Friday, July 29, 2011

Sweet Maple Cafe of Home Sweet Home Made

The Slow and Savory Review

As said in a previous post, Bunny and Brandy have always lived by the philosophy that the worst thing that can be said about brunch is "I could have made this at home," and while that has proven true in their experience, that statement could also be applied in some cases to the best that can be said about brunch.  Who amongst us would not like to claim that their pancakes are the fluffiest or that they can poach an egg to perfection without the use of fancy machines or techniques learned at some school with a French name?  "Home made" is supposed to be a prized phrase, a treasured descriptor that even the most elegant of restaurants will sometimes use on a menu to illustrate the love and effort they have put into a dish.

Sweet Maple Cafe, favorite of students at UIC and locals alike, claims to be the ultimate in home made comfort food, where everything (and we do mean everything) is made from scratch.  Started by a mother looking for a way to make money without sacrificing time with her children, everything about Sweet Maple drives home the "Home Made" philosophy, from the family pictures on the walls to the rustic wood floor boards.  Chairs are lovingly placed outside the front door for waiting patrons, a courtesy that other restaurants across Chicago should take note of. 

Bunny and Brandy were accompanied this week by Bunny's mysterious brother, Mr. Bacon, who, even though the heat and humidity were stifling, seemed unfazed and sweatless under his three piece suit and dark sun glasses.  A wait of 25 minutes went by quickly enough before Our Ladies and guest were taken into the restaurant and given a rather spacious table.  Cold drinks were quickly ordered (though they did not arrive quite as quickly): an iced Chai Latte for Brandy, a Peach Iced Tea for Mr. Bacon, and a Strawberry Breezer for Bunny.  All were fresh, unique, and delicious tasting, especially the Strawberry Breezer that tasted of lemonade and coconut.

Mr. Bacon chose a daily special for his entree, Lemon Raspberry Pancakes and a side of sausage.  The pancakes came stacked two high and were each about a foot wide, covered in raspberry syrup and a lemon wedge.  Their texture was very light and moist and their flavor was bright, though the lemon was the more present flavor.  Soon after cleaning his plate, Mr. Bacon began furiously texting into his phone.  "What ever are you doing?"  Bunny inquired.  "Trying to hack into their system to locate the recipe for these pancakes," he responded blankly, "Though they don't seem to have a system to break into...strange."  "You could just ask the waitress..." Bunny prodded, but seeing it was useless, she turned her attention to her own entree.

Bunny also chose a plate of pancakes for her entree, though she opted for the Peaches and Cream variety, which came with diced and spiced peach pieces and a Mt. Everest sized mound of whipped cream.  Again the pancakes texture was perfection, but Bunny was a little disappointed that the peaches had not been cooked to softness.  Brandy commented that she appreciated the effort to serve fresh fruit in the summer time and thought the non-cooked peaches lent a certain vividness to the dish.

Brandy went the savory route, ordering a Chicken Egg and Cheezer Sandwich with a side of Monterrey Home Fries.  The sandwich, which Brandy customized with an over medium egg, Swiss cheese, and a fried chicken breast on a sweet milk biscuit,  was perfect and satisfying in every way.  The biscuit was the best part, being soft and slightly sweet, without being heavy or dry.  On the side, a small cup of home made apple sauce was provided, for a little bite of sweetness to break up the richness of the sandwich.  The home fries, which came bedecked with bacon, onions, cheese, and jalapenos, had just the right amount of spice and richness without being greasy.

"Home is where the heart is," as they say, and if that is true then Bunny and Brandy will surely be checking the lost and found at Sweet Maple Cafe for their misplaced circulatory systems.  Simple interiors combined with slightly slow, yet friendly service, good portion sizes, and excellent prices all combine to make one feel chipper upon completion of the meal.  However, we suggest visiting Sweet Maple Cafe before Mr. Bacon sends in his agent "friends" to "interrogate" the staff about the pancakes.  They tend to leave no stone unturned and no pancake untasted.

The Short and Sweet Review

Sweet Maple Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frontier or Lions and Tigers and Bears...on Rye!

The Slow and Savory Review

There are not many alive today who can remember who the winner of Miss Big Game 1942 was, let alone the runner up, and there is a very good reason for that, namely that the original runner-up for Miss Big Game1942 was so angered by her failure to capture the prize that she "accidentally" fired on those in attendance.  Members of the audience not hit were rendered temporarily deaf, so they could not hear the announcement of the true winner, one Miss Bunny Bacon, who hit the runner-up square in the right calf to stop her from continuing to "accidentally" fire.

Since that day, Bunny's taste for hunting wild game has been tainted a bit.  But upon hearing about Frontier, a restaurant in West Town that specializes in unique meats, Bunny began to feel the old twitch in her trigger finger.

Frontier seemed at first more bar than restaurant, though upon closer inspection it actually settled somewhere between pub and lodge, as it was done up in lots of rustic woods and metals.  A deceivingly large space, the establishment seemed a little understaffed for such a busy Sunday brunch with only two servers attending to all the tables.  Bunny and Brandy were positioned beside the wood decked beer garden (open, but unpopular in the blistering heat) and presented with water right away.  A hurried yet friendly waitress told them that mimosas and bloody marys were only $5, so two mimosas were duly ordered, arriving in glasses far too small for Brandy's liking.

For starters, Our Ladies ordered some House Doughnuts, (more beingets than doughnuts, really), covered in powdered sugar, which came served with Apple Rum Sauce.  Light, fluffy, and warm, the doughnuts were quite pleasant, especially when combined with the sauce, which provided a lovely bit of sourness to balance the sweet.

Brandy chose two entrees to satisfy both her sweet and savory teeth, the Bananas Foster French Toast and the Parmesan Gnocchi (her original choice, the quiche, was sadly out that day).  She was quite glad she had decided to order both dishes, as the portions were far from generous.  The French Toast, which came served on a massive cutting board, consisted of only one slice (granted, a rather large slice) of challa bread, doused in rum soaked banana slices, caramel sauce, and whipped cream.  The flavors were spot on as far as matching that of a banana's foster, and the toast was pleasantly soft without being mushy.  The gnocchi were a slight bit on the salty side and had a funny texture to them, being a little too soft and gummy.  "They could have done with a good pan searing," Brandy mused.  The mushrooms that dotted the dish were lovely at first, but became greasy as the plate cooled.

Bunny reigned in her wild instincts a bit and chose the Fried Rabbit and Waffle with Spiced Pear butter and Habanero Maple Syrup.  The cornmeal waffle proved to be a bit of a challenge for Bunny, as it was very heavy and dry, yet lacking in flavor.  "I supposed that's why they pair it with such exotic condiments," she said.  The rabbit was very well cooked, with a crunchy and slightly spicy outer crust and juicy meat within.  Brandy could not get over the feeling of witnessing an act of cannibalism, watching Bunny eating bunny, so her eyes wandered to the television scenes above the bar where the previous night's baseball highlights were being played.

For all of its fluff and bother about being unique, Frontier remained firmly on the side of average on just about every level.  Service was a tad rushed (once the mimosas were finished, no one ever came to see if they would like a second, but bus boys were always on hand to clear empty dishes straight away), the interior didn't quite match the sophistication of the menu (both Our Ladies decided it was most definitely meant to please more masculine tastes), and though the choices sounding varied and interesting, they proved to be nothing more than...well...just your average brunch.  Bunny decided that the next time she found herself craving some big game, she might as well go out and shoot it herself.

The Short and Sweet Review

Frontier on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kanela Cafe or Μάιος εσείς πάντα μίγμα αλμυρές με γλυκό

The Slow and Savory Review

Well, Our Ladies had quite the adventure last week, didn't they?  But as Brandy always says, "You have to have the bad ones to know the good ones," and that certainly did prove true for this week's visit to the newly opened Kanela Cafe in Wrigleyville.  Accompanying them were old standby Biscuit Brown and the prestigious Mama Bee (her bag was searched for honey before they got to the restaurant).

Having made reservations before hand, they were placed at a table right away.  Done mostly in browns and whites with scattered track lighting and exposed brick, the interior was sophisticated, but not unfriendly, which is an important balance when it comes to a breakfast restaurant.  Though the tables were a little crowded together, making things a bit loud, the party of four were still able to sit comfortably.

The table began with a round of iced mochas, which were made with Julius Meinl coffee.  Though quite delicious, they weren't very sweet, and were a little on the small side.  The table picked two starters, some Monkey Bread and Loukoumades, or Greek style fritters (much of Kanela's menu exhibits a touch of Greek influence).  The Loukoumades were quite delectable, being covered in a honey lemon syrup and chopped walnuts, they delivered a pleasing amount of sweetness and an interesting texture.  Mama Bee, resident expert on all things covered in honey, mentioned the flavors and texture reminded her somewhat of baklava.  But the real hit was the Monkey Bread.  Warm, buttery and with just a hint of cinnamon, the sections pulled apart with ease as good Monkey Bread should.  Bunny, who had never experienced Monkey Bread, was an instant convert, her only complaint being that the portion was not nearly big enough.

It was time for Bunny's monthly plate of Eggs Benedict, so she chose the Smoked Pork Belly Benedict with brussel spouts and cranberries.  "Possibly the most original benedict we have yet encountered," Bunny said after her first bite.  The eggs were beautifully poached, the pork belly not too greasy, and yes the brussel sprouts and cranberries were quite a surprise, but they worked rather well with the richness of the other ingredients.

Mama Bee selected the Kanela Chip Pancakes.  Topped with a melting bit of heavenly brown sugar butter and a drizzle of creme anglais, the pancakes were a little heavy, but plenty moist and perfectly sweet.  Mama Bee thought so highly of them that she didn't ask for a pot of honey to drown them in, which is quite the accomplishment.

Biscuit chose the Lorraine Scramble, with Gruyere cheese, bacon, scallions, and of course, scrambled eggs.  Perfectly mimicking the flavors of a Quiche Lorraine, the concoction was light, fluffy, and very flavorful.  The potatoes on the side were quite good, though Mama Bee and Brandy thought they were a tad too herby.

Last but not least was Brandy, who ordered the Bacon Waffle, a confection sounding too good to be true.  Waffles made with bits of bacon in the batter were topped by chocolate covered pieces of bacon and bourbon caramel sauce.  Their delightfully energetic server came over to apologize, saying he had mistakenly forgotten to put in the order, but within seconds of him leaving the table, the waffle was delivered.  Though the waffle alone was not very remarkable, the rich, smokey chocolate bacon pieces made for a decadent treat, especially when dipped in the bourbon caramel.  Again a little short on portion size (especially when compared to the rest of the entrees), but this time it made sense, for the richness of such a dish is probably best if limited.

There is nothing like being made to feel you are being served by friends, and Kanela definitely imparted that feeling.  The food was tasty, well presented, the service impeccable, and the prices were a good average for the quality of the meal.  Just don't throw your plate against the wall at the end of the meal and shout "Opah!" as apparently that is discouraged.  Brandy will not make that mistake again.

The Short and Sweet Review

Kanela's Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hub 51 or Hubba Hubba!

The Slow and Savory Review

After The debacle that was Roof at the Wit ("Even their capitalization is pretentious!" Brandy was heard to remark) Our Ladies decided to try their luck with Hub 51, a chic industrial themed restaurant named after its address of 51 W. Hubbard Street.  There they met someone very special, the splendiferous Mama Bee, Queen of the honey industry and owner/operator of the world famous Honey Bee Bakery.  The three were swept in off the street and given a table right away by a friendly host, given water immediately ("Thank goodness!" coughed a very thirsty Bunny) and presented with menus.

Right away, Brandy scanned for cocktails.  A rather nice variety were to be found, and for only $6 a piece, they were well worth it.  Brandy opted for the St. Germain and O.J. which was wonderfully sweet and refreshing, where as Mama Bee settled on a River North Mimosa, made with house punch to be bright and unique.

Brandy insisted on treating the others to a starter, so they opted for something called Breakfast Nachos.  Their table was presented with a gigantic plate full of fresh made tortilla chips, avocado, sour cream, scrambled eggs, cheese, and hot sauce.  Everything together made for an exciting start to their meal, though Bunny and Brandy agreed that the addition of some crumbled bacon might have made the dish even more breakfasty.  "And don't forget the honey!" Mama Bee reminded them (Mama Bee is on a never ending crusade to make honey a condiment on par with ketchup and salsa.  So far she has been fairly unsuccessful on that front).  Overwhelmed by the sheer size of the portion, Our Ladies and guest had barely even made a dent before their entrees arrived.

Mama Bee, being an expert in all things sweet, picked the Skinny Cinnamon Pancakes.  The dish arrived as a hubcap sized portion, a little under dressed, but bursting with cinnamon flavor from both the cakes and the cinnamon glaze that coated the dish.  The consistency of the pancake was somewhat unique, somewhere between a crepe and a dutch pancake.  "Reminds me of my English pancakes," Bunny mused.  "Needs honey," Mama Bee chirped between chews.

Bunny's choice was the Baked Apple French Toast, with which she was very pleased.  The apples were warm and deliciously caramelized, but not too sweet.  The toast itself was a little on the dry side, but still rather tasty in combination with the apples.  "Would you like some honey with that, dear?" Mama Bee asked, pulling a honey straw from her bag.  Bunny politely shook her head.

Brandy's breakfast consisted of the Truffled Egg Sandwich.  Again served in a huge portion (Brandy, who usually finishes her dishes without blinking an eye, was only able to conquer one half of the sandwich) it came served with a side of thinly cut and uniquely spiced fries, which Brandy had to hover over for fear of Mama Bee trying to slather them in honey.  The sandwich itself, which was served on a giant slab of artisan bread that housed melted brie between a scrambled egg that had been cooked in truffle oil, was filling and pleasant, but became bland after a few bites.  "A touch of vegetables may have helped to break it up a bit," Brandy mused, to which Mama Bee responded, "I know what might pep up that sandwich, a little bit of-"  "NO!  Thank you,"  Brandy interrupted her.

With near perfect service, good pleasing food in humongous portions, and a sophisticated but not unfriendly atmosphere, Hub 51 had Bunny and Brandy leaving in a much better mood than they came in with.  The lesson learned this week is that there is no room for empty hype and gimmickry when it comes to a good brunch.  Our Ladies would rather have a friendly staff and comforting food over sky high views any day.  You can rest assured, dear reader, that the smiles across Our Ladies faces upon exiting Hub 51 were indeed genuine, as was their haste to pull Mama Bee from the restaurant before she had finished asking to see the head chef about adding a "Honey Glazed" section to the menu.

The Short and Sweet Review

Hub 51 on Urbanspoon

Roof at The Wit or ...Waitress?

The Slow and Savory Review

There comes a time in every blogger's career when it is their sad duty to give a bad review.  So far, Bunny and Brandy have been rather generous with their findings across Chicago, for after all, how badly can you screw up brunch?  They used to think that the worst that could be said about brunch was that the dish consumed could have been made at home.  But how to review a place where you never even got to try the food?  We shall, dear readers...

Bunny had come across a few articles from here and there announcing that the famous Roof at the Wit Hotel (which normally serves as a trendy nighttime hot spot, known for cocktails and its spectacular views of downtown Chicago) was to be serving Sunday Brunch.  So she and Brandy headed down to State Street with high expectations.

Upon arrival, they were told to sit anywhere that didn't have a reserved sign.  They managed to find one table in the shade that wasn't reserved and made themselves comfortable.  A menu had already been placed at the table, so they began to peruse and see what was on offer.  Soon after, a hostess approached their table and informed them that she had meant to place a reserved sign on the table they were seated at and asked if they might move to some sun chairs (which had no shade and no tables).  Brandy asked if they might be able to move to a table under shade, as the day was blazing hot, and the hostess responded by rolling her eyes like a teenager, huffing, "Never mind.  We'll figure something out," and storming away.  Needless to say, Our Ladies were rather taken aback by this attitude, but decided to brush it aside and enjoy the gorgeous views.  Minutes later, a waitress approached their table and said cheerfully, "Hi ladies, so a bridal party is going to be using this table in an hour and we're going to move you.  Do you know what you want to order yet?"  Once again shocked by being told they would be moved from a table that to their knowledge was unreserved, Bunny and Brandy dived into menu to quickly choose their meals before they were forced to another spot. 

Other than a few sushi rolls, the menu wasn't very diverse or original and they ended up settling for a few dishes to share.  Unfortunately, the waitress never came back to the table.  Not even to deliver a glass of water.  They sat and watched as the hostess and waitress circled around the table, waiting on others at reserved tables (a reservation at Roof is $100 a person and supposedly includes all your food and drink, though even at a highly priced establishment like this one, you would be hard pressed to consume $100 worth of food and drink at Sunday Brunch).  Bunny was all for playing their little game of cat and mouse, but Brandy's patience soon wore thin and she began insisting on leaving.  After 45 minutes of this standoff, Our Ladies had finally had enough and got up to leave.

The hostess stood at the front, avoiding their eye contact, and a male host asked if they were leaving already.  When Brandy informed him that they had not been served, he seemed surprised and asked them to return to their seats, to which they responded they were told to move from their seats and could not return even if they wanted to. 

The mistakenly unreserved table aside, there is no excuse for service like what Bunny and Brandy received (45 minutes without so much as a glass of water is inexcusable in their book), and it is for that reason alone that they cannot encourage anyone to visit Roof at The Wit.  Better views are to be found at other spots with more friendly servers, such as Signature Room.  And as they never got the chance to judge the food, they will leave that up to others.

Hopefully Roof will have learned their lesson, the lesson every restaurant in Chicago should know by now; make Bunny and Brandy mad, and everybody's gonna hear about it!

The Short and Sweet Review

Roof on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 1, 2011

Heartland Cafe or Let the Sun Shine In

The Slow and Savory Review

Ah, the hippies.  Peaceful, smelly, music lovers with flowers in their hair, incense in their hands, and mud on their feet.  Normally not the crowd Bunny and Brandy would choose to hang about with (they spent most of the 1960's on a farm in Upstate New York, until it was overrun by hippies in August of 1969) but this week they made a conscious decision to hearken back to the days of peace, love, and happiness by having brunch at the Heartland Cafe in Roger's Park.

Heartland Cafe (which is the largest chunk of a three building complex that also houses a general store and a bar) is a sunny little oasis just off the Morse Red Line stop.  Covered in shady trees outside and various brick-a-brack inside, it makes for an eccentric stop indeed.  Our Ladies were given the choice of sitting inside, on the covered patio, or out under the trees, and as it was a glorious Chicago morning, they chose the latter.

The menu was a hodge-podge of normal breakfast fair (omelets, pancakes, and the like) with a few surprises (buffalo?) mixed in.  Bunny and Brandy started with a healthy set of drinks; for Brandy a Coconut/Pineapple juice and milk and for Bunny a Mixed Berry Smoothie.  Both were fresh and delicious and the perfect start to the day.

For her entree, Brandy customized a dish called The Panhandler, a mix of eggs, potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms, to which she added turkey bacon, cheese, and avocado.  All together, the mix was a pleasant combo with the coolness of the avocado mixing nicely with the richness of the eggs and cheese.  The Turkey Bacon was surprisingly flavorful "For a fowl pretending to be swine," as Brandy put it.  Not the most impressive plate of food, to be sure, but a good mix of texture and classic breakfast flavors.

Bunny chose the Buffalo Breakfast Plate, a combo of tender slices of buffalo, sauteed with peppers, onions and served up with eggs and potatoes with a side of cornbread.  The cornbread was sadly dry, very dense, and not very flavorful.  The buffalo was a tad chewy, but tender and lean as buffalo should be, and the eggs were cooked well, though the potatoes were on the bland side.

At an average of $20 a person (which seemed a bit steep for only an entree and a non alcoholic drink) Heartland Cafe definitely delivered on service and atmosphere, but fell short on the actual food.  Though after spending a morning relaxing on the porch or moseying through the general store, its hard to come away from Heartland Cafe feeling anything but... gooooooooovy man.

The Short and Sweet Review

Heartland Cafe on Urbanspoon