The shtick: On-trend brunching for River Northers.
The vibe: Bernie’s, the first Chicago offering from a Michigan-based restaurant group, distills many of the tropes common to restaurants of the moment into one River North package: exposed brick walls, charmingly vintage furniture, a giant bar with a liquor-heavy bent, and a globe-lighted rooftop patio. It’s a pleasant place to dine at brunch, and it’s little wonder that the tables are full of well-dressed young, trendy types (much like the crowd at, say, a place like Bar Siena). 7 out of 10
The drinks: I don’t know that I can justify the $15 I spent on the Just Us, an admittedly refreshing combo of bourbon, ginger, and pear juice. Sure, it was tasty, but no ground was broken, no wheels were reinvented—just a likeable combo that would’ve gone down much easier had the price been a few bucks less. Aside from that, though, beverages are solid. 7 out of 10
The food: As I sat down to write this, I struggled to remember what I ate here less than two weeks ago. I could visualize the space, the dark wood high-top we sat at, the gaggles of buttondown-clad bros at the tables surrounding us. But if not for my notes, all memory of this meal would probably have been swept away into the ever-growing sea of inoffensively boring brunches in my dining history.
I looked back through my photos to drum up some additional feelings, but little else came. The menu has a slight Middle Eastern lilt to it, though it’s not omnipresent. There was a fines herbes omelet ($14) that hit the mark texturally but demanded salt or at least some finer cheese than the fontina that had been rendered gummy. There was burnished sourdough toast with housemade butter and jam ($4) that, while well-made, doesn’t hold a candle to the next-level artisanal varietals we’ve seen elsewhere (Johnny’s Grill, the dearly departed Bunny, the Allis at Soho House, to name a few). Even the lovely-looking croque madame ($16) left behind an impression of heaviness but little else. There is nothing exactly wrong with any of this; sometimes you don’t need fireworks, you just need a plate of food and a place to congregate. But it’d be nice to remember it a little more fondly, or even at all. 5 out of 10
The service: Friendly, if you can pin ‘em down. That’s a surprisingly tricky task. 6 out of 10
Overall: You’ll eat, you’ll finish your plate, you’ll give a non-committal “it was fine” to your friends when you finish, you’ll probably forget it in a week. You could do worse, but you could do better, too. 6 out of 10