Friday, December 28, 2012

Nightmare Before Christmas: Guest Cheffing at ING

Twas a few weeks before Christmas
And all through the city
People were filled with holiday spirit
Except for one little old bitty.

With friends scattered to the wind
Brandy felt lonely.
"What I need's a jet," she thought,
"A private one...if only."

"I'd love to join in with
All this Christmas cheer,
But Chicago's for the young,
As I've learned over the years.

"I can't go to the zoo,"
Brandy thought aloud,
"The lights are too bright
And the children too loud.

"I can't go to Kindlemart
Where the tourists all bunch.
Oh, if only I could convince
Homaro Cantu to serve brunch!"

She puzzled and puzzed,
'Till she remembered a post...
Had she seen it on Facebook,
Or perhaps a Twitter riposte?

"Need help in the kitchens?"
She tweeted ING one day
"I'm bored and I want to
Learn how to filet."

Miracle of miracles,
She got a reply!
"How's about Saturday?
Feel free to come by!"

And so to ING she did ride
To help them prepare
Their seasonal menu
Themed on Tim Burton's Nightmare

She was dressed to the nines
In her shabby-chef-chic best
And was given a white coat
To fit in with the rest.

They served her a staff meal
Home made earlier that day
She broke bread with the chefs
While chatting away.

Then off to the kitchen
To start up the prep
They built every dish
Step by detailed step.

She watched them braise octopus
For a dramatic first dish
With smoke, mushrooms, and bao bun
It was simply delish!

A fall flavored offering
Was plated up next
Three bits of sweet potato
With flavors complex.

Then came a skeletal hand
Which held some pork belly
"Well that's something you'd never see
At a butcher or deli!"

A beaker of soup topped with
Root vegetable chip
Made a warm, spicy mix
For Brandy to sip.

A crunchy frog's leg
And the meat of an ox
Wasn't her favorite
But was out of the box!

She helped peel the duck eggs
For a deviled delight
The first part of five holidays
Each distilled to one bite.

A sour snowman
Made of limes and some gin
Turned sweet with a miracle berry,
To make dessert free of sin!

A small fire was lit
With chestnuts and spices
To enhance bread pudding and ice cream
One of Brandy's favorite vices.

Death by chocolate was next
In the form of a casket
Gingerbread and mulberry
Were heaven in a hand basket.

Lastly more chocolate
But gelled with persimmons
All wrapped up like presents
With edible ribbons.

Let's not forget
The beverages served
Like hard cider with tea
Or mix your own eggnog (the nerve!)

By the end of the day
Poor Brandy was stuffed
But new friends had been made
And for her, that's enough.

And so back outside
To the let real chefs start service
(They were shockingly organized
And not at all nervous)
"At least if the world ends,"
She thought with a smile,
"I'll have had a nice dinner
That was certainly worthwhile."

And you too, dear reader
Can sample these treats
For just one more weekend,
So get out there and eat!

Ing Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 21, 2012

Small Bar Division or The Un-ironic Irony

The Slow and Savory Review

We've spoken previously about Brandy's confusion with that race of young people known as "Hipsters."  The black glasses wearing, vintage band t-shirt sporting, extreme facial hair touting, PBR drinking, denizens of everything thrift, obscure, and ironic.  "First of all, no American has any idea what irony is," Brandy says, "Secondly, in my day you didn't just walk around with the same facial hair as Kaiser Willhelm unless you wanted to get a good kick up the jacksy."  

The lair of the urban hipster, the faux dive bar, is also of confusion to Brandy.  "It used to be that bars were just that; bars.  You'd have one long counter from which the bartender would operate, maybe a few tables and chairs, always made out of hard wood, the television would be playing a good old footy game," by that Brandy means football in the European sense of the word, "And the walls would be hung not with odd things for the sake of it, but with things the bar owner himself found significant, like an old trophy for dart throwing or the oars of the boat his Grandfather used to take him fishing in."  It seems that every time Brandy walks into a bar these days, it has purposely eclectic lighting fixtures, annoyingly odd chachkies behind the bar, or signed tour posters of bands no one has ever heard of, and it is for that reason that she had somewhat given up her old custom of going for a pint during the dark winter evenings.

While Christmas shopping one Sunday afternoon in Wicker Park, Brandy crossed over into the mecca for hipsters, Ukrainian Village, quite by mistake after she lost her way while trying to send a text through a pager from 1993.  Looking up and finding herself surrounded by flannel shirts, floppy hats, and stores showing the covers of some strange publications called "graphic novels," Brandy quickly took refuge in the first eatery she came across, in order to get her barrings.  The eatery just so happened to be Small Bar on Division, which immediately had Brandy glancing around in awe.  "A real bar...can it be?" she whispered to herself as she looked from the television showing a live soccer game to the heavy wood tables, to the un-ironicly decorated walls.  Before she knew it, she was seated at a table by the window as the nice young bartender poured a glass of water and presented her with a menu.

One cocktail caught Brandy's eye right away; The Moondance, which was a combination of black tea infused tequila, cherry wood vanilla bitters, and a muddled orange peel, among other delicious things.  The drink was oddly refreshing and deeply flavored at the same time, with a sweet and smokey finish.  Brandy wondered at the infused tequila, thinking it tasted almost more like whiskey.

To start off her meal, she ordered a slice of Coffee Cake, which came hot to the table with a slab of cinnamon butter melting away on top of it.  The cake was rich and buttery, very moist and with plenty of spice from the cinnamon.  The outside had a perfect sort of crunch that made Brandy smile to herself, thinking that this was truly the definition of comfort food.

Next came a side of Creamy Yellow Polenta, topped off with some chopped chives.  Being used to seeing cheesy grits on menus across Chicagoland, this was a welcome change.  The polenta was soft, creamy, smooth, and had a good fresh bite from the chives.

For her main course, Brandy chose the BLT and Fried Egg.  This twist on the classic sandwich included shredded lettuce, garlic aioli, and tomato jam as well as the usual suspects.  Brandy was in love at first bite.  The bacon was crisp without being greasy, the bread soft without falling apart, the shredded lettuce added a good bit of texture, and the tomato jam was sweet and just generally delicious.  All of this perfection was topped off by the richness of the fried egg, creating what Brandy deemed to be the best BLT she'd ever eaten.  On the side were some really nicely done potatoes, which were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and had a very pleasant flavor that was all at once salty, herbaceous, and buttery without being oily.

As a yellow flag was thrown down on the field of the game on the television, Brandy tossed down about $30 for her brunch and left Small Bar with a great sigh of relief.  Encountering a group of hipsters on her way out, she grabbed one of them by the shoulder, pointed him at the bar and said, "Listen to me, sonny Jim, you go in there with your friends right now.  This is what a real bar looks like, you see.  Now go on in, and woe betide you if you dare try to appreciate it ironically!"

The Short and Sweet Review

Small Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lula Cafe or Home of the Haute Made

The Slow and Savory Review

Its a funny old world, this.  At the beginning of the 20th century, it was all industrial this and mass produced that.  The life of instant and convenient, in a sense the push button ideal of the 1950's, was what once was accepted and appreciated, especially when it came to food.  Open a can and instant side dish.  Throw a frozen bag of food into the microwave and you have pasta for two.  And then there's the worst perpetrator of all: instant coffee.  But it seems that, as every generation rebels against the previous one, we are now moving towards a more handmade, home grown, and artisan existence.  This is an age where the spice rubs in your cabinet have all been hand blended, the wine in your glass was cultivated by a tiny vineyard in Virginia, and even your coffee's package tells you what specific farm in which part of the world harvested the beans.

Brandy, in fact, is all for the artisan movement, so much so that she makes everything herself that is humanly possible.  Toothpaste?  Home made with baking soda, salt, and peppermint extract.  Shampoo? Some essential oils, soap, and beer.  Her candles are hand poured, her throws crocheted, her pillows embroidered, and even her furniture has been carefully hand crafted (from broken bits of other furniture.  "Nothing can break because its already broken," as Brandy likes to say).  So when Brandy got a tip from one of the darling chefs at ING that Lula Cafe was one of his favorite breakfast haunts because of their hand crafted goodness, she just had to check it out.

Lula Cafe, being one of the most well known brunch spots in all of Chicago, had been a place Brandy kept putting off visiting for quite some time ("I would rather create the fashions than wear them," as she puts it).  The inside of Lula Cafe did nothing to squelch their hip reputation: industrial chic tin ceilings and exposed duct work were matched with dusky wall colors and some modern looking black and white textured paintings.  The first room was open and sunny with a long bar and a few tables, while the back was a little more cramped and dark, but still comfortable enough.

Brandy started off with a cup of Spiked Hot Ginger Apple Cider.  Her casually dressed young waiter smiled knowingly at her order and said, "Good choice."  The drink arrived in no time, presented in a clear mug that showed off its buttery color.  The drink had a bitter bite to it at first, but a nice sweet finish, and was generally light and warming.

The menu did indeed boast many in-house made items, especially the side dishes like made-from-scratch varieties of sausages and jams. For a little snack before the main event, Brandy scanned the list of pastries (made fresh in house every day of course), which came in three varieties.  First there was the Apple and Goat Cheddar Crostatta, a lovely little open faced tart filled with baked apples and topped with a fine shred of cheese.  Brandy found the crust nice and flaky and the apples a little sweeter than anticipated, but nicely balanced by the mildly salty cheese.  Next was the Chestnut and Chocolate Scone.  Being an expert on scones, Brandy thought the texture had been nailed: crunchy and caramelized on the outside, soft, crumbly, and moist on the inside (so moist in fact that Brandy all but ignored the made in house butter that had been provided).  The chocolate was a nice rich touch, not adding too much sweetness, but the chestnuts seemed to add an odd sort of brininess that wasn't entirely pleasant.  Lastly was the Smoked Pecan Sticky Bun.  Brandy just loved the smokey nuts that topped the rich caramel sauce and the buttery pastry, devouring the whole pastry before she even realized it.

Her main course consisted of the Tofu and Vegetable Scramble, here served with potatoes and sourdough toast (which Brandy suspected was also made in house).  The potatoes, though very well seasoned with herbs, were a bit too oily for Brandy's taste (she usually prefers a crisper spud).  The scramble (or stir-fry, which is more what it resembled) was coated in a rather tangy miso black sesame sauce that Brandy had thought at first glance was going to be spicy  but really wasn't.  Brandy did find the mix of vegetables fresh, crisp, and a good contrast to the soft tofu.

For such an artisan brunch a price of about $30 is pretty fair, and with excellent service from the flock of young and attentive waiters, Lula Cafe's reputation held up on that day.  With a belly full of hand crafted goodness, Brandy set off for home to pour some bars of soap and finish knitting scarves for various Christmas presents.

The Short and Sweet Review

Lula Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 7, 2012

Glazed and Infused or The Eight Donuts of Hannukah

The Slow and Savory Review

*We apologize for the lack of pictures in this post.  A technological demon seems to have gotten the better of us.
As we are sure you can probably tell by now, Brandy has quite the diverse circle of friends, and not just here in Chicago, but all over the world.  Though not what some would think of as a people person, Brandy's unique charm seems not to be in her considerate nature, but rather in the fact that she makes a world class drinking partner for almost anyone, any time, any where.  "Just goes to show you," Brandy likes to say, "You get more flies with honey than with vinegar, but you get even more with a glass of wine."  In fact, there's not many people who have gone toe to toe with Brandy at a bar and lived to tell the tale.  

But as with every rule, there is always an exception, and in this case, the exception was one Mr. Goldman, who Brandy came across in a hotel bar one late night in 1949.  The two began chatting away over Manhattans, then conversed over cosmos, and finally philosophized over some sherry.  Brandy had finally hit her limit, but didn't want the young man to know it, so when he ordered one final drink for them, a glass of kosher wine (it was the first night of Hanukkah and Mr. Goldman wanted to toast) she knocked it back as quickly as she could.  The following morning when she was roused from her position of sleeping at the bar by the concierge, she discovered a smugly smiling Mr. Goldman descending the grand stair case, adjusting a flawless suit jacket, a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes.  "You owe me a Hanukkah present," he told the bleary eyed Brandy.  "What now?" she slurred.  "You promised last night that if you went to sleep before I did, you would buy me a Hanukkah present every year for the rest of your life.  And now I would like to claim my prize."  Begrudgingly, Brandy bought the smiling man a packet of postcards from the hotel gift shop and, never one to go back on a promise (even one she didn't remember making) she exchanged contact information with him so that she would know where to reach him the following year.

Back to the present and with Hanukkah fast approaching, Brandy was on the hunt for a good present for Mr. Goldman, having settled on finding him a traditional Hanukkah treat, like doughnuts.  Her search brought her to one of the many branches of Glazed and Infused, the made-from-scratch gourmet doughnut sellers who have invaded Chicagoland with their unique take on the fried ring of dough.  Approaching the store front in the West Loop neighborhood, Brandy could already smell the deliciousness inside, and upon entering she was confronted with rows and rows of doughnuts on sheets, laid out on the counter.  A helpful and smiling girl greeted her and asked if she could help, to which an over whelmed Brandy responded, "Just give me one of everything."  "Sure thing," the shop girl said, "We've got eight flavors left, is that ok?  We usually have 12-14 flavors, but we've already sold out of a few.  It always just depends on how crazy the morning is."  In the end, Brandy decided on a full dozen, doubling up on some of the more interesting looking flavors, which set her back just over $35.  Though rather pricey for doughnuts in Brandy's opinion, she conceded that with their massive size, these delights were probably more suited to having one or two fresh ones at a time with a good cup of coffee, rather than taking a dozen to go.

Though she had originally bought the tasty treats for her dear friend Mr. Goldman, once home, Brandy could not resist doing a little sampling.  First, she tried the Chocolate Mint Cake Doughnut.  The pasty was very soft with a smaller crumb to it.  Brandy didn't find it particularly chocolaty, but did like the smooth mint flavor from the topping.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie was a good homage to its baked name sake.  This delivered more of a chocolate punch than the previous doughnut, having large chips both on the inside and outside of the pastry.

Brandy had to giggle when she saw the Maple Bacon Long John, a massive slab of yeast dough drenched in a maple glaze and topped with a single strip of bacon. She very much enjoyed that the bacon was heavily peppered, which contrasted nicely with the almost too sweet glaze, and the doughnut itself had a good chewiness to it.

The Salted Caramel Doughnut was a bit of a disappointment in that it didn't really taste of salt or caramel.  Instead, it reminded Brandy of a caramel apple, being an apple spice cake covered in a thin layer of caramel and coated in toasty chopped peanuts.

Brandy's favorite of the bunch was probably the Creme Brulee, which resembled a traditional Bavarian cream doughnut, except that instead of being covered in sugar, the top had literally been bruleed to a beautiful golden color. It even broke just like the top of a creme brulee when Brandy bit into it. The dense vanilla custard inside was so tightly packed that it tried to make its escape through the bottom of the soft yeast doughnut, forcing Brandy to turn it over and eat the rest of the thing upside down.

The Classic Old Fashioned had an incredible, but subtle spice to it.  The inside was moist and heavy like the other cake doughnuts, but the outside had a good crunch to it, both from the fried dough and the vanilla bean glaze.

Next was the Carrot Cake. This one consisted of a spiced cake, topped off with a cream cheese frosting, walnuts, and candied pieces of carrots. Brandy had never had candied carrots before, but she rather liked these ones, and especially loved the thick and creamy frosting that topped the dense cake.

Last of all was the Bourbon Egg Nog, a cream filled yeast doughnut that was similar to the Creme Brulee, but this time flavored with the aforementioned holiday beverage and covered in white sugar.  After one bite, Brandy experienced a similar problem as the cream came through the bottom of the doughnut, but she wasn't about to waste one tiny bit of that deliciously egg-noggy concoction and once again flipped over the doughnut to solve the problem.

Once Brandy was done "sampling" the doughnuts she had gotten for Mr. Goldman, only four of the duplicate flavors remained.  "Well, I guess it was a good thing they ran out of a few flavors," Brandy mused to herself, "Or Mr. Goldman would be having a very sad Hanukkah indeed."

The Short and Sweet Review

Glazed & Infused on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 30, 2012

Postcards from Bunny

Well, that time is upon us again, friends.  Time for joy and cheer, tinsel and glitter, family and friends, but mostly... food!  Glorious, fattening, tasty holiday food!  And it is the lure of this delicious food that brought dear Bunny back, if only for a short while, to Chicago from her world travels with her husband Benedict.  You see, once again Bunny heard tell that another member of the Macy's Culinary Council (a few months ago it was renowned Chicago chef Takashi Yagihashi) would be giving a demo on holiday food preparation at Macy's on State Street in the heart of downtown.
This time around it was Chef Tom Douglas, owner and head chef of 13 wonderful restaurants in Seattle, head chef of Amtrak Trains, and partner chef with Columbia Crest Wines.  Chef Douglas apparently has a soft spot for Chicago, being that his parents originated from the city, but apparently does not have plans to grace the Midwest with any of his culinary vision outside Macy's.  "You guys have Rick Bayless," he said, "What do you need me for?  You have so many good restaurants already.  Don't be greedy."

For his demo, Chef Douglas set about preparing some of his signature recipes from The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook   He started off by preparing a prime rib roast using the same methods as in his Coffee Bean Turkey recipe from the book.  His special tip when butchering the roast: never "French" the bones of a rib roast, or you will lose the preciously tender "baby back rib" meat.  To go along with that was a stuffing with dried cherries, hazelnuts, and oyster mushrooms (which originally took the place of more traditional oysters in order to satisfy Chef Douglas's staunchly traditional mother in law).  Lastly was the Pear Tart, made with puff pastry ("Our puff pastry at the restaurant is 1000 layers and made by hand.  You can use store bought," Chef Douglas instructed the crowd), almond cream, sliced fresh pears, whipped cream, and a "dreamy" caramel sauce.

As Bunny could not resist an opportunity to talk brunch, she asked Chef Douglas what his favorite breakfast dish is.  "We have a dish at one of my restaurants that's named after me, actually," he said, "It's red wine braised octopus with eggs, bacon, and a big slab of garlic bread."  At this, Bunny swooned and ran out of Macy's to book her next trip to Seattle.

So thanks to Chef Tom Douglas and Macy's for a wonderful afternoon of holiday cooking!

*The writers of this blog have been compensated by Everywhere Society for the information contained in this post, but the opinions stated were not influenced.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hamachi or Seems Kosher to Me

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy does love a good challenge.  She has climbed mountains to prove points, won scavenger hunts for bragging rights, and once in her youth she ran with the bulls in Spain purely because a stranger in a cafe had remarked to someone who was not Brandy that he doubted a woman could do it (what he actually said, it turned out, was he doubted that a wounded man could do it, but Brandy's hearing has never been what it should be).  So when Brandy's dear friends Bailey Blue and Hawke from Cider Press came to her with a difficult request, she was more than happy to meet it head on.  "We need to find a kosher sushi restaurant, preferably on the north side," Bailey told her, "Hawke is thinking about keeping kosher for his health, but doesn't want to give up his favorite foods, like sushi and cheeseburgers and bacon."  "I don't know about the cheeseburgers and bacon, but I think I can take care of the sushi," Brandy said with confidence.

Luckily, Brandy had recently received an invitation to Hamachi in Roger's Park, which also just happened to be an all kosher sushi restaurant, so she organized as afternoon tasting for the three of them.  Hamachi's interior was filled with classic colors: reds, black, and whites all stood out in stark contrast with each other, culminating in a beautiful mural on the wall behind the sushi makers.  The space was a little cramped, but the seating was fairly varied with counters under the windows on one side, stools in the middle where one could watch the sushi making action, and larger tables along another wall.  "So how does kosher sushi happen?" Hawke inquired as they took a seat.  "I'd imagine about the same as regular sushi, only without shrimp or crab," Brandy responded, eyeing a few interesting looking roles on other people's plates.

The table was first presented with some bowls of warming Miso Soup.  Brandy thought the broth was just perfect: not too salty, oily, or bland, but a little unconscious, a little creamy, and loaded with umami.

A plate was then brought to the table, boasting the best of the best appetizers on the menu,  including a selection of sashimi and nagiri and some more adventurous rice based bites like the Nasu Tempura (which consisted of eggplant, spicy salmon, and mango salsa) or the Crunchy Shrimp (with faux shrimp, spicy tuna, and a sauce made from bell peppers).  "I can't believe its not shrimp!" Hawke exclaimed when Brandy reminded him of the culinary trickery in the tidbit, both of them fumbling a little bit with their chopsticks and desecrating the lovely food in the process.  The favorite of the group was most certainly the Crispy Rice, which came topped with salmon and pineapple salsa.  "Crispy rice indeed!" Brandy proclaimed happily, "I'd take this over those saccharin marshmallow things any day!"  The slices of fish they had been provided with were incredibly tender, practically melting on the tongue.  Brandy liked tasting the subtle differences in the preparation and type of fish from bite to bite, favoring the white tuna out of the bunch.

The next plate presented to the table was rather surprising.  "Sandwiches and fries? At a sushi place?" Bailey said as the plate was set before them.  Brandy smiled quizzically at the soft spoken waitress as she explained the dishes, then the three diners dived in.  The sandwich, it turned out, was a Katsu Salmon sandwich, a fried filet of salmon topped with avocado, mayo, and coleslaw.  "I admit, I've never seen something like this as a sushi restaurant, but I would like to in the future," Brandy said through a mouthful of sandwich.  The salmon had a nice crunch to it, mixing well with the sweetish cole slaw and the soft bread.  What Bailey had thought were french fries turned out to be traditional Tempura Vegetables, served with a Wasabi Mayo and a Spicy Mayo.  They found the veggies to have a nice fresh texture on the inside, and the crunchy exterior was free of any greasy residue that can sometimes come from inexpertly prepared fried food.  "Look, it is a fry after all!" Bailey piped up as she bit into a stick of sweet potato.

The third plate of food brought some of Hamachi's signature rolls to the table in a stunning array of color.  Firsty was the Black Spider, made with black rice, faux crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and topped with salmon and a sweet soy sauce.  The group found this one to have a savory slant from the nuttier black rice and a slight tanginess.  Next was the Baked Madai, which had faux shrimp and crab, asparagus, avocado, and came topped with red snapper and a sweet soy sauce.  Brandy especially liked the subtle sweetness of the sushi and found it a little more filling and heavy than the other rolls.  The White Sox roll, a mix of tuna, avocado, cucumber, mayo, and a special garlic black sesame sauce, was the unanimous favorite of the bunch because of its spice, sweetness, and all around refreshing flavor.  Then there was the Red Dragon, a surprisingly creamy, sweet, and not overly spiced mix of faux crab and vegetables.  Last but not least was the most stunning of the sushi, the Blue Man Group, a mix of tuna, salmon, and avocado coated in a mysterious mixture called "blue crunch."  This roll had the most spicy kick to it, but it was still well executed and not about to light anyone's mouth on fire.  Sadly though, the blue crunch was a little less crunchy than expected.

Lastly, the group was presented with dessert, Tempura Ice Cream.  The sight of the dish brought a little patriotic tear to Hawke's eye, as it was topped with a bright red strawberry sauce and more of the "blue crunch."  "All it needs is a few sparklers," Brandy smirked.  Inside the crispy coating was a smooth vanilla ice cream and a little pound cake, which made for a slightly grainy texture, but the dish was so fun that no one seemed to mind, and the plate was soon scraped clean.

Though kosher sushi isn't what one would normally think of for brunch, Brandy and friends had a wonderful time at Hamachi, and left thoroughly stuffed.  "So, are you still thinking of going kosher, my boy?" Brandy asked Hawke as they all waddled down the road.  "Still not sure, but its good to know I have options," he smiled.  "I wasn't even thinking of keeping kosher," Bailey said, "But I could definitely live off that sushi for the rest of my life."

The Short and Sweet Review

Hamachi Sushi Bar  on Urbanspoon
* The writers of this blog were invited by this restaurant and provided with a free meal in exchange for a review.  The opinions of the writers have not been influenced by this transaction.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Postcards from Bunny: Behind the Scenes Edition

Greetings dear readers!  We have a rather special treat for you today!  Recently, Bunny and Brandy's head translator and scribe did a little interview with Seth Resler of the Mystery Meets Find Dining Podcast about some of Bunny and Brandy's favorite Chicago haunts.  Make sure to give the link a little look and listen to see which Chicago brunch spot got their recommendation!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fabcakes or The Ladies Who Brunch

The Slow and Savory Review

There are three types of people in this world: those who brunch for fun , those who brunch for fashion, and those who brunch in order to cure a hangover.  Brandy has always prided herself on being one of the first kinds of person (and occasionally one of the third kind), but never one of the second kind.  "Brunch is about togetherness, friendship, enjoying good food and good conversation, not about whose wearing the fanciest bloody hat," Brandy has been known to extemporize, "I can't stand the kind of woman who buys a new pair of shoes and a designer bag just to wear out to brunch.  They only go to the most fashionable places, not to taste, but to be seen.  It's contemptible."

But there are times when even Brandy wants to impress, especially when Mama Bee is in town, so for this week, she decided on a little boutique bakery called Fabcakes in the River North neighborhood (this was a place that Brandy felt for sure would not disappoint Mama Bee's insatiable need for honey).  Inside, they found a very whimsical yet chic interior with large patio tables sets scattered around the room, Gothic looking red curtains hung over the unfinished brick walls, and an antique and very ornate tin ceiling ("I had a ceiling like that in an apartment I had in the 20's," Brandy said, to which Mama Bee inquired, "Your 20's dear?" and Brandy replied, "No, THE 20's.").  The overall effect was a sort of Alice in Wonderland feeling, which Brandy very much liked in the context of a bakery.

They first approached the small display case at the back of the shop and examined its wears, deciding on a little tea and conversation before they broke into the sweets.  Brandy ordered a Georgia Peach Tea Latte, which was made fresh from the jar of loose leaf tea on top of the display case, while Mama Bee chose a Hazelnut Latte.  "Oh, let's get a spot to eat!" Mama Bee insisted after a little while, and they once again went to the back of the shop to examine the menus.  For a few moments, they stood behind two very fashionable looking women who were all in black and were barking questions at the poor sweet thing behind the counter.  "Is the coffee all organic? Fair Trade? Dairy free? Gluten free? Caffeine Free?" asked one of the women, not even letting the girl answer one question before asking the next.  Once she was satisfied that her coffee had nothing but actual coffee in it, the next woman began her barrage of specifications.  "I want a fruit tart, but one with only one or two blueberries.  Make sure to warm it, but not too much.  And I don't want one with too much glaze.  The sugar will make me too jittery."  Brandy watched as these two took up a table next to the window and proceeded to place on their large, darkened sunglasses and take tiny sips from their drinks while complaining loudly about the weather, causing Brandy to growl under her breath.

Mama Bee decided on an egg sandwich with tomato, basil, cheddar, and bacon on a croissant.  All of the ingredients tasted deliciously fresh, and looked it too, making a rather pleasing array of color inside the soft and buttery croissant.  Mama Bee was especially impressed that the croissant held together rather nicely, as most sandwiches made from the delicate pastries end in messy disaster.

Brandy also got a croissant sandwich, but hers housed a frittata cooked with mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and thyme.  The flavors of the sandwich were spot on with the earthy mushrooms mixing perfectly with the herbiness of the thyme and the richness of the cheese and egg.  Brandy was also impressed by how well the sandwich was put together, and also adored the way the utensils were presented in a simple napkin and tied up in a red yarn bow.

At last, the ladies decided to split a little dessert, a Chocolate Coffee Buttercream Cake which resembled a multi layer opera cake in cupcake form.  The buttercream was at once rich and airy, tasting entirely of coffee with none of the bitterness that flavor can sometimes impart.  The cake was equally rich and moist and had a surprise layer of marinated cherries in it, indicating a sort of nod at black forest cake. The fashionistas at the table next door sneered at Brandy and Mama Bee, nibbling their pastries with as little food going into their mouths as possible.  Growing frustrated with these two, Brandy stood up and announced  "I'm getting some pastries to go!  This food is too good to let it only last for one meal!"  To which Mama Bee enthusiastically cheered, "Here here!"

Brandy approached the harried looking girl behind the counter and started ordering whatever her eyes landed on.  She ended up with a rather interesting, but delicious assortment, which she and Mama Bee enjoyed the following day in the comfort of Brandy's parlor: There was a bacon and mozzarella quiche that had a crumbly crust and a nice meaty flavor, but was a little short on the egg and cheese, making the baked good more of a tart than a quiche.  Also, there were the delectable Mixed Fruit Muffins, which were doughy and not too sweet, with beautiful fresh berries and stone fruits baked inside.  Lastly there was the Nutella Pumpkin, a sort of creatively costumed cupcake with a small, delicate crumb and a lovely hazelnut ganache in the middle.

In all, Brandy absolutely adored Fabcakes for their bold, clean flavors, their reasonable pricing, their originality, and their excellent service, but the fact that they seemed to be a rather fashionable spot for a quick breakfast didn't even factor into her rankings.  "Even the most expensive bag will stain with chocolate, and I'd rather have a cheap, stained bag filled with cupcakes than an empty designer one," as she put it.

The Short and Sweet Review

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