Saturday, April 25, 2009

Zaleski and Horvath Market Cafe

Zaleski and Horvath Market Cafe
1126 East 47th Street
Chicago, IL 60653
Open weekdays, 7am - 7pm Weekends, 8am - 6pm

This is not, properly speaking, a breakfast joint, but it IS a lovely place to eat breakfast. The online menu doesn't mention it, but they've got a small selection of breakfast sammiches that are absolutely delicious. I couldn't resist the basic option, the Tenzing Norgay - egg, ham, and "a fantastic cheese" on a croissant. I was informed that they'd decided that either havarti or munster were worthy of the appellation, and I went with munster (I find it pairs beautifully with croissants). It was every bit as delicious as expected, but nonetheless, I'm still annoyed with myself for not being more adventurous and getting the Freegle, which is a croissantwich with nutella and bananas. Next time, next time.

Honestly, I mostly felt compelled to write a post because the place is just so pleasant. I think they've somehow culled the nicest people on the planet to work there. They're charming, friendly and fun, and seem to genuinely love what they do and, more importantly, what they eat. Nearly every time I've been there, someone working behind the deli counter will suddenly go "Oh my gosh this is delicious you've GOT to try it" and hand me a spoon with something tasty on it. These are people who really believe in their products.

It should also be mentioned that the coffee is tasty (though it was insanely hot), and the products they carry are fabulous, if pricy. It's great to be able to buy Spice House blends without having to trek up to the north side, and the specialty sodas there are SO tasty. It causes me physical pain to spend so much money on a bottle of ginger beer, but oh man, it is so delicious. The only product I haven't been particularly excited by is the Scarpetta sauces, but I generally don't get pre-made pasta sauces (just add some herbs and garlic to a can of tomatoes people, sheesh). On the other hand, I highly recommend the various snacky crackers, which are super addictive, and I love the chebe bread mix.

The place was bustling but not packed - there were a couple tables left when we arrived around 12, and it seemed like they were cool with people hanging out drinking coffee and reading. Overall, a lovely little place with a great neighborhood feel, definitely worth checking out. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Meli Cafe

Meli Cafe
301 S Halstead

My dude and I hit this place up for breakfast today. I found it on Urban Spoon, we checked it out online and thought it looked amazing. We rolled in around noon and the place was packed. Apparently this is common, because they have those awful buzzer boxes that tell you when your table is ready - kind of ridiculous when the waiting area is about 10 square feet. But whatevs.

The menu is extensive, and incredibly appealing. In fact, there were so many delectable options that we were on the verge of ordering three breakfasts. Thankfully good sense prevailed. In addition to omlettes, skillets, benedicts, pancakes, french toasts, crepes, and lots else, there's also a fresh juice bar. There's a juice drink made cabbage and wheat grass. If you try it, let me know if it's good. 

The coffee, Lavazza, is fabulous, but they don't seem to be into refills, which is unfortunate. The prices are on the steeper side of affordable, but they're not outrageous. But an entree and coffee will probably put you in the $15, rather than $10, range. 

Now, the food. I ordered the classic benedict, which was incredibly disappointing. I'm coming to realize that I don't know of any places in Chi-town that do a truly amazing classic eggs benedict. I LOVE the Eggs Bite at Bite, and the prosciutto benedict at Toast,  but sometimes you just want plain old eggs benedict (if you're in DC and have such a desire, I highly recommend The Diner in Adams Morgan - marvelous). But anyways, back to Meli's take on the problem. The canadian bacon was super thick cut which, as you may recall, is not really my thing. Strike one. Strike two, the Hollandaise was really lemony - again, something that a lot of people like, but I'm more into the buttery variant with a hint of lemon, myself. So yeah, the eggs didn't really do it for me. The potatoes that came with it were good, but not amazing. I mean, they were tasty and all, I just wasn't particularly blown away by them.

My man, being the genius he is, ordered the Down at the Farm skillet, and that, dear friends, was everything a skillet ought to be. Bacon, ham and sausage with onions peppers and tomatoes, blended in blissful harmony with potatoes and lots of cheese, two eggs on top. It was fantastic. I persuaded him to let me eat half of it. It was great.

So Meli's, I think I'll need to revisit. I'm interested in sampling their french toast and crepes, both of which look fabulous. I think I'll definitely avoid going on weekends, when I suspect the wait is unbearable, and meanwhile, I'll continue my quest for the perfect eggs benny elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chicago's House of Chicken and Waffle

3947 South Martin Luther King Dr
Chicago, IL 60653

You thought this blog was dead, and honestly, so did I, but then I experienced the greatness that is Chicago's Chicken and Waffle. Holy sweet Jesus on a Sunday, this place is amazing. A-mazing.

First off, if you've never had fried chicken and waffles for breakfast, you might not realize what an amazing combination they are. Yes, you're pretty much guaranteed a severe case of the Itis, but it's worth it. And how! And this place, I tell you what, they do it up right. The chicken literally falls off the bone, and the breading is fabulously light and flaky. The waffles are wonderful, cinnamon vanilla goodness that beautifully sets off the flavors of the chicken. So the place lives up to its raison d'etre with aplomb. 

But that's not all! I went on an eating rampage and also sampled some other offerings! The scrambled eggs were surprisingly fantastic - moist and flavorful, not like the drab concoctions you so often find. They were so good, I didn't even put hot sauce on them. Then there were the home fries, done up right with peppers and onions, and absolutely delicious. Next, the cheese grits, which were the cheesiest I've ever had, and oh my gosh I'm kind of drooling just thinking about them. But the real crowning glory was the biscuit. The biscuit was decadence itself. It was basically butter transmogrified into crumbly chewy goodness. It was shameless. It was incredible. 

On less important matters, parking is pretty easy to find around there, and while the line appears to be overwhelming, it moves with astonishing speed. The interior is pleasant, although the music is just a mite cheesy (an easy listening cover of Groove is in the Heart? Please.). A lot of yelp reviews complain about the service, but that's because, no offense, yelp reviewers are generally assholes and they ALWAYS complain about the service. The service was excellent - speedy, attentive, everything you'd want. 

Seriously - go check this place out. It's marvelous.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mel's Diner

Mel's Diner
118 Powhattan Avenue
Essington, PA 19029

Should you be searching for a cheap place to stay in Illadelphia, allow me to recommend that you head west on 95 and take the exit after the airport, where you will find a cluster of cheap motels (such as Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn). It might not seem as exciting as downtown Philly, but believe you me, there is PLENTY of stuff there to keep the avid adventurer amused. There's a bar! And a strip club! And a Harrah's Casino. Oh yes! A Harrah's! And you know what's most amazing about the Harrah's? IT'S NEXT DOOR TO A PRISON. I'm not even kidding. I don't mean next door, like, down the street. I mean they share a parking lot. I mean there are people in that prison who can't sleep at night because their cell is flooded with glaring neon lights. Absolutely mind-blowing. That alone might warrant the drive out there.

But meanwhile, to the east one will also find Mel's Diner, which is just grand, and a FAR tastier alternative to Denny's or the Philly Diner, both of which are nearby, and neither of which have particularly tasty breakfast offerings. Mel's is one big room, rather curiously purporting to possess both a smoking and non-smoking section (this ostensible divide, however, does not prevent the entire place from smelling like a bar). Me, I was thrilled to be able to smoke indoors, but I can certainly imagine a hypothetical patron who would be less pleased. Anyhow. 

The thing about Mel's is, the people are friendly and the food, no joke, is great, not to mention cheap. I can't speak to everything on the menu, which is basically exactly the kind of stuff you'd expect to see at a place like Mel's, no frills or surprises, but man, what I had was tasty. Phenomenal pancakes. Fluffy, chewy, pillowy pancakes of goodness. Which is rare - generally in diners of this ilk one gets those baking soda aftertaste monstrosities. Marvelously crisp thinly sliced bacon. Bottomless coffee that is avidly refilled by the attentive staff. The scrambled eggs I had were admittedly somewhat lackluster, BUT they do have Louisiana Hot Sauce rather than the usual Tabasco, which earns them some major points. 

Alas, I have no pictures to share with you. But honestly, if anything from that breakfast was going to be photographed, more than likely it would have been the GIGANTIC TRUCK parked outside. We assume it belonged to a table of youths with popped collars who arrived shortly after we did. We might have been tempted to make snide comments about them, had we not seen their massive truck. It was a tank. It was amazing. They are obviously awesome guys. 

All rambling aside (NEXT DOOR TO A PRISON, PEOPLE), Mel's is a really lovely breakfast spot. Should you happen to find yourself in the area, stop by.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


1653-1655 W Cortland St.
Chicago, IL 60622
BreakfasT: M-F, 6:30-3
Brunch: Sa/Sun, 10-2:30

I keep finding myself in really classy breakfast places lately. It's kind of weird.

Jane's, despite being somewhat tricky to get to (or at least, I always get mixed up in the process) rarely has much of a wait, and has an extremely elegant interior. Fresh flowers on every table, nice decor - it's a very pleasant place. The menu is also upscale, chipotle sauces, grilled salmon, etc. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that the weekday breakfast menu is not identical to the weekend brunch menu, and I think I actually like the weekday breakfast menu more. But I'm basing this on two brunch visits and one breakfast visit that were separated by a sea of almost a year, so I might be wrong. 

Anyhow. Today, I had the 3 eggs sunny side up with andouille hash. Curiously, this was accompanied by a side of potatoes, which seemed somewhat redundant, given the hash, but ok. The eggs were cooked perfectly, and the andouille hash was fairly flavorful, but the potatoes were on the mushy side, which really disappointed me. I had ordered a side of salsa, and this turned out to be a mistake. First off, what I had actually wanted was pico de gallo, it just hadn't occurred to me that this place was so classy as to distinguish between the two. My bad. Anyhow, the salsa was, for starters, warm, which really threw me off. Secondly, it was a smoky kind of sauce that was completely overpowered by a specific herb that for some reason I can't identify, but will probably be tasting for the rest of the day. My companions ordered eggs benedict and the breakfast burrito, and enjoyed them mightily. But their potatoes were mushy too. However! The coffee was fantastic, Intelligentsia brand and bottomless - quite a treat. 

I dunno. I don't wanna be a downer about this place, because it's really quite nice, but I think it suffers from being a little too frou-frou for my taste. If you're going to be frou-frou, I feel, you really need to be delivering some pretty amazing food. And, like so many expensive Chicago dining options, this place doesn't quite live up to itself. The food is good, but not amazing, which makes it seem somewhat pretentious, especially when coupled with the highly elegant, but somewhat formal, interior. It just seems to be taking itself a wee bit too seriously.

Oh, but I should also mention, what with this lovely weather, that they do have outdoor seating options. We were not so fortunate as to secure a space outside, but theoretically, it could be done. Granted, you've got the expressway looming over you, but nonetheless, I'll bet it's pleasant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Magnolia Cafe

Magnolia Cafe
1224 W Wilson
Chicago, IL 60640
Brunch: Sundays, 10-3

I found this place somewhat by accident, trolling (trawling?) for good brekkies options online. It's way the hell up north on Wilson, and it's a much much classier place than you might expect to find on that street. By which I mean, it's expensive. A bit too expensive for me to enjoy on a regular basis (entrees are around $12). But if you're feeling fancy, you might wanna check it out. It seems to be as yet undiscovered by the breakfasting hordes of Chicago, because there's never been a wait when I've gone, which is a definite bonus. Plus, parking is relatively easy to find, and it's right off the red line.

The menu is gourmet (aka, expect to see wild mushrooms, goat cheese, arugula, and various smoked things) and features a good spread of breakfast fare, including 3 or 4 different benedict options (one of which involves steak), and a plethora of cocktails. There are also weekly specials lovingly described by the servers. Which has the unfortunate effect of making me feel like I'm not nearly classy enough for the place, but that's my own insecurity talking I suppose.

If you go, don't miss the Muffins with Lemon Curd appetizer. It's absolutely divine. The lemon curd is perfection, a silky syllabub of wonderfully tart goodness. The muffins are likewise fantastic, little bundles of crispy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside delight with a hint of cornmeal and big juicy blueberries. I thought I hated blueberries until I got up the nerve to revisit them at Magnolia. The combination of the slight sweetness of the muffins with the crisp tartness of the lemon curd and the juicy cool explosion of blueberry, wow. I admit to fastidiously scooping the remnants of the curd out of the dish with my finger and licking it clean. You can't take me anywhere.

Sean and I somewhat shamefacedly both ordered eggs benedict (oh Veiled Conceit, the legacy you have left us with).  The english muffin was wonderfully toasted, the poached eggs were spot on, the hollandaise was great but... the slices of ham are frickin' huge. The ham itself is really nice, but the slices are seriously 3/4 of an inch thick, which is just too much for me. But like I said, it's good ham. So it's not the end of the world. 

My only real gripe with the place is that their variant of potatoes is mashed. They're not bad as far as mashed potatoes go, though they're a bit heavy on the dairy for my taste (I understand that this is what a lot of people love in mashed potatoes, but it's just not my thing. The majestic potato does not need to be drowned in butter and cream to taste delicious.). But I just don't really wanna eat mashed potatoes for breakfast. 

Saturday, May 24, 2008


1732 N Halsted St.
Chicago, IL

One sunny Sunday morning my breakfast date cancelled. All the usual partners in crime and potential replacements were unavailable by some odd chance, so undaunted, I set off into the city alone in search of breakfast satisfaction. I was just gonna go back to Toast, but even the counter was full there. I considered a few other spots, but there was no parking anywhere near them. So I found myself driving south on Halsted, feeling somewhat daunted at this point, when I saw the words "Sunday Brunch". I grabbed a spot at the counter, ie the bar, and chatted with the bartender (whose name I can't for the life of me remember, which is breaking my heart. He's an awesome guy. He's been working there for 7 years. He's from Wooster, Vermont. He did the whole roadie-for-a-band thing for awhile.) as he squeezed gallons of fresh oj. It was a lovely time, but...

Vinci is the quintessential case of the upscale yuppy restaurant that decides to jump on the brunch wagon. From the minute you walk in you realize, there's no love for breakfast here. The interior is quite elegant, but seems stiff and formal in the morning light. It's just not that inviting, no matter how friendly the staff is. There was only one other guy sitting at the counter, and he was way down at the other end. A single tv that was rather strangely crammed into a corner was listlessly airing basketball. The restaurant wasn't empty but neither was it bustling with life - it mostly seemed like uptight rich people performing their luxury. Maybe that's unfair. Sitting at the counter though, I got to hear the staff's complaints, and man, their customers seemed like a pain. I know that servers generally bitch about clientele, but there seemed to be a higher ratio of d-baggery in this place than usual. So yeah, no so much on the atmosphere. I'll bet it'd be nice for dinner though! 

The menu is small but covers all the necessary bases, I guess. To their credit, despite being, in my opinion, imposters in the breakfast arena, someone has clearly put some thought into developing a somewhat unique menu, the Vinci version of things. I ordered the Eggs Benedictine, which involves toasted homemade focaccia, pancetta, poached eggs and fonduta - a kind of fontina fondue sauce. While waiting for that, I was treated to a bread basket with a selection of jams. Classy. The breads were the focaccia and some brioche, and the jams (marmelades?) were orange and rasberry. There was also some whipped butter. Quite tasty. More so, actually, then the entree itself. The eggs were poached to perfection, the fonduta was tasty, but overall, the whole thing was way too salty. I think the problem was actually with the breakfast potatoes, which were actually quite tasty. But somehow about 5 bites into the meal, I could no longer taste anything but salt. Hmmm.

Honestly, why do uptight fancy restaurant insist on doing brunch? Of course one expects the same high quality dining experience, but goddamn it, breakfast is a joyous occasion, not a formal affair. If you can't let your hair down a bit, don't go there. Or maybe I'm just the wrong target audience. Soulless restaurants have their place too, I suppose. Sorry Vinci! You're just not my bag, baby!