Brunch. It’s everything that’s good about the morning meal, only transported to the weekend and with the addition of guilt-free day drinking. What’s not to love? So, every spring I take one for the team ­— actually five, because I’m talking about pounds gained here — to compile my annual list of Chicago’s Best New Brunches. But don’t weep for me. I’ll get my steps in, hit a few Zumba classes, and I’ll be as good as new. Meanwhile, grab a few friends and start working your way through this even dozen. Sharing is caring.

Beatnik

1604 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-929-4945

Best Brunch Chicago: Beatnik's Smoked Baba Ghanoush

Beatnik’s Smoked Baba Ghanoush (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

Park yourself in the sunny front garden/bar area of this West Town favorite (the opulent back dining room is also lovely, though not nearly as brunchy feeling), get a pitcher of Le Rosé Three Way ($35/$70) with still, sparkling, and Lillet rosés (as well as rosado syrup for good measure), and peruse the menu of chef Marcos Campos’ Middle Eastern-inspired brunch dishes. The Smoked Baba Ghanoush ($12), served over a bed of tart tahini yogurt and enriched with plenty of black garlic umami, is drizzled with fig balsamic, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and za’atar, and served with warm, house-made pita bread. The Steak & Eggs Kabob ($19) is an easily shareable dish. The marinated steak chunks are layered on top of a large slab of roti bread and strewn with a truffled egg-yolk jam, pickled onions, and baby kale and freekeh salad. But the Funnel Cake ($12) is the clear star of the show. It may look like squiggly fried intestines, but I am here to tell you that it is golden and crisp and all that is goodness, and once it is garnished with whipped goat cheese, orange blossom honey, dried apricots, fresh blackberries, chopped pistachios and walnuts, and of course confectioner’s sugar, you won’t care a whit. (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Daisies

2523 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-661-1671

Best Brunch Chicago: Daisies' Beet Agnollotti

Daisies’ Beet Agnollotti (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

I adore Joe Frillman’s Logan Square pasta palace with its focus on seasonal, local ingredients, many of which are sourced from his family-owned Frillman Farms in Prairie View, Illinois. At brunch, pasta takes a bit of a backseat to Rhubarb Flapjacks ($14) with orange zest and “maple syrup that doesn’t suck,” a Polenta Waffle ($18) woven through with little nubbins of pork lardo to add richness, and an excellent vegetarian version of Eggs Benedict ($14) with roasted mushrooms and leeks napped with mustard hollandaise. That doesn’t mean that pasta isn’t part of the equation; it’s in this restaurant’s DNA. The delicate, deeply fuchsia Beet Agnolotti ($16) is dressed with crème fraiche, fresh dill, and smoked trout roe. As the tiny eggs pop in your mouth, you contemplate the existence of a higher power. This dish seems strong proof in favor. The Tajarin Carbonara ($15), thin egg noodles tossed with fried bacon, onion, egg, and lots of black pepper, is breakfast pasta, pure and simple. A Root Beer Float ($10) made with house-made, sarsaparilla-laden soda is a satisfying end to the meal, especially topped with whiskey ice cream for an additional two bucks. (Brunch served Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

etta

1840 W. North Ave., Chicago, 312-757-4444

Best Brunch Chicago: etta's Spicy Baked Eggs

etta’s Spicy Baked Eggs (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

Chef Danny Grant (Maple and Ash) has a second restaurant, the more approachable little sister to his famed Gold Coast steakhouse. A true neighborhood restaurant featuring terrific house-made fresh pastas, and wood-fired pizzas and breads, etta’s food is on the rustic side; the atmosphere casual and inviting. Brunch is a cross-section of the neighborhood: families with babies and toddlers are strewn about the dining room, intermingling with hipsters and yuppies alike. They’re all there for the make-your-own mimosa service ($38), the herby Green Juice ($11), and the stick-to-your-ribs favorites like Fire-Roasted Eggs baked in a chile de arbol-spiced tomato sauce, served with focaccia bread just out of the wood-burning oven. The Elysian Tarte Flambé ($16), topped with Uplands cheese, niblets of bacon, caramelized onion, crème fraiche, and an egg, is a breakfast pizza of the highest order. Don’t miss the self-described “knee-buckling” Kouign-Amann ($5) or the sensationally flaky Buttermilk Biscuit served with local honey, butter, and fruit jam. Better yet, opt to Make It a Basket ($18) for the table and you don’t have to miss a single gooey bite. (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Found

1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8945

Best Brunch Chicago: Found's Quinoa Bowl

Found’s Quinoa Bowl (Photo by Galdones Photography.)

Found’s fifth anniversary last year inspired owner Amy Morton (The Barn) to redesign the restaurant’s interior — which now reads ‘60s Jackie O visits London with the Beatles in their Ravi Shankar period — and to get serious about brunch. So now you’ll find Avocado Toast ($11) on locally sourced Hewn bread, topped with grapefruit suprêmes, crisp radishes, and a crunch of sunflower seeds sharing space with house-made Doughnuts ($3), a generously sized Quinoa Bowl ($12) topped with a jammy poached egg, chunks of roasted yams, creamy goat cheese, and avocado, and a tower of rich French Toast ($13) served with honeycrisp apples, whipped cream, and real maple syrup. And of course, their seasonal kombucha is brewed locally (by Evanston’s Kombucha Brava). There’s rumor it will eventually be warm enough to sit out on their charming front patio. Can’t wait. (Brunch served Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

Frida’s

618 Church St., Evanston, 847-859-6342

Best Brunch Chicago: Frida's Crispy French Toast

Frida’s Crispy French Toast (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

No, we didn’t forget to link to Frida’s website; they don’t have one yet. They opened in late January and have been more concerned with putting out delectable brunch food on the daily than priming their online presence. But you can bet that Evanston residents and Northwestern students alike have already taken notice. The menu is gigantic, literally and figuratively, and the food is hearty and satisfying, so bring an appetite. Let’s just say that Paul Bunyan would not be disappointed. Mexican dishes are the stars here, including the La Azteca Omelette ($13), with your choice of pork or soy chorizo, sweet corn, black beans, and slow-roasted poblano peppers, all topped with queso fresco, sour cream, and guajillo salsa and served with a generous piece of fresh cornbread. The Chilaquiles ($10) made with your choice of spicy green or mild red sauce, come with two eggs over easy, guacamole, and sour cream; go for the “Hangover” version with chorizo added for an additional $4. They score with brunch classics as well, especially the Crunchy French Toast ($12) with its extra crispy granola crust, piled high with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Inventive salads, sandwiches, and wraps are also available. (Brunch served daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Funkenhausen

1709 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-929-4727

Best Brunch Chicago: Funkenhausen's Schnitz and Grits

Funkenhausen’s Schnitz and Grits (Photo by Julie Chernoff.)

There’s no such thing as a light brunch at West Town’s über-groovy Funkenhausen — even the Big Salad ($13) has crispy bacon and a soft egg — but I don’t mind that so much. No one in their right mind is heading to Bavaria to lose weight. So join the crowd gleefully tucking into the warm Garlicky Pretzel Knots ($7) or the Spaetzle Carbonara ($14), everything you love about carbonara (plus peas) married with what is essentially German pasta. Please, I beg of you, do not leave without ordering the signature Schnitz and Grits ($16), the pork pounded, breaded, and fried just so, and set atop a bed of cheesy grits and gilded with a fried farm egg and mushroom-riesling gravy. It’s a stunner. Plenty of Bavarian beers available here, the perfect foil for all that spaetzle and schnitzel, or perhaps the Breakfast of Hampions ($11), their take on the mimosa made with OJ and sparkling Riesling. Make sure you have time to nap after brunch or there will be issues. (“Funkenbrunchen” served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Honey Butter Fried Chicken

3361 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, 773-478-4000

Best Brunch Chicago: Honey Butter Fried Chicken's Chicken on a Biscuit

Honey Butter Fried Chicken’s Chicken on a Biscuit (Photo by Rachel Brown Kulp.)

The special brunch menu isn’t long, but it packs a serious punch. Brunch Chicken & Grits ($12) means creamy cheesy grits topped with fried chicken strips and a fried egg, drizzled with honey-buffalo sauce and sprinkled with fried crunchies. Prefer your fried chicken with Biscuits and Gravy ($12), or atop French Toast ($12), all dandied up with bourbon maple syrup and their signature honey butter? Not a problem. Plus, you can order anything off the regular menu (I see you, Buffalo Mac ‘N Cheese) to fill out your meal, or brunchify any sandwich with the addition of a fried egg. Chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp know just what we want to eat, no matter what time of day. For me, that’s always Honey Butter Fried Chicken. (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods

1415 N. Wood St., Chicago, 773-360-8320

Best Brunch Chicago: Ina Mae Tavern's Beignets

Ina Mae Tavern’s Beignets (Photo by Hilary Higgins Photography.)

They’ve got a good thing going in chef Brian Jupiter’s Wicker Park-meets-NOLA hangout. Inspired by the great dive bars and mom-and-pop cafés that dot Southern Louisiana, Ina Mae Tavern hits every jazzy note just right. Brunch New Orleans-style means BBQ Shrimp & Grits ($15) made with stone-ground cornmeal, plenty of parmesan cheese, and a showering of scallions. There are Beignets ($7) of course, with the requisite amount of powdered sugar, and Drop Biscuits and Gravy ($14), the gravy flavored with shrimp and spicy tasso ham and topped with a sunny fried egg. Craving a Breakfast Po’Boy ($13), stuffed with your choice of eggs, cheese, and meat and dressed just right? You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Brunch cocktails get in that NOLA mindset, especially The Masquerade ($12), a concoction of Plantation Pineapple Rum and freshly squeezed lime juice. Hoo-eee, that’s good eating (and drinking). (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Marisol

MCA, 205 E. Pearson St., Chicago, 312-799-3599

Best Brunch Chicago: Marisol

Marisol’s Summer Frittata with English peas, bacon lardons, ricotta, white asparagus, and summer herbs with a Bloody Mary (Photo by Neil John Burger.)

Art is all around you at this bright and modern café, which is so much better than you would expect a museum restaurant to be. Jean Banchet Award-winning chef Jason Hammel (Lula Café) continues to surprise and delight here with dishes like Burrata Toast ($15), the rich and creamy cheese contrasted by the sweet acid of blood oranges, spicy cascabel chili, crunchy almonds, and bitter chicory. Every part of your mouth will sing. I loved the Tofu Scramble ($14) made with local Phoenix Bean soft tofu, sautéed seasonal veggies, and greens. Pile it high on top of the accompanying sourdough toast. In the Farrotto ($14), farro is cooked risotto-style so that the grain slowly absorbs the added stock, adding a creamy starchiness to the finished dish, which is combined with lentils, creamed Chinese broccoli, bacon, and a softly poached egg. It’s congee meets Italy with a run through your local diner. Even the Sunflower Granola ($9) is worth ordering here, layered with thick, tart Greek yogurt, mint, and whatever seasonal fruits look most inviting. Combine brunch with a trip to the galleries upstairs and that is a weekend afternoon well spent. (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

Napolita

1226 Central Ave., Wilmette, 224-215-0305

There’s plenty to crave at downtown Wilmette’s favorite pizza place. Perhaps you’ll start with the Bruschetta ($8.50), topped with fluffy whipped ricotta and raspberry preserves, breakfast toast of champions. A salad for the table — my personal favorite is the Tritata Italiano ($14.50), a happy tangle of Italian antipasto ingredients — and then it’s down to business. You have three options for Breakfast Pizza ($15.50), one with red sauce, one white pizza, and one that’s really a dessert in disguise. I prefer the Svegliati, the wood-fired crust painted with fonduta and topped with pancetta, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs, and fontal cheese. For the purist, the regular pizza menu is always available. Continuing down the garden brunch path, four Omelettes ($14.50) await you, eggs softly folded over fillings of various roasted veggies, cheeses, and breakfast meats, or build your own. A classic Italian Aperol Spritz ($5.50) will happily cut through all that meat and cheese. Abbondanza! (Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Pacific Standard Time

141 W. Erie St., Chicago, 312-736-1778

Every little thing about chef Erling Wu-Bower’s River North restaurant screams “California!” to me, from the sun pouring through the huge windows to reward the copious amounts of greenery within to the pitch-perfect menu that combines elements of Latin and Asian cuisines with a farm-to-table sensibility. Turmeric pickles are reason enough to order the PST Bloody Mary ($12), but throw in cucumber and dill-infused vodka from the local CH Distillery and you’ve got yourself the perfect day drink. Going spirit-free? You won’t miss the booze if you order the Grapefruit Fizz ($7) made with spiced grapefruit cordial, pomegranate, and lemon, the spritz provided by Topo Chico sparkling mineral water. The hardest part here is deciding what to order. Simple: start with one of each baked good (currently a Spiced Carrot Muffin, Chocolate Chip Scone, Orange-Tarragon Paczki, and the incredible Honey Sticky Bun). But don’t sleep on the Wood-Fired Pita ($14) served with smoky oven-roasted eggplant, feta, and pickled jalapeño, or the savory Okonomiyaki ($13) egg pancake stuffed with shredded cabbage and topped with scallions, kimchi, sesame seeds, and a creamy secret sauce. Fried Chicken ($17) gets the Korean treatment with plenty of gochujang, more sesame seeds, a side of vinegary shredded cabbage, and a sunny-side-up egg. We fought over the last few slurps of Pozole Verde ($16) broth, flavored with tomatillos, lime juice, and a plethora of cilantro. Lastly, I cannot stress enough how important an order (or two!) of 7-Spice Beer Bacon ($6) will be for your overall well-being. Trust me on that one. (Brunch served Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Twain

2445 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-697-8463

Best Brunch Chicago: Twain's Bacon Steak

Twain’s Bacon Steak (Photo by Rebekah Graham.)

Named for famed Midwestern writer and humorist Mark Twain, this Logan Square joint is firing on all cylinders, from the knockout décor and warm and knowledgeable service overseen by sommelier Rebekah Graham to the beautifully executed food from Tim Graham’s kitchen. This is a brunch that deserves, nay, DEMANDS to be eaten. Right. Now. First of all, ordering the Cast-Iron Pecan Caramel Roll ($6) iced with fluffy cream-cheese frosting is non-negotiable. So just do it. Then there’s the awe-inspiring Bacon Steak ($6), anointed with real maple syrup. You heard me. Next up is the Chorizo Hash ($14), with blissfully crispy Yukon Gold potatoes and chorizo serving as a cushion of sorts for the two poached-just-this-side-of-jammy eggs napped with herby salsa verde. And that Breakfast Burger ($15) with plenty of pickles and Provel cheese? It’s swoon-worthy. Get thee hence. (Brunch served Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Because You’re Not the Only One Who’s Hungry…

We hope you’ll get the chance to check out all of these incredible spots around Chicago, but the next time you do, take a moment to remember how fortunate you are to be able to enjoy such fabulous food. Feed your stomach, then your soul by paying forward your good fortune and supporting one of these food-centric nonprofits.

 

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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 ScaggsRick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre

 

 

 

 

1 Comment
  • Sue says:

    After reading Julie’s sumptuous descriptions, my mouth is watering and my stomach is growling! I can’t wait to try out these spots!

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