls is another Chicago original. If you go only for the cinnamon rolls which can be eaten inside or to go–it is worth the trip. In 1981, Sather sold her restaurant to Tom Tunney. He has since opened several more locations and continues the tradition of the cinnamon rolls. Four locations: 909 W. Belmont (original location), 773 348 2378, M-F, 7a.m. to 3p.m., Weekends, 7a.m. to 4p.m.; 5207 N. Clark St.; 3411 N. Broadway; and 3416 N. Southport.
8. Magnolia Cafe.
Only on a Sunday. After some indecision I decided to put Magnolia Cafe on the list even though it is not typically a breakfast spot. What it is is small, intimate American bistro located somewhat off the beaten path in Uptown. Magnolia Cafe offers an escape from the everyday. Listen to lively jazz, take in the beautiful pictures of Magnolia flowers lining the walls, sip a unique cocktail or a boutique bottle of wine. Then order from their creative menu with reasonable prices–try the smoked trout hash. Sunday brunch from the menu. 1224 W. Wilson,10a.m. to 3p.m. 773 728 8785.
9. Lou Mitchell’s.
Although I agonized over the choice of Lou Mitchell’s, I had to put them on the list, if for nothing else their staying power. Lou Mitchell’s has been a Chicago institution since 1923–and although it may not be the best breakfast in town (some may argue otherwise) if you love Chicago, you have to visit Lou’s. Everyone from famous celebrities and politicians have entered their hallowed doors. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward menu featuring eggs, waffles and pancakes. 565 W. Jackson Blvd. 312 939 3111. Mondays through Saturdays, 5:30a.m. to 3p.m. Sundays, 7a.m. to 3p.m.
Feast is just one of the many one-name trendy restaurants including Orange, Toast, Sunda and
Yolk that are relatively new to the scene–and a very good one. Go before ten on a weekend or on a weekday and you can get seated immediately in the generous-sized indoor space. In good weather, the outdoor patio is the place to be. Feast has an excellent menu with great presentations. If you’re feeling a bit hung-over try one of their hang-over specials and you’ll be back on track in no time. Two locations: Bucktown, 11616 N. Damen, 773 772 7100 Breakfast, Monday through Friday, 11a.m. to 2p.m. Weekends, 9a.m. to 3p.m. Gold Coast, 25 E. Delaware Pl. 312 337 4001, Breakfast Mon-Fri, 8a.m-3p.m. weekends, 8a.m. to 2p.m.
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