Weekend brunch is a stolen moment, an opportunity to linger over a good egg and conversation. But nothing kills that ideal more than the line, getting jostled in a cramped restaurant foyer then enduring the beady eyes of the ravenous masses waiting to pounce should you luxuriate too long in that last sip of meal-ending coffee. Thankfully, there are still a few good places where the brunch line is not interminable.
Las Mananitas The margarita is the new mimosa, and there's no better place to wake up over a fishbowl-size pitcher of Herradura Reposado tequila, Grand Marnier and freshly squeezed lime juice than this Tex-Mex Boystown spot. The name of the restaurant translates as "little mornings," a traditional Mexican birthday song, but there's nothing little about its chilaquiles, a spicy casserole of tortilla strips, freshly scrambled eggs and porky chorizo tossed with jalapenos and green chilies and topped with bubbly queso fresco. If you prefer your eggs runny, the huevos rancheros, two sunny-side-up eggs smothered in an earthy chili-infused red salsa, is just the answer.
Meli It seems every time a Greek restaurant closes in Greektown, two more pop up trumping a slight twist. The folks at Meli Cafe pleasantly eschewed this trend, opening an American-style breakfast and lunch spot that focuses on fresh tastes like cage-free eggs and homemade-preserves. Steak benedict presents a buttery fillet of beef topped with a bulbous poached egg and the lemony zing of drizzled hollandaise. Crepes appear as an eggy-infused thin bread souffle, while the thick omelets, including a Boursin cheese and pancetta version, are served with fat wedges of baby red potatoes. Feel free to sleep late; breakfast is served all day.
Hashbrowns Paul Bunyan-size appetites can do their worst with Hashbrowns' "City of Chicago," a six-egg open-faced omelet filled with Polish sausage, Italian sausage, steak, chorizo, pork chops, bacon, grilled onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. It's good, but there's no better fuel than the namesake hashbrowns platter, a flying-saucer-size portion packed with mounds of rosemary-flecked new red potatoes and creamy grated Idaho russets blended with cheddar cheese, onions, sour cream and topped with crushed corn flakes. Better still, it's easy to score a plush mocha-color banquette, spread out the weekend newspapers and luxuriate over a cup of java.
Seasons Only available from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Sundays, this is the brunch to end all brunches. While $80 seems a little steep for breakfast, this is worth a once in a lifetime splurge, and making a reservation means you avoid lines. While the fare isn't particularly innovative, it's a top-notch feast of classics unparalleled in breadth and depth. There are freshly deep-fried beignets, crepes made to order, shaved prime rib, goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms, caviar, cracked Jonah crab claws, a full complement of sushi and maki, various eggs benedicts, chocolate souffle and mini-creme brulee. The exceptional white-gloved service is always attentive.
Bongo Room (South Loop) The sky-dwelling masses of South Loop high rises haven't overtaken this sister restaurant to the famed Wicker Park Bongo Room. Only once in the last two years have I had to wait more than 15 minutes for a table before noon. Along with Orange and Toast, Bongo Room is one of the only restaurants reimagining morning nosh: haute eggs benedict comes topped with duck eggs, lump crab cakes or steak smothered in inspired hollandaise variations. The marquee plates at Bongo are sweet concoctions including Butterfinger-like pancakes oozing with toffee butter, and the chocolate tower French toast stuffed with mascarpone and covered with an oozy banana flavored creme anglaise.