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10 Of The Best Breakfasts In Chicago, According To The Breakfast Queen Herself

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 10, 2015 6:15PM

Breakfast at Pannenkoeken, one of Ina's favorites. (Photo via Facebook)

When I reach Ina Pinkney, the Breakfast Queen of Chicago and former owner of Ina's, I barely get a word in before another phone starts ringing. Call after call comes in, and while we talk about breakfast, Ina also mentions all of her other projects—she just got back from Sun Valley, she's giving speeches all over the country, her awesome book is being reissued in paperback, and her new movie is about to be released.

How does this woman find time for breakfast? But she does, and for over a year now she's been eating breakfast all over the city for her regular column in the Tribune. She's covered more than 40 spots (and, as she firmly reminds me, eaten at a lot more to find the great ones), and has agreed to distill all of those experiences down to 10 of her top best breakfast spots.

First, a caveat: the Queen never picks favorites. "People ask me what's my favorite, and I don't have a favorite," explains Ina. "What I have are extraordinary experiences at different kinds of places. I have places I'd like to go back to, and it might be one single dish or the whole experience."

As a long-time restauranteur, she's a picky diner, and she has a set of criterion she applies to every spot: "Was the welcome hospitable, was it a comfortable environment, was the service staff pleasant and knowledgable, was the food carefully and thoughtfully prepared, and was it delicious," she lists. "Those are the reasons I go out to eat, and if they don't hit the mark—if the food is bad but the service is perfect—I don't want to write about it."

Here are her 10 favorite-not-favorite places for breakfast.

Pannenkoeken Cafe: "It was a surprise, because how many years have I passed it and never stopped?" says Ina. "I had the bacon, harvarti and mushroom pannenkoken, a big beautiful pancake that was so delicious. I don't know if I've enjoyed anything that much in a long time. There was something complete about the experience in this tiny place with the tiniest bathroom you ever saw."

Flying Saucer: "I could not get over how delicious the steak and eggs were," remembers Ina. "I'm a carnivore through and through—I could eat a side of beef for breakfast. There was something so balanced and delicious and clean about it—the steak wasn't over-salted, it was tender and cooked exactly right. The home fries were great, the eggs were perfect. I loved looking at it and I loved eating it."

Biscuit sandwich at Bang Bang (Photo via Facebook)

Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits: "I love the biscuit sandwiches—I'm a biscuit girl," laughs Ina. "The biscuits are extraordinary, and even though you can't pick it up and eat it like a sandwich, it’s still a great idea and a great look and all the parts are delicious."

Cafe Aroma: "What I loved about it was that it was very traditional old world," says Ina. "It has red and gold walls and a European owner who had this sense of old-world ness. I had really good benedict. I walked in on an ice-cold day and there was this warmth that just came over me. The latte was right, the service was right."

Pearl's Place: "They also have just amazing biscuits," insists Ina. "It's down at 39th and Michigan. They serve you a biscuit when you sit down because it's just what you do. I loved the cheesy shrimp and grits—you get a biscuit, and then shrimp and grits? Heaven."

Breakfast at Vera (Photo via Facebook)

Vera: "I like surprises, and Vera was a surprise. I heard they were doing breakfast, and I went in right away, and it was a surprise! It's a very small menu, and I decided to order everything. The spanish plate, the olives, the cheese, the ham—what a gorgeous way to start the day. It was just so thoughtful. I was the only one there, and people were stopping in for coffee, and it was lovely. A completely different kind of breakfast."

Local Root: "I love that they care, and I love that they make handmade croissants, no sheeter—they care a great deal," Ina says (she definitely notices the details). "The energy and the thoughtfulness is very present. People who work hard and put out a good product."

Pastries at Cellar Door Provisions (Photo via Facebook)

Cellar Door Provisions: "I don’t know how they make that quiche, but it's otherworldly. It's custardy, it shimmers, I don't know how. I love their bread."

Baker Miller: They're the only people who ever got me to eat oatmeal," laughs Ina. "I served it for 22 years—we were the first to do steel-cut oatmeal in Chicago—but I always hated it until I had theirs."

The Queen herself, on the cover of her book.

"I love that people are doing new and different things with breakfast and training people in their kitchens who will go off and do their stuff somewhere else," says Ina. "I love how this is moving it on."

If you want to hear more of Ina's awesomeness, her film is premiering at the Chicago International Film Festival. Passes are on sale now, but individual tickets go on sale September 25.