Friday, July 27, 2012

Phoebe's Bakery or Espresso Yourself

The Slow and Savory Review

We have some sad news to report, friends.  Regular contributors and Brandy's oldest and dearest friends (other than Bunny, of course) Biscuit and Birdie Brown have announced their plans to move back to the Bayou so that Birdie can take the position of General Robert E. Lee in the official United States Civil War Recreation Team.  "I'm hoping to finally lead the South to victory," he explained to Brandy, "Would you believe they've lost every year?  Shameful."  Accompanying him will be his brother Boudin (who has accepted the position of Field Commander in his sibling's army) and his dear wife Biscuit (who strangely admitted to taking the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, which Birdie seemed none to pleased about).  In order to send them off properly, Brandy took the group out on last time.

Their brunch spot of choice this week was the newly opened Phoebe's Bakery, formerly Phoebe's Cupcakes.  While the old location focused mainly on the aforementioned trendy baked good, the newer and bigger location provides not only sweet pastries, but gourmet paninis made with freshly baked bread, exciting coffee drinks, and other goodies.  The interior was rather small, with only a few tables for dine in patrons, but smartly decorated in clean blues, chocolate browns, and creamy whites.  A clearly labelled display case showed off the colorful wears, while an elaborate menu overhead demonstrated the rest of what was on offer.  Unfortunately, bad ventilation made the room freezing cold one moment and boiling hot the next, and at one point a small bit of smoke invaded the shop from the kitchen and caused Biscuit and Brandy's eyes to water and itch.

First up, the group ordered a round of beverages.  For Biscuit and Boudin, the Salted Caramel Latte (Biscuit chose the iced variety while Boudin preferred the hot).  Both found their drinks to be lovely and flavorful, with an excellent, ever so slightly salty finish.  Biscuit even spied a few pieces of salt placed atop her whipped cream.  Birdie opted for the Honey Bunny Latte ("What do you think is in it?" he asked.  "Honey, I would imagine," Biscuit replied.  "You would imagine what?" Birdie asked.  "Honey," said Biscuit.  "What, dear?" Birdie asked.  "Honey!" Biscuit growled.  "Just a moment, darling, I want to ask the shop girl what's in this latte," said Birdie) which came cutely with a small sugar bee perched atop the whipped cream.  In this drink too, the flavor shone through, just as advertised.  Brandy ordered a White Chocolate Mocha, which while not quite as exciting as the others' drinks, was still pretty dog gone tasty.

After that, the group chose to indulge their sweet teeth by sharing a Morning Sunshine Panini and some of Phoebe's signature Breakfast Cupcakes.  The panini was some buttery sourdough bread surrounding a delectable combination of Nutella, banana slices, pecans, and brie cheese.  While the sandwich was supposed to come with a side of honey dipping sauce, no such condiment was supplied, though no one seemed to miss it.  The sweetness of the chocolate spread and bananas was cut nicely by the sharp cheese, and the nuts provided a welcome bit of texture.  The cupcakes (which consisted of pancake batter, baked, soaked in maple syrup, topped with maple cream, and garnished with candied bacon) seemed to be a hit as well.  "Sir!  This cupcake appears to be outside the bounds of deliciousness.  I shall make a formal report to the President, Sir!" Boudin boomed, swooning slightly after taking another bit of the confection.

Lastly came the sandwiches, which had been given clever literary titles.  Birdie, ever the daring soul, ordered a little number called The Inferno, a zesty combo of pepper jack cheese, jalapeno, cream cheese, red onion, and tomato with a side of chipotle ranch.  Sadly, Birdie seemed to feel that this sandwich didn't quite live up to his expectations.  "But my palate can stand a bit more spice than the average feller," he said, "I once burned a hole straight through my tongue without even noticing."

Boudin chose the Gatsby, a refined combination of chicken, cheese, tomato, and pesto.  He found the bread to be crispy, fresh, and buttery, while the chicken on the inside was tender.  The pesto seemed to be dominating flavor in this particular sandwich.

Biscuit decided on the Mockingbird, a sort of Thanksgiving themed sandwich with turkey, stuffing, and a cranberry dipping sauce.  Biscuit loved the moist, flavorful roasted turkey slices along with the big chunks of herby stuffing (Brandy was skeptical of the "bread on bread" combo until she tasted it) but she felt that the cranberry aioli was what really brought the dish together.  "You know I love some sweet and savory playing nice.  Just like the North and the South did, right honey?"  "Yes," said Birdie, "That is what's in the coffee."

Brandy picked the East of Eden, a sort of deconstructed chicken salad with chicken, Swiss cheese, red grapes, and herbed aioli on the side.  Brandy adored the tenderness of the chicken and the pop of the grapes, while the dipping sauce provided a nice creaminess to round everything else out.

Its hard to find a good brunch spot that doesn't offer a single egg dish (well, almost, as there are several freshly baked quiches in the display case) but Phoebe's did an excellent job of covering both sweet and savory bases, and with coffee, pastry, and sandwich for less than $20 a person, it wouldn't be hard to stay and sample all of the wears available. 

And so, we wish good luck to yet another set of wonderful friends and wish them pleasant journeys and happy eating!

The Short and Sweet Review

Phoebe's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kingsbury Street Cafe or Home Chic Home

The Slow and Savory Review

Home means different things to different people.  To some, home is where their heart is.  To others, home is where their stuff is.  For most of us, home means comfort, family, friends, and love and not necessarily an actual location. 

Being the well traveled seeker of adventure that she is, Brandy has called many places home over the years, from her modest country estate in Suffolk to her little villa in Venice to her one bedroom loft in New York City.  As we all know, her current home of Chicago has rendered all her previous dwellings obsolete and provided enough wonders from all over the world to keep her interested, entertained, and well fed.  But to Brandy, the concept of "home" has always meant something very specific. "A warmth of the gut," is what she calls it, and though many restaurants can claim they serve "home style," "comfort food," or even "nostalgic dishes," Brandy's "warmth of the gut" is harder to come by.  "The only way I can describe it is like coming in from the snow and knocking back a bit of whiskey.  Its a comfort that starts in your stomach and spreads to the rest of you.  That's home."

In search of some true "warmth of the gut" Brandy took a party that not only included Birdie and Biscuit Brown, but also Birdie's brother Boudin (a dedicated military man just like his sibling) to Kingsbury Street Cafe in Old Town.  They were greeted at the door by a small crowd of people, waiting to be seated, but they were not greeted by a hostess.  Apparently, what seemed to be a very busy morning had forced the hostess into helping on the floor by running food and drink to various tables.  Eventually the party was able to put in their names and after about 15 minutes, they were escorted to a table near the back of the room.  The space was wide open with very high ceilings, which while visually stunning did create a rather echoey quality to the room with made conversation somewhat difficult.  The over all appearance came across as very clean, yet warm.

A menu of sumptuous delights befuddled Brandy and friends, so in the mean time they ordered a round of drinks: a Strawberry Melon Mojito for Biscuit, regular old Strawberry Melon juice for Birdie, Orange Mango juice for Boudin, and the Kingsbury Martini (vodka, raspberry, blackberry, and lime) for Brandy.  The juices were lovely and fresh, but the cocktails were truly delicious.  Brandy's martini had a very pleasant sweetness to it, but had perhaps a little too much bite from the alcohol ("If I'm not drinking vodka straight up, then I don't want to taste it," she explained).  Biscuit's mojito had the table's eyes rolling back in ecstasy as it was passed from person to person (Boudin actually saluted the drink after taking a sip).  "This is more refreshing than sitting on a block of ice in my under things!" Biscuit exclaimed.

To start out the table ordered some Deviled Eggs.  Beautifully presented, the eggs had a wonderfully mustardy flavor while being incredibly light and fluffy.  Each came with a very thin strip of bacon, which added a touch of richness.

Next, they ordered something sweet to share, the Dark Chocolate Stuffed French Toast, which came with orange zest and fresh raspberries.  The toast was cooked perfectly and tasted of custardy egg.  The orange zest really came through the chocolate to add a new and interesting dimension to a very traditional dish.

A very large party of what Brandy supposed to be a bride to be and her friends held up the kitchen and service for a bit, meaning that their entrees took quite a while to reach the table.  Birdie began contemplating an invasion of the said table, as he tends towards war time planning when he gets hungry.  "We'll take their eggs at dawn!" he whispered frantically, "Spare no bacon, but a slice of toast to each man who comes back alive!"  Just before he and Boudin launched an all out assault, the food arrived.

Boudin had ordered the Croque Madame, a traditional yet well made version of the French favorite.  "Sir!  My report on the ham is extremely positive Sir!" Boudin...well, reported.  The bread, while thick, was fresh and lovely, while the ham was really scrumptious and high quality.

Birdie went for the Steak and Peppers, which he had thought would be more of a stir fry, but was really a sandwich.  This one came on a crunchy baguette, which Birdie rather enjoyed.  The meat was tender, pink, and flavorful, while the vegetables that adorned it lent an excellent splash of color.

Biscuit favored the Kingsbury Benedict, a twist on the perennial brunch favorite with BBQ chicken and spinach.  Though the flavor of the chicken was good, Biscuit longed for a bit more of that BBQ zing.  "Maybe a little bit of the spices in the Hollandaise?" she said.  In this version, the eggs were perched on top of a sort of traditional English muffin, though Biscuit feared hers had been over toasted,as they were almost impossible to cut through, nearly sending her knife flying across the table (Birdie yelled "Charge!" as the cutlery hit him and Boudin was near to jumping on Biscuit before order could be restored).  The potatoes on the side looked appetizing enough, but very much flavorless and a little grainy.

Brandy chose the House Burger topped with Gruyere cheese, maple glazed bacon, and a fried egg.  The burger itself was thick and juicy, though just the tiniest bit over cooked (Brandy had requested medium rare, but there was no hint of pink to the meat) and the bun was absolute perfection.  The bacon lent not only a nice crunch, but also a lovely sweetness.  Sadly, the fries on the side of the dish were also pretty flavorless, though their texture was perfect.

With prices set to reflect the quality of ingredients, Kingsbury Street was no bargain buy to be sure, but wasn't a wallet buster either.  Although the service was slow and patchy, there was an unmistakable warmth to the people and the atmosphere that could not be denied.  And while it may have been the enormous burger in her stomach, Brandy had an unmistakable "warmth of the gut" leaving Kingsbury Street Cafe, and sometimes that is a feeling worth waiting for.

The Short and Sweet Review

Kingsbury Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bang Bang Pie Shop or Sky High Pie Fly By

The Slow and Savory Review

There is a very fine line between breakfast and dessert.  It can be hard to distinguish a pastry meant for morning like a cheese danish or a chocolate muffin from an eclair or a devil's food cupcake (hint: if it has icing or frosting, its a dessert, but if it has a glaze, its breakfast) and when pancakes, waffles, or French toast start to take on flavors like red velvet, carrot cake, or strawberries and cream, that fine line becomes almost microscopic.  Lovers of more savory foods may find this a line they dare not tread, but Brandy, whose sweet tooth has been known to lead her into burning buildings (it was to retrieve a pan of cinnamon rolls) will gladly tap dance over the line every morning. 

This may be what led to this week's rather unusual brunch choice, Bang Bang Pie Shop in Logan Square.  Though not open on Sundays, Bang Bang Pie Shop does offer their wears on Saturday mornings, and Brandy was rather surprised to see the quaint little store front buzzing with people at 11:00 am.  "How in the world did this many people decided to have pie for breakfast?" Biscuit wondered as they staked out a table against an exposed brick wall.  "Pie cravings are powerful things," Brandy said knowledgeably, "One never knows when they're going to strike, but when they do, by God you better find some pie or risk starting fights with random strangers."  Biscuit knew enough not to ask Brandy if she was speaking from personal experience. 

The menu was limited to only a few items at any given time: fresh roasted coffee served hot or iced, three seasonal flavors of pie (Bang Bang usually keeps on hand a cream pie, fruit pie, and chocolate pie), and home made biscuits.  The pies on offer that day happened to be a simple Blueberry Pie, a Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Pie, and what they were calling a Summer Pie, which turned out to be an frozen pie (or ice box pie) made from sage ice cream, lemon curd, and raspberries.  Brandy went ahead and ordered a slice of each for she and Biscuit to share, as well as two of the biscuits, one plain and one with gravy.  The perk of the unadorned biscuit was the trip to the "toppings bar" which included several herbed butters and home made jams. 

Starting out with their biscuits, Brandy and Biscuit found them to be buttery, light, and just a little bit crumbly.  Biscuit loved the creamy gravy that topped hers, which was spiked with bits of sausage.  Brandy had loaded her biscuit with Black Pepper Honey Butter and Blueberry Lavender Jam.  The pop of the berries was just perfect and floral jam was lovely and subtle.  "Well, at least the biscuits are legitimate brunch food," Biscuit mumbled cheerily through a mouthful of gravy.  "Anything I eat at 11:00 in the morning on a weekend is legitimately brunch," Brandy said seriously, "Whether its a cheeseburger, a crumpet, or a pint of ice cream.  It's a state of mind, dear, not the state of your plate."

Next, they started in on the Summer Pie before it had a chance to melt.  Though not a huge fan of lemon, Brandy found the pie to be refreshing, creamy, and light, with a nice soft finish.  The ice cream didn't taste overly herbaceous at all, and the raspberries on top made for an even brighter flavor.

Though the simplest of the three, the Blueberry Pie was probably their favorite.  "This defines what pie should be," Brandy gushed.  The combination of fresh and cooked berries made for a nice, natural sweetness as well as a mix in texture and the crust was perfectly tender and flaky.  Brandy detected just a little bit of herbiness in the filling and wondered if some sage, or perhaps basil, had been included for a slight twist.

Last, but no least, was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pie.  After having already polished off a biscuit a piece and two other slices of pie, this rich concoction was a daunting mountain to climb.  The velvety fudge at the bottom of the pie had been mixed with peanut butter, making it stick to the roof of one's mouth, so much so that each bite took a good blissful minute or so to chew.  The sliced bananas on top were almost light enough to break up the richness, but the addition of a cookie crumb crust just made this pie all the more indulgent.  "Even I admit this may be better suited to dessert than brunch," Brandy relented.

Though a controversial brunch to say the least, by the time they cleared off their table, Brandy and Biscuit were very much in love with Bang Bang Pie Shop.  A peaceful atmosphere, helpfully informed staff, and nothing on the menu over $10 (slices were $5 a piece and biscuits started at $2.50) means Brandy has found the perfect spot for squelching those unpredictable pie cravings. 

Waddling out of the pie shop, Brandy and Biscuit headed off to the movie theater for an afternoon showing of Magic Mike.  "Its another one of those movies about the little English wizard boy, right?" Biscuit asked.  "I think this one's a musical," Brandy replied, "There's a lot of dancing in the commercial."

The Short and Sweet Review
Bang Bang Pie Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 6, 2012

Wow Bao or Dim Sum More!

The Slow and Savory Review

It will come as little surprise to most people that Brandy is a sucker for a good deal.  She currently holds the record for having signed up for the most group buying deal sights in the Chicago area, as well as purchasing the most deals in a single day (all of which were brunch related).  Though she may not quite be on par with some others (i.e. you will most likely not see her on an episode of Extreme Couponing any time soon, as she says "It takes too much time and effort that could be better spent sleeping and eating,") but even getting the slightest whiff of a good deal can send Brandy on some rather interesting out of the way quests.

Having run a little low on funds due to a spending spree at Binny's Beverage Depot, Brandy was on the hunt for a cheap and satisfying brunch, and having recently learned of a breakfast menu at one of Chicago's fastest growing franchises, she thought she may have found the answer.  Wow Bao, with several locations scattered around downtown Chicago and a food truck to boot, has long been a favorite spot of Brandy's for a quick bite while shopping or theater going because of its flavorful offering and compact delivery, namely the humble steamed Chinese dumpling known as the bao.

Brandy stopped by the 1 W. Wacker location in the Theater District to check what she expected to be some rather surprising choices.  The breakfast menu at Wow Bao consisted of two categories: #1 The Bowls: eggs and various toppings over your choice of grains like rice or quinoa, or #2 The Baos: five different flavors of steamed dumplings which can be purchased individually or in a 6 pack.  Brandy, not able to decide amongst the baos on offer, opted for the six pack with one of each savory flavor and double dessert.

Egg and Spinach Bao: First of all, there is the dumpling itself, which is the same for all baos on wow Bao's menu.  Soft, tender, slightly sweet, and just a little chewy.  Inside the first breakfast flavored bao, Brandy found a mixture of scrambled egg and spinach.  This one was a little lacking in flavor, and spinach.  Brandy thought the addition of a few more veggies, like diced bell peppers or tomato, might have helped to liven things up.

Egg and Bacon Bao: The eggs inside this bao were pretty much the same as the previous one, but the smokiness of the bacon really shined through.  It also made for a nice change in texture, contrasting nicely with the softness of the bao dough.

Egg and Sausage: This was probably the boldest of the baos.  The spicy mix of meat and egg was a real surprise to Brandy, and she really thought it helped to wake her up just as good as a hot cup of coffee.

BBQ Pork Bao:  This bao, also available on the regular menu, was a nice change of pace from the egg baos.  The sauce on the pork was plenty spicy with a little herbaceous kick, which was a nice accompaniment to the sweetness of the bao dough.  The pork was a little on the chewy side, but not bad all around.

Coconut Custard Bao:  Another bao from the regular menu, the filling was exactly what you would expect, namely a sweet and creamy warm custard, packed full of coconut flavor.

A six pack of baos, plus an iced tea came in just under $10, which fro Brandy is a deal that really can't be beat.  This particular location had a wonderful area for sitting and enjoying her meal both inside or outside, and the staff could not have been perkier for so early in the morning.  Brandy's only complaints, if there were some to make, were #1: The fact it would have made more sense to include one more breakfast bao flavor in order to make for the perfect six pack ("But if they're going to force me to have double dessert for breakfast, then so be it," she lamented,) and #2 The fact that the breakfast menu is not available on weekends ("Normally I don't find week day brunch socially acceptable, but I suppose I'll make an exception here.") Luckily, Wow Bao also offers their wears in the frozen variety, meaning you could always buy those and have your very own Bao Brunch in the comfort of your own home.

The Short and Sweet Review
Wow Bao on Urbanspoon