When I travel to Chicago, which seems to be quite frequently lately, I generally avoid the touristy spots. Like the Chicago River right before it’s about to turn St. Patrick’s Day green. Or that terrifying glass box that juts out of the Willis Tower.
But when I’m in and out of the Windy City in 24 hours and my Midwestern girlfriends invite me to a group brunch, I will go wherever they tell me to go. This brunch was, in fact, right on the river, in a restaurant that I feared would be typical greasy-spoon Chicago—a total tourist trap.
I was pleasantly surprised to be absolutely wrong in my assumption. This brunch was solid, it just sits right in the heart of the St. Patrick’s Day party zone. So much so that the owner stopped by our table to regale us with party stories and how he clears the place of its tables to account for the crowds this time of year.
On this particular Saturday morning it was actually pretty quiet. We snagged a big wooden table underneath the floor-to-ceiling windows that gave us a lovely view of the river and its passing boats of tourists. The sun was shining, and while this was a gorgeously sunny setting for brunch and a Bloody Mary, I eventually had to put my sunglasses on.
The restaurant is a bit of a railroad structure, tucked under the Clark Street bridge. It’s rustic, like a classy beer hall with tons of light. I love that the space provides lots of alcoves for private four-top tables, or long wooden picnic-style tables for big parties. I bet the patio seats are hard to come by in the summer.
The menu is big, with plenty of creative brunch dishes: “hangover helpers,” salads, and sandwiches. While the options are great, the top of the menu screams at you, NO SUBSTITUTIONS OR MODIFICATIONS. Um, OK, then.
We were offered $5 Bloody Marys or mimosas, a discount that I would never pass up. The Bloody Marys had tons of bits and bobs—cauliflower, a green bean, olives, red pepper, you name it. They were delicious and ice cold.
The beignets were the hallmark of the brunch menu, and they lived up to their marquee status. More donut holes than actual beignets, they were served piping hot in paper, covered in a cinnamon maple glaze and powdered sugar. The piece de resistance was the Bailey’s whipped cream on the side, which lends the perfect sweetness to the already sweet treats.
After a few rounds of Marys and beignets (no, we wouldn’t be satiated with just one order of those lovely little balls), we finally got to our entrees.
The huevos rancheros was the prettiest to arrive, and a nice departure from the typical sauce-laden approach to this classic brunch dish. It was layers of crispy tortillas, with two eggs on top of the tower of chorizo, black beans, roasted red peppers, and corn, all in a thick bed of salsa verde.
The crab cake Benedict had thick, pan-seared crab cakes, sauteed spinach, and poached eggs. But to top it off, the Hollandaise was heavy and spiked with Old Bay, and the entire creation had slices of red peppers adorning it. It was served with the “house potatoes,” which was actually a blob of thick, creamy mashed potatoes, rather than the typical cubes of breakfast potatoes. Overall, a nice adjustment to a typical Benny dish.
The biscuits with gravy was argued over, and the winner ultimately had her pig trio: grilled sausage, sausage gravy, and bacon, all on a thick biscuit with two eggs. Even the chicken and waffles was a nice variation of a typical dish. A big hunk of crispy boneless fried chicken sat on a thick quarter of a fried waffle, with a sunny side egg perched on top, all covered in maple syrup and sausage gravy.
For my entree, I went with the hash. When it’s cold in Chicago, you want a hearty, filling brunch dish. When ordered hash, I’m used to getting one of two things: a mushy plate of soup or a skillet of rock-hard potatoes with some meat. This was neither, and the perfect medium.
Roasted potatoes, big chunks of corned beef with truffle oil (you could have smoked chicken or shrimp with Old Bay, too), roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and scallions were topped with an over easy egg and Hollandaise. It was perfectly constructed, and didn’t get too mushy until the bitter end.
I loved that each of the dishes were classic Midwestern brunch fuel, but with an interesting and modern twist. They were also all artfully presented. Not overdone or too small, but just right. Goldilocks over here also loved the look of the other options we didn’t try: Wicked Tots and Green Eggs n’ Ham.
The Bitches say: A. Reliably good brunch dishes and inexpensive cocktails, with a modern twist and a warm sense of humor.
Bridge House Tavern
321 N Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654
Bridge House serves brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.