The Brunch Dish: Brunch Bows With a Bang at Avec
When one of the most revered restaurants in Chicago starts serving brunch, it's time for the naysayers to give brunch the respect it deserves. Perpetually packed Avec started serving brunch last weekend, and true to form, the diminutive wine bar was brimming with excitable customers. Avec is the biggest score for brunch since Roscoe combined chicken and waffles. And just as at dinnertime, their brunch menu is full of twists and turns, putting a distinct stamp on the Sunday ritual.
Right out of the gate, I'm inclined to like coddled eggs ($11), because the name makes it sound like they were raised with silver spoons in their embryos. They may not be royal babies, but they're indeed cooked gingerly and precisely, so as to produce a barely solid yolk and whites so custardy and smooth you might mistake it for shampoo if you were enjoying these in, say, the shower. The eggs are placed in a teeny glass ramekin layered with Taleggio fonduta, roasted mushrooms, and a corona of bitter greens. The fonduta and eggs create rich layers akin to some sort of savory trifle, while the knobs of mushrooms add a meaty element to the party. It's served with a few soft slivers of garlic crostini, aka the stuff of garlic bread dreams. Dig your spoon into the ramekin like you're scooping up pudding, slather the goods on the toasty bread, unhinge your jaw, and enjoy one of the most masterful egg dishes in Chicago.
Chicken and waffles are frequent bedfellows, but I'm suspicious of an affair between chicken and pancakes (see other recent examples here and here). This would make pancakes a bit of a homewrecker, but I encourage infidelity when it tastes as good as Avec's Moroccan Berghir pancake with chicken wings ($12). It's like Hooters traveled to Morocco to attend culinary school. Berghir pancakes are traditional Moroccan morning munchies made with semolina flour, with a flavor and texture somewhere in between an English muffin and cornbread. Avec's pancake is small-ish, roughly the size of an adult palm, and positively heaped with chicken wings so tender and juicy their meat practically flies right off the bone and into your mouth. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be eating chicken wings at Avec, but I'm a believer. It's a little difficult to marry the pancake and the chicken wings, though the tangy, spicy honey-harissa glaze oozing off the poultry tastes especially good infused into the yeasty pancake.
Even when Avec tackles something as formulaic as French toast ($8), they still manage to warp minds with an outré interpretation. First of all, the French toast is baked in the wood oven, which is just delightful and homey. The baking process begets a soft and velvety texture to the bread, transforming it into a sponge for the accompanying flavors, which wind up tasting like some sort of breakfast cocktail via tart roasted cherries, mint, and roasted almonds. There's also a smear of fresh cheese to add a bit of zing and mellow the sweetness. Good luck not inhaling this.
Be it eggs, pancakes, or French toast, leave it to Avec to swoop in and single-handedly reinvent the brunch wheel. If there was any place that could solidify the legitimacy of brunch, it's Avec.