Friday, April 28, 2017

Festival Recap: Brunch Bites Walking Tour

Normally, Brandy avoids physical exercise at all costs, preferring activities that require as much sitting as possible. But when said physical activity involves brunch, she's more than willing to lace up her special comfy sneakers (with their accompanying custom molded cushion inserts), put her hair into an immaculate bun, and prepare to perspire. Such was the case last weekend when Brandy attended the Brunch Bites Walking Food and Drink Event in River North, in which she and several hundred ticket holders were able to make their way to eight different participating restaurants for mini versions of signature brunch dishes and cocktails. "Well, I suppose it is a rather nice day," Brandy reasoned, "so might as well get out and get some sun. And some bacon. And a cocktail or two... or eight."

After receiving her lanyard and official map at the check in, Brandy was on her way. Her first stop was to GT Fish & Oyster, where they were serving one of her favorite little bites, an Oyster 'Po Boy Slider with kimichi and peanuts, along with a mimosa with fresh apricot puree. The crispy little sliders were just as delightful as Brandy remembered, and the fresh burst of fruity flavor in the champagne shot was the perfect start to an exhilarating morning.


Across the street and down a little ways, Brandy entered Bottled Blonde, where they were serving up a delectable Prime Rib Benedict with a spicy hollandaise, green onions, and potatoes, accompanied by a small glass of White Sangria. Brandy devoured the dish quite quickly, savoring the tender meat, the crispy potato cake, and the little kick of the sauce. The sangria was a pleasant surprise, packing quite a potent punch into a few sips.


Brandy then headed to the farthest western point, Hutch Cafe, where they were offering up one of her recently discovered favorites; Nutella Poppers. The dough was just as light and chewy and the middle just as decadently chocolaty as when she'd first sampled these little pockets of heaven a few months ago. The cocktail was called a Spicy Sunset and added a touch of jalapeno to a traditional mix of orange juice, tequila, and strawberry puree.


Backtracking towards the center of the circle, Brandy stopped into Brunch for one of their Banana Bread French Toast bites, which came drizzled with a rum based Bananas Foster sauce, and a tiny yet adorable carafe of mango and ginger sangria.


Moving North, Brandy's next location was Dolce Italian in the Godfrey Hotel. Here, she was handed a small plate of an amazing gnocchi, which had been dressed with plenty of cheese and crispy panchetta. This plate was one of Brandy's favorites of the day, and she almost contemplated trying to sneak a second one. The cocktail was a traditional, but refreshing, peach bellini.


Next up was Zed451, which Brandy still holds in very high regard as one of the best brunch buffets in town. Here, they had not one, but two cocktails for brunchers to choose from; a mimosa, or a coffee based cocktail called Drink Your Breakfast, which was what Brandy gravitated towards. The rich and creamy flavor was the perfect break from the mostly fruit based drinks of the other locations, and the coffee gave Brandy a much needed boost to get through the final lap of her journey. The bite was a mini Chicken and Waffle, spiced up by a bit of buffalo sauce.


Finally, Brandy traveled south to Hub51. They were presenting a pretty little avocado toast with a touch of mascarpone and radish, along side a Salty Dog, with vodka, grapefruit juice, and rim of black sea salt. The avocado toast was surprisingly light, which made it ideal among some of the more protein themed bites of the day, while the cocktail was made extraordinarily flavorful by the black salt.


Brandy's last stop was River Roast, where she relaxed in the upper bar with a glass of a special punch (made with rye, rum, sherry, champagne, lemon, and best of all, Earl Grey tea) and a beautiful little deviled egg, which had been topped with trout roe for a burst of salty goodness. As she gazed out on the river outside, Brandy smiled to herself. As if getting to try all of the dishes and cocktails hadn't been reward enough, she had also been bestowed with the gift of being able to truly enjoy Chicago on one of the very few beautiful days of the year.


The writers of this blog were invited to attend this event for free by the organizers in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Maggiano's or A Brunch Among the Clouds

The Slow and Savory Review

It's not unusual for Brandy to start craving Italian food as the weather warms up. The summers of her wild youth were always spent cruising the Italian coast; sipping Chianti by the light of the setting sun or eating tomatoes out of hand like a fruit or slurping up the freshest pasta in existence. "I will forever associate the bliss of sunshine and blue skies with Italy," says Brandy. "Every year, it seems, as soon as the weather starts to turn, I immediately start craving olive oil, garlic, and basil."

One bright and sunny morning, Brandy was lucky enough to be able to indulge her cravings by stopping into Maggiano's Little Italy to preview their recently premiered brunch menu. Maggiano's massive space at the corner of Clark and Grand made it ideal for every sort of occasion, from a small meal with friends, to a large familial celebration, to a massive event, like a wedding reception or a corporate outing. Chef Josh Rodriguez was at the helm of this particular location, and he spoke quite enthusiastically to the attendees that morning's event about just how fresh everything that came out of their kitchen was. What surprised Brandy the most was that Magginao's was serving brunch items all throughout the week, with the addition of a few extra options on the weekends.

The morning began, as every morning should, with a selection of cocktails. Brandy favored the peach Bellini, which had a semi-frozen texture that she found rather refreshing. While fairly sweet, the drink went quite nicely with all of the food presented.

The first tidbit to the table was an Orange Streusel Cake, which the chef explained was presented complimentary to every bruncher. The cake was moist and a bit dense, but coated with a lovely orange-scented glaze and a bit of spice, reminding Brandy of mulled wine or cider. The best part was the delightful little bursts of flavor from the hidden raisins inside.


Next came two of the house signature Benedicts; a Crab Cake Benedict and the unique Meatball Benedict. Though Brandy has seen crab cake benedicts countless times, this one in particular seemed rather meaty and substantial, though a little on the fishy side. The meatball one, though, was certainly a new and exciting development in the realm of eggs benedicts. The meatball had been smashed a little so as to be able to house the poached egg on top, and reminded Brandy somewhat of a breakfast sausage patty. The creamy hollandaise actually worked quite well with the meatball, and the addition of some roma tomatoes helped to brighten up each bite a little. Brandy thought the real triumph was in the spice of the meatball, which was perfectly balanced between savory, salty, and herbaceous.



After that, Brandy sampled some of the sweeter options from the brunch menu. The Creme Brulee French Toast had a very nice eggy flavor, having literally been dipped into a creme brulee custard base, and was soft and sweet, even without the addition of syrup. The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were definitely the hit of the morning, though. "I can't believe how light and fluffy these are!" Brandy exclaimed. She likened the texture of the pancakes to a souffle, while the lemon provided a bright note to match the fresh blueberries served on top. Chef Rodriguez even demonstrated how to prepare the pancakes, revealing the secret to their amazing texture was the careful whipping of egg whites into the batter and an extended cooking time on the griddle.


Lastly, Brandy sampled some of the Vegetable Frittata, which was jam packed with spinach, tomato, mushrooms, and plenty of melty cheese. The egg was fairly dense, but didn't overwhelm the vegetables, and the dish overall was a nice alternative to a regular old omelette. Brandy especially liked the side of crisped potatoes, which had been sprinkled with a course salt for extra flavor and texture.


Her cravings for Italian food finally satiated, Brandy finished off the last of her peach bellini and headed for home, where she promptly prepared another batch of Chef Rodriguez's amazing pancakes, stuffed her face, and fell asleep in her arm chair with her knitting needles in hand.

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bunny and Brandy's Definitive Guide to Chicago Easter Brunch 2017

Restaurants Featuring Special Easter Menus
(a la carte)

Bar Roma- Andersonville 
Nana- Bridgeport 
Chicago Q- Gold Coast 
La Storia- Gold Coast 
LuxBar- Gold Coast 
The Blanchard- Lincoln Park 
Chez Moi- Lincoln Park 
Dos Urban Cantina- Logan Square 
Longman and Eagle- Logan Square $10 gets you and a friend into the Adult Easter Egg Hunt
Osteria Langhe- Logan Square
Glunz Tavern- Old Town complimentary cocktail or ice cream
Ampersand Wine Bar- Ravenswood 
Public House- River North 
Cantina Laredo- River North one complimentary cocktail per person
Kitchen Bistro- River North 
Bar Lupo- River North 
Vermilion- River North 
Mercat a la Planxa- The Loop 
Fifolet Cajun & Cocktails- Wicker Park
Cafe Robey- Wicker Park 


Brunch Buffets 
(Prices per person)

Hard Rock Café- River North $25 
Frontier- Wicker Park $28 
Porkchop- All locations $30
Hub 51- River North $36 with cocktail stations available for an additional $6
Zed451- River North $37 
Howells and Hood- Mag Mile $39
Ostaria Via Stato- Mag Mile $46 
Bin 36- The Loop $48 Special drink flights also available
River Roast- River North $55 Featuring live blue music
Sunda- River North $55 
Baptiste and Bottle- Mag Mile $58, $15 extra for bottomless mimosas
Firehouse- Andersonville $59 
Tortoise Supper Club- River North $65 free keepsake professional photos
The Florentine- The Loop $75 Unlimited drinks for an additional $15
LondonHouse- Mag Mile $75 
Shaw's Crab House- River North $75 
Signature Room- Mag Mile $80 One complimentary glass of sparkling wine
Acadia- South Loop $85 Assorted pastries available for an extra $12, caviar service for $55
White City Ballroom (Chicago Athletic Association Hotel)- The Loop $135 Bottomless drinks for an additional $30
The Langham- Mag Mile $145 Live Music and kid friendly entertainment


Prix Fixe 
(Prices per person)

Intro- Lincoln Park  $22.95 for family style dim sum dishes with additional a la carte options
True Food Kitchen- River North $35 for 3 courses and a beverage
Filini- The Loop $35 for 3 courses, a la carte options available
BoHo- River North $35 for up to 3 entrees and 3 sides per table, all served family style
Athena Greek Restaurant- Greektown $38
Kit Kat Lounge- Lakeview $39.95 for four courses and unlimited drinks and live performances
Fig and Olive- Gold Coast $40 for three courses, live jazz music 
Bistronomic- Gold Coast $42 for three courses, $56 with bottomless mimosas
GT Fish and Oyster- River North $45, 3 family style entrees, sides, and desserts for the table
Trench- Wicker Park, $45 for 4 courses
III Forks- The Loop $50 for 3 courses or a la carte options available
Sepia- West Loop $57 sweets and savories served family style 
Spiaggia- Gold Coast $65 for 4 courses
Maple and Ash- Gold Coast $65 for 5 courses with serving stations and family style dishes
Nico Osteria- Gold Coast $70 for 4 courses and cocktails
RPM Steak- Mag Mile $75 for 3 courses, plus additional add on options
North Pond- Lincoln Park $85 for 3 courses


Suburban Brunching

The Barn- Evanston, a la carte 
Hearth- Evanston, a la carte 
Steak and Vine- La Grange, a la carte
Novo- Oak Park, a la carte 
Perry's Steakhouse- Oak Brook, a la carte (prix fixe available after 4:00) serving their regular dinner menu all day
210 Restaurant & Live Music Lounge- Highwood, Buffet for $35 
The Happ Inn- Northfield, $35.95 for appetizer and dessert buffet, a la carte entrée options
The Estate by Gene & Georgetti- Rosemont, Buffet for $39 includes one complimentary mimosa 
Saranello's- Wheeling, Buffet for $40 
Reel Club- Oak Brook, Buffet for $48 
Prairie Grass Café- Northbrook, Buffet for $49.50 Every guest gets a signature house benedict 
El Tapeo- Oak Brook, Buffet for $49.95 (with a la carte options) 
Retro Bistro- Crystal Lake, $25 for a three course prix fixe
Found- Evanston, $39 for 4 courses served family style


Special Sweets and Treats

Hewn in Evanston carring Easter goodies like Hot Cross Buns and Bunny Cookies
Floriole in Lincoln Park will have chocolate bunnies and squirrels for sale
Glazed and Infused (all locations) will be carrying special "bunny butt" donuts 
Real Urban BBQ (all locations) offering special Easter carry out menu
Cocoa + Co. in Old Town has Easter chocolates from all over the world


Friday, April 7, 2017

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Loaded Baked Potato Pierogies

As evidenced as recently as last fall, Brandy has quite an affinity for dumplings, but one of her all time favorites is pieogies. Pierogies, like most dumpling type foods, are incredibly versatile and can be filled with any number of savory, sweet, vegetarian, or carnivorous fillings. They can be crisp and chewy or soft and supple, they can be served simply with a little butter or made elaborate with as many toppings and sauces as can be imagined. But best of all, pierogies, unlike some of their other dumpling brethren, can actually be quite filling and hearty.

Brandy recently stumbled upon something new while browsing the isles of Costco; Peter and Pat's 4 Cheese potato Pierogies. "Hmmm...," Brandy mused to herself, "So many possibilities..." Once she got the bag home, Brandy set a few to boil and then briefly sauted them in some butter to see how they tasted on their own. She found the outer skin crisped up perfectly and still retained a good bit of chew to it. The inside of the pierogie was impossibly smooth with a subtle salty cheese flavor that really surprised Brandy with it's sophistication. "Reminds me a bit of a classic twice baked potato," she decided, and that was when an idea struck her. "I could turn these things into the ultimate loaded baked potato bites!"

For this preparation, Brandy decided to give the pierogies a quick boil (just about 5 minutes or so) and then crisped them on both sides in a little bit of bacon fat. To bring her dream of a loaded backed potato pierogie plate to fruition, she started by heating up some Texas style chili (Brandy used this recipe as a base, but any old chili is perfectly acceptable). She then sprinkled a good amount of shredded cheddar over the piping hot chili. Next, she placed the crisped pierogies onto the bed of chili in a circular pattern and sprinkled on even more cheese. Then, she added a generous dollop of sour cream to the center of the circle and topped that with some freshly cut chives. Lastly, Brandy crumbled up some bacon (the same bacon she'd used earlier to render the fat she'd cooked the pierogies in) and sprinkled that over the entire plate. At last, her masterpiece was complete.




The writers of this blog were sent product free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Food News: Announcing the Brunch Bites Walking Tour and GIVEAWAY!



The two things Bunny and Brandy love most about Chicago are the abundance of brunch options and the amazing food events. Finally, someone has thought to combine those two things in an amazing way with the Brunch Bites walking festival!

On Saturday, April 22nd from 10am – 2pm, Brunch Bites will offer guests the opportunity to stroll from location to location and sample brunch food and drink items from top River North restaurants (which Bunny and Brandy know as one of the best neighborhoods in all of Chicago for brunch restaurants) Specialty cocktails such as Apricot Mimosas, Spicy Sunsets, and Salty Dogs (and many more) will be on offer while participants nosh such delicacies as on Nutella Poppers, Oyster Po’ Boy Sliders, and Avocado Toast.

Participating locations include some of Bunny and Brandy's favorite spots like GT Fish & Oyster, Hub 51, Hutch, and River Roast, plus many more new and exciting options. Guests will be able to check-in starting at 9:30am with a valid ID (check the website for the check-in location). Tickets are available online at http://www.brunchbitesevent.com/chicago, where a full list of what is being served can also be found.

Luckily, Bunny and Brandy have secured two pairs of tickets to give away to a couple of lucky brunch fans! This giveaway will end next Friday, April 7th, so get your entries in before then for a chance to attend this unique event and hob nob with brunch fans from all over Chicago!

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Smoked Arancini with Amira Basmati Rice

One of Brandy's favorite flavor profiles is smokiness. She loves smokey whiskies and smoked meats, she even loves a wisp of smoke in her sweet treats like chocolate or caramel. "It's an underrated and often over done flavor," as she likes to say, "And artificial smoke is one of the worst atrocities that can ever be committed upon one's palette. The slightest hint of artificial smoke will put me off a dish quicker than a hair on the plate."

This is why when Brandy discovered that Amira Rice had launched a smoked variety of their signature basmati rice, she knew she had to get her hands on it. The smoked basmati rice is an exclusive Amira variety, only available in the U.S.

Opening the foil sealed bag, Brandy was greeted with a scent not unlike a  roaring fire place. Not just smoke, but wood smoke met her nostrils, instantly filling her with a warm, happy sensation.

To get the most out of the unique smokey flavor of the rice, Brandy decided to pair it with an equally smokey cheese and turn it into arancini. She helped out the smoked flavor of the rice by cooking is in a little beef stock, as opposed to water, and she used an especially soft mozzarella for the filling, because low moisture smoked cheeses tend to not be quite as melty. As arancini is normally made with arborio rice (or specifically, left over risotto) which tends to be a bit more starchy, she quickly learned she had to be a little extra gentle with the formation of the rice balls, but once they were fried, they held together perfectly, had a nice crisp exterior, and a warm, soft interior.

Smoked Arancini
1 cup of Smoked Amira Basmati Rice
2 cups beef broth
2 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
about 2/3 cup of smoked mozzarella, cubed
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
4 cups frying oil

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stove top with the beef stock according to package instructions. Let the rice cool down slightly, then mix in eggs and parmesan cheese. Wetting hands before handling the rice, scoop up enough of the mixture to fill your palm, then place a cube of smoked mozzarella and form the rice over it into a ball about two inches big. The rice will not form a tight ball, so be gentle when forming the balls. Place the balls into the bread crumbs and lightly toss to coat.

Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Test to make sure the oil is hot enough by dropping in a grain of rice and watch to see if bubbles form around it. Carefully place rice balls into the oil (no more than 4 or 5 at a time) using a slotted spoon and let cook for about 5 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown. Remove from the oil and let drain on a paper towel.

Serve immediately with dipping sauces of your choice (marinara or yellow curry are great options). Makes about 16 rice balls.


The writers of this blog were sent products free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Grand Lux Cafe Revisit: National Waffle Day

With spring in the air and a spring in her step, Brandy was feeling light as a feather. "The weather may be manic and the world may be crumbling to pieces, but there's always happiness to be found if one looks hard enough," was Brandy's sentiment of the day. She decided to take her energy for a walk around the Gold Coast and do a bit of window shopping and people watching. The streets were teaming with the happy faces of those who had come outside to see some long awaited sunshine and Brandy gleefully wandered up and down Michigan Avenue amongst them for quite some time, that is until she began to feel a bit peckish. Glancing up, she realized she was right below the Grand Lux Cafe, a recent favorite brunch destination, so she decided to head upstairs to grab a seat near the window and continue her people watching from afar.

Settling into the gorgeously decorated space, Brandy examined the menu. Skipping over the cocktails for once, she ordered the Mango Raspberry Swirl smoothie. For something non-alcoholic, the drink was presented beautifully, with a vibrant red puree blended into the orange-yellow drink. The flavor was refreshing and fruity without being overly sweet. It didn't exactly taste like a healthy type of smoothie, but it wasn't a decadent as a milk shake either. "Just the perfect little bit of sipable sunshine," Brandy smiled to herself, now feeling slightly uncomfortable with her own uncharacteristic cheeriness.

A pair of appetizers in the form of the Pastrami Reuben Eggs Rolls and the Asian Nachos were the next things to the table. The egg rolls were a rather delightful fusion of Eastern and Western cuisine, with a crispy skin on the outside and melty Swiss cheese, salty pastrami, and tangy sauerkraut on the inside, and a side of Thousand Island dressing for dipping. The rolls were a tad greasy, but still very crisp with a true Reuben flavor that Brandy was both infatuated with and befuddled by. "I'm not sure a born and bred New Yorker would be happy with one of their signature dishes being transfigured into such an interesting form, but then again, New Yorkers aren't usually pleased by much."


Next up, the Asian Nachos, another international fusion, with crisped wontons serving as the chips and green onions, melted cheese, peanuts, and a spicy wasabi cream. The dish also came with a mound of Mexican fried rice, which had corn and beans mixed in. While she thought the rice side dish was a little unnecessary, the chips themselves were amazingly flavorful with a great balance between sweet, savory, and spicy. Though a little unwieldy to consume, Brandy thought these in particular would also make for a wonderful happy hour snack for a table full of friends who wanted to catch up over a few beers. "Happy hour and brunch are really cousins, in a way," she reasoned, "What with happy hour not quite being lunch or dinner. It's no wonder there would be some cross over between some of the best suited dishes."


Keeping with the theme of crispiness, Brandy next chowed down on an order of Chilaquiles, which came dressed with scrambled eggs, avocado, pepper, onions, tomatoes, corn, beans, cilantro, and cheese. The resulting mix was a little overwhelming at first, but with every bite being a little different, Brandy actually found it to be quite an interesting version of the Mexican classic breakfast dish. The spice level was bordering on being a little high for Brandy's liking, but sips of the mango smoothie helped to tame it. The most impressive thing was how crisp the chips remained under the weight of all of the veggies and eggs, a telltale sign of a good chilaquiles in Brandy's book.


Finally, in honor of the upcoming holiday, National Waffle Day on March 25th, Brandy ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles, which came served with a butter maple syrup and chopped pecans. The waffle was perfectly fluffy and light with a slight crisp to the edges. The chicken had a substantial breading and a nice hit of pepper to it. The syrup, though, was the thing that really sealed the deal by adding a light caramel-like flavor to cut through the savoriness of the chicken. Brandy loved the syrup so much that she actually emptied out the tiny carafe, something she doesn't normally do when presented with a side of sauce. Her only criticism was that she could have done with a little side of fruit to help break up the richness of the dish, but otherwise, she couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate National Waffle Day, even if it was a little early.


Having taken her sweet time, savoring all of the dishes as she let her mind wander, Brandy headed out of Grand Lux Cafe not exactly feeling as light as a feather any more, but still feeling rather cheerful. "I wish every day was National Waffle Day," she was heard to sigh into the wind.

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.