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HotChocolate Hits Both Sweet and Savory Notes at Brunch

Pony up for the housemade marshmallow.

French toast at HotChocolate   Photo: Carly Boers

The shtick: Mindy Segal creates a constantly rotating menu that both showcases her James Beard Award-winning pastry chops and proves she knows a thing or two about eggs.

The vibe: We rolled in toward the end of brunch service (more about that in the “service” section) and whoa, the place was still jumpin’. Cozy couples and clusters of women made up the majority of the good-looking crowd, which meshed well with the dapper space—a mix of muted browns and tans representing all the colors of the chocolate rainbow. 9 out of 10

The food: Those who require both sweet and savory flavors on their brunch table (ahem, us) will have a field day. With two halved pieces of thick, housemade brioche loaded up with not-too-sweet whipped pistachio crème, candied lemon peel, and pistachios, our French toast ($14) was early springtime on a plate. (A lone piece of breakfast sausage appeared out of place, but was consumed nonetheless.)

A greens and grains scramble seemed a virtuous way to balance the carbs (never mind the toast and crispy breakfast potatoes on the plate). Eggs with farro was uncharted territory for us, and coupled with kale, herbs, and Gruyere, the scramble packed an interesting blend of textures. But alas, it lacked flavorful oomph, and did not earn its $15 price tag. 7 out of 10

The drinks: You’ll find tempting cocktails here (including a bloodhound with vodka, fresh-squeezed blood OJ, and lime, $10), but clearly you must consume hot chocolate. There are eight flavors to choose from, and we jumped right on the seasonal flavor—butterscotch ($7). The luxe mix of French milk chocolate, caramelized white chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch was nearly too much for one sweet tooth to take down. Word to the wise: Pay the extra buck to split a cup with your date. Oh, and also consider ponying up the extra 50 cents for an extra housemade marshmallow. 8 out of 10

The service: As noted earlier, our arrival cut it rather close—around 30 minutes—to the conclusion of the day’s brunch service. One member of our party arrived a bit earlier, and offered to sit down and order the meal so as to not hold up the kitchen. The hosts, though pleasant, were sticklers for the rules. Finally, they reluctantly caved—but not without firmly reiterating their policy of seating complete parties only. Okay, we get it. Understandable. But this wasn’t: For reasons unknown (maybe he’d just been stiffed on a tip?), our emotionless server acted as though our presence was a nuisance. 5.5 out of 10

Overall: When we realized we’d yet to blogify HotChocolate, all we could do was scratch our heads. Between its rock star chef and consistently slammed brunch, this is a staple, and deservedly so. Now if only the staff could lighten up… 7.5 out of 10

1747 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown, 773-489-1747

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