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The Best 'Anti-Brunch' Breakfast Spots In Chicago, Where You Can Eat All Week

By Chicagoist_Guest in Food on Sep 21, 2017 5:01PM

By Michael Gebert
One of the questions I get as a food writer is, “Where’s a good place for brunch?” The answer is, I have no freakin’ idea. When you have kids, the idea of lounging away 2-1/2 hours with food and cocktails starting at noon makes about as much sense as suggesting Napa wineries for a family vacation. (“Just one more cabernet tasting before our shiatsu massages, kids!”) By the time your restaurant even opens for brunch, breakfast is something I made for my family three hours ago.

But beyond it not working for my lifestyle, I have philosophical problems with brunch—it's the continuation of last night’s drinking with fatty, decadent food, served at high prices by the B team at a restaurant that’s noticeably better on Saturday night than it is on Sunday morning.

No, what I prefer are breakfast places. Breakfast places are different from brunch places because, one, they’re serving six or seven days a week, at an actual breakfast hours. So they’re practiced pros, where brunch can be amateur hour. And, unlike brunch, where your eleven friends can be found slouching over a brunch table and talking in raspy whispers as they shield their eyes from the sun, breakfast is best enjoyed in a small party, or even solo.

Ideally, in a true breakfast place, everyone there is your dining companion, all sharing the rituals of breakfast and the carnival of city life over coffee and an egg-stained Sun-Times. (The Sun-Times is the official media of Chicago breakfast; opening the Tribune or New York TImes is erecting a wall against other diners, while looking at your phone is just plugging into the Matrix. Only the Sun-Times is exactly the right size for reading at the counter and occasionally saying to the fellow next to you, “Can you believe dis crap?”)

Still, there’s one thing to be said for brunch: breakfast is often sweet, too sweet, while brunch is mostly savory. Keeping in mind that I would prefer a menu built around robust, savory flavors, here are ten breakfast places I recommend in the city of Chicago. They offer the pleasures of brunch, minus the bad parts:

Mortar & Pestle

This Lakeview spot comes the closest to offering Sunday brunch food six days a week (closed Tuesdays). Which is to say, you can get over-the-top cheffy food like foie gras and eggs or avocado toast, and cheffed-up versions of classics like biscuits and gravy with merguez sausage, and things that you’ll never get at the local diner, like oyster shooters to start. They also have a full bar, and they have brunch-level prices. But it’s all of good quality and served with breakfast joint efficiency. Best of both worlds.

Mortar & Pestle is located at 3108 N. Broadway.

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dim sum from Dolo, photo by Michael Gebert

Dolo Restaurant and Bar

Going out for dim sum isn’t exactly not having brunch, since it’s supposed to be a mid-morning or later thing. Still, this place opens at 9 a.m. (which on weekends is a good time to beat the crowds in any case), and it’s at least one of the best dim sum spots in town, offering very solid versions of things like siu mai with shrimp and corn, xiao long bao, spicy turnip cake, and crunchy rice crepe.

Dolo Restaurant and Bar is located at 2222 S. Archer.

Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club

One good part about brunch is that dishes can be more creative and elaborate than mere bacon and eggs or pancakes. One bad part is that they can wind up overdoing it. This place on the Northwest Side skirts the line pretty successfully, with dishes like sourdough French toast stuffed with vegetables or a take on the Korean scallion pancake pajeon with pork belly. Even if you find the occasional dish a bit much, the place is so friendly you won’t hold it against them.

Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club is located at 3401 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

Cafe Tola

Austin-style breakfast tacos are a trend I’ve been waiting to see happen here for a decade. The combination of things like chorizo and eggs in a tortilla is a natural winner (and much more satisfying than the bland hippie cafe standby, the breakfast burrito). For now, the best place to find them is this colorful empanadas and tacos spot, which has a small Southport outpost (soon to move) but room to spread your gang over taco brunch in their California Avenue location (the old Hot Doug’s building).

Cafe Tola is located at 3612 N. Southport, and 3324 N. California. [Note: Yelp insists the California Avenue address is 3224, but they are wrong. It’s on the Southwest corner of Roscoe, which is at 3400 North.]

Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits

Pie for breakfast is an American tradition woefully underappreciated in Chicago. So coffee and a slice of pie could certainly work for you, though it’s a bit on the sweet side. My choice is to go to the biscuit side of the menu and order the Bacon biscuit, which has candied bacon, an egg, collard greens and hot sauce on it. There’s no way to get a bite of all of them at once, but no bad bite to be had trying. Head to busy Logan Square if you want to be sociable; set up early with a laptop to work at the Lincoln Square location, and you'll have at least till mid-morning before it fills up with moms and toddlers.

Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits is located at 2051 N. California, and 4947 N. Damen.

5 Loaves Eatery

The vibe of this South Side eatery (a few doors down from Lem’s Bar-B-Q) is like a big hug, and the soul food breakfast lives up to it in every way, whether you want something sweet like the lemon-poppyseed pancakes with the housemade buttery syrup, or something more savory like chicken and waffles or shrimp and grits. Go early on weekends and prepare to wait—the church ladies come out in force here.

5 Loaves Eatery is located at 405 E. 75th St.

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Potatoes from Maiden Voyage, photo via Michael Gebert.

The Maiden Voyage Cafe

The latest business to take over the Montrose storefront of the dearly departed Angel Food Bakery still has the cute pastel-colored interior and a nice array of homey baked goods, plus a short but sufficient menu of bagel sandwiches and breakfast plates. My favorite is a plate of eggs, potatoes and—surprisingly—brussels sprouts, which in an apparent attempt to break the association with angels is named The Nihilist.

The Maiden Voyage Cafe is located at 1636 W. Montrose.

Cafe Marie-Jeanne

Like a horror novel that just keeps getting darker and darker, Cafe Marie-Jeanne’s breakfast menu starts innocently enough with maple-pecan oatmeal and two eggs, any style. Then it begins: caviar toast. Boudin noir. Sautéed calf brains. This place isn’t wearing a French name for nothing; it’s serving full-on, meaty Gallic food, including offal, first thing in the morning. If you can’t handle it, they bake their own pastries, too, but the scary stuff is pretty good (and honestly, the trout omelet isn’t scary at all and it’s a thing of beauty).

Cafe Marie-Jeanne is located at 1001 N. California.

Spinning J

I’m always tempted on the way to Cafe Marie-Jeanne by Spinning J, and vice versa, since they’re across from each other and both neighborhood gems. Where Marie-Jeanne goes French, this place is Americana, with its reconstructed 1928 soda fountain. Again, you could just make breakfast out of pie, but there are also breakfast sandwiches and quiche to start your day.

Spinning J is located at 1000 N. California.

The Growling Rabbit

If it wouldn’t be brunch without standing in line, try a weekend seating at Growling Rabbit, a rare new breakfast spot in Edgewater. They make waiting around dorm-room comfy with couches and board games. Once you get seated, go eclectic: most dishes sound like two dishes mashed together (“Brunch ham and brie wafflewich”) and nothing is wrong with that.

The Growling Rabbit is located at 5938 N. Broadway.