The Brunch Dish: Trenchermen Raises the Bar on Bar Brunch
There's something about eating brunch in a bar that makes me feel like Homer Simpson on one of his doughnut benders. Considering how many people go to brunch to soothe hangovers induced from bars the previous night, going to a bar for brunch seems a little odd—like attempting to heal a wound by stabbing it. But Trenchermen's newly instated Saturday bar brunch brings some dignity to the experience. Moe Szyslak's stale doughnut buffet this is not, with brothers Mike and Pat Sheerin curating a menu of globally inspired brunch fare.
Essential starters are the mandazi doughnuts ($4). In the midst of Chicago's incessant doughnut frenzy, it's hard for a restaurant to stand out, but Trenchermen does so with their Kenyan doughnuts. What?! They nonchalantly add it to their menu like it's no big deal they're filling the whopping void in Chicago's Kenyan dining scene. They come out looking pretty standard, like beignets with a subtler dosage of powdered sugar. They taste like the fried dough I used to get at state fairs, with added flavors of coconut and allspice. It's basically state fair food by way of East Africa, which so happens to be a delicious niche indeed.
Entree selections hop all over the map, drawing inspiration from all over the globe. The humbly named summer sausage ($11) dish is actually a muffuletta-inspired creation that looks like a croque monsieur, made with a smear of creamy summer sausage on sesame bread, plus olive-enhanced giardiniera and provolone. The whole thing is topped with a fried egg and bedecked with a pile of chips crispier than a Blooming Onion. This is definitely a knife-and-fork sandwich, due to the heinous size and proclivity for unraveling all over your hands. When the waiter told me it was a riff on a muffuletta, I was all like, "Lol okay." But I'll be damned if this didn't taste exactly like a muffuletta, largely due to the pronounced olive-y giardiniera flavor.
From their New Orleans-inspired sandwich, the menu heads to Japan, with Trenchermen's duck pastrami ramen ($11). Chicago has seen some highfalutin versions of ramen in the past year or so, but Trenchermen's is refreshingly restrained, consisting of just a few ingredients set adrift in an ethereal, balanced broth. The noodles themselves are as supple and soft as a ballerina's thigh, making for easy slurpage. Tender collard greens provide an earthy kick, while the ubiquitous poached egg pops like a savory water balloon, enriching the soup. The remaining broth at the bottom of a bowl of ramen is more delicious than the leftover milk in a bowl of Trix.
Drawing inspiration from more places than Carmen Sandiego's travel book, Trenchermen's has grand ambitions for its bar brunch. The setting may be humble, but the menu is an adventure in global dining.