By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty
Oh, how I love brunch! Starting with Easter this Sunday, high season for brunch will be in full flower until the next snow fall (next November, ideally).
Brunch is the nonconformist of the meal world, shaking off limits with cavalier abandon. Brunch sprawls over the entire chaise lounge of a day. Brunch can begin or end almost any time, and foods served can include fundamentally anything, making brunch a lavish smorgasbord of delight.
Chicago is a restaurant town, with brunch offerings expansive and delicious. Lists of local brunch recommendations abound, but I find Time Out Chicago offers reasonable suggestions across all price points.
Unsurprisingly, the history of brunch from Smithsonian magazine indicates a Chicago connection to the popularization of brunch:
In Brunch: A Plea, British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” [here, here!]
But wherever the initial spark of genius came from, the tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas.
My favorite brunch spots are in my neighborhood, largely because brunch wants a slower pace, so a meandering walk to a local restaurant seems the most satisfying choice.
As much as I like local hot spots Lula and Longman & Eagle, the lines are just too long for weekend brunch; I visit these uber-trendy places on Monday, when my friends and I can enjoy our meal without enduring the ceaseless glares of contempt from the impatient throng waiting for a table.
Jam delivers a terrific Logan Square brunch. It was here that the whole Urban Family welcomed Clark to Chicago nearly two years ago. At Jam’s previous location, Leah ushered in the indulgent practice of ordering the spectacular French toast “for the table.”
Specialty drinks elevate brunch to a celebration. Bloody Mary’s are my go-to brunch beverage, and Dunlay’s on the Square, one of my low-key local spots, serves an outstanding version featuring a mini-meal of garnish with a skewer of mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomato, an olive, and a pickle, Oh, and a Miller Lite back. I’ve enjoyed innumerable Bloody Mary’s and brunches with my entire Urban Family and nearly every out-of-town guest. I have brunched at Dunlay’s with Ingrid, Emily, Holly & Ian, Maria & Chris, Stacy, Larry, Jenny & Olivia, Jill, my goddaughter Mary, and my sisters Theresa & Margo. Whoever my next visitor turns out to be will be added to this list, I’m sure.
Although Azzurra has only been open a few months, I’ve had brunch at this new Wicker Park gem at least four times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the dazzling Leah Allen, one of my closest friends, runs the place with her characteristic warmth and grace. I’m wild for the Italian sausage, rapini, & fontina frittata while my buddy Paul has driven in twice from the suburbs to order the focaccia benedict.
Brunch can be done well at home, too. Thanks to the new mothers in my friend group, we’ve begun a “Lovely Ladies & Beautiful Babies” brunch tradition that involves more enjoyment than preparation. And once again this Easter, I’ll brunch at McTedros manor, my friends’ cheerful house on the north side of Logan Square, where Hanna and Ryan will surprise their guests with incredibly inventive cooking. Last year it was the Swedish delicacy smorgastata.
Like any grand food tradition, brunch entails sharing a good meal with great people, an experience that is sweet, indeed.