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Smothered, Uncovered

Forget the eggs for once and try an American classic for breakfast.
Monday Jun 23, 2008.     By K. Tighe
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
You'll be chirping about Tweet's Biscuits & Gravy.

"Two eggs, over-easy, side of bacon, hash-browns and a black coffee, please." Most of us order our early-morning meals on autopilot because we know certain things: We know how we like our eggs, if we prefer bacon to sausage, hash-browns to house potatoes, grits to oatmeal. We know how we take our coffee. This is breakfast, and it is simple, reliable, routine. Why gamble with our order when a poached egg is a poached egg, regardless of who makes it? This is pretty much the reason not to order the most notoriously hit-and-miss item on the menu: the collective American favorite, biscuits and gravy. It could be incredible. It could be awful. It could remind you of home. It could remind you of glue. There's really no way to tell, so you go with two eggs, over-easy, side of bacon, hash-browns and a black coffee, thank-you-very-much. Here's to taking the guesswork out of your favorite southern breakfast; these Chicago joints give great gravy, perfect biscuits, every single time.

Get it Bayou-style at Heaven on Seven
Fluffy, house-made buttermilk biscuits—check. Andouille chicken sausage shipped in from Louisiana—check. Thick, southern-style white gravy—check. When it comes to a proper south-of-the-Mason-Dixon plate, Heaven on Seven doesn't mess around. Grab it a la carte ($4.95) for just one biscuit, or opt for Jimmy's Big Ass Breakfast ($12.95); two eggs any style, chicken-fried steak and a mountain of biscuits and gravy. Sure, it might kill you, but some things are worth the risk.

Wishbone serves it up just like Grandma
Everything in Grandma's kitchen was made from scratch, and Wishbone doesn't take short cuts, either. Baked-from-nothing biscuits, homemade sausage and lovingly crafted white gravy make up the soulful, savory and peppered-to-perfection B & G plate ($4.50; half-order $3.25) here. Feel like testing your arterial strength? Opt for the Southern Benedict plate ($6.95); as if two fluffy poached eggs perched atop those floury biscuits with ham slices isn't enough to make you drool, these bennies are swimming in that signature gravy.

Carnivores get it at Harmony Grill
Decadent doesn't begin to describe it: homemade, ladled, buttermilk biscuits are torn up for you, doused with creamy pork-sausage gravy and topped with two—count 'em, two—sausage patties in Harmony Grill's version of the B & G classic ($7.50). The countrified sauce is built the way nature intended: the salty drippings of pan-fried sausage are blended with cream, onions and a whole lotta love. If the crowning elements to this dish aren't enough to satiate your carnivorous urges, consider the enormous chunks of sausage that are in the gravy itself. Ahh, sweet pork bliss.

Localize 'em at Tweet
This Uptown favorite knows a thing or two about how to improve upon an early-morning staple: go local. Creamy, down-home gravy acts as a vehicle to get enormous chunks of pork sausage into your mouth. But that's not just any sausage: Tweet uses only Amish country sausage from Hebron Farm in Michigan. The peppery puddle is spooned over two flaky buttermilk biscuits for a breakfast that manages to stick to your ribs without being overly greasy. Grab a plate of Mary Lou Zelazny's B & G for $6.75, or for another two bucks add two cage-free eggs made to order.

Vegans, rejoice! Handlebar's got you covered
Just because traditional Southern edict demands that the cornerstones of this dish must be buttermilk biscuits, cream-based gravy and loads of pork doesn't mean that all vegan spins on the stuff fall short; case in point, Handlebar's meat-free version ($6.75). Made with a base of seitan, this hearty brown gravy is gussied up country-style and finished with a hint of onion before being ladled over two whole-wheat, dairy-free biscuits. Don't kid yourself, this doesn't taste like the meat-laden stuff; it's in a category all its own. Make it a meal with two eggs or tofu for an extra two bucks.

Shhhh! Don't tell anyone about the Depot American Diner...
When writing a guide such as this one, it is generally tactful to avoid such declarations as "Best damn biscuits and gravy in Chicago," or "No other breakfast comes close" or "So good I want to stick my face in it" (okay, that last one might have gone a little too far, but you get the point). Depot Diner's biscuits and gravy are just as authentic as anything you'd find in a southeast truck-stop diner (although we suspect the kitchen here is infinitely cleaner)—and if there's one thing truckers know, it's breakfast. Biscuits made from scratch in tiny batches assure that yours is always straight-from-the-oven; impossibly thick, pepper-flecked white gravy completes the meal. Note: They'll put that gravy on just about anything on the menu if you ask 'em to.

 

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