The Brunch Dish: The Sweet Beat of Bongo Room
Bongo Room is the type of place where I feel at any given moment a camera crew will pop out and start filming me for their next episode of Intervention. When it comes to brunch in Chicago, it doesn't get more over-the-top than this place, a bastion of overindulgence, hedonism, and guilt. If you're looking for lighter brunch fare, you'd be better off eating an actual drum than dining at this gluttonous Mecca. But as daunting as it is, Bongo Room has an irresistible allure, like a sultry siren beckoning a ship into nefarious waters, only in this case the ship is your mouth and the waters are cheesecake pancakes. Approach with caution.
As often as I belie brunch dishes that are excessively sweet and an embarrassment of indulgence, there are times when all I want is a hilariously unruly stack of dense pancakes heaped with icing. Normally if you find me at Bongo Room, I'm in a stressed and/or depressed state, desperately trying to eat my feelings. Sure enough, after an exhausting apartment move this past weekend, I went to Bongo Room to drown my emotions in cream cheese. The key lime cheesecake pancakes ($9.95) did not disappoint. A full order of pancakes is so massive you should be forced to sign a waiver before eating it. Dense as pound cake, coated in graham cracker crumbs, and shellacked with key lime cream and vanilla chantilly cream, this was clearly an attempt to serve an entire key lime pie as a single brunch portion. Aside from the wee sliver of key lime on top, there was no discernible lime flavor. It mostly just tasted like they melted a whole cheesecake overtop a few pancakes. Of course, considering my ravenous obsession with cream cheese, I'm not inclined to gripe.
In case you've ever wanted to eat banana bread with candy bars inside of it, Bongo Room has you and your very odd craving covered! The banana and Heath Bar chip pancakes ($9.95) taste like the love child of banana bread and candy bars, because life is too short not to eat both at the same time. More flavorful and true to their name than the key lime pancakes, these banana-filled pancakes are studded with crunchy Heath Bar bits, fresh bananas, and warm praline cream. The banana purée in the pancakes lends a softness to the texture, which is pleasant, and makes you feel less like you're eating a sugar-coated anvil.
Pancakes get much of the attention at Bongo Room, but don't overlook the French toast. There are always a couple iterations on the menu, including the notorious chocolate tower French toast ($13.50), which could easily step in as an overwrought steakhouse dessert. A current special is their rhubarb crumble French toast ($9.95), a sweet treat that tasted like the hybrid of strawberry shortcake and a crumble. It all centers around the soft, perfectly squared slice of thick brioche, sheathed in a tangy rhubarb glaze, sprinkled with brown sugary crumble, and dotted with toothsome slices of rhubarb.
If ever you feel the need to binge on decadently sweet brunch fare (or you're in a dark state of mind), Bongo Room can't be beat. Go here when you're in need of an emotional food hug and some serious pancake therapy. We all need a little saucy indulgence now and again.