Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fritz Pastry and Toast II, Chicago IL

Waking up early as ever on Thursday morning with multiple plans for the day (free day at the Shedd, discount at the Field museum) I made my way to the gym for a great run and by the time I returned to the room my aunt was ready to roll. Showered and setting the GPS it was too early for breakfast and my mother had made a specific request for macarons so we made our way to Fritz's pastry for some baked goods and browsing. Traffic moving surprisngly well we arrived at the small shop (at least it looks that way from the outside) by 7:30am.

Walking in the door to the sounds of The Flaming Lips (followed by Radiohead) I already liked the place - and walking up to the counter we were greeted by a friendly young lady who was all smiles and extremely helpful as we browsed the selections, took some pictures (to taunt my mother back home,) and make our choices. With 4 Brioche options, multiple croissants and pastries, bread, macarons, cookies and cakes it was an arduous choice indeed but with selections made we made our way to the street to get the car and head to breakfast proper.

En route to breakfast my aunt tasted her cream cheese brioche and dubbed it delicious – I personally don’t like cream cheese and found it to be a relatively boring Danish despite the excellent brioche. For my pastry dollar the money is always in the almond croissant and at Fritz the almond croissant wasn’t just good, it was the best I’ve had outside of Payard and Petrossian. Buttery and crisp exterior with a nutty and nuanced glaze gave way to an airy and textural center loaded with chopped buttered almonds and the whole pastry was light, flavorful, and complex.

Other items selected and tasted later in the day included 3 macarons for myself and another nine to go home to my mother. Featuring a delicate shell with an excellent crack on mastication I personally found the cookie to be somewhat doughy and wet for my tastes, though certainly not bad. Tasting the pistachio first I was impressed by the level of sweetness but largely underwhelmed by the flavor as it could’ve just as easily been vanilla. The more novel options tasted included Peanut Butter Pretzel and Banana Cinnamon, both of which were good though not mindblowing like some I’ve tried in the past. Interestingly Fritz has a small box labeled “Macaron Suggestions” where visitors can suggest anything they like – PB Pretzel was one of these from the past. Cheaper than any macarons I’ve encountered to date I will give Fritz credit in the “bang for the buck” category.

The final selection was the Cinnamon Brioche bread pudding – a slice for a mere $3 our server suggested this should be warmed before consumption and she was definitely right – rather bland when tasted cold (hey, we were in the car!) 30 seconds in the microwave at the hotel allowed the pudding to flourish – releasing heavy notes of cinnamon and butter, plus what I do believe was almond essence. All told I must say I was quite pleased with Fritz and would certainly recommend stopping in for a croissant – the best I’ve tasted in the Midwest – if I lived locally I’d be there making macaron suggestions, as well.

Getting back to breakfast proper I gave my aunt the choice between Toast and Jam – though I hear the two go well together these are two separate restaurants in Chicago’s breakfast/brunch scene – a scene I personally believe is the best in the country. Arriving at the small shop – the second of Jeanne Roser’s (who was indeed present that day working the counter and pouring coffee) locations just after 9:30 we entered and were seated immediately. Menus were presented, specials described, water poured – top notch service.

With aunt ordering orange juice (fresh squeezed and only $3 for a good sized glass) and myself going for coffee – a strong breakfast blend with mostly floral notes and a decent acidity – we perused the unique menu full of the standard breakfast, lunch, and brunch foods plus some really unique options. Decisions made we placed our orders and waited approximately 15 minutes while chatting and browsing the kitschy interior (toasters EVERYWHERE) before our food was delivered.

For my aunt her selection was the “pancake orgy” featuring a stack of three thick and buttery yet perfectly golden and chewy pancakes topped with raspberry granola, creamy yougurt, and a drizzle of honey. With each pancake featuring a different flavor we both rather suspected they would be served linearly instead of as a stack, but on tasting we were both impressed by how each pancake tasted entirely different but also worked as a whole. Featuring a mild apple cinnamon pancake on top, a zippy and sour lemon poppy seed in the middle, and a banana pecan on the bottom I personally liked the banana pecan best (perhaps the post-New Orleans bias?) while aunt fancied the apple cinnamon. Offered a bite early in the meal my aunt is thankfully weak and couldn’t finish much so I was able to later add some maple syrup and finish off the banana pecan cake.

For myself the decision was easy – French Toast Orgy. Served essentially as a single 2 inch thick slice of stuffed brioche divided into three “fingers” the dish was again topped with an ample helping of raspberry granola, savory and smooth yogurt, and honey – I also added ample maple syrup, pure unless my taste buds deceive me. Featuring three different styles I first tasted the chocolate – mild hints of cocoa, great crispy and textural exterior with a melt in the mouth interior. Second I tasted the mascarpone and it turned out to be my favorite of the group with the sweetened cheese forming a pockets of creaminess inside the already buttery and smooth bread-pudding textured toast. My final taste was stuffed with pureed strawberry and while not quite as delectable as the other two (lacking the creaminess) I loved the tart contrast – eating it with the chocolate toast was superb.

Very pleased with the griddled goods my aunt and I were equally enamored with the copious amount of fresh berries delivered with the breakfasts – in Los Angeles or New York the fruits included would’ve likely more than doubled the price of the meal. Paying the bargain tab and leaving a large tip we made our way to the streets and our easily obtained free parking spot very pleased with the Toast experience – between Bongo Room, Toast, M.Henry, and the myriad spots serving weekend brunch Chicago still reigns as my favorite breakfast city by far.

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