The crowd was thick, the wait was excruciatingly long and the small talk was peppered with updates on gossip rag headlines. No, we're not talking about the crowds packing the American Idol audition lines (that snaked for more than a quarter-mile around Soldier Field), we're talking about the atrocious wait outside those ever-popular breakfast haunts: Toast, Bongo Room, Victory's Banner and Orange.
Seriously, we've almost had enough (expand, already), and in an effort to quell our ravenous bellies at 11 a.m., we've decided to ditch the popular standbys and take the less-obvious route: bars that serve a mighty fine brunch. Though the good ones are few and far between, we've managed to round up a handful that have been around the block a time or two.
File under: The sporty cheerleader
This is the best Sunday brunch deal we've happened across. For a mere $10.95, you can get silly with the full-spread buffet: piles of smoky bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs, buckets of country style potatoes and homemade waffles and omelets (made-to-order). And that's not all; there's also a big vat of homemade mashed potatoes, fresh fruit (blueberries and strawberries) with yogurt and granola, bowtie pasta with cream sauce, cut-to-order prime rib, salads, bagels, muffins and even more choices to expand the waistline.
Jumbo mimosas, thick bloody Marys and wickedly strong screwdrivers top most every brown tray making the rounds through the bar and outdoor patio (get there early for a seat outside). You can tell the randy crowd has been there since the buffet started (10 a.m.) by tuning into the volume that quakes high with every Bears advantage and dips low with every commercial break. We sorta like the quietness of the lulls, but watch out...the buffet room fills up again with hungry boys and yeah-I'm-stuffin'-it girls each time a commercial cues up.
Hawkeye's Bar & Grill
File under: The ragtag babydoll
Located in the heart of Little Italy, this cornerside haven (read: no crowd) looks like your standard sports bar, but has an upper hand when it comes to brunch. Taking pride in all dishes served, the kitchen adds a special home-style twist to almost every dish, like the French toast made with slices of thick Greek bread dipped in a cinnamon, vanilla and orange batter, and the four big homemade pancakes (the blueberry and strawberry versions are quite popular with the sorority sisters that lounge on the patio) served with little pots of vanilla butter.
The chili and cheese omelets are a popular shove-down item, while the spinach and imported feta omelet is thick with Greek memories. The breakfast burrito, loaded with jalapeno peppers, three scrambled eggs, beans, rice and cheddar cheese, is easily enough to feed two. The small, younger crowd likes being dubbed "the loyal regulars" and there are a handful of televisions quietly broadcasting White Sox games. Oh, right...it is located on the South Side after all.
Four Moon Tavern
File under: The bluesy chanteuse
A perfect bar if we've ever seen one, this big-time actor hangout not only has an adorable outdoor patio (complete with sparkling Christmas lights), it has a Sunday brunch menu that kills most of the local competition. With everything made-from-scratch (flaky biscuits included), the flavor is full-on Southern and loaded with authentic zings of farm-fresh goodness. Homemade biscuits and white gravy (loaded with flecks of browned sausage), buttery, bright yellow scrambled eggs and perfectly toasted rounds of English muffins (already smothered in butter when it shows face on your table) are what breakfast cravings are made for.
The Four Moon Scramble couples eggs with huge dollops of cream cheese, sided by fried-just-right rosemary-scented breakfast potatoes. If you go the way of the Harold, expect piles of that creamed gravy on top of a couple of biscuits and a few eggs cooked any-way-you-like tossed right on top of that. The bloody Marys are stout, the parking is no problem, the PBRs are icy cold and the pool table's just standing by, waitin' on a couple quarters to get her all revved up. Oh, and as for the crowd? We've got two words: What crowd?
Stanley's Kitchen & Tap
File under: The smokin' Southern dish
Oh, this one's a doozy. We can go on and on about the Southern brunch buffet, with its homemade waffles, made-to-order omelets, juicy fried chicken, hash browns (bring on the hot sauce), super cheesy mac and cheese, sausage, scrambled eggs and a table full of sweets. But, why not talk about what really draws the crowds back: the wildly popular make-your-own bloody Mary bar. This Lincoln Park heavy-hitter really knows how to bring back the crowds via hearty comfort food and a set-up that gives folks the upper hand in pouring their own vodka-laced tomato drink. (With that freehanded vodka pour, we know you're thinkin' you've really pulled one over on the bartender, but really, they could care less how much you drink.)
The biggest issue here (save for the parking) is the lack of eating space on the tall bar tables due to the plethora of bloodies in various states of disarray. Think about it: When the tiny tables fill up with those crucial Sunday brunch must-haves, there really is nowhere to put the platters of down-home grub. Somehow, most of the cute Lincoln Park look-alikes find a way, though, but we suggest you come a little early to this one, as these 'hoodies love their BM's.
File under: The upscale mama
For the kids who've got a bit more dough to blow ($20 per person), you can't really beat the buffet that Chief O'Neill's pops out every Sunday afternoon. Located on a lonely stretch of Elston Avenue, this gem of an Irish pub puts an upscale mark on the usual brunch and creates a five-table spread that rivals any of the downtown hotel offerings (here, though, the parking is free and plentiful).
While the chef is slicing prime rib for the hungry church couples, there are little bambinos pawing all over the sushi and a bunch of cackling grannies slammin' down piles of peel-and-eat shrimp. The variety of food is astounding, with deviled eggs, golden brown platters of fish and chips, real crab salad, made-to-order omelets, potato salad, bangers and bacon, seafood pasta and a bizarre, stray bowl of chips and salsa. Most of the pretty, in-the-know folks scoot to the beautiful back patio and lay out pints of Guinness and insanely potent bloody Marys to march alongside their piled-high plates.