Friday, February 24, 2012

2 Sparrows or Birds of a Feather Eat Together

The Slow and Savory Review

It seems that every year in mid February a universal desire springs up in the heart and soul of every Chicagoan for the warm embrace of grass under bare feet, for the soft smell of dogwood trees on the wind, and the taste of the freshest fruits a farmer's market can provide.  The desire for spring is so palpable that the over excited often begin dressing in short sleeves and sandals the moment the temperature reaches 40 degrees.  But alas, late snow storms often dash the hopes of the sun worshippers, and inevitably the Chicagoans are forced to retreat to their houses until the inevitable April thaw.

As always, Brandy has found a cure for this longing for nature's bounty in the form of an old friend, Bass Bronzeman, the famous woodsman and naturalist.  Taking his cue from Henry David Thoreau, Bass Bronzeman left traditional living three years ago and built with his own two hands a cozy 4 bedroom 2 bathroom "shack" high in the mountains of Canada.  On occasion, Mr. Bronzeman will reacquaint himself with civilization, and so dressed in three layers of plaid flannel shirts, he left his mountainous home for a quick visit with society and joined Brandy for brunch at 2 Sparrows in Lincoln Park.

Bass had an immediate fondness for the interior of the restaurant, which had plenty of natural sunlight pouring into a warm, open dining room full of woods and earth tones.  Brandy supposed that on a busy morning, what seemed to be a wide space might become very crowded and loud due to the closeness of the tables. 

It took a few minutes before Brandy could get Bass to begin speaking to her (having only had himself for company for the past six months had caused Bass to internalize most of his dialogue) so she ordered a pot of Earl Grey to pass the time while he found his tongue.  Eventually, Bass seemed to realize he wasn't speaking out loud and he let out a creaky "Good Lord!" as he spied a few tasty looking dishes on the menu.

Brandy took the liberty of ordering some doughnuts to start them off.  The flavors of the day were Tiramisu and Maple Bacon.  Both doughnuts had a sort of eggy quality that put their texture somewhere in the range of challah bread.  The maple bacon had a lovely subtle icing and wonderfully crunchy chunks of bacon on its top.  "So this is what the country's been up to since I moved to the woods?" Bass mused while rubbing his forrest-like beard.  The Tiramisu doughnut had the same sort of texture, but sadly just tasted like a vanilla doughnut with chocolate frosting, sporting none of the coffee or rum like flavors the dessert is famous for.

Brandy, spying an impressive cocktail menu, chose a concoction called the Chocolate Phosphate before the next course.  The cocktail, a sort of old fashioned chocolate egg cream but with curry spiced syrup, was a lovely change of pace for a breakfast cocktail, but Brandy wished for a bit more curry flavor.

Bass ordered the Corn Beef Hash as his entree, a true meat and potatoes kind of meal, minus the potatoes, which had been replaced by more meat.  A small salad of greens on the side seemed to confuse the poor man, who commented that, "Someone sure put a whole bunch of garnish on this plate."  Brandy tried to explain that a salad is not necessarily a garnish, but Bass didn't seem to hear her as he eyed his neatly spiced bangers and corn beef.  Through mouthfuls of meat, he reported that everything was cooked and seasoned perfectly.  Poor Bass seemed to be perplexed by the poached egg, as he'd never had one before, and Brandy had to explain that the runny yolk was a good thing.

Brandy opted for the Shrimp and Grits, which came with sauteed greens and etouffee sauce.  She found the greens to be lovely and tender (despite Bass's concern that someone had placed "wet garnish" on her plate) and the grits were delightfully creamy.  The sauce had a wonderful soft spice to it, just enough to excite the taste buds, but sadly the shrimp, which while perfectly cooked and tender, were a little under seasoned.

Brandy greatly enjoyed talking nature with her very own mountain man in a restaurant that had an obvious appreciation for freshness and quality (as their menu changes daily).  Though a tad on the pricey side for brunch (entrees start at $9 and range up to $13) the portions and flavors do measure up to the dollars paid.  Brandy may still be looking forward to spring, but after sending Bass back on his way to his secluded retreat, she felt a little more content to wait out the snow and cold, as long as there are more comforting brunches out there to be had.

The Short and Sweet Review

2Sparrows Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 17, 2012

Club 162 or Somewhere in the Ballpark

The Slow and Savory Review

Growing up, Brandy was never one much for sport, for as a young woman, her pursuits and interests mainly lay in the arts.  But during one of Brandy's first visits to Chicago, she was taken to a baseball game at Wrigley Field, and ever since then you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger non-American baseball fan than she.  Sadly, since 1932, Brandy has had to attend games at Wrigley Field in disguise as she is not technically allowed there.  You see, there was an incident in October of that year at a very important game in which Brandy was in attendance. 

Brandy had learned to love the art of the heckle by then and had become much beloved by the so called bench jockeys who to this day hold court in the outfield bleachers.  Brandy, whose voice was blessed with a fair amount of natural amplification, revelled in inventing insults for each of the opposing players, even occasionally bringing the staunchest of ballers to tears.  So good and so infamous was she for her creative and cutting jibes, that a certain member of the opposing team at this particular game (some chubby lay about named Babe Ruth) decided he would do something about this terrible woman, and in the 5th inning was seen to point directly at Brandy in her center/right field seat and mouth the words, "This one's for you, lady," before hitting a rather impressive home run directly at her.  Although this incident resulted in Brady's lifetime ban, it is also rumored that Brandy's brashness resulted in a date with this same ball player.

Regardless of her lifetime ban, Brandy still looks forward to baseball season every year, and seeing as how Spring training is right around the corner, Brandy decided to drag Biscuit Brown to Club 162, a spacious restaurant located just across the street from Wrigley Field (or "Wrigley Stadium" as Biscuit sometimes refers to it).  Decorated to look like a luxury box in the upper decks of the ballpark, Club 162 boasts a usual mix of dark woods and assorted memorabilia that one would expect from a sports bar and grill.  The tables and chairs were all on the high side and nicely spaced.  As this was the off season, the place was not exactly buzzing, but Brandy supposed it would probably fill up as the year wore on.

The ladies started out with a pair of drinks; a traditional mimosa for Biscuit and something called a Cherry Soda (which contained cherry flavored vodka, cranberry juice, and lemon/lime soda).  Brandy enjoyed the drink very much, commenting that it reminded her of a Shirley Temple ("The drink, not the child actress," she clarified, "That little brat was a terror.  Kicked me in the shin once.").  There was quite a long wait for food, even though there were such few tables filled, which caused both ladies to order a second round of drinks before their entrees even arrived.

Brandy had chosen a plate of Cinnamon Ginger French Toast for her entree.  While the toast had a lovely soft texture and a wonderful blast of flavor at the forefront, Brandy couldn't get over a very odd bitter after taste that seemed to become stronger with every mouthful.  She thought to herself that a bit of fruit on the top would have been a nice change and help to break up that bitterness, which was most likely coming from the ginger.

Biscuit chose the Croque Madam, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a friend egg on top.  The sandwich came packed with so much meat that Biscuit had to resort to a knife and fork to eat it.  "My mama always said not to take bites from anything bigger than your head," she said demurely.  She reported that the ham was smokey and tender, but that she had expected the egg on top to be poached, rather than fried, which is the more traditionally French way of preparation.  "Maybe this Madam Croque is more open minded than you when it comes to her eggs," Brandy suggested.

As a final treat, the ladies split an order of Breakfast Pizza.  Both of them agreed that this dish was the true star of the day.  It came as a lovely cracker crust covered in cheese, bits of sausage and bacon, and several fried eggs, and it didn't take long for Brandy to decimate her half.  This, she thought, was the perfect sort of bar brunch food, which she would gladly eat again before dawning a disguise and sneaking into a game.

About average on most accounts, Club 162 did give a good deal for the dollar, with three entrees and a 2 rounds of drinks still coming in at under $50.  Brandy still hopes that her life time ban from Wrigley Field may some day be lifted (or that one particularly ancient ticket taker with a memory like a steel trap might finally retire), but in the mean time she will be quite happy to stake out a seat here and watch the game comfortably on those big flat screen TVs.

The Short and Sweet Review

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bite Cafe or Minimal Animal

The Slow and Savory Review

Minimalism.  Not something that Brandy is in favor of.  There have been more than a few incidences where Brandy has been dragged from a museum for shouting obscenities at a Barnett Newman or Piet Mondrain painting.  Brandy's philosophy of art is that if she can re-create it, its not art.  "Art," Brandy says, "Should be done by talented people to express their talents.  Minimalism is about talented people choosing not to use their talents."  If one was to visit Brandy's home, one might consider it cluttered, but its only because of the array of artistry Brandy has collected over the years.  In short, if there is anyone more anti-minimalism than Brandy, they've probably been seen on the television program "Hoarders."

When visiting Bite Cafe this week, Brandy was confronted with minimalism the second she stepped in the door.  Barren brick walls lent focus to the high tin ceiling, which while lovely, cast a sort of cold industrial feel across the room.  After looking around helplessly for a few minutes while the flock of young, hip waitresses rushed from table to table, Brandy was finally given a wait time of 10-15 minutes.  She spent this time in a space next to the dining room which seemed to be a holding room for musicians performing in the attached bar.  The wait became closer to a half hour before Brandy was finally escorted to a stool at the counter, where she was continuously bumped by patrons and servers alike.

Right away she ordered a cup of Earl Grey, which came simply in a cup with no accessories like lemon or a spoon (while this is perfectly acceptable to some, Brandy has always been a stickler for a little bit of tea service at brunch). 

Brandy chose two dishes to sample, the first of which was the Breakfast Poutine.  For those not in the know, poutine is an import from our Canadian neighbors that has been co-opted lately by Chicago's trendiest brunch spots.  In general its a gathering of French fries and cheese curds covered in gravy.  Bite Cafe's twist included a poached egg and pickled chili slices with a bacon gravy covering the fresh cut fries and briny cheese.  While a lovely snack for a few bites, Brandy could not imagine devouring the entire dish as one's breakfast.  She loved the smokiness of the gravy (which could be substituted for mushroom gravy for vegetarians) and the crispiness of the fries, but wished the dish had been set under a broiler for a minute or two so that the cheese would have been meltier and gooier.  She also felt the egg was a bit overkill and had been included only to make the dish more "breakfasty."

Her second dish was called Eggs Duncan, a sort of eggs benedict with poached eggs over home made biscuits and topped with creamed spinach and fresh green peas.  While Brandy did love the light and crumbly biscuit, she found the spinach concoction to be very bland, and for the first time ever in her life, Brandy reached for the salt shaker (Brandy firmly believes that to add salt or pepper to a dish table side is an insult to the chef).  She wished for a bit of crisp bacon to break up the mushiness of the dish.  Mostly sadly of all, the poached eggs that topped the dish wear under cooked with still liquidy whites.

Brandy found this minimalist breakfast very underwhelming to say the least.  After all, Brandy's greatest breakfast joys come from dazzling sides, exciting beverage choices, and an actual table to sit at.  She also found it curious that the pricing of the menu (over half the menu was around $10) was the one thing that wasn't minimalistic. 

The Short and Sweet Review

Bite Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 3, 2012

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy

For Superbowl Sunday, Bunny has sent along a treat for us all in the form of two lovely brunch recipes of her own making, one for each of the battling teams; the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.  Both of these recipes feature delicious avocados from Mexico, which were kindly gifted to Bunny.  She was inspired to create the dishes based on both regions not only competing for superiority in the Super Bowl, but for superiority in soup bowls, namely with clam chowder.  And so without further ado, we present a Manhattan Baked Egg and a Creamy New England Baked Egg.  Make them both and see who wins your own personal Super Bowl!
Manhattan Baked Egg
4 large eggs
1/4 a cup of canned tomato sauce
1/2 an avocado, diced
6 strips of bacon

Pre-heat an oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with one strip of bacon to a cup and press the bacon into the sides and bottom so that it lines the cup completely.  Place the bacon lined muffin tin in the oven for 5-10 minutes (depending how crispy you like your bacon), then drain off excess grease and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the eggs, tomato sauce, a pinch of salt, avocado and mix until the eggs are well scrambled.  Carefully pour the mixture into the bacon cups and place back into the over to cook for an additional 20 minutes, or until the egg mixture is cooked through.  Remove baked eggs from muffin tin and let cool on a paper towel for 5-10 minutes.  Makes 6 servings.

Creamy New England Baked Egg with Avocado Cream Sauce
For Eggs
6 large eggs, whites only
1/2 brick of softened cream cheese (can also use 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese)
1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese
6 strips of bacon
For Sauce
2 tables spoons of softened butter
The juice of 1 medium sized orange
1/2 a large avocado
1/4 a brick of softened cream cheese
2-4 tablespoons of 2% milk
Salt and Pepper to taste

For sauce, combine butter, cream cheese, avocado, and orange juice.  Use the milk to thin sauce to your desired consistency, then set in the fridge to chill.

Pre-heat an oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with one strip of bacon to a cup and press the bacon into the sides and bottom so that it lines the cup completely.  Place the bacon lined muffin tin in the oven for 5-10 minutes (depending how crispy you like your bacon), then drain off excess grease and set aside.
In a large bowl combine the egg white and cream cheese and whip thoroughly until mixture reaches soft peaks.  Pour mixture into the bacon cups and top with the shaved Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked through and the tops have turned golden brown, then place on a paper towel to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Top with chilled sauce and enjoy.  Makes 6 servings.