As a Bitch who runs late more times than she cares to admit, casually strolling into Maple & Ash early for brunch felt foreign, yet extremely refreshing. My surprising timeliness, coupled with having been invited to brunch at Maple & Ash with fellow Chicago foodies on a picturesque Sunday at noon, was the start to a wonderful day. As if there was any doubt, the Bitches brunch experience at Maple & Ash was exponentially more awe-worthy than my new found punctuality.
Immediately prior to entering the doors of Maple & Ash, it became difficult to divert my attention from the gorgeous outdoor patio, redolent of outdoor seating seen walking the main street of Aix-en-Provence, le Cours Mirabeau. The patio perimeter is lined with standing planters filled with boxwood bushes, and other greenery to evoke a sense of privacy along Maple Street. Overhead, a pergola provided intermittent coverage from the sun.
Since I knew we were brunching upstairs in the dining room, and not the Maple & Ash downstairs bar, Eight Bar and Patio, I grew extremely conflicted that I would not be brunching outside. Patio drinking is a facet of life in which I thrive. However, in reality, brunching upstairs at Maple & Ash was worth my fleeting moment of conflict, not because the sun ended up beating down at a barely tolerable 90 degrees, but because the food I was about to consume could not be topped by a patio dining experience. C’est la vie! It simply means you will see me in the near future relaxing, and sipping wine, clad in my summer whites on the Maple & Ash patio pretending I am vacationing in the South of France.
Back to brunch. I easily convinced my friend, and food connoisseur, Gail, to come with. We passed through Eight Bar and Patio to an elevator that lifted us into the lounge area of Maple & Ash. Music is typically the first thing I notice as I enter a room, and resident Sunday morning DJ, DJ Bridget, managed spinning the perfect songs for guests looking to brunch in hopes of recovering from the night before, as well as for guests seeking a lively and social brunch, which we certainly were.
From the lounge we were ushered past a couch that had Alice in Wonderland-inspired upholstery on the way to our table. We didn’t sit there, but I swooned. Arriving at our table, Gail and I happily introduced ourselves to our brunch-mates for the day and settled in. The table was set in the chic, yet inviting, central dining room. The high windows strategically allow for the perfect amount of sunlight to shine through and cascade down the purple velvet and grey chiffon curtains surrounding the room.
Our waiter, David, approached the table, prosecco and copper ice bucket in hand for morning libations, or what the Maple & Ash menu reads, “Breakfast Bubbles.” I adored David from that moment on. The prosecco didn’t hurt his case but his jovial manner, attention to detail, and desire to create a relaxed, and carefree atmosphere translated to a brunch experience with unmatched service.
An order of Breakfast Bubbles comes with bottomless prosecco, accompanied by peach purée, fresh-squeezed orange juice, a bottle of St-Germain, and fresh berries and basil. Gail jumped at the chance to be the master of her own creation and mixed both juices, prosecco, a splash of St-Germain, and topped her concoction off with a basil leaf. I elected to whip up a bubbly heavy Bellini decorated with a single raspberry. Both drinks were quite tasty and it was fun mixing your own drink to ensure the bubbly to juice ratio fit your fancy.
Soon after drinks were poured, a complimentary assortment of breakfast pastries were placed on the table. Typically, I am a sucker for chocolate croissants, but this particular one was lackluster. The croissant itself was not soft and crumbled. The chocolate filling was dry, hard, and left chunks of chocolate in my mouth, but not in the good, “I’m saving it for later,” kind of way. I was content sipping my Bellini.
Up next, an enormous seafood tower, rightfully coined, “The Baller,” was placed in the center of our table, flanked by two additional, slightly smaller seafood towers called, “Semi-Pro.” According to the masterminds behind the cuisine at Maple & Ash, the secret to creating the perfect seafood tower and preparing steak is in the Josper natural wood charcoal fired oven. The remnant flavor from the oven is a deliciously subtle smokiness created by the natural wood charcoals, evident from my first bite.
The Baller seafood tower comes with a plentiful assortment of oysters, clams, scallops, Gulf shrimp, Alaskan king crab, and half of a Maine lobster. The shellfish is cooked in the Josper oven and drizzled with garlic butter and chili oil to finish. The finish is not too spicy as to not overwhelm the already delicate and rich flavors of the seafood.
I had never tried an oyster served warm that wasn’t fried and I was ecstatic for the opportunity to try one of my favorite foods prepared in a unique manner. I hesitated at first before going all in and I am so glad I did. That single oyster warmed my soul.
The scallops had a crisp, well-defined sear and melted in my mouth, as they should. The shells on the shrimp retained flavor almost too well. They were an absolute mess when it came to peeling the shell off. I was wearing a white dress and was terrified the oils would spray all over from opening up the shrimp. I did come out unscathed but there were some close calls; I can’t say the same for some of my brunch crew. The lobster and crab were a treat and the meat soaked in the garlic butter and chili oil perfectly. The clams were good, but by far my least favorite.
To clear our palates, house made agnolotti with a winter truffle conserve was served tableside. The taste was earthy and creamy.
Before I go on, I must preface that Gail is what people in the food industry refer to as a “flexitarian.” However, I like to call it like it is. She is a pescatarian that cheats. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud her because five seconds after the jaw-dropping, gorgeous 60 ounce, 60 day dry-aged Côte de Boeuf was placed at our table, she took one look at the presentation and said, “who am I kidding? I can’t not eat this beautiful piece of meat!” Same Gail, same.
Also cooked in the Josper oven, the côte de boeuf was served in a bath of shallot confit with two large bone marrows topped with short rib ragu, and a side of potato purée sprinkled with black truffle. The potato purée was not as rich as I expected which was necessary because I needed all the room I could spare. As a true carnivore, I could hardly wait to send my tastebuds into outer space.
The côte de boeuf was tender, juicy, and cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was unquestionably phenomenal. The buttery bone marrow spread on thick and smooth across the bread. The flavors sank into your tastebuds with each bite. It stole the show. The short rib ragu was tasty but blocked my direct line to pure bone marrow.
David cleared the table to let us bask in all the decadent flavors we had joyfully consumed. Shortly after, he was back with freshly baked cookies, oozing with chocolate chips, served on a silver platter. The blatant hospitality was not lost on me. The motto at Maple & Ash is to take great measures to provide an inviting atmosphere for guests to come and focus on the best thing in life, food! A.K.A. BRUNCH!
The Maple & Ash menu embraces the needs and desires of the millennial foodie, unfortunately it comes at a stretch of a price point if you add the a la carte options, such as the Baller seafood tower for $175, and the Côte de Boeuf for $250. On the flip side, for a Gold Coast steakhouse, $25 for bottomless mimosas is a reasonable price. Also, there are menu options available in order to enjoy the seafood tower at a more affordable price, and because of that, I would have a hard time passing it up the next time I dine at Maple & Ash.
Additionally, if you aren’t willing to shell out for the a la carte options, a $40 breakfast buffet is offered. The buffet includes a selection of traditional breakfast items with a twist, such as three different seasonal omelet options all made to order, brioche French Toast, maple smoked bacon, wood fired breakfast sausage, and crispy potatoes. Also included are carved slices of filet mignon and smoked salmon that was manned by a man in a hat reading “IDGAF,” continuing to embrace the youthful, laissez-faire vibe.
The Bitches say: A. Maple & Ash has a great ambiance, with music that is subtle but consistently cool, jazzy, and funky enough to notice in passing. Menu items such as “The Baller,” and “IDGAF,” reiterate the fact that Maple & Ash is certainly not your grandfather’s steak house. It is a vivacious restaurant worth going to for the atmosphere, but is primarily a destination for a decadent and delicious meal. Just be willing to treat yourself.
Maple & Ash serves brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.