Rock & Roll Brunch … with Michelin Creds

By | May 24, 2011

Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago

Sunday morning. The sky is clear and perfectly blue. It’s in the ‘70s and promising ‘80s: the first really great day of the year.

We get up early and we head out to a little restaurant/bar serving brunch. Very rock and roll. Servers are all casual, young and inked. But this one is not exactly your ordinary joint in the ‘hood. This one just happens to be Longman & Eagle and it boasts a bone fide Michelin star.

Regardless of how it looks, L & E is not exactly your typical neighborhood bar. This joint is a real “gastropub.”  So, FoodBeest, what exactly is a gastropub?

The term gastropub, is a “portmanteau” (isn’t that a great word?) that describes a pub that serves gourmet cuisine  along with great beers and other drink (get it? Gastro + Pub = Gastropub). And isn’t it a perfect coincidence that brunch (breakfast + lunch) is another portmanteau?

The gastropub term was coined in the 1990s in England when some basic British drinking establishments decided to serve food that wasn’t just simple cold stuff.

The grub in those pubs included stuff like fish and chips, bangers and mash, steak and ale pie or even burgers. And having eaten at several London pubs recently, I’m just going to say there isn’t much to get excited about.

Not so the American gastropubs I’ve visited. In the last 10 years, the notion of a bar-like place with great food has taken hold in the U.S. with Chicago as one of its epicenters. Chicago is home to The Publican, Purple Pig, The Bristol, The Gage and Longman & Eagle.

So it’s about 10 am on Sunday morning when we get to Longman & Eagle. Instead of the “early bird dinner special” for old people, it appears we’re at the early breakfast for (rock and roll) parents with little kids and a few early-rising couples like ourselves.

Because the weather is beautiful, the outdoor seating area is open.  It’s just a little early for brunch, but L & E is full. They don’t take reservations. “Eat · Drink · Sleep · More,” says the sign in the window (there are 6 urban sleeping rooms upstairs).

The Logan Square neighborhood we are in is terminally hip and transitioning. I think I am the only person in this establishment without so much as a temporary “tatt” decorating any part of my person.

Chicago’s ancient Blue Laws decree that it’s too early to serve booze, so the whiskey flight is not in the cards this morning, but the menu is amazing. Hard to choose between the prawns and grits, the duck egg hash and the strada. Mr. FB makes it easier by ordering the strada. Our wait person says both of the other options are great, but the duck hash is their signature dish.

“Try it if you haven’t had it yet,” she says. I do.

Its full name is Sunny Side Duck Egg Hash and when it comes to the table, I nearly swoon at the truffle fragrance. This is no rustic thrown-together hash. The dish is a neat ring containing hunks of duck confit, a brunoise of Yukon gold potatoes, fresh chopped spring onions and an exquisite, sweet black truffle vinaigrette swirled on one side of the plate. It is topped with two perfectly cooked fried eggs. The mythical Weight Watcher people are earning their keep as they wait and watch to see how this goes for me, for sure.

Mr. FB gets his Strata. You know what a strata is, right, Fellow FoodBeest? You’ve got people coming for Sunday brunch so you throw some decent bread in one of those glass Pyrex dishes, add some sausage, cheese and maybe some chopped up veggies. Then you whip up a few eggs and milk, add salt and pepper and pour it all on top. Then you let it sit overnight before you bake it in the morning for your guests.

Not this strata. This was a carefully composed concert of brioche, homemade chorizo, tiny Spanish pequilla peppers, dates, and ros, an artisan, aged sheep’s milk cheese from Spain’s Basque region. While it is egg that holds it together when it bakes, this strata is also topped with a fried egg.

It’s sweet. It’s savory. It’s spicy. It’s totally satisfying.

And just a word about those eggs. I fry eggs. You probably do, also. Simple, right? One of the best tests of a chef is how he or she cooks an egg. The eggs we got, and every egg we saw coming out of the kitchen, were uniformly and impossibly perfect. The whites were firm and tender with just the barest hint of a brown crispy edge. The yolks cooked just runny — not hard; not slimy.

We love The Publican and The Bristol and while we don’t especially love The Gage, we can appreciate it.  But, really, no other gastropub (and very few restaurants) we have been to can touch the gutsy, innovative way that L & E Chef Jared Wentworth is having with food.  Jared Wentworth.  Remember that name, Fellow FoodBeest.

Now it’s your turn, Fellow Foodbeest, to say what you think. What sounds interesting? What do you care about? Here’s the place for your own “what’s so” and your own “so-what?”  You know you have an opinion. Here’s where to express it!

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