The Tradition and Where to Enjoy It
The historic Cherry Circle Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.
By Samantha Schwalm
Sunday morning, the beginning of the end of the weekend. Yet there is a unique, shining culinary event pulling you out of bed, regardless if you went out too late the night before, need to get ready for church or finish your morning run. It is a time when you get to dine with family and friends, recap the weekend’s events and not have to decide whether the group wants breakfast or lunch. This relaxing, lovely meal you are about to partake in, is the lovely combination of the two, “Brunch”.
As is common with most food origins, there is no clear story on the roots of Brunch. According to Smithsonian Magazine, some historians feel it came from the traditional hunt breakfasts from England. These were lavish multi-course meals that featured a smorgasbord of goodies such as chicken livers, eggs, meats, bacon, fresh fruit and sweets. Others feel that it derives from the practice of Catholics fasting before mass and then sitting down for a large midday meal. The word “brunch” first appeared in a 1895 Hunter’s Weekly article. In “Brunch: A Plea,” British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. Most agree that Guy Berlinger did not mean to start a new trend in eating. He was just someone who enjoyed a few cocktails on Saturday evenings, and was hoping to be able to sleep in a little later on Sundays!
Irrespective of where the idea of combining breakfast and lunch developed, this new dining event did not gain momentum in the United States until the 1930’s. Apparently, Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips, would frequently stop in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. During this time large hotels loved this, because most restaurants were closed on Sundays. Others have attributed the rise of America’s brunch culture, to the large numbers of American women who had entered the workforce following World War II and were interested in a break on Sunday. Another theory points to church attendance growing progressively less after World War II and people looking for a new social outlet on Sundays. Regardless of the catalyst, restaurants caught wind of this potentially new time to make a profit, they immediately sought to seize the opportunity. By offering decadent buffets and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Mary’s, Bellinis, and Mimosas.
Simple summer salad.
There are actually two stories surrounding the origins of one the favorite brunch items, Eggs Benedict. The Delmonico’s Restaurant is credited with coming up with Eggs Benedict. A regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, wanted something new for lunch. She discussed this with the head chef, Charles Ranhofer, who came up with egg dish in her honor. The second is of a New York Wall Street broker, who had too much to drink one evening in 1894, and asked the famous chef of the Waldorf, to make him some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce. The chef was so impressed with the meal, he added it to the permanent menu.
Fortunately in Chicago, there isn’t a lack of places to get go out for brunch on the weekends. In fact, you could probably go to a different place every weekend for a year and not dine at the same place twice. I have attached a few of my favorite places in various neighborhoods around town.
Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.
In Logan Square, there is an amazing restaurant called Longman & Eagle. Do not let this hipster whiskey bar fool you. It is a Michelin-starred restaurant that perfectly blends a menu of shots of whiskey and fancy plates. Whether you order the eggs with house made sausage or maple glazed spam, and a PBR, or the French Toast with cheesecake purée, macerated cherries, cherry jelly, and graham cracker brittle, get there early because they do not take reservations.
The Cherry Circle Room.
Hidden in the back of the “game room”, in the Chicago Athletic Association, is the Cherry Circle Room. Brunch is served daily, so there is no need to wait until Sunday. While you are munching on their Shrimp & Grits, or the House-Smoked Turkey Sandwich, don’t forget to try one of the drinks from the roving cocktail cart. After brunch, you can continue the party in the game room to play bocce on one of their full size courts. They do take reservations, which is highly recommended.
The Publican is offers a simple farmhouse inspired menu, while transporting you to a European beer hall. This West Loop spot is popular for every meal, so please make a reservation. When you do, I recommend the avocado scramble topped with creme fraiche. If you are in the mood for a hearty meal, the green child sausage with crispy potatoes is the way to go. However, I would not leave without at least sharing one of their twice baked almond plum brioches.
Located at 228 W. Chicago, Farm House Chicago’s goal is to bring seasonal food from farms across the Midwest. They source most of their food from the Green City Market and their very own roof top garden from spring to fall. The menu changes frequently, so they do not always have the most up-to-date menu on the website. If you are looking for a true farm to table brunch experience, or even dinner, there is not a better spot in the city.
Fulton Market Area:
New to the Fulton Market Area is the Ace Hotel. Located across from Swift & Son’s, this hotel has one of the best outdoor seating areas in the area. City Mouse, which is their all day neighborhood restaurant serves brunch every day. The hotel was smart enough to operate in partnership with hometown favorites Chef Jason Vincent, Chef Ben Lustbader, and Josh Perlman. This is the critically acclaimed Logan Square restaurant team who created Giant. City Mouse offers a seasonal menu inspired by the traditions of the Midwest.
France’s Deli in Lincoln Park.
In Lincoln Park, I have to recommend an oldie but a goodie, France’s Deli. Established in 1938, France’s Deli is the oldest Deli in Lincoln Park. They do not take reservations, so expect to wait for a table. While you are waiting, feel free to sample their Bloody Mary bar or ask for a cup of coffee. Serving breakfast all day means you never have to hurry up out of bed to get one of their delicious menu items. The skillets and omelets, are some of the best around town. That said, I am personally more likely to lean toward lunch. The Matzo Ball soup is one of the best in the city, and the Lincoln Park Sandwich never disappoints.
These are just a small sampling of the wonderful and amazing brunch places in and around Chicago. Even if you stay close to home. Please get out, meet some friends and eat brunch! After all we live in the city that helped to make it popular in this country.
Samantha Schwalm is owner of Paris Kabat Catering, providing personal chef and cooking services in Chicago. She can be followed on Instagram: paris_kabat_catering and at FB: Paris Kabat Catering.