Friday, September 11, 2009

Orange on Roscoe, Chicago IL

Having already visited both locations of the famous Bongo Room, m.henry, Over Easy, and a number of bake-shops on previous Chicago visits the decision was made to finally give the Orange franchise a visit on my most recent trip. While not as highly rated by many foodies, a look at Orange's menu and kitschy concepts led me to believe it would be a fun experience and driving in bright and early from Ohio my sister and I opted for the Roscoe location because I'd heard the food there was the most "consistently good." Arriving around 8:45am Chicago time we found easy parking merely a block away and made our way to the entirely empty restaurant - a stark difference from the loud and jam-packed previous Chicago breakfast experiences.

True to its name the inner decor of the restaurant was quite eclectic with wall art depicting carrots, abstracts, and figures all in varying shades of Orange - even the ceiling consisted of ornate peach tile. Standing up from his own stack of pancakes at the bar our quirky server seated us quickly and provided us menus while explaining the daily specials - including mango frushi and the "back to school" pancake flight. Returning shortly with glasses of water (oddly containing a slice of cucumber) he next took our drink orders - tea for my sister and "orange coffee" for myself.

Returning with our drinks my sister was presented with a small pot of hot water and a choice of 6 tea bags - choosing a chai she noted it was "alright" but was disappointed with the small selection and only receiving one tea bag - much different from the box of teas at Bogo Room. For myself the orange coffee was true to its name and tasted like a strange blend of fresh squeezed OJ and mildly acidic coffee - while I'm not sure how this concept was derived I will admit that the interesting tang was a surprise and I drank a good 32-40oz during the course of the meal.

Arriving ~20 minutes after placing orders (and after another 5 groups had arrived in the restaurant) our food was presented fresh and hot and in much larger portions than expected. Unable to decide on just two options my sister and I each opted for a dish while also ordering a plate of the pan seared oatmeal to share. Beginning with the oatmeal we were served two large slices that were creamy and hot on the inside while crispy and singed on the outside. Made by first baking the oats in apple cider the dish had a distinctly autumnal flavor to it that was only enhanced by the addition of fresh maple syrup. Accompanying the oat-toast was a melange of cranberries, apples, raisins, and pears. The most unassuming of the choices but the best of our selections I was extremely impressed by the oatmeal and will be looking to replicate the dish in my own home in the future.

The second choice, the selection of my sister, was the Chai Tea French Toast featuring large/thick slices of brioche infused with chai tea and stuffed with Ricotta cheese served in a large bowl over chai tea latte reduction and then topped with honey & caramelized apples. Well composed and actually quite well balanced this dish was absolutely enormous and clearly more than enough for one. While I personally didn't sense the chai as much as I'd have liked, the creamy ricotta was so well blended that it nearly seemed to be part of the bread and the honey/apple mix was quite well done with small hints of spice and salt balancing the overall sweetness of the dish quite nicely.

The final selection, mine, was the Back to School Pancake Flight - a weekly rotating theme at Orange with four stacks of three silver-dollar pancakes, each stack featuring a different batter and/or topping. Given my love of both tasting menus and pancakes I figured this option was a can't miss - unfortunately I was incorrect. With options including "breakfast of champions - buttermilk cakes infused with bacon and topped with light yellow cheddar mousse," "energy rush - orange coffee infused buttermilk cakes topped with chocolate marshmallow whipped cream and cocoa powder," "lunchroom - buttermilk cakes with peanut butter cream and homemade raspberry jelly plus banana whipped cream," and "teachers pet - buttermilk cakes with poached red apple in red wine with apple cider-cinnamon reduction" I expected greatness and variety but instead received chewy similarity. Boring and chalky pancakes, minimal amounts of topping, and variation dictated only by the "cream or mousse" on each I found myself having difficulty differentiating the energy rush from the breakfast of champions and the teachers pet was so flavorless I questioned the presence of apples. Admittedly the Lunchroom was excellent - if I ever returned I'd order the jelly roll pancakes based on this.

In the end I have to say I was largely underwhelmed by Orange and this all had to do with something I'd heard from others - inconsistency. While some dishes were excellent others were sub-par, while the scene was nice the techno-pop music was loud and quite off-putting, while some portions were generous the skimpy tea service was unimpressive at best. While Orange is indeed interesting and unique compared to other cities, I simply don't think it stands out enough compared to other venerable Chicago breakfast/brunch options to warrant a strong recommendation or return visit.

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