Friday, January 28, 2011

Hearty Boys or The Case of the Hidden Hideaway

The Slow and Savory Review

The phrase comfort food is so subjective.  For some, a simple pancake can be as unfamiliar  as frog's legs, and for others it can be the definition of their childhood memories of Sunday morning.  So when a restaurant declares itself to be a "comfort food" restaurant, the hope would be that they have something for everyone.  Not just something to please their palate, but something that will bring back memories, light a warmth inside them, and generally, well, comfort them.  Such is the declaration made by Hearty Boys of East Lakeview.  Tucked between unassuming store fronts down Broadway, one would not expect to find anything more than a diner or small cafe upon entering.  But Bunny and Brandy know better than to judge a book by its cover, or rather a restaurant by its neighbors.

Once again joined by Biscuit and Birdie Brown (they seem to think this blog is recording their adventures and that Bunny and Brandy are their sidekicks), Our Foursome entered Hearty Boys a pitiful 1/2 hour before they stopped serving brunch.  Still happy to accommodate the late comers, a cheerful waiter to took them to a table in front of a fanciful electronic fireplace.  That, combined with exposed brick and adorable "recyclable flowers" on all the tables definitely established the comfort vibe, while still retaining a certain level of sophistication and modernism. 

Biscuit and Brandy, ever the shining examples of sobriety, ordered drinks first.  For Biscuit, a Vermont Coffee.  Spiked with maple bourbon and topped with allspice whipped cream, the drink immediately plunged Biscuit into a quiet, happy place within herself.  Brandy ordered the Roasted Pear Belini and was disappointed that it tasted of champagne and nothing else. 

No messing about with appetizers this week, Our Party went straight for the proverbial jugular.  First up was Bunny with Chicken and Waffles.  The waffle was sweet, the chicken savory, and their marriage was in heaven.  Bunny reported that the chicken was possibly the greatest fried chicken she had ever consumed, which is saying something as she used to know a certain Colonel with a certain secret recipe on an intimate level.  Rumor has it, she was responsible for the inclusion of the 4th spice.

Brandy too opted for a waffle, but of a much different sort.  The Chocolate Cherry Waffle turned out to be just what Brandy needed to lull her into a state of utter comfort.  Not too dense, but bursting with chocolaty goodness, this was the ultimate sweet indulgence.  The sour cherries on top helped to break up the richness of it all.  As a side (and so she could delude herself into thinking she was ordering something healthy) Brandy also requested the Spiced Apple Couscous.  The dish was warm an soothing, hearty but not heavy, and a very unusual alternative to traditional oatmeal.

Birdie's choice was the Breakfast Dog, a chicken and apple sausage, wrapped in pancake batter and served on a stick ("As all food should be!" declared Birdie).  Yet another dish with the perfect combination of sweet and savory in one bite, it was enough to make an over stressed (and possibly hung over) Birdie smile.  The bite in fact was so sweet that the authentic maple syrup served on the side wasn't even necessary.  Birdie also ordered a side of biscuits with pumpkin clove butter.  While the biscuits themselves were authentically southern, the real standout was the butter, which was sweet and spicy, like a fire made with rock candy.

For Biscuit, an order of Andouille Biscuits and Gravy, more southern fair for the Southern Belle.  The sausage had the kind of snap one expects from quality and just the right amount of kick to it to make one's morning come alive.  On the side were Hearty Boy's prided Smokey potatoes, which did not disappoint in their smokiness.

As far as prices go, Hearty Boys cannot be beat.  For the most part, every dish on the menu didn't top $10, yet the quality and quantity of the food presented could have warranted much higher prices.  It was a shame Our Ladies and guests showed up so late for brunch that day, as the food at Hearty Boys lulled them into such a state of relaxation and bliss that they could have camped out at their table for the rest of the day.  As it was, the momentous effort of standing up and leaving was about all the exercise anyone of Our Foursome could handle.  Brandy suggested to the waiter as they left that they could have at least provided gurneys for the guests to assist their journeys home.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Hearty on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Jones or Brunch on the Bayou

The Slow and Savory Review:

For Biscuit and Birdie Brown’s 50th anniversary, Bunny and Brandy decided they needed a taste of their homeland.  Luckily, a few whispers had reached them about Big Jones, a restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood that served an upscale, yet comforting Southern style brunch.

Upon entering, one is greeted by grand red velvet curtains, which as Brandy pointed out were an ingenious yet lavish way of blocking the draft from the door on a cold winter’s morn.  The interior of Big Jones was stylish and elegant without being overly delicate or fussy.  Textured wallpaper, interesting lighting fixtures, and old fashioned hand painted wooden chairs make one feel as though they’re stepped into the parlor of a fashionable older relative.

To their surprise, there was no wait for a table.  Almost immediately upon sitting down, Our Ladies and the happy couple were treated to a plate of complimentary beignets.  Hot, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and covered in powdered sugar, they were the perfect beginning to the morning. 

Before delving into the variety of food on offer at Big Jones, the tea selection is definitely worth mentioning.  Biscuit, on Birdie’s advice (he is an expert on tea, after all, having been stationed in both India and China during various wars) ordered the Jasmine Pearl tea, while Bunny selected the Himalayan Darjeeling.  Both came served on a tea set for one, complete with a self brewing tea pot, cup and saucer, and a tiny pot of honey.  Bunny’s eyes went a little misty after the first sip, saying her tea tasted like liquid home.  Brandy, on the other hand, ordered the Desert Pear Iced Tea, one of Big Jone’s many exotic sounding ice teas.  To her surprise, the waitress brought over a strange looking carafe and a glass of ice.  She explained that the flavored syrup was contained within the tiny glass topper and could be poured out according to the taster’s desire along with the tea.  Birdie soon regretted his choice of a tiny cup of espresso after seeing such wonders presented to the table.

For starters, Birdie suggested (as he is an expert on Southern fair as well as a tea sommelier) the group order the Crawfish and Boudin Fritters as well as the Cheddar Biscuits, in honor of his dear one.  The fritters were crunchy and tangy, with just a hint of spice.  But the Biscuits (the food, not the southern belle) were the real standout.  Eaten plain, they were wonderfully dense and gooey, but when the honey butter and apple compote they came presented with were added, they became the things dreams are made of.  Well, Bunny and Brandy’s dreams, in any case.

For the main event, Brandy selected the Mushroom and Leek Omelet with a side of Cheddar Grits.  The plating on this particular dish was rather disappointing, with only a few sliced leeks on top providing some color.  A simple slice of fruit or drizzle of sauce would have done wonders.  Regardless, the omelet was pretty straightforward.  The filling, which also included goat cheese, hadn’t been mixed together, meaning there were pockets of cheese, then leek, then mushrooms.  Brandy though mixing all of those things together would have been much more desirable.  As for the grits, they were creamy enough, but didn’t really taste of cheese.

Birdie’s omelet was a tad more adventurous.  He had ordered the Bayou Teche Omelet, which held more crawfish plus cream cheese and house andouille sausage.  It imparted a certain smokey flavor as well as spice, making for excellent “recovery” food, as Birdie put it (Biscuit reported he’d been out late the previous night with some old war buddies, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his bachelor’s party).

Biscuit squealed with delight when she saw catfish and grits on the menu.  Served with cornbread and two eggs fried eggs, this plate looked amazingly appetizing even to Brandy, isn’t much of a fish eater (“Which in England means I’m practically a vegetarian,” she pointed out).  Biscuit reported that the fish was cooked perfectly; flaky inside with no hint of fishy smell.  The cornbread was very rustic with chunks of corn hidden inside.

Bunny, ever the adventurous soul, ordered yet another Crab Cake Benedict, though she tried to denying it, saying that the dish had “Benedict” no where in the title.  Officially, she ordered Eggs New Orleans, which was a plate of poached eggs served over crab cakes and popovers and topped with hollandaise.  “It’s not a Benedict!” Bunny continued to protest to a table full of raised eyebrows.  Regardless of whether it was or wasn’t, Bunny did say that the eggs were well poached and the crab cakes were excellently spiced and fresh.  The surprise on the plate were the Potatoes O’Brien, which were nice and crispy, well seasoned, and an excellent compliment to the dish.

As it was a special occasion (and because Brandy was grumpy about her under plated and simplistic omelet) the group decided to order desserts.  First, the Moon Pie, made of peanut butter fluff and crispy cookie, covered in chocolate and served with banana ice cream.  There was a surprising smokiness present on first bite, which the group discovered was due to the addition of bacon.  The second dessert was the Boca Negra cake, a rich chocolate torte served with freeze-dried rice and raspberries, as well as “benne” ice cream and a cherry gelee.  This one was very rich, with safe flavors countered by unusual textures from the torte’s accessories.

The whispers were definitely correct when it came to Big Jones.  So many surprises should surely have cost a fortune, but each of Our Ladies made it out of the restaurant spending less than $30 (keep in mind, that included tea, 2 appetizers, a main course, and a dessert).  This is a place to sit back and enjoy on a lazy weekend morning if there ever was one, and so authentically Southern that Biscuit and Birdie’s accents definitely seemed a lot stronger upon exiting the establishment.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Big Jones on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 14, 2011

Yolk or Sunny Side of the Street

The Slow and Savory Review:
Over the last few months, Our Ladies have learned a few things about popularity: #1, just because there’s a long wait, it doesn’t mean the restaurant is good, and #2 just because there’s a long wait, it doesn’t mean the restaurant is over rated.  After their less than happy start to the brunching year last week, Bunny and Brandy were a little hesitant to try Yolk, a string of 3 eateries surrounding downtown Chicago, specializing in breakfast and lunching options.  They were especially eager to impress this week, considering the guests they had in tow, namely the ultra-famous opera singing baritone, the one, the only, Mr. Bakewell Burgundy, who was brought along by his great friend, one Mr. Benedict Bacon, otherwise known as Bunny’s devoted husband.  It was cause for celebration, this brunch, as Benedict had only recently returned to Bunny’s waiting arms after a long excavation at an archaeological dig in the Northwestern corner of America, Benedict being the foremost authority on the Brontosaurus. 

Upon entering Yolk, Our Party were greeted by quite a large crowd of people, awaiting tables.  The hostess informed them that the wait would be around 45 minutes, at which point Bunny became antsy.  “Don’t worry, dear,” said Benedict gently, “I’ve been on my knees, dusting with a tiny brush for last half a year.  I can’t tell you how good it is to be standing and walking for extended periods of time again.”  “UNDERSTANDABLE!” Bakewell bellowed with a flourish of his handkerchief.  But as if by magic, the crowd soon began to disappear into the restaurant one by one, and before Brandy could finish her first flask of whiskey (in other words, in 15 minutes), they were being taken to their seats.

A chipper young lad greeted them with menus and water, suggesting fresh glasses of juice for everyone at the table.  They all heartily agreed and began to examine the options on offer.  Bunny, naturally, zeroed in on the Benedict section of the carte du jour, both because she was barred from that option the previous week and because her darling Benedict was finally returned to her.  She selected the Pot Roast Benedict out of a plain desire to try such an odd version of her favorite.  Brandy preferred the Bacon Quesadilla.  Benedict opted for the Hey Ricky Omelet, a combo of avocado, jalapeƱo, and chorizo enfolded into eggy goodness.  Bakewell declared “CREPE COMBOOOOOO!” which apparently came with 2 crepes, 2 eggs, 2 sausages, and 2 strips of bacon.  Our Ladies also ordered a little something sweet for them all to share, the Peach Cobbler Crepes which, much to Brandy’s delight, came baked in Grand Marnier.

Bunny’s Benedict (the food, not the husband) was probably the most unique Benedict (the food, not the husband) she has had yet.  The eggs were a little over done and there wasn’t enough hollandaise, but the pot roast was tender and comforting.  The potatoes on the side were a tasty surprise; very well seasoned, and in a very good sort of way, inconstantly salty from piece to piece. 

Benedict (the husband, not the food) found his omelet to be chock full of veggies and sausage.  The heat was present, to be sure, not over powering to the poor man’s senses, which had been dulled by the abundance of coffee he’d drunk during his time in the American Northwest.

Brandy’s Quesadilla was more of a burrito, coming in a tight roll instead of a flat crisp.  Having the back end of the wrap closed would have aided the eating of it greatly, as the contents tended to spill onto the plate with every bite.  Without the addition of the included sour cream and salsa, the dish would have been rather bland, but with them, it simply sang.

Speaking of singing, Bakewell’s crepes were a bit doughy, as well as his bacon a bit over done.  But the dish on the whole seemed to have pleased the man, who, as he dotted the corners of his mouth with his handkerchief, was rendered soundless for the first time all morning.
The Peach Cobbler Crepes, though delicious, did not present the kind of delicacy one usually likes to see in a crepe.  “Thin pancakes, more like,” Brandy mumbled.  “INDEED!” Bakewell intoned.  The crumble on the top did bring to mind the aforementioned summertime peachy confection, though the filing alone didn’t.

In the midst of the eating fray, the chipper waiter, having been touched by the sight of Bunny and Benedict holding hands under the table, brought the party a plate of some of his favorite dishes to sample.  Included were two types of French Toast: a banana bread and a lemon poppy seed, both of which were exceptionally moist, and also a Nutella filled crepe covered in strawberries and banana slices.  By that point, Our Party were so stuffed (Brandy found herself requesting a box for leftovers for the first time in living memory) that all they could manage was a bite of each.  After paying, Bakewell treated the crowd to an aria before they departed.

Yolk turned out to hold no disappointment for Our Ladies and guests.  At well under $20 a person, they walked away very much full and with enough leftovers for several meals.  It just goes to show, sometimes the crowd is right to be where it is.

The Short and Sweet Review:

Yolk on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toast or New Year’s...Hey!

The Slow and Savory Review:

There’s that old idiom that says, “Third time’s the charm,” and for Our Ladies and Toast, that has proven to be true.  Turning up at just past 10:30 on New Year’s Day, Our Ladies were surprised to find a table open and ready for them, as in their previous two tries they have been told a wait of more than an hour was expected.  Once inside, it’s easy to see why there’s such long waits, as Toast only holds about 20 medium sized tables in a smallish space.  But the ambiance is cozy enough, with varied toasters scattered around the room and ironic country rooster wallpaper.

This week Bunny and Brandy were accompanied by some new friends, Bean and Bailey Blue, a charming couple from Boise, who they had met at their local lodge’s annual New Year’s Eve Bash.  “I’ve heard lots of good things about this place,” said Bean good-naturedly, “Kinda has to be somewhat decent with a two hour wait, eh?”  He chortled to himself, causing Bailey to roll her eyes at him and smile to herself.

The menu had a few surprises and twists to it, but for the most part Our Ladies were presented with standard brunch fair: sandwiches, pancakes, omelets, and (of course) French Toast.  Our Quartet ordered beverages first, to cool their aching, celebration weary heads: a mocha, a latte, some fresh apple juice, and “Coffee… just bring me coffee,” groaned Bean.  For entrees, Bailey played it safe with 2 eggs, scrambled, with toast, fruit, and house potatoes, while Bunny ventured out of her comfort zone with a dish called “Pancake Orgy,” a combo of different pancake flavors, topped with yogurt and granola.  Brandy ordered something similar, the “French Toast Orgy,” while Bean tempted Bunny’s ire by ordering the Tenderloin Benedict, with a truffle flavored hollandaise. 

Drinks and food arrived in a decent amount of time.  By then, Our Ladies had noticed the huddled masses forming at the front door and whispered amongst themselves that they must have just missed the rush by mere seconds.

Bailey’s eggs were a lovely, simple dish, just as promised.  However, Bailey noted that her scrambled eggs were the best she’d ever had in a restaurant.  “They have weight to them, you know?” she chirped, “So often places make scrambled eggs too fluffy.”

Bean’s Tenderloin Benedict was cooked wonderfully, with just the right amount of runny to his yolks.  He observed that there was something a little different about the hollandaise, which the waitress told him was due to the lemon included in the recipe.  But Bean found the house potatoes disapprovingly bland and greasy.  “I’m from Idaho and I know a good potato,” he was heard to remark.

Brandy’s dish came with three pieces of stuffed French toast of different flavors: strawberry, Mexican Chocolate, and Mascarpone.  The menu had promised a topping of yogurt, granola, fresh berries, and honey, but sadly, the dish only came with the berries and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The stuffings themselves were good and just the right amount of unusual to make things interesting, but the French Toast into which they had been stuffed could have been cooked up in almost diner’s kitchen.

Finally, Bunny’s pancakes did come with the promised granola and yogurt, but sadly, Bunny felt the granola didn’t help the already dry, yet fluffy pancakes.  The flavors, which were meant to be banana, blueberry, and lemon poppy seed weren’t very distinct from one another either.

After eating and paying their bill, Our Ladies and guests were rather rudely rushed along by a manager so that the next of the millions of people on the waiting list could have a seat.  All in all, Toast proved to be mediocre at best, and no where near the standard expected by a two hour wait for food.  With so many other hidden gems around the city, Our Ladies wondered why it was that anyone would wait that long for over priced and under-plated comestibles.  After all, why wait when you could be full and happy by the time some one on the Toast waiting list is just being seated.

P.S.  Our Ladies would like to extend a hearty congratulations to NANA for hosting a very successful and refreshing Pajammy Jam New Year’s Day Brunch, and they most certainly look forward to that sort of spectacle being instituted for brunches across the land!

The Short and Sweet Review:

Toast on Urbanspoon