1) Little Branch Cafe
1251 S. Prairie Ave., 312-360-0101
What: Mascarpone-stuffed brioche, crème anglaise, blueberries ($7.50)
Why: Brioche is moist yet light-textured inside, crisp outside; thin layer of mascarpone between brioche slices is applied before frying, not after; crème anglaise and berries are straightforward and effective. When berries aren’t in season, look for candied pecans and dried fruit instead.
When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
937 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-0302
What: Malted custard French toast, macerated stone fruit, lime leaf cream, pink peppercorns ($10)
Why: Sounds complicated, looks simple, tastes fantastic. Lime zest and crushed peppercorns provide tiny explosions of flavor alongside mellow, custardy toast. There’s also a great savory panini cristo ($11): French toast with prosciutto, Taleggio cheese, sautéed rapini, and sweet mustard jam.
When: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
3) Katie’s Kitchen
623 N. Wolf Rd., Des Plaines, 847-803-3544
What: Cinnamon Swirl ($6.95)
Why: Ever wondered what would happen if you sliced a large cinnamon roll crosswise into three pieces, dipped them in egg and milk, then grilled them? Here you go. This almost embarrassingly indulgent concoction is served with a small cup of lily-gilding white frosting, as well as butter and syrup.
When: 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily
4) Lula Cafe
2537 N. Kedzie Blvd., 773-489-9554
What: Cardamom custard–stuffed brioche French toast, Michigan sour cherries, Klug Farm apricots, clotted cream ($12)
Why: On this ever-changing menu, cardamom one week becomes chamomile the next, clotted cream becomes honey crème Chiboust, and fruits and other accouterments change. But the sumptuous brioche remains the same, imaginatively decked out and executed with real artistry.
When: 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
5) Big Jones
5347 N. Clark St., 773-275-5725
What: Sally Lunn French toast ($10)
Why: House-made Sally Lunn, a sweet bread with unkneaded yeast dough and brown sugar, and much beloved in the South, lends its cakelike personality to French toast treatment as if born to play this role. The damn-the-torpedoes presentation includes fruit compote, candied pecans, cane syrup, and whipped cream.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
1747 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-1747
What: House-made brioche French toast ($10)
Why: It hits just the right note between being sensible and going too far. The thick-sliced brioche is airy and moist, and toppings of seasonal fruit (we were very pleased with our peaches) and un-sweetened whipped cream brightened with Meyer lemon curd are divine. All this and protein, too, in the form of robust organic sausage.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday