Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jam and Sugar Bliss, Chicago IL

The day started like any other in Ohio – early alarm, a trip to the gym, and my typical breakfast…four clock hours later (5 minus 1 accounting for time difference) I found myself seated at a table at Jam in Chicago for the first meal of my most recent trip to the Windy City – this time to see SOFA. With my sister and her art pals coming to town via car and myself flying Jam would be one of my solo meals for the trip and arriving shortly after 8am the place was largely empty. Seated immediately and presented with a menu I ordered a coffee and browsed the scene.

Owned and operated by Jeffrey Mauro (who was manning the open front kitchen along with a young female,) Jam defines “hipster kitsch” in terms of music (Radiohead to Beach Boys,) layout (Acrylic Chairs,) and menu (upscale brunch classics somewhat reinvented.) It is also cash only. Sipping my coffee, a sturdy blend by Metropolis, I was next greeted by my server and orders were placed – a pastry and the dish described as their “signature.” I will note that the online menu is not up to date, though both the online menu and in-store menu were full of wonderful sounding options.

Settled in I was first delivered an amuse bouche – a nice touch for breakfast. Slightly bigger than a thimble the apple cider brioche was perfect for the season – loaded with spice and dissolving on the tongue in a manner similar to a gougere.

Arriving second and plated much more elaborately than I’d have expected from something simply described as a “cinnamon roll” was – well – a cinnamon roll. Served hot off the grill and frosted in the open kitchen the pastry was of similar dimensions to a hockey puck but crisp and flaky seated next to a lovely hand whipped cream and raspberry jam. Somewhere between a croissant and a cinnamon roll in texture, buttery and aromatic – one of the better cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had, and small enough to serve as an excellent appetizer.

For my main course I opted for the Malted Custard French Toast with Macerated Rhubarb, Lime Leaf Cream, and Pink Peppercorn. Watching the dish prepared from start to finish I will first note that this is some elaborate French Toast – thick brioche was pulled from a large container of liquid and first pan seared prior to entering the oven to be finished. After approximately 10 minutes in the oven the dish was plated and served up piping hot. Unfortunately everything that the toast had in preparation and presentation it largely lacked in flavor. Buttery for sure and interesting in the interplay of lime and peppercorn the dish lacked any sweetness aside from that imparted by the Rhubarb. While this dish may have found a more receptive audience amongst those who prefer a savory breakfast it simply wasn’t my style. Adding to the disappointment, when I was presented with the bill it turned out I could’ve ordered a half-order and thus saved stomach space for another menu item.

When it was all said and done I settled the bill – just over $20 with a good tip for excellent service – and made my way to the street en route for Millennium Park. While Jam was good, particularly in comparison to the options in my home town, I can’t say I’d rush back – there are simply too many excellent breakfast and brunch spots in Chicago.

Nowhere near full and having already walked over 6 miles in addition to my workout I decided my next stop would be something to quell my sweet tooth – what better name than Sugar Bliss to accomplish such a task? Owned and operated by Le Cordon Bleu trained Teresa Ging I’d heard fantastic things about Sugar Bliss but had missed out on my previous two trips to Chicago due, largely, to lack of stomach capacity.

Arriving around 10:00am I was happy to find the shop uncrowded and even more thrilled when I realized they sold minis – what better way to sample a variety? Greeted by a pleasant young lady who couldn’t have been more than 20 years old I asked her what she would recommend and was surprised at her candid answers as she told me exactly which ones she liked and why. Having planned to only try one or two her salesmanship turned that number into one regular sized cupcake, four minis, and a dollar tip - $10 for what was essentially the size of two cupcakes – I told you she was good.

Making my way to the street I started with a full sized Red Velvet – the method of standardization used in my cupcake ratings. Frosted with a beautiful flower of cream cheese the cupcake was moist and delicate but not the sort that falls apart. The cream cheese was slightly sour and melded excellently with the cocoa. Three bites later the cake was gone and I sat with a smile – certainly one of the best red velvets I have ever tasted.


Moving on to the minis I started with a nutty and aromatic carrot spice cake and then tasted a lovely peanut butter and chocolate – each excellent. I next moved on to the strawberry shortcake – complete with a Bruled strawberry and decadent whipped frosting. Finally, and most impressively, was a miniature S’mores – a deep and rich chocolate cake stuffed with smoky marshmallow filling and topped with chewy marshmallow frosting plus a chip of graham cracker. Each mini topping out at a single bite (and $1.50 each or four for $5) they certainly were not cheap, but the quality was worth every penny – to this point the best cupcakery I’ve experienced in Chicago.

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