The Brunch Dish: Sophisticated Gluttony at Southport Grocery & Cafe
It takes a special restaurant to combine dainty urbanity with enough comfort food to satiate a trucker. Southport Grocery & Cafe is that diamond in the ruff. It feels like a tea party catered by sumo wrestlers with culinary degrees. Anytime I dine here, the ratio of women to men is riotously uneven, and on my most recent visit, the ladies dining next to me started chiming in about how they couldn't eat all their food unless they were pregnant. At the heart of this posh cafe/market is one of the most consistent and decadent brunch programs in Chicago, with enough glorified American food to prompt the most dignified gentlewoman toss her diet out the window.
Gourmet pop tarts have "popped up" (well that was easy) on brunch and bakery menus around town as of late, but Southport was the progenitor. The grown-up pop tart ($6) is much larger than the boxed pop tarts you used to horde for yourself and eat silently in the darkness of your early morning living room (no?). Actually, calling this a pop tart is a bit of a stretch. It's more like a sweet quesadilla made with pillowy pastry pressed around fruit preserves, mascarpone, and roasted vanilla walnuts. It's only pop tart-y in the sense that it's two layers of pastry with a fruity, creamy filling, but I know not to argue semantics with something as ambrosial as this. The ladies dining next to you might scoff if you eat the whole thing, but it's worth the guilt trip.
Savory items are just as indulgent as the belt-destroying sweets. The Southern omelette ($10) is the eggy equivalent of chocolate lava cake, each bite oozing with molten pimento cheese and crumbly nuggets of sausage. It comes with a bulky jam-filled biscuit, roughly the size of an anvil. In fact, you could drop this thing on a Looney Tune and it would probably have the same effect. Jam is my favorite foil for biscuits. I need something sweet and astringent to balance all the richness and prevent a biscuit hangover. The plate is finished with a heaping mound of creamy mashed red potatoes, because potatoes are the little black dresses of the kitchen—they go with everything.
I love a good breakfast sandwich ($9). This used to be the go-to quick dinner for my siblings and I, when my mom didn't feel like making a full-fledged meal. I prefer breakfast sandwiches that aren't too adulterated, just eggs and meat. Southport's rendition is mom food to the nth degree. Served on a housemade English muffin, which is denser and puffier than most English muffins (and curiously akin to the pop tart dough—what can't that dough do?!), the sandwich consists of a disc of pork sausage, apples, wilted arugula, and an egg, overflowing with gooey butterkäse cheese. It looks like a gourmet McMuffin, but with a lot more soul, clearly made with passion instead of McDisdain. With each sloppy bite, the layers melt together into one big group hug of complementary flavors. In a sea of fatty decadence, the apples and arugula are a welcome life raft. Break out the doilies for this one, because it's about as messy as eating spaghetti and meatballs with your hands.
Against the precious backdrop that is Southport Grocery & Cafe, one of the snazziest boutique market-restaurant hybrids in town, is a thoughtful menu of extravagant comfort foods. Bring your ritzy girlfriend or bring your slovenly uncle. They'll be equally smitten.