Mmm Mmm Monday: Ladies Who Brunch

My mother in law visited Chicago this past weekend. Clearly this was the perfect excuse to continue eating my way through the Windy City. Three days in town meant three different brunch spots and a pair of stretchy pants on Sunday afternoon.

Friday morning, we visited Eleven City Diner in the South Loop. Eleven City Diner is part old school diner and part Jewish delicatessen. The atmosphere was warm and comfortable with the perfect mix of a modern but slightly retro vibe. The service was outstanding. Our waitress, who admitted to being at Eleven since it opened its doors, was attentive, helpful and funny without hovering. The food was served quickly and every bite of my Eleven City Diner French toast was superb. Made with fresh baked Challah topped with fresh strawberries, bananas and coconut, it didn't even need the warm maple syrup served along with it. But, I couldn't resist. We had to try their "serious" Bloody Marys (for those of you keeping score - there was no flack when I asked for a virgin). And I'm so glad we did. They had lots of spice and every garnish known to man. I'm looking forward to going back soon to give their deli a whirl. Their bagels are brought in fresh daily and both the tuna and egg salad displayed in the giant deli case looked like they won't disappoint.

Eleven City Diner French Toast
Eleven City Diner French Toast

Saturday's brunch happened a few blocks further south in Chinatown. Dim Sum was on the agenda and we made our way to Triple Crown Restaurant for a brand new experience. Having never eaten Dim Sum before, I was very, very grateful to have a few expert friends along to help us navigate the meal. If you aren't familiar, Dim Sum is bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in steamer baskets or on small plates. Once you are seated, carts filled with ready-to-eat portions circle the restaurant. You then choose a variety of dishes to share. It seems to be a style of food that is more fun eaten with a larger group. Our group of six was perfect. Triple Crown is undoubtedly family friendly and the atmosphere, though loud and occasionally chaotic, added rather than detracted from the whole experience.

Assorted Dim Sum at Triple Crown Restaurant
Assorted Dim Sum

There's no question, Dim Sum is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to stretch yourself if you're trying it for the first time. There are some crazy choices to be made. Without fantastic guides like we had, one might be forced to guess what is inside the various steam pots. (Kind of exciting, right?) I took the opportunity to add to my list of foods that might make other people gag and tried chicken feet. Ummm, let's just say they were an experience. While the sauce they were coated in was very tasty, the feet themselves were basically just skin and cartilage. Not my favorite treats of the day, but, I can say that I tried them. Check. I was also happy to see a menu with pictures from which you can order. Triple Crown allows you the choice of supplementing what is passed in the carts with other menu items. If you ask me, a picture menu is a brilliant idea for us Dim Sum newbies. I can't say that the service at Triple Crown was stellar. There was more than one time that we had to stop a cart so that it didn't completely pass our table and there was one special order item (among several special orders that we made) that never arrived. However, we enjoyed the food that did make it to our table and it was certainly a memorable culinary adventure.

Chicken Feet @ Triple Crown Restaurant
Chicken Feet

We finished the weekend with brunch on Sunday at ZED451. On the Near North Side of Chicago, ZED451 is not your average "all you can eat" joint. From the moment we stepped through the doors, its decor grabbed me. In fact, before I could help myself I gushed to the hostess, "You really have a lovely restaurant." After the words came out of my mouth I felt like a geek, but it is truly that lovely. Your meal is served similar to the style of a Brazilian steakhouse. You start off serving yourself from a selection of fruits, prepared salads, artisan cheeses and charcuterie from their seasonal harvest tables. Next a few items are delivered for the party to share. Let the cinnamon bun below serve as proof, ZED451 is not messing around. Each item was tastier than the last. Poached egg a top corned beef hash, duck confit hash browns, a brussels sprout salad that made me want to cry and ooooh the chocolate chip cookies were some of the tasties we tried. Then, once you are ready, larger plates are brought out and the wait staff begins to serve the "chef's selections." There was a mad assortment of meats, buffalo chicken and waffles, New Orleans style french toast and crab cake benedict to name just a few. After we stuffed our bellies full (and grabbed an extra chocolate chip cookie for later), the restaurant's complimentary shuttle whisked us off do a bit of sightseeing. This was truly a top notch experience.

Cinnamon Roll at ZED451
Cinnamon Roll at ZED451

Have I mentioned yet how amazed I am by the selection and caliber of food Chicago has to offer?