Starting this week, Chicago’s dining team will be reviewing brunches—from places you spend hours waiting for to under-the-radar joints. We’ll post a new rundown each Thursday. A quick note: These aren’t a part of our official starred dining reviews, and we’re using a different rating scale to make sure nobody confuses the two.
As our gift to you, we’re kicking things off with two reviews of places we enjoyed quite a bit. You can find the other one here. Happy brunching.
The shtick: “Southern heirloom cooking”—and if you don’t like it, go join the queue at the newish Bongo Room down Clark Street. Southern heirloom translates to stuff that’s rare to us Northern brunchers, including spoonbread, popovers (sadly, dry and disappointing), crawfish-stuffed omelets, and pozole topped with poached eggs.
THE VIBE: In a town of too many non-descript brunch spots attempting to be all things to all palates, (“We have scrambles, omelets, Benedicts, frittatas, pancakes, French toast, waffles, crêpes, oatmeal…oh, and you can build your own combinations for any of these”), Big Jones’s menu is a breath of fresh Southern air. The dining room, though, not so much. It's just kind of a non-atmostphere atmosphere. 6 out of 10.
The drinks: First things first: The Bloody Mary, a small but mighty standout kicked up with shaved horseradish and garnished simply with bread-and-butter pickle slices. Coffee was strong and necessary. 9 out of 10.
The food: We opted to start with those lame popovers, unaware that a basket of complimentary beignets was headed our way. These too were underwhelming, too dense and not worthy of stomach space. (How do you screw up fried dough?) Things looked way up from here.
The sweet potato and rice flour pancakes—a pile of fluffy flapjacks layered with coconut cream and topped with benne seed granola and sticky sorghum syrup—are perfectly spiced and light years more sophisticated than those sugar bombs down the street at Bongo Room. Pure seasonal splendor.
On the savory side, we opted for a puffy omelet topped with house-cured smoked bacon, goat’s milk cheddar, spring onions, and local spinach. Oh, and delightful cheesy grits. The cheese was zingy and melted to just the right ooziness, while the bacon chunks imparted smoke. The one overlookable downfall: utter onion overkill. 8 out of 10.
The service: After a rocky start (our server took a painfully long time to make his first visit), things looked up and service was professional without being stuffy. 7 out of 10.
Overall: Confident, refined, and an A’ville fave. If there was any doubt that this wasn’t solely a dinner destination, they were dispelled on this visit. 8 out of 10.