THE SHTICK: Chris Pandel, one of the most underrated chefs around, does the same locally sourced, seasonal thing that makes the Bristol a date-night destination in the light of day.
THE VIBE: By night, the Bristol is a quaint couple magnet moodily illuminated by dangling Edison bulbs. At brunchtime, however, it’s filled with sun and cheery families and, although the wooden tables are just as snugly packed, it somehow feels twice as roomy. 10 out of 10
THE DRINKS: Pandel lends his proprietary spice blend to the Bristol Bloody Mary, and the zesty, thick concoction has a pleasant citrusy bite. And while we appreciate some of the more, ahem, creative garnishes that sometimes find their way into a Bloody (jerky, sliders, pizza–we’ve seen ’em all), we respect the Bristol’s more restrained approach with just cubed ham, cheese, and an olive. At a very reasonable $7, you may as well have two. 9 out of 10
THE FOOD: Whole-wheat pancakes ($13) topped with vanilla cream, cranberry marmalade, and a sprinkling of crumbled spelt (basically granola) arrived golden browned and piping hot. The cakes were springy and doughy and didn’t suffer from bone-dry whole-wheat syndrome. The marmalade and cream mingled nicely, but we would have liked more of each: We so eagerly ate the top pancake that we didn’t save any it for the bottom one, which, on its own, was not particularly exciting. (We’re told the new version incorporates pineapple, rum caramel, and chickory crumble. We’ll remember to ration those toppings next time.)
A smoked ham Benedict with mustard hollandaise ($12) was chock-full of juicy, thinly sliced meat and crowned with masterfully poached eggs. Here, mustard was a nice idea (and who doesn’t love a hollandaise that dares to be flavored?), but the taste wasn’t as sock-us-in-the-nostrils mustardy as we would have liked. Those potatoes, though? Jumbo, crisped to a T, and arguably the city’s best. 8 out of 10
THE SERVICE: From a warm greeting at the host stand to spot-on timing of the meal, service was impeccable, but still easy-going as it should be at brunch. The discerning toddler in our group was even treated like royalty (read: the busser almost gleefully retrieved the Cheerios and toys the little one kept tossing on the floor). 10 out of 10
OVERALL: Thoughtfully executed classics and an off-the-charts welcoming vibe make this the exemplary Bucktown brunch. 9 out of 10