The shtick: Style-conscious gluttony with plenty of substance in River North.
The vibe: Dark walls, dark wood, limited windows: Bottlefork’s dining room always feels like it’s stuck in perpetual nighttime, which makes sense given that it’s a part of the Rockit Ranch family, the purveyors of clubby evening hangouts such as Rockit and Underground. Here the look is more high-end man cave, with mounted faux animal heads and shelves upon shelves of whiskey behind the bar. Given its location in River North’s brunching apex (neighboring line-out-the-door Frontera Grill and a block away from consistently busy Beatrix), you’d think it’d be taking in some spillover business, but it’s mysteriously dead in there at peak brunchtime. Maybe a little extra light would help. 8 out of 10
The food: When you love a meal this much, where do you begin? Do you start with the breakfast sope ($16), with smoky chorizo black beans resting in a masa boat, topped with guacamole and cotija and a fried egg, managing to curb both a craving for something comforting and something refined? Or do you dive into the “tots,” served as a side with the two farm eggs any style ($10) and turning out to basically be a less greasy version of McDonald’s hash browns, the platonic ideal of breakfast potato? Or is it with the showstopper, Richie’s Mom’s Cast Iron Baked French Toast ($12), which is served in (surprise!) a single-serving cast-iron skillet and flipped out tableside like a pineapple upside-down cake, with wedges of brioche shellacked together with buttery housemade caramel sauce, the dish you tell yourself is so rich you’ll only have a few bites of it but suddenly it’s gone and you don’t know how it happened? Just eat it all. (All except, that is, the bacon, which is served as a single giant slice that’s mostly fat and barely crisps up. You won’t miss it.) 9 out of 10
The drinks: Spicy Bloody Mary fans, your salvation has arrived in the form of the Bottlefork Bloody Mary ($8). The house mix is downright fiery, especially when paired with a super-bright plum and San Marzano tomato puree. This is a contender for the best take on the drink in the city—unsurprising, given that Bottlefork has always killed it when it comes to cocktails. Metropolis coffee ($5) is a nice touch, but the mark-up for a mug seems a bit absurd. 8.5 out of 10
The service: Our cheery and attentive waitress practically implored us to order the sope and the French toast, and she deserves some kind of medal for this game-changing directive. 9 out of 10
Overall: Somehow this brunching masterstroke has yet to be discovered. Go before everyone else figures it out. 9 out of 10