Ladies Who Brunch


Head to Head Review: Southern Inspired Brunch Spots by Kyle and Benjamin
February 25, 2009, 7:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s the battle of the cheese grits this week as we review two soulful breakfast spots, Wishbone in the West Loop and Big Jones in Andersonville.

Atmosphere

Wishbone’s bright and inviting decor is based on big primary colors and lots and lots of roosters.  It’s fun and kitschy, but the restaurant is showing some signs of age and there is a slightly dingy quality to it.  Big Jones has a very clean, New American decor, limited art and neat, linear table arrangements.  Huge picture windows brighten the whole dining room, and, for many bonus points, the back dining rooms are decorated entirely with classic soul album covers. 

Advantage: Big Jones

Service

Service was very good at both restaurants.  Wishbone seemed to have tons of staff on the floor for a Saturday morning brunch, and while I worried about the server’s pocketbooks and saw a lot of people standing around even during a busy morning, we certainly got taken care of promptly.  When a clock fell on one of our companion’s heads a manager came over right away to check on the situation and make a joke about (“did somebody get clocked?!”).  Big Jones’ staff was equally friendly, but very stressed out.  Their was no host and one server’s attention was fully taken up with a large baby shower, so two servers and the bartender were going full speed to take care of the restaurant.  While the strain was evident on their faces by the time we arrived, late in the brunch hours, they really did a great job. 

Advantage: We would like to say tie, but one of the servers at Wishbone had a haircut that made him look like Andy Dick in Old School and it upset us very much, so we’re giving it to Big Jones

Sweets

At Wishbone we sampled the corn-flake crusted french toast sticks, which were frankly amazing.  Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, they made me want to be a little kid so that I could brattily demand them for breakfast everyday.  Big Jones is quick to impress here–as soon as new customers walk in the door the kitchen drops in some complimentary beignets which the server brings right over when he greets you.  I love beignets and have never met one I didn’t like, although BJ would be hard pressed to best the ones I’ve eaten at Cafe du Monde and in my mother’s kitchen.  We also got an order of s’mores french toast to share.   Split decision here; I am not much of a chocoholic and dislike graham crackers, but Kyle absolutely adored the dish.

S'mores French Toast... to die for

S'mores French Toast... to die for

Advantage: tie, Wishbone’s crispy sticks won my heart, but Kyle loved Big Jones’ decadent breakfast sweets.

Savories

Cornmeal Pancakes at Wishbone

Cornmeal Pancakes at Wishbone

I was craving pancakes when we arrived at Wishbone, but I am a hardcore devotee of savory breakfast items.  Wishbone resolved my dilemma pretty easily with their sweet/savory Johnny Cakes, cornmeal pancakes (my favorite variety) with peppers and maybe some onion mixed right into the batter.  They hit the spot, although the pepper honey served on the side was a bit of a miss and I ended up using plain ‘ol maple syrup to flavor up the plate.  Another dining companion ordered the black bean cakes, which she enjoyed thoroughly, although I found them rather dry.  Maybe I just didn’t get enough hollandaise in my bite.  At Big Jones, we ordered the crab cheesecake as an appetizer and it was AMAZING.

Crab Cheesecake at Big Jones... delicious!

Crab Cheesecake at Big Jones... delicious!

I have been a fan of savory cheesecakes ever since I first tried a goat cheesecake on Padre Island, and this is one of the best I’ve ever had.  A little but of truly Southern pepper jelly completed the offbeat dish.  For a main course, I had one of the specials, a croque monsieur sandwich with egg and ham on a brioche bun.  I was hoping for little fried rolls of ham on the sandwich, but it was just a regular ham steak and the brioche was too thick and overtoasted.

Advantage: Big Jones.  Even if the breakfast sandwich was forgettable, the crab cheesecake was over-the-top good.

Benedicts

True to form, Kyle ordered the Crab Cakes Benedict at both restaurants…  Yes, yes I did.  How is it that some places manage to get their poached eggs to cover more surface area of the Benedict than other places?  Presumably everyone’s only using one egg, right?  Weird.  Anyway, I liked both of the crab cakes, in fact I have since ordered the crab cakes at Wishbone for lunch since our brunch visit.  Also, I have yet to meet a crab cake a didn’t like…  I’m not exactly picky.  While I did enjoy the crab cakes at Wishbone, I found the hollandaise sauce slightly bland… definitely not terrible, but not lemony enough for my taste.  Finally, what the capital F is up with using cantaloupe as a garnish? Does anyone actually eat it?  I seriously disapprove.

Seriously?  Cantaloupe?  Big who cares.

Seriously? Cantaloupe? Big who cares.

I’m pretty sure the only thing I liked better at Wishbone were the potatoes.  They were largely chopped and big on onion flavor.  The potatoes O’Brien at Big Jones, while good, and nicely plated, were not seasoned well enough with the green peppers and onions, leaving them with tiny pieces of crunchy peppers and onions mixed in.  The tastes kept pretty separate from one another.

Full surface area with the poached eggs!  Bonus points!

Full surface area with the poached eggs! Bonus points!

I feel like it’s not entirely fair to Wishbone to compare their Benedict to Big Jones’.  Big Jones called this dish “Eggs New Orleans,” and technically it was served with bearnaise sauce as opposed to hollandaise (p.s. they are practically the same thing).  I am a whore for either of these sauces, and have been known to ask for additional sides of them to dip my potatoes in…  Big Jones definitely did not put enough on the dish, but I understand that, while upping the deliciousness, a lot of sauce also ups the tackiness.  What really put this dish above and beyond was the fact that it was served on homemade popovers instead of English muffins.

Advantage: Wishbone gave me more sauce, but the sauce was not as good.  But above all else, the popovers make Big Jones the winner.

Hot Sauce

As they were both Southern inspired joints, both restaurants had bottles of Lousiana style hot sauce.  At Wishbone, the bottle was huge and sat out on every table.  You had to ask for it at Big Jones, but I understand, it’s a classier spot…  I don’t even think they had salt and pepper on the table.

Advantage: Same hot sauce, essentially.  It’s a tie.

Verdict

Big Jones emerged as the obvious victor in this contest.  With a gorgeous dining room, consistently creative takes on Southern fare, and the awesomeness of free hot beignets, it definitely earned a place of distinction on our palates.  Wishbone was a nice casual spot, but ultimately it seemed like a watered down attempt at Southern cuisine.  Can’t have soul food without the soul.  Congratulations Big Jones!

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1 Comment so far
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The reason some eggs cover the entire crab cake or english muffin, etc. as opposed to smaller areas of said items, is in the way they poach the eggs.
If you use an egg poaching tin, the size is uniform and covers the area of the food items underneath accordingly, but if you poach an egg free-form style, then the egg takes shape as it wishes, (possibly) leaving parts of the food items uncovered.
I personally am a big fan of free form poaching, as they tend to look better. Using the tins makes the eggs look unreal and just plain weird.

Comment by stacey chesser




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