Monthly Brunchgasm: The Southern

While the new Monthly Brunchgasm series was intended to run monthly (hence the name), in the midst of our initial excitement, we went a little crazy and went on a slew of bunch visits in a short period of time. For the sake of our series' name, let's just pretend it's already a new month, okay? ;-)

Our brunch at Kanela Breakfast Club set some high expectations, so we knew we had to carefully choose our next place to visit. It goes without saying that we wanted a fantastic meal, but as we were in the midst of an ugly, gloomy, snowy snap, we also wanted somewhere with a homey vibe and good ol' comfort food. In the midst of our search, a fortuitous opportunity to try out the new winter menu at The Southern fell into our hands; as soon as we took a look at the menu, we knew it was perfect place for our next Brunchgasm!

On a blustery Sunday morning, Diana and I headed over to Bucktown for brunch at The Southern, a Southern-inspired spot known for its hearty comfort food and wide selection of small batch bourbons, micro-brews, whiskeys, and specialty cocktails. This is a place that takes the laid-back vibe of Southern life to heart, as they describe themselves as "a central gathering place where the tallest order of the day is a cocktail, conversation and relaxation." Executive Chef Eric Michael began his tenure with The Southern back in the days in which it was a popular fixture in the Chicago food truck scene (serving up some *amazing* mac & cheese). Once they opened the restaurant, Chef Michael worked his way through the kitchen as a line cook and sous chef before being appointed as executive chef. 

The restaurant has a very rough-chic vibe with a combination of high tops, low tops, and booths made from reclaimed wood. They also have a gorgeous rooftop patio with views spanning North Ave. (perfect for people-watching!). Unfortunately, it was a bit too cold for a patio session, but based on my quick peek at the outdoor area, I could totally see how it's the perfect place to spend a leisurely Sunday morning sipping cocktails in the warm breeze.

We kicked off our meal with the Cheese Plate: the chef's selection of three artisanal cheeses, fresh fruit, sourdough, and mostarda. While we enjoyed all three of the selections, the goat cheese and blue cheese were most definitely the standouts.

I chose a classic whiskey cocktail, the Mint Julep. The Southern offers a wide array of whiskey choices and as someone who's not generally a whiskey drinker, I had no idea what to choose for my drink. The waitress led me through a few selections and explained how each would affect the level of sweetness (I eventually decided to go with Maker's Mark).

Diana chose one of their specialty cocktails, the Maple Bacon Manhattan: house infused bacon bourbon, maple syrup, sweet vermouth, and North Country smoked bacon. I have to admit that I was slightly jealous of her drink; while I enjoyed my Mint Julep, this Manhattan was really a special drink with its wonderful layers of flavor... and really, can you ever go wrong with a cocktail that includes a delicious piece of bacon?!

Deviled Eggs with Dijon, bacon shallot jam, and preserved jam. These were by far the best deviled eggs I've ever had (again, can you really go wrong with bacon jam?). Even Diana, who's typically not a fan of deviled eggs, loved these savory/sweet/creamy little bites.

For our entrées, we split two of their most popular offerings, the first being the Fried Chicken Benedict: fried chicken thigh, poached egg, buttermilk biscuit, and béarnaise sauce. The Southern is known for their fried chicken, so we had high expectations of this dish - it most definitely did not disappoint! They brine their chicken in a combination of chicken broth and buttermilk before frying; this results in a juicy, tender chicken that pairs perfectly with the rich sauce.

As much as we enjoyed the fried chicken, the Short Rib Hash ended up being the highlight of the meal: braised short rib, sweet potato, smoked wild mushroom, pickled beet, and a sunny side up egg. The short rib was tender and flavorful, and the sweet potatoes & mushrooms added the perfect amount of smokiness and sweetness (I could go on and on about how much I loved those potatoes!).

Although we were stuffed, we couldn't leave without ending on a sweet note. Cornmeal Crepes: brown butter pear, fig, buttermilk ricotta, pistachio, and honey.

You can try all of this deliciousness and more at The Southern, 1840 W. North Ave.

The Southern on Urbanspoon  
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


The NOSH at Block Thirty Seven

The NOSH is a weekly food pop-up food festival that showcases a variety of chefs, restaurants, caterers, bakers, butchers, and food entrepreneurs from Chicago. Similar to the food truck meetups I've frequented, The NOSH brings together a variety of vendors in a communal space in order to offer an array of options from quick bites that can be eaten on the go to full meals. You'll typically find The NOSH popping up at the Logan Square Farmers Market, but luckily for those of you working/living in the Loop, the festival has paired up with Block Thirty Seven for the month of February (the event is even accessible via the Pedway, which means if you're already downtown, you don't even have to go outside and face the nasty weather in order to get your nosh on!).

Every Thursday and Friday, The NOSH sets up its vendor booths on the first floor of Block Thirty Seven (conveniently right around the bend from one of my shopping addictions, Sephora!). As I've mentioned before, I spent seven years working in the Loop - during the summer, there were numerous farmers markets and weekly mini food festivals that offered wonderful lunch options. However, the winter months were brutal - there were so few non-fast food/but still fast options. I would have loved to have been able to zip down the block to get my nosh on (ha! I did it again!).

Last Friday, Mario and I were invited to head downtown and, of course, nosh! The nice thing about the NOSH is that because it's a regular pop-up with a smaller lineup (10 vendors), the crowds are far more manageable than those that are often seen at the food festivals that only run once a year (Diana and I stopped by a crazy food festival last summer in which the lines were at least 40 people deep!). During our time in the heart of the lunchtime crowd, the longest line we had to wait in only had five others in front of us. This is especially nice if you're on your lunch break, as you don't want to have to spend more of your time waiting in lines than actually eating.

Since we were down there for a leisurely lunch, Mario and I took our time wandering from stand to stand and considering all of our options. While we each had our immediate favorites (I'll admit I looked at the vendor list for the day ahead of time, so I already had some goodies in mind), we saw something we liked at every single stand! We ended up choosing share smaller options from three vendors neither of us had tried before (Garifuna Flava, Yum Dum, and Chocolate Twist), as well as to take a few others home (I can never pass up Dia De Los Tamales!). We both enjoyed the ability to try several smaller dishes - most vendors offer some form of tasting portion or small dish in order to encourage nosh-ers to try new multiple offerings (most of which are all under $10).

Guacamole and house made plantain chips from Garifuna Flava Caribbean Restaurant
(this was some seriously addictive guac!)

Crispy Fish and Crispy Shrimp Baowiches from Yum Dum Truck
(the shrimp baowich was Mario's favorite!)

Korean Chili Chicken and Braised Pork Belly Baowiches from Yum Dum Truck
(the chili chicken baowich was my favorite!)

Chocolate Twist
(I left with a ridiculous amount of goodies, including my new favorite, the Saigon Cinnamon PB Cup)

The NOSH Lunch Market at Block Thirty Seven runs every Thursday and Friday through the end of February from 11am-2pm: 108 N. State St.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Cupcake Decorating at Bru Chicago

A few weeks ago, Diana and I braved the nasty, icy evening for a night of cupcake decorating through the Learning Bar. We used to be monthly class regulars at The Chopping Block, but after our schedules started getting a bit too complicated to keep up, we had to take a step back. While we no longer have our regular commitment, our love of trying new foodie classes hasn't faded, so when the Learning Bar popped up on Groupon we knew it was meant to be! Plus, who can resist a night of cupcakes, especially in the aftermath of one of the worst blizzards to hit Chicago?!

The Learning Bar classes are taught by experts in the field and held at various locations around the city. Our class was held in a gallery space at Bru Chicago in Wicker Park - not only was the space perfect for an intimate class, but also it was in close proximity to one of our favorite donut shops (we may have even made a little pre-class donut run... and I may or may not have taken an ugly dive into a crusty snowbank on the way over there and had to be rescused by a cute hipster dude).

Diana and I are no strangers to cupcake classes and we were excited to see that there were individual stations set up for each participant. While the class was far more informal than those we've taken in the past, it was definitely nice to not have to share ingredients or tools with our classmates. The individual setup gave us the chance to take our time and play around with the various methods without feeling pressured to finish quickly.

Along with learning about various buttercream piping methods and tips (we must have collectively piped at least fifty stars!), we also had the opportunity to try our hand at decorating with fondant. This was our first time working with fondant in a class, so we were really excited to discover that the majority of the time was dedicated to learning all of its tricks. We quickly discovered that it's surprisingly way less intimidating than it seems and is soooo much more fun than working with buttercream alone! After the instructor led us through a fondant crash course, we had chance to play around with different colors, cutters, and crimpers. Basically, it turned into a flower free-for-all over in our little corner (can you tell we were so over the ridiculous weather and desperately dreaming of spring that night?!).

The first of Diana's spring-themed cupcakes

Diana's buttercream and fondant cupcakes

My first attempt at a flowery fondant cupcake

My buttercream and fondant layered cupcake (apparently, I morphed into a little kid at some point during the class, as I felt the need to cover the cupcakes with as many flowers as possible)

Overall, we had a fun night [fueled by a combination of buttercream and our natural awesomeness ;-)] and walked away with a new-found appreciation for decorating with fondant. If you're a beginner at working with fondant and enjoy a super laid-back atmosphere, I would definitely recommend checking out the Learning Bar class (Groupon deals are still available). 

Next on our list? Another incredible Bruchgasm visit!  


Monthly Brunchgasm: Kanela Breakfast Club

If you haven't already figured it out, brunch is my favorite meal of the day. Not only is it the perfect weekend indulgence, but also I love the leisurely pace of the meal. Plus, there's the day drinking (which is not only acceptable, but also highly encouraged), the delicious food options (two of my favorites, eggs and lobster, tend to play heavily into brunch dishes), and the perfect lighting (very important for a food blogger). Thankfully, Chicago is a city that has fully embraced the brunch trend.

Diana is with me on the brunch love train, so much so that we decided to form an informal brunch club (Monthly Brunchgasm). Basically, we're on a mission to sample all the best brunches in the city and beyond! We're aiming for at least one brunch visit per month, but based on our record so far, we're averaging closer to three per month. As of now, it's just the two of us, but we're already in talks with others who want to join us; we also already have a long list of places to visit, but we're completely open to suggestions!

For our inaugural Bruchgasm visit, we decided to take advantage of a fantastic opportunity that came our way: a visit to the newest location of Kanela Breakfast Club. In the former The Savoy space, the fourth Kanela location offers all of its signature dishes right in the heart of Wicker Park. As with all of their locations, Kanela is focused on offering Greek-influenced, locally-sourced and organic breakfast, brunch, and lunch options... needless to say, they are a place that most definitely knows their way around all of the best brunchy food options! 

We grabbed a seat near the windows (perfect for people-watching!) and started off our meal with Peppermint Hot Chocolate (made with Meinl European cocoa), a steaming pot of French Press Coffee, and the famed Kanela Roll.

Kanela Roll: Kanela's signature version of a cinnamon roll with buttercream frosting and cinnamon powdered sugar (fun fact: Kanela means cinnamon in Greek). I am always torn between ordering sweet or savory dishes, so I love having the option of a splitting a smaller sweet starter with my dining partner and saving the fab savory dishes for my main course.

The roll was soft & moist with layers of cinnamon and the frosting added the perfect amount of sweetness (I hate overly sweet, gloppy frosting on cinnamon rolls). Diana even mentioned that the Kanela Roll has ruined all other cinnamon rolls for her!

For my main entrée , I went with the Crab Cake Benedict: poached egg, avocado, crab cake & chipotle hollandaise on a English muffin. As I mentioned on Instagram, this may possibly be the best benedict I've ever had! I am obsessed with eggs benedict and I was so happy to see that Kanela's version pairs crab cakes with avocado (rather than the usual tomato) and chipotle (one of my favorites). Also, I'm not usually one who raves over potatoes, but these little herb roasted breakfast potatoes were quite delicious.

Diana chose the Chilaquiles: fried corn chips, house made chorizo, black beans, avocado, chihuahua cheese, two sunny side eggs & salsa verde. As I said to Diana as soon as they brought out the plate, Kanlela's version was quite possibly the nicest looking plate of chilaquiles I've ever seen (and yes, it was as delicious as it looks!).

Although we were absolutely stuffed, we couldn't leave without sampling the Stuffed Raspberry Cheesecake French Toast: challah bread, sweet cream cheese, macerated raspberry & graham cracker crumble. *insert massive eye roll of pleasure*

I think it's also worth mentioning that not only was the food on point, but also we had the best experience with the staff. The service was impeccable and our adorable hipster waiter (complete with a man bun!) made us feel like we were all fast foodie friends. :-)

You can sample Kanela's deliciousness at one of their four Chicago locations.

Kanela Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.