Chicago is full of hotels – and hotel restaurants. But hotel restaurants come with challenges; less foot traffic, stigmas about quality, and competition from the hundreds of other restaurants in Chicago, to name a few.
Free Rein is located in the St. Jane Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Loop. The restaurant and hotel are both new to the area, in the space formerly occupied by The Hard Rock Hotel. On a gloomy Sunday, I headed over to Free Rein to check out the their brunch offerings. Described as a “contemporary American brasserie,” Free Rein offers elevated French-inspired, American-style cuisine.
The space itself is really lovely. It’s hard to believe it’s located right in the heart of the bustling tourist mecca that is Michigan Avenue. In the front, the restaurant has a cafe area with a coffee bar, and a seating area with large windows. Fresh baked goods align the counter, tempting you with their beauty.
The formal dining area is spacious. Large booths and tables line the walls. The bar is gorgeous with modern decor and contemporary accents like pink velvet barstools.
Cocktails were immediately in order. I love a great herb-infused cocktail, so the “sage advice” was speaking to me. It was made with a single malt scotch, blanco vermouth, pear, honey, lemon, egg white, and topped with sage. It was creamy, bold, light, and refreshing. I really enjoyed it. My brunch companion opted for the Bloody Mary, which was equally delicious. You can’t beat a Tajin-rimmed Bloody Mary.
I was craving a cappuccino as well and couldn’t resist ordering one of the flaky croissants I had eyed earlier in the cafe area. My cappuccino and croissant combo was absolutely wonderful; the croissant was so buttery and flaky.
For entrées, my brunching companion and I were excited about the menu’s offerings. We ultimately decided to order a few things and share. The truffle eggs Benedict was an absolute must. To balance out that savory dish, we ordered the pancakes for a bit of sweetness. I also wanted fresh fruit, so we also ordered the yogurt bowl.
The pancakes were okay; nothing to write home about, but good. The berry compote was good. The yogurt and berries was especially delicious, thanks to the house-made granola. The seasonal berries were strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
The best dish by far was the truffle eggs Benedict, which we tried at the recommendation of our server. Fair warning: this dish is rich, as to be expected. Two poached eggs came with truffle hollandaise, country ham, and spinach. I had hoped there would be shaved truffle on top, because – why not? While there wasn’t fresh shaved truffle to top the dish, you could see black chunks of truffle in the Hollandaise.
I was disappointed that the temperature of the dish was lukewarm. With the heaviness of the ingredients, hot eggs and sauce would have made a difference. After a few bites, it was just cold and messy. Nonetheless, it was a really decadent brunch dish. It just wasn’t executed as perfectly as I would have preferred.
For a hotel restaurant, Free Rein is great! I would definitely say if you are staying in Chicago downtown, and are looking for a good option for brunch before heading out to partake in tourist activities, this is a great spot. It’s also elegant and would be perfect for family gatherings.
Time will tell whether Free Rein will evolve to a staple Chicago spot. It was super slow on this particular day, and there were only a few tables at brunch.
I would come back to check out dinner, as it is located in the heart of downtown and it is perfect for dining somewhere before the theater or an event. The bar is inviting and the cocktails are delicious.
The Bitches say: three Champagne flutes.
Free Rein is a lovely spot with elevated menu options for a fancy brunch. With minor improvements, it could earn a better score. While we wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, it is certainly a great spot for tourists on Michigan Avenue to enjoy a wonderful meal and dining experience.
Free Rein serves weekend brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.