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Brain Food

We've got delicious, mind-altering substances to help you strap on your thinking cap.
Saturday May 02, 2009.     By Sharon Hoyer
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Spinach salad Do your brain a favor with the Walnut Room's spinach salad.

With finals on the way, you need to be sure you're functioning at peak capacity. Here are a few foods to feed your brain—along with your belly—and some of the best places to find them:

Eggs at Lula Cafe
Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the past few decades for being artery-clogging cholesterol bombs. But the incredible, edible egg is a superfood, containing loads of beneficial fats, B vitamins and choline—a nutrient that transmits signals between nerves and muscles. Choline is also a vital component in the fatty cell membranes that make up the physical bulk of the brain.

So maybe we can thank the preponderance of stellar brunch spots all over town for making Chicagoans such a bright, responsive bunch. Fabulous benedicts and quiches and imaginative egg dishes grace plates from the Bongo Room to M. Henry to any one of the Orange branches, but the strada at Lula has my heart; it's elegant, fluffy and the perfect size. If you're looking for something a little heartier, the breakfast burrito is one of the best on the west side. Lula also offers organic, cage-free eggs for an additional charge.

Sushi from Tanoshii
Fish: It's the quintessential brain food—high in Omega-3 fatty acids, fish helps build gray matter and cell membranes. However, studies show that high cooking temperatures can compromise the health benefits of oils containing Omega-3s, so to get the biggest bang in the brain for your buck, do it raw. Salmon is considered the best (great news for us spicy sake maki aficionados) but if you find yourself at Sushi Mike's counter in Andersonville, be sure to try whatever is on special; it's sure to be the freshest, most inspired cut on the menu. Wise patrons keep their mitts off the soy sauce—smothering the chef's artistry in brine is a major faux pas at this establishment. Besides, the buttery play of avocado and salmon on your taste buds is an intellectual experience in its own right.

Spinach salad at the Walnut Room
Vegetarians needn't despair: The one food higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon (besides flax seeds, but that's for a different story) is the mighty walnut. This legendary restaurant in the Department Store Formerly Known as Marshall Field's serves the title ingredient in its signature spinach salad. The combo is a veritable brain feast; spinach is high in folic acid, which has been shown to improve memory and overall cognitive function as well as fight depression—which has an insidious way of creeping in as the days get shorter. And if you don't care for food with a face but do want to please the relatives, the historic Walnut Room provides enough elegant downtown distraction and familiar American fare to keep your visiting aunt from shooting disapproving glances at your meatless selection.

Coffee from Metropolis Coffee Co.
Despite my exhaustive, highly biased research, I found no scientific evidence that coffee does anything to boost brain functioning. The closest I came was one study that indicated there are two kinds of people: those who are dependent on caffeine to tweak their wits and those who are not. As a long-time member of the former camp I hereby denounce these findings as complete bunk. Anyone who's pulled an all-nighter will testify to the near-magical mind-enhancing powers of the bitter bean, particularly after a night of imbibing the harder stuff. One should also factor in the erudite atmosphere of the coffee shop itself; just walking into a laptop-and-textbook-laden joint like Metropolis—which draws scholars from both Loyola and Northwestern Universities—makes you feel a few ticks smarter.

In five short years Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss have turned their Edgewater roastery into a local empire. Independent coffee houses across the city carry Metropolis beans. Take one sip of Good Soldier Schweik's Ottoman Adventures blend and you'll understand why the father-son team landed Microroaster of the Year for 2007 in Roast Magazine. Brilliant!


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Brand-New Bars

Get divey on Grace; go downstairs at River North's Curio.

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New Restaurants

Go Dutch at Vincent and satisfy a familiar sweet tooth at BomBon.

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