…you hop off the plane at O’Hare at 7:30am with bags in hand – you’re scheduled to meet your family who is driving in at 10:30 at the art museum - you catch the subway into town and hop off at Jackson – you make your way to Wabash – Hello Bongo Room…er, well, hello construction with Bongo Room Hidden behind it. After a wonderful experience at the Wicker Park location back in December a return visit to the alternative location was only logical – what better way to kick off my first day out of the inpatient setting in nearly 2 months? Making my way into the restaurant I was actually surprised at how empty the place was – but the smell of eggs, baking bread, and candy coated pancakes was anything but unexpected. Seated quickly at a booth up front and handed a copy of the local paper I quickly browsed the menu – 4 pancake options and 2 french toast – decisions, decisions.
“Are half portions available?”
“Which two would you recommend?”
“Have you eaten here before, our pancakes are pretty big?”
“Yes, I was too full after two full orders and I’m planning on lunch around noon, so which two would you recommend??”
Orders placed, coffee filled, I watched my neighbors tuck into a big pile of wonderful looking eggs and pulled out a copy of GQ to finish up the Tarantino article I’d been enjoying on the plane. Waiting for approximately 20 minutes for my order I notably had to flag down an alternative waitress to fill my coffee as my waitress literally seemed to have disappeared after taking my order – but when she did return it was bearing the object I’d been craving; two heaping plates of dessert-style pancakes. Denny’s commercials be damned – “Grown Up Breakfast” is for the work week!
Starting with the option recommended by my server (along with the caramel pretzel version which I declined as I had it on my last visit) I dug into my Black Forrest Cakes with Brandy Soaked Cherries, Warm Vanilla Panna Cotta Cream, and Chocolate Creme Anglaise. On first taste I must admit I was struck by the wonderful flavor of the panna cotta cream and how it contrasted with the doughy pancakes. Unfortunately once this initial impression passed I was suddenly aware of just how flavorless the cakes themselves were – literally doughy and sporting maybe 4 small cherries each (none of which tasted like Brandy.) Without the absolute dousing of cream and crème I can honestly say these pancakes wouldn’t have been much better than the standard McDonald’s Hotcake – and had my server not stopped by and challenged me by asking “you doing all right, would you like a take home box?” I’d have likely not finished the plate. Hey now, don’t judge, I have my reputation of vacation gluttony to uphold!
My second option, selected on my own accord because it simply sounded amazing fared much better than the Black Forrest – MUCH better indeed. Entitled Banana Nestle Crunch Bar Flapjacks with warm Toffee Cream Sauce and Fresh Bananas the dish is exactly what it sounds like – banana accented flapjacks with a muffin-like texture absolutely loaded with melted and gooey nestle crunch bar and topped with a salty toffee sauce and at least 2 whole chopped bananas. Comparable only to my one previous experience with banoffee pie this creation was smoothness contrasted with crunch, sugary sweet tempered by creamy savory, and absolutely excellent – on par with anything experienced on my past visit to the Bongo room, for sure.
Sitting around waiting for my family to call I finished the issue of GQ and drank another 2 cups of coffee while watching the place slowly fill up and listening to a mix of The Decemberists, The Shins, and Radiohead, and Regina Spektor play over the stereo – I was never pressured to leave and everyone was friendly. While not as great as my previous experience with the Bongo Room in Wicker Park (I like their décor better, as well) I would definitely like to return for the seasonal brioche French toast – the option I’d originally considered until being steered toward the Black Forrest. Like the Griddle in LA, the Bongo Room is a MUST for all future visits to Chicago.