There used to be a thing called the Brunch Buffet at the Fancy Hotel. We tried it. Here’s what it was like: Take your basic morning-after-the-wedding brunch. Now pay $100 for it. That’s it. You’ve basically just had brunch at the Ritz.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to brunch in Chicago
Needless to say, we were glad to see most of those buffets die. Especially since what replaced it at Allium(120 E Delaware Pl, seventh floor, 312-649-2349), the newish restaurant in the Four Seasons, succeeds in actually feeling luxurious. Brunch here includes coffee or tea; a mimosa, beer or ever-changing “brunch punch”; sticky buns; an enormous tower of small bites; an entrée of your choice; and an unlimited dessert buffet. You’ll probably skip the desserts, of course, because by that point you’ll have downed oyster shooters, tiny crêpes filled with ricotta, crispy potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon and, if you order it as your entrée, bacon–onion bread French toast. Which sounds as if it shouldn’t work but somehow does. Or is that the brunch punch talking? Either way, the experience is so lovely—especially compared to the generic brunch buffet that preceded it—that near the end of our meal we were exclaiming what a great deal brunch was. Just $58 per person! But that was definitely the punch talking, because after tax and tip the bill for brunch was $150 for a party of two.
Things were much, much cheaper at the Florentine in the JW Marriott Chicago (151 W Adams St, 312-660-8866). And quieter. Like hallways-as-empty-as-those-in–The Shining quiet. People obviously do not know how hard the Florentine’s new chef, Chris Macchia, is working on brunch here. Dude is poaching eggs in red wine and dressing them in a fennel-heavy mostarda, and he’s classing up frittatas by finishing them with a big pile of fresh crab. There are some lifeless bombolini on the menu, but otherwise this brunch has potential written all over it. Also, Stephen King novel. But ignore that.
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Also, try to ignore the chatter about Publican Quality Meats(835 W Fulton Mkt, 312-445-8977) serving brunch. If you want what most people think of when they hear this word—plated dishes, maybe something sweet—go across the street to the Publican, because what PQM calls brunch is really more of a weekend breakfast. On a recent visit, there were four offerings on the “brunch” menu (a supplement to the salads, soups and sandwiches that are always available), most of them geared toward showcasing items from the butcher’s case. For instance: the breakfast charcuterie, which features breakfast sausage made with maple syrup, tender boudin blanc and firmer Toulouse sausages, smacked with a big dollop of mustard and sprinkled with bread crumbs. It’s exactly what you’d expect to eat if you walked into a butcher shop and demanded breakfast. Except here it comes with bottomless $2 cups of Intelligentsia coffee, and you can have a beer with it: because it’s brunch.