Ladies Who Brunch

Reading Room: Bookish Brunch at Branch 27 by Benjamin
June 14, 2010, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After a somewhat blase opening, Noble Square’s Branch 27 has recently been revamped, with new graphics cheekily nodding at the restaurant’s past as a Chicago Public Library branch and chef John Manion’s menu fully embracing every trend in contemporary pub food:  aromatic Southeast Asian flavors, locally-sourced ingredients, and a metric shitload of pork.  The brunch menu leans heavily towards the savory, with pancakes and french toast thrown in seemingly as an afterthought, but that was just fine by us.  While we often get something sweet to share on Sunday mornings, we decided to go with the flow and get a BBQ pulled pork flatbread with pickled red jalapenos and fried eggs.  Is it an unholy alliance of pizza dough and leftovers? Yes.  Was it absolutely delicious, the best thing on our table all morning?  Double yes.

If it has an egg on it, it's for breakfast

We sampled two gravy heavy-dishes, a chicken-fried pork belly with cheese grits and a biscuits and gravy with prawns.  Both looked stunning but were ultimately dissappointing.  The pork belly, certainly the most attention grabbing item on the menu, was simply too much–too fried, too salty, and too fatty.  While it appeals to the inner glutton in all of us, it’s too much of a gut bomb to really please on a Sunday morning.  The biscuits were another intriguing menu item, the usual creamy sausage gravy being subsituted for a shrimp-stock laced gumbo gravy and served with grilled head-on prawns.  The gorgeous plate was sadly served lukewarm, with the gravy showing definite signs of age.  The dish was very bland, with no salt or spice at all, quite the opposite of creole cooking that seems to have inspired it.

Deep Fried Bacon

Needs to be kicked up a notch

We were, however, quite pleased with the Crab Benedict.  Manion eschews the popular crab-cake preparation and uses relatively unadorned, sweet crab meat.  We appreciated this respect for the base ingredient; the high quality crab had more than enough flavor on its own to stand up to the Hollanadaise, and the dish was refreshing and light rather where crab cakes can often be dense and bready.

Simple pleasure

Service was lovely and we were happy to chat with the personable GM–a visit from the manager is always a nice touch, a necessity at dinner but usually skipped over in the rush of brunch.  We sat in the lovely atrium area, surrounded by vintage (or at least faux vintage) books and large leafy plants.  The atrium is only open during brunch, and it’s a lovely room worth requesting.  At dinner, the space is available for private parties of up to 40 people–I would definitely keep this place in mind for an event.  Drinks were stellar all around, very fresh tasting bloody marys with meaty garniture and an especially lovely fresh peach lemonade, very summer-in-a-glass.  While a few items were major misses, we charmed enough to ensure another visit very soon.


Second Chances: XOCO by Benjamin
June 10, 2010, 9:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


After braving the Saturday afternoon line soon after XOCO opened (1hour and 15 minutes, and the line barely reached outside), the Ladies were hardly impressed. Our cochinita pibil was too small a portion, on hard over baked bread, and without much flavor. The traditional accompaniment for cochinita pibil, bright orange habanero salsa, was unbalanced and too spicy to enjoy (it is supposed to be extremely hot, but this was ludicrous-see Mixteco grill for a far superior example). Hot chocolate was sludgy and mouth puckeringly tanic.

We swore we would not return, but when a craving for Mexican struck in River North and Mercadito looked like too much of a meat market, we were left with little choice. This time, we visited later in the day, which offered major benefits: no line and the availability of steaming caldos in addition to the tortas served all day.

We chose the caldo de carnitas, slow cooked tender pork swimming in a green chile-tomatillo broth with avocado, arugula, and potato masa dumplings. This dish was far better composed than the dissappointing torta from our previous visit. The super fresh, herbaceous, and peppery arugula showed how Mexican food can be enhanced with local ingredients, even in the frigid north, and the dumplings leant the soup a satisfying, rib sticking quality that carried us through the rest of the day.

We still feel XOCO is over priced and its claims of serving authentic Mexico city street food are ridiculous, but we may yet return for a third visit.