Not to get all Oprah on you, but I love brunch. I. Love. Brunch!
I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not because of the whole portmanteau thing, although I do love a good word mash-up, and it doesn’t get much better than a combination of the best parts of breakfast + lunch (but please, stop trying to make “lunner” happen — it is NOT a thing).
I love brunch because it’s a great use of my time. I’ll meet up with friends, or hang out with family, on a lazy, late weekend morning, preferably with a French 75 in my hand and some delicious permutation of eggs on order. No point in having breakfast on a brunch day. I can spend that found time working out, trolling social media, or, best of all, sleeping in.
It’s also the perfect excuse to sample something sweet, like a gooey cinnamon roll or crumbly ginger scone. A thick slab of Stuffed French Toast, or a precarious stack of Heavenly Hots, drizzled with real maple syrup? Yes, please. But, my taste buds are big on equal opportunity for ALL the flavors. Fried Chicken and Waffles (with more maple syrup and a little hot sauce), or an everything bagel piled high with lox and cream cheese? You bet. Bring it on. Gild that lily with a few choice brunch cocktail offerings and a really good cup of coffee, and you’ve got me as a customer for life.
5347 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-275-5725
The recent renovation of chef/owner Paul Fehribach’s Southern food mecca in Andersonville brings the kitchen into the dining room, and some new dishes to his menus. For starters, he’s stepped up his biscuit game, always appreciated. Try the Sweet and Spicy Chicken ($14), Big Jones’ famous fried chicken (here, done spicy) with pickles and a sunny-side-up egg on a tender biscuit; the Creole Hot Sausage & Egg Sandwich ($13) with Tomme cheese and apple chutney on a giant biscuit; or the Fried Chicken and Biscuit ($14 light/$18 dark meat) with gravy and sultry voodoo greens. The Roasted Cauliflower and Pimiento Cheese Omelet ($12) is an inspired riff on the brunch standard. Yes, the outstanding Shrimp & Grits ($17), featuring creamy Anson Mill grits, is still on the menu, and the baked goods are as fabulous as ever, especially the Skillet Cornbread ($7) baked with local cornmeal, bacon fat, and green onions. If you have a sweet tooth, the Buckwheat Banana Pancakes ($11), stacked with banana pudding, candied pecans, and caramel, will be your very best friend. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
65 W. Kinzie St., Chicago, 312-940-9900
Sure, this sizzling hot River North spot is crazy glam at night, but brunch might just be the best time to check it out. “Top Chef” alum Katsuji Tanabe puts an Asian spin on Mexican cuisine, and the results are fresh and fabulous. Avocado Toast ($14) is no snooze here, paired with heirloom cherry tomatoes, vibrant watermelon radish, and a poached egg, then sprinkled with Japanese togarishi spice mixture. It doesn’t get more colorful than the Dragon Fruit Acai Bowl ($11) topped with berries and spiced granola, a paean to good health. I love the Green Papaya Salad ($14) with spiced peanuts and ancho vinaigrette, especially topped with grilled skirt steak ($7) or shrimp ($6), and the Tacos de la Bodega ($15), filled with spit-roasted pork, cheesy scrambled eggs, potato threads, and salsa morita, are definitely worth getting out of bed for. And for a little day drinking, the Sophia the Sophisticate ($14) is a refreshing blend of Patron reposado, guava, strawberry, and lime, with a rim of chili-lime sea salt. Bien provecho! Bruch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
2100 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 773-871-2100
If, like me, you were a Bistro 110 fan back in the day, you’ll be happy to discover that their longtime chef, Dominique Tougne, opened his own Lincoln Park bistro in 2012. I finally made it there for brunch, and I am ruing the wasted years. His Quiche Lorraine ($13), that old warhorse of French kitchens and 1970s luncheons, reminds you of why the dish became ubiquitous in the first place — it’s like a rich, eggy cloud flavored with bacon and caramelized onions and poured into an ethereal, flaky crust. The Benedicte au Salmon Fumé ($14) is another best in class: perfectly poached eggs and tender smoked salmon sit atop a split English muffin, enrobed in a smooth and silky white-truffle hollandaise. And if French bistro cuisine begins and ends for you with a Croque Monsieur ($13) or Madame ($14 with egg), this one is mighty fine. No one will tell if you drag a few frites through the leftover hollandaise. For dessert? Save room for the Homemade Chocolate Mousse ($9.50), deep, dark, and chocolatey, with just the right amount of bitterness. Zut alors, that is delicieux. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
74 W. Illinois St., Chicago, 312-527-5586
Chef CJ Jacobson brings a California sensibility to Mediterranean food (think fresh veggies and Middle Eastern spices) at this River North Lettuce Entertain You resto. I can’t get enough of their Charred Eggplant spread ($8.95) with house-made yogurt, lemon, and excellent olive oil, served with house-made pita. The Blueberry Clafoutis ($12.95) hits the sweet spot in every sense, a happy marriage of almond pancake with plump fruit, sweetened yogurt, tart lemon, and pistachios. Even the Egg White Frittata ($12.95), filled with spring veggies and pecorino cheese, is worth eating here, virtuous though it may be. And what kind of Ottolenghi-crazed gourmand would I be if I didn’t order the Lamb Shakshuka ($13.95), all spicy yumminess and sunny baked eggs? Finish with the Grapefruit Brûlée, topped with caramelized demerara sugar and cinnamon. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
1800 S. Carpenter St., Chicago, 312-702-1303
Head down to Pilsen one weekend for a special Vietnamese brunch with the very charming Danielle and Thai Deng, who own and operate HaiSous. Everything is made in house, from the yogurt with longan and strawberry jam ($2) and the bright green Pandan Brioche ($5) with rich coconut jam to the Bánh Xèo ($15), a spectacular crispy rice crêpe with prawns and scallion, meant to be wrapped up in lettuce leaves with abundant fresh mint, cilantro, and basil, dipped and eaten. Try the Mì Hoành Thánh ($11), a rich pork broth with egg noodles, spring onion, and cilantro. You’ll want to wash it all down with their signature Tequila cocktail ($12), a spicy, citrusy concoction of Thai-chili-infused Lunazul tequila, yuzu sake, lime juice, and egg white, or for those who crave caffeine, a Vietnamese coffee slushie ($4). Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
2700 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 773-661-9577
Ukrainian Village is where it’s at, and where this restaurant is. You’ve got to respect a place that not only serves brunch on Fridays (start that weekend early!), but keeps it going on Sundays until dinner time! It’s never too late to brunch at Heritage, where they smoke fish in house, and the flavors and comfort foods of Eastern Europe prevail on a highly craveable menu. Start your meal with the Radishes & Butter ($8), heirloom radishes paired with radish-top pesto and super creamy artisanal local butter. The Heritage Breakfast Sandwich ($16), a happy monster made of pimento cheese, Polish sausage, purple sauerkraut, and a fried egg on hearty ciabatta, curly fries on the side, is a winner, as are the cheddar-jalapeño sausage-filled Breakfast Pierogi ($15) drizzled with spicy maple syrup, and the Iron Skillet Dutch Baby ($14) topped with piles of whipped cream, figs, heirloom apple butter, and candied hazelnuts. One more important thing: the donuts — and all baked goods here, truly — are calorie worthy and more. Brunch served Fridays from noon to 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
625 Davis St., Evanston, 847-563-8242
Evanston’s newest addition is serving up a memorable and tasty brunch under the sure hand of chef Marco Bahena. Take, for example, the light and fluffy Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes ($13) topped with blueberry compote, poppy seeds, and local maple syrup (don’t mind if I do!), or the memorable Moroccan Lamb Burger ($15) layered with olives in a yellow-beet yogurt sauce, watercress, and mint on a pillowy brioche bun — and yes, you want to add the grilled feta cheese ($2). For the table, the Veal Sausage Meatballs ($12) are a crowd pleaser, as are the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with cotija cheese, a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of pepper aioli. The Charcoal Latté ($4), flavored with activated charcoal and a touch of vanilla, hits the spot, especially as accompaniment to one of their signature éclairs — I’m partial to the classic or lemon meringue, myself. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847-674-8100
SO thrilled that Libertad, one of my North Shore favorites, is once again serving brunch. This small pan-Latino spot is always dependably spot-on with their flavors, not to mention their killer cocktails. The Breakfast Burrito ($11) is a good place to start, the flour tortilla jam-packed with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, avocado, pico de gallo, and crema. I love their herby Argentine chimichurri sauce, which makes an appearance drizzled over Steak & Eggs ($16), medium-rare skirt steak served with roasted potatoes and two eggs your way. Your sweet tooth may well steer you toward the Pan Frances ($13), challah French toast stuffed with strawberries and topped with strawberry salsa, and I will not judge. The Margarita Roja ($10) gets its gorgeous rosy hue from the addition of Hum Liqueur; if you’re up for a more serious drink, the Aztec Negroni ($10), made with smoky mezcal, vermouth, and amaro, will fit the bill. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
1401 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, 773-687-9977
Brunch at this Wicker Park spot from chef Edward Kim is a thrilling mash-up of Korean and American favorites. The Black Bean Shrimp and Grits ($16) combines the shrimp, andouille sausage, and polenta (grits) of the familiar Southern dish with the black bean sauce (jjajang) of South Korea, while Kalbi & Eggs ($15), made with marinated and grilled beef short ribs and kimchi potato hash, sets steak and eggs on its ear. Tender, gluten-free Coconut Pancakes ($12) spiced with pink peppercorns are the exotic brethren of your standard griddle cakes, and the Mott Burger ($14), voted one of Chicago’s best, tops the All-American double cheeseburger with pickled jalapeños, hoisin aioli, and miso butter, and it’s a straight-up umami bomb. Cider Doughnuts ($6) with caramel miso are the way I want to end this memorable meal. Brunch served Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
1962 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 773-248-3000
Some days, the East Coast calls. And when it does, I head here, to savor the Smoked Trout Frittata ($10.95) with crème frâiche and pickled mustard seeds if I’m feeling eggy, or the Original Seafood Roll ($24.95), chock-a-block with chunks of Maine lobster, Alaskan king crab, shrimp, celery for crunch, and a little lobster mayo to bind it together. The Fried Oyster Benedict ($13.95), spiced up with tabasco butter, is a solid option, as are the Steamed Maine Mussels & Fries ($17.95) in a well-seasoned lobster-tomato broth with aioli. To drink, you pretty much are duty bound to order the Cape Cod ($9), don’t you think? Especially since the cranberry juice is made in house, and mixed with vodka (of course) and a cardamom-honey syrup (surprise!). Brunch served Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
431 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-212-5566
Don’t be put off by the name, which admittedly is problematic (or maybe you think the eggplant emoji is just a vegetable and you have no idea what I’m talking about, which is cool). Once inside this brand new River North millennial magnet, an LA transplant, all that matters is the Huevos Rancheros ($13) and the Chilaquiles Verdes ($11), both yummy interpretations of the Mexican breakfast standards. Sure, you can get a pitcher of spicy Bloody Marys ($52) for the table, but why not go green and opt for the Tomatillo Mary ($13)? Come summertime, the Frozen Pink Sangria ($10 glass/$38 pitcher), a slushie concoction with rosé, Triple Sec, and prickly pear juice, will be much in demand. Can’t wait to try the Chile Relleno ($12), stuffed with chicken chorizo, black beans, and cotija cheese and topped with crema and ranchera salsa. This is the perfect place to bring your college kids and other young adults. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
1112 N. State St., Chicago, 312-586-2150
This beautiful new(ish) spot from the Boka Group is located in the Viceroy Hotel in the heart of the Gold Coast. The interior atrium space is spectacular, and the chairs and booths, lined with soft navy leather, make for very comfy seating. Toast your good fortune with a spritz or mimosa, and dig into the exquisite Smoked Beet Tartare ($16). You say you hate beets? Not to worry. Chef Lee Wolen has hit on a miracle cure for that sweet earthiness that many find unsettling. He smokes the beets and finely dices them, tosses them with cumin-infused yogurt and sunflower seeds, and shaves a very happy amount of goat gouda over the top; prepare to be amazed. Corned Beef Hash ($16), topped with sunny-side-up eggs, Gruyere cheese, and horseradish mayo, is a good bet, as are the Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($14) with house-made bread & butter pickles, cabbage, and kimchi aioli, and the Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad ($14), tossed with cashews and pecorino cheese (though beware of the “grapes,” which in truth are roasted to a near-raisin consistency, if you aren’t a raisin lover … can you sense that was an issue for me?). The Somersweets ($9), an assortment of sweet bites, are the perfect end to a very civilized meal. Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
1300 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago, 312-475-9116
On the north end of the Gold Coast, hidden inside the Restoration Hardware building, you’ll find what is without question one of the most spectacular dining spaces in Chicago — especially during the day. They don’t take reservations, so come early, put in your name, and wander around the neighborhood (or the store). The lush RH Scramble ($13), farm eggs enriched with crème frâiche and avocado (they’ll add black truffle for $8) and served with thick Texas toast, is as over the top as the space. Order a Burrata ($21) for the table, because you never realized that the one thing this dish normally lacks is garlic bread, and now you can never eat it any other way. The Arugula Salad ($15) with fennel, grapes, Parmesan cheese, and crunchy sunflower seeds is tossed in a bright citrus vinaigrette; throw in smoked salmon ($12) or chicken ($8) for a protein rush. This glass-roofed conservatory space was made for the enjoyment of a sparkling rosé, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Brunch served Saturdays starting at 10 a.m., and Sundays starting at 11 a.m.
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Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.