[Photographs: Chelsea Ross]

The brunch ritual is often mired in screaming children and heinous portions of over-stuffed, over-syrup'd French toast. So it's a welcome relief when a place like Acadia launches brunch, gussying up the weekend tradition with some welcome pomp and circumstance. Curated by chef Ryan McCaskey, brunch at Acadia is a glamorous, relaxing affair free of strollers, toddlers, and tantrums. Instead, there's caviar, duck eggs, and dignity. To eat brunch here is like taking your mouth to the spa.


Acadia's Sunday brunch is a three-course prix fixe ($35), with a handful of options for the two savory items. Anything you select is bound to be shrouded in splendor, no matter how humble the descriptors sound. Take the cured salmon and corn johnnycake. If you're expecting some sort of bagel-like presentation, you're in for a ritzy treat. This canapé-sized dish looks like something that should be served at an Academy Awards after party, featuring a tender johnnycake topped with phyllo-thin threads of cured salmon, crème fraîche, curried egg salad, and caviar. For such a dainty dish, it's packed with flavor, from the salty, oceanic salmon to the subtle curry notes in the buttery egg salad. The caviar on top is a classy riff on the idea of eggs for brunch. Another starter is the morel mushroom tart, which makes good use of these fiendishly adored fungi by immersing them in a gooey quiche-like custard and a flaky pastry shell. Accented with pickled ramps and pea tendrils, it's a seriously spring-centric endeavor.


Entree options are just as indulgent. Duck ham in hay is an interesting diversion from standard brunch fare, served with a fried egg and lush spring vegetables. Thick slices of duck are smoked over hay and applewood, and presented on a plate nestled atop a bed of hay. The dish is extremely fragrant, smelling and tasting like someone burned down a barn as Acadia's kitchen staff cooked ducks alongside. The duck is succulent and saporous, so I would be willing to forgive barnyard arson if it meant hay-smoked duck hams like this. The richest jewel of the bunch is the lobster eggs Benedict, awash in truffle hollandaise and adjoined by Serrano ham. It's like someone threw darts at a list of posh ingredients and went to work. Acadia is renowned for their seafood dishes, with particular acclaim for their lobster roll, so a lobster Benedict is an apt addition to brunch. The flavors are a blend of ocean and earth, thanks to the harmonious medley of lobster and truffles. Amidst all those bold flavors, Serrano ham bursts through like the Kool-Aid man busting out a wall, providing a kick of cured, salty flair.


Pastries must not be ignored. Along with the sublime seasonal tarts that round out every meal (ours was a berry-rhubarb creation), pastry chef Thomas Raquel is baking some masterful breakfast pastries. Available à la carte, a trio of pastries ($9) might include a mini brioche loaf filled with brown sugar and flecked with crunchy pearl sugar, a kouign-amann that tastes like a sweeter, more condensed croissant, and the best blueberry muffin you'll ever savor, erupting with sugary nooks and juicy berries. The muffin top is the perfect blend of crunchy and soft, interspersed with morsels of sugar. I'm inclined to pry the top off and open a muffin top bakery selling just this. It would be wildly successful.

When you just can't muster the energy to wait in a brunch queue or have your hungover eardrums obliterated by wailing children, there's Acadia, an elegant respite from the norm.


1639 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago IL 60616 (map)


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