The shtick: Beloved wine bar by night, purveyor of a well-edited brunch menu by (late) morning.
The vibe: Word to the wise: If you’re an early riser, you’re better off considering this lunch because Sunday brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Given that, the crowd skews more bleary-eyed neighbors than stroller-pushers. There’s zilch in the way of pretense, and things are just easy. On our recent visit, there was no wait, no stress. You can grab a table inside, where the cozy wine bar vibe makes for a fine brunch setting; or out, where the California Avenue sidewalk patio is far from picturesque (but hey, it’s outside). 7 out of 10
The food: The owners are three former Webster’s Wine Bar employees, so they obviously value a solid meal with their drink. If that culinary cred alone doesn’t entice you to brunch here, surely the fact that the chef, Michael Simmons, clocked time at Lula Cafe does. We kicked off our meal with Katie’s banana bread ($8)—a warm, ultra-thick slice drenched with organic honey and finished with of-the-season strawberries, a cloud-like dollop of tangy crème fraiche, and mint leaves. Though the bread is heavy and laden with butter, the toppings make it perfectly springy. Perhaps more appropriate as a dessert than a starter, but as we’ve said before, these types of rules don’t apply at brunch.
Our egg course was an omelet ($15) stuffed with green garlic, morels, and bacon (which was optional, but come on!) sautéed in Madeira, and finished prettily with chive-dotted crème fraiche and mustard greens. Lots of strong flavors—and ingredients you surely won’t find at your corner diner. It’s also much more dainty than your diner’s omelet, which is fine, but for the price, it’s a tad skimpy. 7 out of 10
The drinks: Since we’ve not yet dabbled in wine-drinking at brunch, we went with the tried-and-true—a Rootstock bloody mary ($12). This baby is good as it gets: thick, spicy, multi-dimensional, and garnished with a duo of cured meats, a cheddar curd, and various pickles. Like the omelet, the price tag is steep, but we’d pay whatever they asked for this beauty. 10 out of 10
The service: Our gracious server matched the restaurant’s chill vibe without being slackerish. No qualms here. 10 out of 10
Overall: A wonderful reminder of what brunch is meant to be: A relaxed means to ease into your Sunday with a tasty beverage and food that someone really put thought into. Don’t ever change, Rootstock. 8.5 out of 10
954 N. California Ave., Humboldt Park, 773-292-1616
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