No one seems more serious about the brunch beat than Time Out Chicago, which is odd because it’s really not a serious meal, culinary-wise— part carbo-loading hangover fighter, part dessert cart, part continuation of the previous night’s party. Brunch’s mix of the super-sweet and the super-fatty has never had the intellectual coherence that chefs demand of dinner, but maybe that’s the appeal— everybody’s off the culinary clock and just eating what sounds good. Anyway, TOC just published their latest in what seems like a very frequent series of brunch issues, leading off with Julia Kramer’s paean to the 20 best brunch places of the moment, which makes the claim that “I have a hard time believing brunch in Chicago has ever been better.” While David Tamarkin guards against the inevitable “How could you leave out X?” comments by leading a frontal assault in the blog on those insanely popular places that everyone knows just aren’t worth the wait. The general argument seems to be, skip those tired old traditional, crowd-drawing joints in favor of these new places that are reinventing and reinvigorating the genre.
Which brings us to a question, though, about the Great Chicago Brunch Renaissance as proclaimed by Time Out. And that question is: Really? The fact is, we can think of at least three recent fancy-schmancy upscale brunches, more than one of them recommended highly and multi-starred by Time Out, which proved to be pretentiously comical disasters. Aspiring to touches of fine dining, these brunches instead utterly failed at providing the basic satisfactions of good old American breakfast. There was the place whose deconstructed eggs benedict was so deconstructed that the fancy platter of alternative hollandaise flavors arrived several minutes after the eggs had been sitting there turning to silly putty. There was the sausage gravy which would have been better on a pizza than on downhomey biscuits. There was the place whose idea of an alternative to potatoes was a garlicky side that left us popping breath mints all day.
That’s not to say we haven’t had good breakfasts out, including many of the places Time Out mentions on its various lists, but we’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a sweet spot for breakfast above the cheapest possible but below the fanciest-schmanciest, where they still remember to come through with the simple American pleasures of eggs, bacon, and bread in some form. Get too far above that and culinary ambition leads to trouble. What do you think? Have you had breakfast or brunch that seemed too big for its britches, or do you agree with Time Out that we live in the best of all possible brunch worlds?