Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hearty and Floriole, Chicago IL

The phrase “accidental expertise” was applied by them, not me – and when I say them I’m referring to The Hearty Boys, Dan and Steve. Never professionally trained but known by millions due to stints on the food network, a best selling cookbook, and a ten-plus year old catering company I’d always heard of the couple’s unique urban/casual style but had never been in Chicago for a full Sunday to partake in their brunch – neither at their first eatery, HB, nor the newer and more ‘refined’ Lakeview storefront simply called Hearty. With my sister and her friend planning for an early afternoon departure and myself flying out late I figured this visit would be a perfect time to see what the fellas’ had to offer.

Arriving shortly after the small shop opened it doors we were greeted by a friendly young lady at the door and with reservation made we were led promptly to a solid wooden four-top in the middle of the mid-American themed room, complete with exposed brick and a unique wall mounted fireplace, plus “floral” centerpieces made of cut soda cans. In the corner, a television played old Droopy and Tom & Jerry Cartoons while the overhead soundtrack piped in a random array of feel good tunes.

Greeted next by one of our two primary servers, a tall man my sister thought looked “exactly like the server from Lifehouse” we were presented with menus and our waters were filled. Myself opting for a bargain $2 bottomless cup of Metropolis Indonesian coffee and Erika choosing from a selection of Stash Tea our service was excellent throughout – suggestions were thoughtful, drinks remained full, everything arrived piping hot, and everything was done with a smile and no-hassle approach even as the restaurant reached capacity by 9:45am.


With orders placed we sat back and chatted for a while and watched the bartender throw together any number of unique drinks for extremely mixed crowd – young and old, gay and straight – and everyone seemed to be having a great time even prior to imbibing, moreso later.


With a unique but small menu and no desserts at brunch our decisions were diverse but rather easy given our own personal preferences – this is a menu with something for everyone. Starting things off, a Scratch made Biscuits with pumpkin clove butter. Tasty, large, buttery, and aromatic this was the sort of biscuit you’d expect further south – but the butter itself was not especially apparent. Good, but not on the level of the biscuits at Big Jones the day before.

For Nate, again abstaining from the sweets, a tarragon chicken & brie omelet with smoky breakfast potatoes and a scratch made biscuits with pumpkin clove butter was selected. While I did not taste the dish, it certainly looked and sounded good.

My sister’s selection, Cinnamon Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast with raisin nut cocoa and pure maple syrup looked and smelled heavenly with accents of cinnamon and cocoa prominent and the syrup inherently sweet. Utilizing a thick brioche as the base, however, this French Toast suffered the same fate as the version at Big Jones in that the interior of the bread remained largely uncooked and doughy while the exterior was appropriately crisp and buttery. Again, perhaps I just like a custard French Toast because my sister seemed to enjoy it – the cocoa baked walnuts were wonderful either way.

For my breakfast – never one to turn down sweet and savory - Chicken and Pumpkin Waffles with boneless southern fried chicken breast, house made waffle, quince butter, and Cajun maple shot. Tasty and fragrant, the waffle portion of my dish was excellent – crisp exterior and soft within. In the savory department, the chicken itself was somewhat overcooked but the decidedly spicy and thin batter was delicious. Adding ample butter and the hot sauce infused syrup lent an extra degree of fruity heat to the plate – not that it was needed given the black pepper laden batter, but it worked.

With no desserts offered we sat and chatted for a bit while finishing our coffee, never feeling rushed to leave the bill was presented and after paying we made our way to the street. Looking back at the meal I have to say that given the hype I left somewhat unimpressed, but perhaps inappropriately so. While nothing in particular “wowed” in the manner than many Chicago breakfast/brunch spots do, the service was superb and the setting was fun. Claiming that they appeal to the gourmand and the kid in each of us on their website I’d have to say I agree – I simply lean more heavily to the gourmand side and, per their own admission The Hearty Boys are all about upscale comfort food, not haute cuisine.

Leaving Hearty my sister and Nate were heading back to Oxford and asked where they could drop me off – figuring Fox & Obel was rather central to the area I’d like to browse I asked them first to swing by our missed stop from the day prior – Floriole Bakery. Named “Best Bakery” in Chicago (In a city that contains Fritz) by Chicago Magazine and featuring what many were describing as the best Canele in the city (In a city that contains L2o) I figured Floriole was a can’t miss.

Arriving slightly later than the previous day the café was abuzz when we arrived – myriad bakers buzzing about the kitchen and the staff stocking the case with 20-30 classic French pastries from bread to baguette to pound cake to tarte to quiche to croissant. Advertising that everything was made with European butter and organic or local grains and produce I noted at least ten items I wanted to try but limited myself to three as they’d be serving as my daytime snack before an early dinner. With friendly service abounding I paid the relatively hefty tab of $9 plus a dollar tip and made my way back to the car.

Beginning first with the Macaron - $1.50 for a rather small serving, I made the choice of coffee over caramel and can simply say it was okay. Purportedly fresh from the oven I found the cookie to be somewhat dry while the interior was rich coffee cream. While better than a “doughy” macaron, I can’t say my first bite was a good impression.

Improving significantly on the small cookie the $4.25 Almond Croissant was everything I’d hope from a place billed as the “best” bakery. Flaky and crisp exterior, buttery smooth interior with aromatic notes of almond and a sweet almond paste the croissant stood up nicely to mastication with its springy interior giving way to bite without distorting the shape of the pastry. While not as good as some elsewhere (Payard, Petrossian,) potentially the best I’ve had in Chicago.

The final selection, a classic Canele de Bordeaux baked in a bee’s wax mold was superb – crunchy shell, eggy custard center, not too sweet. While it would require some side to side, bite to bite comparison I’d place it on par with that of L2o and La Colombe (Philadelphia) for best yet.

Having sampled only three of a large collection of fine pastry’s the verdict is still out on my end as to whether or not Floriole holds up to its reputation as best in Chicago, but either way it is an excellent bakery provided everyone gets to work on time and the selections are ready and warm.

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