Sunday, August 2, 2009

m.henry, Chicago IL

After Alinea I passed out – despite a 2.5 hour nap between Primehouse and Alinea the nearly 270 minute experience left me thrilled, full, and exhausted. Waking up the next morning about an hour later than I normally would have and taking a trip to the gym I rallied the troops, we checked out of our hotel, and we were off to breakfast – though admittedly I could’ve easily gone to midday without being hungry. Having missed out on m.henry on our previous trip and having heard great stories of their breakfast bread pudding, however, skipping breakfast wasn’t going to happen. Arriving shortly after 9:30am we found the place bustling and busy – but only a 20 minute wait. Wandering around North Clarke street we killed time walking into La Baguette Panaderia – don’t go there, the food is awful – one bite of their caramel empanada was more than enough to warrant its place on the curb for the pigeons.

Taking our seats at a small back table in m.henry after only a 12 minute wait I was instantly reminded of Over Easy in decoration and Griddle Café in efficient hustle/bustle. Waiters, plates, and patrons everywhere our friendly server stopped by to get drink orders – coffee, tea, oj, oj. Within minutes he returned with our beverages and was ready for orders. Selecting a couple “appetizers” first, just as we did at Yolk, and then ordering our mains – myself asking for a recommendation amongst 3 – I was surprised at how quickly the line had grown – out front I heard the lady saying an hour-or-so wait – arrive before 10am, people.

Arriving first, a cinnamon roll – shared by the table and ever so fluffy, albeit somewhat bland compared to the stellar version at Yolk. While appropriately cinnamony, the overall essence of butter was lacking and the frosting was somewhat too sweet. While certainly not bad or grainy/low quality like Cinnabon, it wasn’t Yolk’s.

The second arrival was essentially the reason we came in the first place, the bread pudding. Thick cut brioche, milky custard, blackberry, peaches, raspberry – M. henry calls it ‘amazing’ and I can’t say I disagree too much. Sharing this around amongst 4 people the helpings were still quite ample. Having had only a few versions similar to this selection I can’t say it was the “best” I’ve ever had, but it is undoubtedly a great representation with the heavy notes of butter, cream, and egg custard coming through beneath the wonderful fruits.

Following the bread pudding was a long period during which coffee wasn’t refilled – I realize the place was busy, but they need a system – whether it be the circulating coffee lady like Cici’s or the individual pots/presses like Griddle Café. After I finally flagged down a server the cup was kept full and I was actually given “one for the road.” While not quite as excellent as the Intelligentisa, I did like the Metropolis Blend they were serving.

Arriving soon, the main events – first for myself the Cinnamon Raisin French Toast with Peaches, Raspberries, Cream suggested by our server. Featuring house made and THICK-CUT cinnamon raisin bread that would’ve been awesome on its own and absolutely loaded with fresh sweetened cream, incredibly plump and flavorful berries, plus a crunchy granola with accents of apple and cinnamon – this blew the bread pudding out of the water. Crispy on the outside yet pillowy and fluffy on the inside the bread actually stood up well to the cream throughout the indulgence – though admittedly this didn’t last long.

The second dish, again ordered by my mother because she didn’t want something “too sweet.” Bacon wrapped baked eggs with polenta & mixed field greens – well, I admit I like bacon, baked eggs, and especially polenta – and this was really good. While I personally would’ve preferred the yolks a little runny, that would not have been ideal for my mother and as such this dish was very much a crowd pleaser with its rustic feel presented in a totally unique way – essentially a bacon cone filled with the two organic eggs and atop a creamy polenta mash. Topping the salad, to note, was a wonderfully tart fig vinaigrette that m.henry should sell or publish the recipe too – it worked really well with the savory bacon tinged dish.

Back to the sweet stuff with my aunt - Heavenly Four Berry Hotcakes - Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry. M.henry refers to their pancakes as “blisscakes” and I can’t really say that description is too far off. Similar in texture to Dennis Leary’s absolutely mind-blowing souffled strawberry pancake at Canteen these cakes were wonderfully light and fluffy and then topped with more fluffiness in the form of powdered sugar and a thick and airy strawberry cream sauce.

The final dish, ordered by my sister, may have been the best of the bunch. Key lime & apricot brioche french toast – quite honestly, you have to taste it to appreciate it, but suffice it to say this was better than any Key Lime pie I’ve ever tasted and I think a lot of that was due to the complimentary flavor of the Apricot, but also to manner in which the buttery and sweet brioche interplayed with the creamy and nearly panna cotta thick lime cream – the apricot reduction didn’t hurt either. Like the cinnamon bread, I imagine this bread is only modestly presoaked and then cooked on a very hot griddle as the interior was still bready while the outside was flawlessly “French toast crisp.”

High end ingredients, wonderful preparations, a staff with great suggestions, and a really cool little setup with good prices – I really can’t ask for too much more than that. Actually, yes I can, free parking – and they had that too. Not as childishly decadent as Bongo Room yet every single dish hit it out of the park. A much longer wait here than Yolk or Over Easy, but to be fair I’d wait 3x as long at M.Henry than either. When it was all said and done we walked out of M. Henry realizing exactly what all the hype is about – “Chow for Now” is their slogan, but this Chow will easily withstand the test of time.


Nemis said...

Hi Mike,
I'm "Nemis" from the Chowhound boards, I have been looking at your blog and it looks like you are a great food person just as my husband and I are :)
Just wanted to let you know there is a website called created in January, if you would like we'd be honored to see some of your photos posted if you wish.
We live in Dublin and I was a Chefs apprentice at the Worthington Inn for 5 years in the early 90's.

uhockey said...

Crazy - a fellow Dublin inhabitant who is into food? Glad you enjoy the blog - Worthington Inn was great on my one visit!