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Photographs: Chelsea Ross

You have to give credit to a restaurant that can make bread bowls appealing. Gather has a knack for gracefully elevating American comfort food, from fried chicken and biscuits to the oft-lambasted bread bowl. Props to chef Ken Carter for approaching contemporary American cuisine with a sense of vagary, though I can't help but wonder how many lashings the Charlie Trotter's alum received from his old mentor for his bread bowl move. As quirky as some of his menu offerings can be, he pulls them off with aplomb, with nary a morsel of gimmickry.

Let's start with that bread bowl. I think the last time I had a bread bowl, I was at a Panera Bread before I knew any better. Carter is a lot craftier with his carb dishware than Panera ever was. Starting with a brioche roll about the size of a bocce ball, he carves out a little cranny from the top and fills it with gluttony: pork sausage, mushrooms, and mornay sauce. Asparagus is mingled in there to make us feel a little better about ourselves, and it's crowned with a poached egg. The whole thing is almost like a jumbo eggs Benedict. While it's not as heinous as some of the bread bowls found at Panera Bread or state fairs, Gather's version is still pretty bulky. There should be a prize for people who finish this, like health insurance.

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Carter clearly has a way with artery-ravaging sauces, because his cheesy béchamel served over the chicken fried biscuit is a thing of beauty. A buttermilk biscuit serves as the base, a tad on the sweet side, but a nice yin to the fried chicken's yang. While the skin on the fried chicken leg crackles like a deep-fried window into your soul, the biscuit is tender and creamy, sopping up chicken juices and the extraneous béchamel so that you don't have to sink to a new low and lick it off the plate, because you would want to otherwise.

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For something sweet, it's hard not to order a doughnut with something called "crazy glaze." Upon ordering, it was a little bit disappointing to learn that the crazy glaze is just lemon. I was hoping for something a bit more outré, like a glaze that's been screamed at and psychologically tormented. At any rate, I'm crazy about the Krispy Kreme-like yeast doughnut, light enough to almost deflate when you cut into it, but sturdy enough to stand up to the onslaught of zesty glaze poured upon it.

In the hands of a less dexterous and whimsically minded chef, something like a bread bowl would be verboten, but Gather's Carter proves that even the most state fair stomach ache-type items can be upraised. It's a token to the chef's talents and his ability to stand out in the crowded contemporary American dining scene.

Gather

4539 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625 (map)
773-506-9300
http://www.gatherchicago.com/

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