The Brunch Dish

Reviews of brunch dishes.

The Brunch Dish: Classing Up Brunch Comforts at Beatrix

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[Photographs: Amber Gibson]

Beatrix isn't reinventing any culinary wheels, rather polishing them up with the kind of finesse found in vigorously refined kitchens. The restaurant at the root of the Aloft Hotel looks humble and fairly cookie-cutter in a CB2-meets-Central Perk aesthetic, but remember what you learned about not judging books by their covers. A glance at the extravagant pastry counter and the concise yet eclectic brunch menu confirms Beatrix as one of the most thoughtful and masterful brunch contenders in Chicago.

Initially the brunch menu at Beatrix might elicit an eye roll or two with some of its hippy Yoda-esque names, such as "enlightened Caesar salads," "wonderful egg white omelettes," and 10-grain oatmeal, because anything less than 10 is just swill. But indeed, a sampling of dishes confirms that Beatrix is at once enlightening and wonderful. One especially enlightening salad is the three-grain and arugula salad with Miller's Farm chicken ($12.95). It's astoundingly vivifying, brimming with flavor on each hefty forkful. Freekeh, millet, and red quinoa comprise the grains, providing an ample medley of nutty, toasty flavor alongside zesty arugula, fennel, blueberries, and tender strips of chicken. The freekeh is particularly notable, a fibrous cereal-like grain popular in the Middle East. This is one salad that won't leave you feeling sad and jealous of your carb-happy companions.

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Said companions would be wise to partake in the light and fluffy lemon pancakes ($10.95), unquestionably the lightest, fluffiest pancakes in Chicago. The trick is to soufflé the pancakes, which is sheer genius. They're unbelievably tender, raising the bar on what it means to be a griddle cake. A pleasant lemony essence permeates each bite, making the whole thing taste and feel like one big citrus cloud.

Another apt example of Beatrix's dexterous knack for grains is the quinoa cakes with poached eggs ($11.95). Think eggs Benedict, but more gaudy and wholesome. Toothsome quinoa cakes take the place of English muffins, immersed in a sharp, tangy tomato-basil sauce with poached egg mayo and herbs plucked from Beatrix's windowsills. Not the most stunning or life-altering of Beatrix's brunch pantheon, but a fitting example of the restaurant's tastefully reimagined brunch staples.

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The ultimate stunner of the bunch is the pecan and praline French toast ($10.95). Not the most novel French toast flavor combination, but Beatrix manages to drop some jaws with this one. It arrives looking nothing like French toast, bearing closer resemblance to a sheet pan lined with cake. This thick, custard-soaked behemoth is baked à la bread pudding to create a dense, sinfully rich brunch dish, shellacked in crispy morsels of sugary pecans and pralines. It's as soft as a down pillow, but deceptively as heavy as an anvil. A few bites of this euphoric hodgepodge and you'll be ready to check into the food coma ward. But not before you snag a few of Beatrix's muffins to-go. The angel food muffins ($2.95) in particular are otherworldy, light as air and riddled with crackly nooks and crannies just waiting to be glazed with lemon and chocolate.

Pancakes, poached eggs, and French toast are nothing too neoteric, but Beatrix manages to brand a very distinct stamp on the brunch ritual. Thoughtful tweaks and additions to Americana staples are what makes Beatrix the special gem that it is, offering a fresh take on comfort food for any and all cravings.

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