The shtick: Boutique hotel dining in the middle of the action.
The vibe: Finally, the most iconic building at the North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection has new life. Open since December, the tony Robey hotel squelches any lingering doubt that Wicker Park/Bucktown has, well, gone fancy. Love or loathe this symbol of the area’s evolution, there’s no finer place to observe the bustle than from a marble-topped table in the sun-drenched, ground-level cafe. There’s brunch service every morning, and on our weekday visit we found a half-full room consisting mostly of well-dressed 30-something women. 8 out of 10
The food: (Note: there are a dozen lunchlike options on the brunch menu, but we stuck to breakfast fare.) What servers call “French-American” translates mainly to recognizable standards with subtle tweaks. Case in point: buttermilk pancakes ($12) with a dollop of whipped ricotta, toasted coconut, and vaguely lime-y syrup. Sounds like a beach vacation for the mouth, but the flavors were unfortunately subdued. We dug the frittata ($14)—chock-full of shaved Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and goat cheese and topped with a tangle of frisée—and its healthy portion of vegetable goodness, but had to dock a point for its rubbery outer layer. 5 out of 10
The drinks: A mug of Metric coffee is always a good thing, and we were happy to find the local roaster’s stuff here. Not sure what made us go all healthy and order the green juice ($6), but it was a good move: the citrus-infused elixir was outstanding. Though we weren’t boozing, the six-drink cocktail list looked intriguing, and we’ll certainly dabble in it next go-round. 8 out of 10
The service: No stuffy, pretentious hotel-dining ‘tude here. In fact, it was the friendliest service we’ve had in awhile. 9 out of 10
Overall:A super-pleasant experience compliments of the atmosphere and staff. But foodwise (what you really care about!), there are stronger, more memorable brunch games nearby—one just across the intersection, in fact. 7.5 out of 10