The Brunch Dish: Rolling in Dough at Endgrain
Endgrain is one of the heartiest, most comforting restaurants to open in Chicago in a long time. The new Roscoe Village restaurant is sort of a soulful middle finger to the Atkins legacy. As its name implies, the restaurant treads heavily in grain, with almost everything on the brunch menu relying on dough of some sort. Don't come here on a diet and don't shy away from the grain, because that's where chef Enoch Simpson shines. Just as an artist uses a blank canvas as his or her medium, Simpson uses grain as a launching pad for a plethora of palate-pleasing flavors sure to wake you up in the a.m.
Simpson is a bit of a doughnut superstar. The man can rightfully be credited with starting the doughnut craze in Chicago when he added doughnuts to the brunch menu at Nightwood years ago. The doughnuts quickly garnered a cult following and despite leaving Nightwood, the name Enoch Simpson became synonymous with doughnut supremacy. In terms of doughnuts, the opening of Endgrain feels like one of Cher's comeback concerts, and Simpson's doughnuts ($3 each) are once again in the spotlight they deserve to hold. Don't start brunch here without ordering one or two (or all of them). Although smaller and more humble-looking than most overwrought doughnuts in town, Endgrain's doughnuts taste more complex and composed. The peaches and cream doughnut sings of summer, lush with juicy stone fruit flavor, enriched with milky undertones. The chocolate malt doughnut packs a punch of intense malty flavor, like a whole box of Milk Duds condensed into one fudgy doughnut. Paired perfectly with La Colombe coffee, these things are the stuff of dunkable dreams.
It's difficult to decide which doughy delicacies to try next. But if you see something on a menu called braised pork hand pie, ($9) you should shut up and order it. The name is a bit of a misnomer, unless your hand is the size of a giant's, as this is definitely a knife-and-fork dish. Almost the size of an actual pie, this thing is all about the flaky, fatty crust, shaped like a galette around a hearty filling of pork, potatoes, and soybean sprout kimchi. The medley is mildly spicy and potent, with toothsome knobs of pork and potatoes dancing together like the most divine hash. The kimchi brings an invigorating punch in the mouth to the morning meal.
Aside from doughnuts, the other carb star of Endgrain's menu is the biscuits. Crucify me for saying so, but I'll venture to say that the biscuits are better than the doughnuts. Fluffy, firm, creamy, and downright decadent, they're the perfect vehicle for Endgrain's biscuit sandwiches. Because life's too short not to follow doughnuts with fried chicken-stuffed biscuits. Or it will be once you polish off a meal here. My favorite is the fried chicken sandwich ($12), striated with smoked mashed potatoes, pork gravy, and greens on a hulking split biscuit. It sounds like something KFC would shove down naive customers' throats, but in this case it tastes so right in the most gluttonous of ways. If it makes it easier to look at yourself in the mirror afterwards, just think of it as reconfigured biscuits and gravy... with perfectly fried strips of chicken. For something mildly less crippling, go for the trout sandwich ($11). This one stars a marbled rye biscuit and ample flakes of smoky trout. Topped with slaw, tomato rémoulade, and Gruyère, it's more delicate than the aforementioned deep-fried sucker punch, but not by much.
When dining at Endgrain, you must go in knowing that you will succumb to the most decadent of food comas. There really isn't way to go light here, and attempting to do so is missing the point and missing out on Simpson's obvious affinity for soul-soothing, life-shortening, delectably doughy comfort food.