Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Day Brunch Guide for 2015

La Sirena Clandestina
Friday, January 1 from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Live music from local samba band Planeta Azul will play musical sets throughout the day.  Sticking true to the South American tradition of eating seven pomegranate seeds for good luck in the New Year, Beverage Director Anthony Mitchell and LeBlonCacha├ža Brand Ambassador Daniel de Oliveira will greet guests with a complimentary Pisco Punch incorporating 7 pomegranate seeds into each portion. 

Sienna Tavern
Friday, January 1st, starting at 10 a.m.
If one recovery cocktail is not enough, order a bloody Mary carafe paired with the vodka of your choice, or select a bottle of bubbly and build your own table side mimosas. Dishes include Lobster Hash, Tiramisu French Toast or Caramelized Waffle.

Friday January 1st 11:00-5:00
Extending their normal brunch hours, Dolce will feature their menu of signature pizzas and pastas all the way up until 5:00 p.m. was a pizza party starting New Year's Eve and carrying over into the wee hours of the morning.  One could literally just stay in the restaurant for an entire day of feasting!

Kit Kat Lounge
Friday, January 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Throughout the midday soiree, Diva Madam X will wow the crowd with live musical performances, as Kit Kat's mixologists shake up half-priced martinis.   Guests may enjoy Chef JoAnn Witherell’s brunch menu, featuring Chicken and Waffles, Rice Krispie French Toast, Crab Cake Benedict, Chilaquiles and more. Kit Kat's brunch drink package will be offered for $14.95, featuring free-flowing champagne, build-your-own Bloody Marys, mimosas, sangria and bellinis.

Filini Bar &Restaurant
New Year’s Day from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Chef Carolina Diaz presents an omelet station, prime rib carving station, and all the traditional breakfast eats you could want, along with a Bloody Mary & Mimosa bar for those who heal best hair-of-the-dog style. Brunch is priced at $75 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity.

Bull & Bear
Friday, January 1st starting at 10:30am
Chow down on specialty "not so resolution" dishes like Biscuits & Gravy Pop Tarts and Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese and then wash it down with $5 22oz Stadium Drafts and $15 Bud Light Buckets. College bowl games will be broadcast all day long for the viewing pleasure of hung over sports fans.

Howells and Hood
January 1st from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 
The brunch is priced at $29 per person with menu items including: Made-to-order Omelet Station, Country ham, Applewood bacon, pulled pork, seasonal wild mushrooms, artichokes, heirloom tomatoes, etc. Carving Stations with Cedar River smoked brisket, Howells & Hood Country ham, Hot Station, Braised short rib chilaquiles, sticky buns, truffle potato casserole.  Charcuterie and Seafood Station will feature house-cured salamis and sausages, house-made mustards, smoked salmon, citrus-cured salmon, and deviled eggs.

11:00 a.m. –2:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day
Chef Thomas Lents will present a lavish brunch and complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa at Sixteen.  Appealing to the whole family, diners will have the option to select from a colorful array of soups, salads, charcuterie and a raw bar in addition to bustling stations featuring omelets, sushi and nigiri, carved specialty meats and fish and more. A Kids Table will be available including childhood favorites, from mini burgers to grilled cheese sandwiches.  New Year’s Day brunch is priced at $98 per adult guest and $35 per child aged 5-12 years.

9am-2:30pm New Year's Day
The 6th Annual Pajama Brunch will happen on New Years Day 2016,   It's the best way to start off the New Year- drinking Blood Mary's in your PJ's!  And this year, Nana is offering $5 gift cards to everyone who shows up for brunch on Friday in their pajamas.

Rockit Ranch Restaurants will be hosting a variety of brunches:

Bottlefork from 11:00 to 2:30

The Duck Inn from 12:00 to 5:00

Sunda from 11:00 to 3:00 with build your own Bloody Mary carts, mimosa kits with table side champagne and fresh berries, and imported rare teas

Rockit Burger Bar from 10:30 to 4:00 with $6 mimosas, build your own Bloody  Marys, and mojitos

Rockit from 10:00 to 4:00 Acoustic brunch with live music, build your own Bloody Marys and mimosa kits.  College games will play throughout the day with sound.

Still looking for a few more options?  Check out these lists from Time Out Chicago and Eater.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Brunching Best of 2015

It's been another delicious year of brunching for Bunny and Brandy in Chicago.  From sweets to savories and everything in between, its been their busiest year yet, so before they close out these last 365 days of culinary adventure, here's a look back at Bunny and Brandy's favorite things about 2015.

Top 5 Favorite Discoveries

Best Time Saver: Meal deliveries from ChefMade

Biggest Revelation: Schmacon, beef's answer to bacon

Best Knock your Socks Off Flavor: Caribbean Spice from AllSpice Cafe

Recipe Everyone Should Learn: Heavenly Hots from Ina Pinkney's Ina's Kitchen cookbook

Best Use of Cheese: The Southport and the Sweetie Pie from Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese

Top 5 Bastions of Gluttony

Most Stunning Festival Setup
: Taste of the Nation at the Navy Pier Ballroom

Most fun After Dark: LuxeHome Culinary Event at the Merchandise Mart

Best Addition to the Festival Scene: Chicago Food and Wine Festival in Lincoln Park

Most Bang for the Buck: Chicago Gourmet in Millennium Park

Most Adorable Theme: The Ping Pong Ball at the Hard Rock Hotel

Top 5 Not Brunches

Most Impressive Pasta Service
: The Casareccia Pasta at Travelle

Best French Fry Alternative: Mini Potato Latkes with the Alpine Burger at Table Donkey Stick

Best Fusion Dish: The Chicken and Beer Ramen at Yusho

So Nice we Went There Twice: Filini's Summer menu and Christmas menu

Best use of the term "Farm to Table": Everything at Farmhouse

Top 5 Best Sweets

Most Colorful Confections
: The Macarons at Vanille

Most English Pastry: The Afternoon Tea Scone from Scone City

Best Treat on a Stick: Strawberry Dream Cake Pops at Sugar Bliss

Best Donut: the Blueberry Danish at Stan's Donuts

Best Not Donut: The Sweet Heat Sandwich at Do-Rite Donuts

Top 10 Best Savories (and some more sweets)

Best Poutine: Prime Rib Poutine at SideDoor

Best Dish Name: Fat Man in a Bathtub at Links Taproom

Most Photogenic Food: The Pork Schnitzel Sandwich at BoHo

Best French Toast: the Brioche French Toast with Apples at Unite Urban Grill

Best Breakfast Pizza: the 3 Hour Roasted Grape Pizza at Osteria La Madia

Most Authentic Southern Dish: Shrimp and Grits Luella's Southern Kitchen

Best Cocktails: Twisted Tea Party menu at the Commons Club in the Virgin Hotel

Most Hilarious Buffet: Up Comedy Club's Sunday Bloody Mary Sunday

Best Value for the Indecisive: 4 course brunch for $25 at Emilio's Tapas

Best Brunch Dish after 10:00pm: The Chickpea and Beet Fries at Southport and Irving

And Bunny and Brandy's favorite dish of the year is...

The Cure from Headquarters!

A very Merry Christmas to all the brunch fans out there!  Here's hoping you sleep in long enough to make every breakfast a brunch!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Festival Recap: Grilled Cheese Meltdown

"We don't have grilled cheese in England," Brandy was explaining to her friend Hawk, who was absolutely appalled, "We have beans on toast, which some add cheese to sometimes, I suppose.  Or eggs on toast with cheese.  Or cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese, but those aren't exactly hot and melty."  "Toast isn't the same; the perfect grilled cheese is buttery and crisp, but soft and yielding on the inside.  And you can't just use any cheese, you HAVE to use something with the perfect kind of viscosity that will stay midway between a liquid and solid state, because if its dripping out the sides its no good, but if it doesn't melt at all, then its just a boring cheese sandwich."  "Alright, alright!  I have had grilled cheese sandwiches before, you know."  "But have you had a perfect grilled cheese sandwich?"  "I... don't know," Brandy had to admit.

Luckily, Time Out Chicago was hosting the Grilled Cheese Meltdown, where several bars, restaurants, and food trucks would compete head to head in the ultimate grilled cheese cook off.  Determined to introduce Brandy to what made the perfect grilled cheese, Hawk brought her along to the back room of The Chop Shop early on a Saturday morning.  As they tasted their way through the room, the sandwiches quickly fell into a few categories: Traditional, Meaty, and Sweet.

Doing a traditional grilled cheese just right seemed to be the goal of many of the participants.  Glen's Diner used Texas toast for a dryer, more sturdy bread to hold in their chosen cheese of provolone, and accented it with some fresh tomato.  Northdown Cafe and Taproom did a little innovation to their sandwich, using fontina and cheddar and then soaking the whole thing in a Scottish style ale.  Though the flavor of this one was good and Brandy especially liked the little cup of tomato soup that came with it, the beer-soaking process had rendered the bread a little spongy, which negated the crisp exterior Hawk so coveted.  Same Day Cafe made their sandwich with cheddar and smoked Gouda, but switched things up with a rosemary bread, which Brandy thought was a lovely compliment in flavor.

In the "Meaty" category, there was a definite trend towards bacon, which Brandy certainly didn't mind.  Lady Gregory's used four different cheeses in their sandwich, plus a Parmesan encrusted sourdough, and then added in two types of bacon, fried shallots, and roasted tomato.  This was one of the most complex sandwiches, which had purist Hawk worrying that it might have had a little too much going on, but Brandy enjoyed the contrast and richness of it.  Toasty Cheese opted to use some duck bacon in their sandwich, along with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, aioli, and provolone, but Hawk felt the amount of meat overshadowed the cheese in this case.  "If its a grilled cheese sandwich, the cheese has to be at the forefront," he explained to Brandy.  Breaking with the norm was Happy Lobster, who presented their signature sandwich with a top secret two cheese blend and chunks of Maine lobster.  Both Brandy and Hawk were a little skeptical of this one at first, but after one bite, they were on board.

Both Brandy and Hawk's favorite sandwiches of the day ended up being those with a touch of sweetness to them.  The Fat Shallot used Muenster cheese (a choice Brandy highly approved of, as it had the ideal meltiness Hawk spoke of) along with some sauted spinach and caramelized onion, making for a rather savory mouth full that had a nice, sweet surprise to it.  Blue Door presented a sandwich using farmer's market ingredients, such as fig, arugula, Havarti, and goat cheese, which while delicious, was not so much grilled as it was slightly toasted.  "It's a lovely sandwich," Brandy contemplated, "But it's not a grilled cheese."  One of their favorites of the day (and the ultimate winner of the showdown) was Beard and Belly's sandwich with Butter Kase and cheddar cheese, tomato jam, and a brioche bun.  This made for a really ideal grilled cheese experience with a buttery, rich flavor, cut by the sweetness of the jam.  Lastly was Brandy and Hawk's favorite of the day, the Sweetie Pie from Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese (a stand Brandy was already familiar with).  This sandwich, as all of Gayle's sandwiches do, featured only ingredients found at a farmer's market, right down to the butter and the bread, and included Swiss cheese, pecans, and raspberry jam.  The unique combination of the crunchy nuts, the nutty cheese, the perfectly buttery and crispy bread, and the sweet berry jam was really something memorable.  "It's got all your specifications for an excellent grilled cheese while being innovative and really tasty," Brandy said to Hawk, "I really must try re-creating something like this at home!  You know me, anything sweet and savory at the same time is going to be a winner in my book."

After their masterclass in grilled cheese, Brandy and Hawk both felt that their minds had been expanded and their taste buds educated.  "Now you know what every kid in the US grew up eating and why we love them so much," Hawk told Brandy as they waddled out the door.  "Listen, I didn't need to eat fifteen different sandwiches to understand why a warm, buttery, cheesy sandwich is so loved by Americans," said Brandy, "But it also doesn't mean I wouldn't eat fifteen more just to make sure I understand."

The writers of this blog attended this event free of charge as members of the Time Out Chicago Blogger Network.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Postcards from Bunny: Chicago Holiday Events Roundup

With the holidays fast approaching, there has been so much going on that Brandy has barely been able to keep track of both her knitting needles, let alone her schedule.  Luckily, Bunny, who is in Chicago for an extended stay to finish up her Christmas shopping (she's been spending an average of 6-7 hours a day just walking up and down the Mag Mile) has been helping out by bouncing from one holiday celebration to the next and keeping copious notes to boot.

Holiday Dinner Demo at the Intercontinental

One of Bunny's first stops was into the Intercontinental Hotel to visit with Chef Randy Reed, who was demonstrating some simple to do, yet impressive dishes that anyone could prepare for their holiday meal at home.

He started off with a cocktail he had entitled Elf That Fell Off the Shelf which consisted of several different citrus juices, orange liqueur, amaretto, spiced rum, a dash of cinnamon, and finished off with a stalk of sugar cane and some caramelized orange oil.  The cocktail had a warm, familiar, yet refreshing flavor, and best of all, could easily be made in large quantities to as to be easily served at parties.

Next up, he prepared a couple of side dishes; a Celeriac Mousseline and a Winter Vegetable Melange.  The mousseline was meant to be a more elevated alternative to mashed potatoes, while the vegetable melange was a gorgeously colorful mix of rainbow carrots, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, rutabaga, and pomegranate seeds, all coated in butter and simply spiced.  "I never thought of winter veggies as being so vibrant!" Bunny exclaimed when she beheld the final dish, "And such a simple idea too.  I absolutely must try this one at home!"

For his main course, Chef Reed prepared a Chateaubriand with Perigourine Sauce, an ode to his French influenced cooking style.  The beef was stuffed with Foie Gras, then tied off, pan seared, and wrapped in crepes (a technique Chef Reed insisted kept the juices and fats where they needed to be) and finally rolled into a puff pastry blanket and cooked in the over until golden brown.  The result was a flavorful, rich, and beautiful dish that would be sure to impress any crowd (except maybe a crowd of vegetarians).

The meal was rounded out with a Peppermint Yule Log, coated in chocolate ganache and garnished with white chocolate and gold flakes.  "I'm always worried my abilities won't be up to the task of recreating things like this," said Bunny, "But if I make enough of these cocktails, maybe no one will notice if my beef is a little burnt or my Yule log is slightly lopsided!"

Feast of the Seven Fishes at Filini

Meanwhile, Brandy had headed over to Filini, where she enjoyed a meal earlier this year, to preview their menu for the epic Italian indulgence that is The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The traditional Christmas meal, based on the Catholic practice of not eating meat during holy days, was being re-interpreted by Chef Carolina Diaz into a four course menu with seven seafood options.

The meal began with one of the three new hot toddy's at Filini, the Twisted Earl.  As Brandy lives pretty much off of Earl Grey this time of year, she was extremely excited to sample this mix of honey, orange bitters, gin, and of course, tea.

The first two courses were the Cod Fritters in spicy Pomodoro Sauce and the Sicilian Tuna Carpaccio, both of which made for a fresh and easy beginning to the richer dishes to come.

There were five entrees on offer; the Braised Octopus with panchetta and fingerling potatoes that Brandy found earthy and fun to eat, the Linguine with Clams that came in a lovely white wine and lemon sauce, the Risotto with artisanal smoked salmon that had such a perfect consistency and a nice subtle flavor, the Monkfish done Osso Bucco style with a more spicy pomodoro sauce and an herbed gremolata topping, and Brandy's favorite, the Red Snapper with a citrus scented beurre blanc sauce, pistachios, fennel, and a really interesting grain-like pasta called Fregula Sarda.

The meal was finished off with some honey glazed Struffoli, or little gems of fried dough, and a Ciocolatissimo, a sort of chocolate lava cake, filled with a fig mostarda.

After seven fishes, two desserts, several glasses of wine, and a few hours of soaking in the gorgeous decor at Filini and the Radisson Blu, Brandy couldn't do much more than curl into a chair beside the exquisite fire place and sip a few more Earl Grey hot toddy's.  "Part of me feels bad for consuming the entire ocean this evening," she smiled to herself, "And part of me doesn't like to listen to the other part because she's a party pooper."

Holiday Desserts at Lovely Bake Shop

Both ladies met up at one point to share some coffee, sweets, and compare notes on their adventures, and what better place to do so than Lovely Bake Shop in Wicker Park, where the shelves had been filled to the brim with holiday goodies.

There were pies galore, like the traditional pumpkin and chocolate pecan, and Brandy's personal favorite, the pear and cranberry.  The cupcakes featured festive flavors like S'mores, pumpkin, and Bunny's favorite, apple pie, which was frosted in a sweet and sticky cream cheese icing and just a little bit of cooked apples.  There were elegant tarts, like the pear butter linzer and the cranberry almondine, both of which featured impossibly buttery crusts, and delightful cookies like the chocolate ginger chews, the peppermint French macarons, and best of all, some chocolate dipped and gold dusted coconut macaroons.

"Oh my goodness, would you look at that sparkle!" Bunny giggled with glee as Brandy turned the little confection over in her fingers.  The crisp and crunchy outer layer of the macaroon gave way to the soft and chewy interior, and the fact that only half the cookie had been dipped in chocolate meant the coconut flavor wasn't overwhelmed.  "I'm going to need at least a dozen of these to take home," Brandy said through a mouthful of coconut while wiping a smear of chocolate and gold dust away from her mouth, "I might just decorate my tree with them!"

The writers of this blog were invited to all of the mentioned events in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Farmer's Market Brunch with Prairie Grass Cafe and Three Sisters Garden

It was an unusually warm day for December in Chicago, so Brandy decided to take advantage of the sun and get some holiday shopping squared away.  Being that all her friends were "foodies," she decided the best thing she could do would be to find somewhere selling locally produced goodies, so she zeroed in on the Evanston Winter Farmer's Market, which is being held two weekends a month at Immanuel Lutheran Church, whose congregation regularly supports local and national initiatives to fight hunger.

The atmosphere inside the Farmer's Market was immediately welcoming.  A few tables were scattered outside the church, boasting some winter berry sprigs and other assorted produce and flowers.  The small upstairs space was bursting with booths of fresh produce, hand made goods, and even a table for cheese tastings.  Everyone seemed to be in a happy frame of mind, smiling and greeting friends and strangers alike, helping those unfamiliar with the layout of the market, and sharing recipes ideas with the farmers at the booths. At the center of it all was the kitchen where chefs Sarah Stegner from Prairie Grass Cafe and Tracey Vowell from Three Sisters Garden were whipping up something special.

Their menu mainly consisted of dishes created using products from local growers like Nicholas Farm, Genesis Growers, Catalpa Grove, and Chef Vowell's own Three Sisters Garden.  Everything was freshly prepared and all natural, giving the community a wonderfully filing and healthier option for their breakfast.  Though tempted to try everything on the menu, Brandy settled for just two dishes; one sweet and one savory.

First off, Brandy tried the Creamy Three Sisters Garden Cheese Grits with Scrambled Genesis Growers Eggs with local vegetables.  The veggies were lovely and crisp while the eggs were the perfect density; not too fluffy, but not rubbery either.  The grits were very creamy, still with a little bit of texture to them, and they had a true corn flavor with a subtle nutty cheesiness.  As opposed to a lot of the heavier brunch items Brandy indulges in on a regular basis, this dish left her feeling light, yet satisfied.  "This is exactly what I needed for a day of running around.  A good dose of protein, starch, and vegetation that isn't going to weigh me down," Brandy commented.

On the sweet side, Brandy went for the Oatcake with maple syrup and candied pecans.  As it was brought to the table and Brandy caught a whiff of the warm Burton's Maple Syrup (her favorite maple syrup of all time) and instantly felt a smile forming on her lips.  "Such a simple combination of the familiar scents of maple and cinnamon, but it feels like a warm hug on a cold winter's day," Brandy sighed with delight.  The oatcakes were truly something unique with a very light crisp on their exterior and a creamy, almost custard like interior.  The crunch from the pecans (grown by Vowell and candied by Stegner) was just the proverbial icing on the cake.  "If there was ever a better match for a few strips of bacon, I haven't tasted it," Brandy proclaimed.

The chefs were also featuring some of their hand made goods for sale, such as Pecan and Pumpkin pies, spiced popcorn, butterscotch cookies, salad dressings, pecan milk, and herbed goat cheese, which truly showed off the products from Three Sisters Garden and some of the other local growers.  This is where Brandy went hog wild, so to speak, snapping up everything she could handle so that she could stuff the stockings of all of her friends with delicious, local, mindful treats.  "Nothing's better for stuffing a stocking with than a bag of warm nuts," she said to herself, then giggled like a school girl at her own immature witticism.

The last Farmer's Market at Immanuel Lutheran Church before the holidays is on December 19th, so make sure to mark your calendars and get out there to get your own stockings stuffed with goodies from Chefs Stegner and Vowell!

The writers of this blog were invited to try some of the products mentioned at no charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Postcards from Bunny: Favorite Holiday Drinks

If there's one thing Bunny and Brandy know better than brunch, its where to find a decent drink.  But with Brandy constantly out on the town and Bunny gallivanting across the globe, lately both of them have found themselves appreciating a good old fashioned night in.  With this in mind, they have been compiling a list over the last few months of some of their new found favorite beverages for enjoying on a cold winter's night in.  Bunny recommends that one should put on their favorite Christmas movie, a pair of warm fuzzy slippers, and snack on some lovely roasted chestnuts while enjoying these libations, while Brandy simply recommends hiding one's phone before beginning a session to avoid any wayward texts going out into the ether.


Even though red wines are more fashionable in the winter, Bunny doesn't usually pay much attention to all that and simply drinks what she likes when she likes it, such as the Pinot Grigio Moscato blend from Il Gattopardo she has been enjoying as of late.  The wine, which originates from Sicily, has a beautiful pale golden color and a smooth, citrus and floral flavor with a sweet finish.  Bunny thought this particular wine was perfect for people like her who enjoy a sweeter wine, but don't want to go full Moscato during a meal.  


Brandy and Bunny are notorious session drinkers, as Brits are wont to be, after having been conditioned by their homeland's pub culture.  Brandy usually airs on the side of darker beers, like porters and stouts, so when she recently discovered the Vanilla Porter from Breckenridge Brewery, it was love at first sip.  The notes of vanilla really come through the velvety beer, giving it a very creamy flavor and a nutty finish.  Pleased with this discovery, Brandy delved into Breckenridge's library and found they also had a Christmas Ale, and while she usually shies away from lighter beers, this one with its rich golden color and malty, caramel flavor was a real winner in her book.

Bunny 's new found favorite beers are from Chicago-based Around the Bend, a daring brewery who are obsessed with creating classic styles of beers with innovative ingredients.  On the dark side, Bunny just loves the Puffing Billy, an American style brown ale finished with cacao nibs to compliment the roasted malt flavor.  The rich, complex taste of this one just made Bunny want to curl up next to a fire place and listen to the crackle of the logs all night while snacking on toasted marshmallows.  On the lighter side, Bunny liked the Silk Road, a pale ale that had been flavored with galangal, a root common in Thailand and often used in a favorite dish of Bunny's, Tom Kha Soup.  The root is a lot like ginger in flavor with a little more of a floral note, and it works surprisingly well in this hoppy, citrus focused beer, reminding Bunny of the oranges spiked with cloves her mother used to leave around the house in winter time.


Recently, Brandy was introduced to a new brand of bottled cocktails call Vitani which proclaims to be a "bartender in a bottle."  Rather than an overly syrupy or chemical tasting concoction, the martinis from Vitani are meant to taste as though they had been mixed up behind a bar.  Coming in five varieties (including classics and more innovative combinations created by actually visiting trendy bars and talking to flesh and blood bartenders about what kinds of trends they've been seeing), Brandy quickly zeroed in on the ElderPear as her favorite, being both subtly sweet and floral.  Bunny, who enjoys more of a savory cocktail, loved the olive-y signature Dirty Martini, which as it happens was the whole reason that Vitani came to be.  It was founder Jackie Gichner who longed for a ready to drink martini, which she simply couldn't find, and thus decided to make her own.  With the cocktails all being over 30 proof, there is no question of Vitani being watered down to conform to market or manufacturing demands, and because they are all bottled in aluminium bottles, they stay perfectly chilled until ready to serve in an instant.

The writers of this blog were provided with product by the mentioned companies in order to facilitate the writing of this post.