Friday, June 17, 2011

Kanela Breakfast Club, Chicago IL

When going for brunch in Chicago N. Clark St. is generally a good call – M. Henry, Over Easy, Orange, Ann Sather, Big Jones…let’s just say Lakeview and Andersonville aren’t hurting for their eggs, pancakes, and bacon – but having already been to the big names and wanting an eclectic weekday breakfast experience this visit to Chicago would bring us to a relative newcomer – the Greek offerings of Kanela Breakfast Club. Owned and operated by Chris Lardakis and featuring both name and theme inspired by his upbringing and a love of cinnamon I’ll admit I’d heard mixed reviews of both the food and service at Kanela, but in the end the menu and coffee sourcing won me over and with the early opening hour of 7:00am both the location and time matched our day’s agenda perfectly.

Arriving early with street parking plenty available we made our way to the surprisingly large café after a drive past Wrigley and given the early hour the space was empty save for two tables – one with patrons and one with Lardakis himself sitting and chatting with staff as they prepared for the day’s service. Greeted pleasantly by our server, Tara S. at the door we were asked where we’d like to sit and with a four top in the middle of the room selected we sat – two of us in sturdy wood chairs and one in the booth. With the restaurant largely modern (think exposed brick, wood, tile) yet restrained save for a couple of crystal chandeliers and a small coffee bar to the right we were next presented with menus, offered coffee, and left to make decisions while light pop music played overhead.

With a strong cup from Julius Meinl with caramel notes and a satin finish brewed quickly (and refilled consistently without need for request throughout our meal) Tara would return to take our orders and to give us her opinions on what dishes she considers must haves. Inquiring as to whether two appetizers and three entrees would be too much she informed us that it would “probably be fine” as the chef focuses more on quality than quantity – but that this would be “quite a bit of food.” With orders placed we again sat back and chatted while Lardakis returned to the kitchen and Tara took to writing the daily specials on the chalkboard.

With the restaurant largely empty it would be perhaps ten minutes before our first dishes would arrive – in this case a favorite of both my aunt and myself in the form of “monkey bread” that really wasn’t much like pull-apart monkey bread at all, but rather a dense muffin loaded with smooth pureed banana, notes of cinnamon and walnuts, and a nearly soufflé-like top with a slightly gooey crumb. Served warm it was excellent, but at $4 perhaps a bit overpriced for a muffin.

Moving next to the dish recommended strongly by our server, my mother’s favorite item of the meal was the Bougatsa. At $4 and essentially the same size/weight as the monkey bread this flat pastry featured dainty crisp phyllo encompassing what was described as “lemon-honey custard” but what instead tasted almost like meyer lemon curd given its density and subdued sweetness. Complimented with fresh strawberries and a wisp of whipped cream it truly was tasty, though getting more than a bite proved somewhat daunting as mom seemed to be guarding it with fork and knife.

With appetites primed and plates cleared as coffee was refilled once again it would be a short while before our main courses would arrive and with the ladies selecting sweets I opted instead to go savory for the second morning in a row by selecting the duck confit hash with sunny side eggs, charred scallions, and a sauce described as orange truffle vinaigrette. Served not really as “duck confit hash” but rather as duck confit + hash, the fowl itself was excellent and paired nicely with the acidic yet earthy sauce while the potatoes were buttery, loaded with herbs, and slightly smoky from the inclusion of the crispy scallions. Completing the plate with two nicely prepared eggs topped with just a drizzle of olive oil all the flavors married nicely while a side of 9-grain toast with butter and strawberry jam proved quite handy for sopping up the runny egg and vinaigrette.

Having already established my mother’s love for lemon her selection of the Kanela French Toast with apricot and sweet lemon crème fraiche came as no surprise and while I’m traditionally not a fan of citrus I personally thought this the best dish of the morning largely because the golden brioche with a pillowy custard center was so exquisitely done that it may rank amongst the best textured French Toasts of all time. While certainly never one to shy away from a breakfast too sweet, an additional surprise in the Kanela French Toast was the light accents of the accoutrements – the crème only mildly kissed with lemon and the apricot compote a smear on the plate. Surely the addition of pure maple syrup didn’t hurt, but it also wasn’t necessary to make this dish shine.

For my aunt’s selection she surprisingly selected what has seemingly become Kanela’s most highly acclaimed dish – the Bacon Waffle with Chocolate Bacon, Bourbon Caramel, and Bacon Dust – and like the French Toast it was quite impressive albeit a little bit heavy handed. Beginning first with the bacon riddled waffle, it was a nice balance of sweet and savory with the bacon largely serving as exclamation points of flavor in the golden dough. Topped with grated bacon and two strips of slightly chewy pork dipped in chocolate and resting above drizzles of salty caramel and bitter chocolate I actually think the dish may have been better off without the bacon dust if only to mellow the salinity – but then again, the chocolate did a nice job of creating a balance so perhaps simply drizzling a bit of chocolate on the waffle itself would have helped instead as the drizzle on the plate simply wasn’t enough to account for the whole waffle.

With dishes cleaned and coffee again refilled Tara asked if there was anything else we’d like and declining we were given the check followed by a quick visit from the chef to ask us how everything had been. With our compliments (and the bill) paid we made our way to the sunny streets just about one hour after our arrival and with that proceeded to our noon tour of the Rookery not full, but content and glad to see that North Clark Street’s embarrassment of Brunch riches has grown by one.

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