In the Lakeview East neighborhood of Chicago, near a handful of 24-hour diners and brown-brick three-flats, sits Mortar & Pestle. The restaurant has big inviting windows that welcome you into the well-lit and adorable space —one fairly small room with a communal table down the middle and a few individual tables around the perimeter. It feels like an Anthropologie store.
The Lakeview East neighborhood is my favorite neighborhood. Aside from its location, hugging Lake Michigan, it also allows you to feel like you’ve been transported to a small town as you walk down Broadway Avenue, past cute little boutiques and bakeries, one after another. I visited on a Saturday morning with my Dad, who lives right around the corner. He typically loves to visit one of his favorite diners just across the street for breakfast, but on this Saturday, I was able to convince him to break his habit and join me for something different.
As we sat down and began to look through the menu I was delighted to see the assortment of dishes offered. The restaurant selection in the Lakeview neighborhood doesn’t tend to be overly diverse, so when I saw breakfast fried rice on the menu, I was jazzed.
We both began with a cup of coffee, brewed by Big Shoulders, my very favorite cup of joe, and an orange juice for Dad; there are only so many habits you can break before noon on a Saturday.
We also decided to try an order of the deviled eggs to start. The menu notes to ask your server about the preparation as they switch it up weekly. On this particular day the chef was preparing them with bacon mixed in, topped with red pepper and fried onions, finished off with traditional paprika. Oh boy, these were tasty. They were an excellent choice to get our brunch started. Nice and savory, but not overly filling, and got us both excited for what was to come.
For our main course, Dad ordered the breakfast fried rice. I had been eyeing it, but he called dibs first, so being the good daughter that I am, I gave in. I, instead, decided on the Alaskan king crab Benedict, as I wanted to try a more traditional item on the brunch menu and also knew that I would be able to at least try a few bites of Dad’s fried rice.
Both of our dishes arrived and, right off the bat, they were looking good. I was excited to dig in. The breakfast fried rice was beautiful and almost too pretty to dig in to; but no worries, we didn’t have any trouble. It’s prepared with Benton’s bacon, Nueske’s ham, scallions, arugula, tossed with soy and sesame sauce, and topped with a beautiful over-easy fried egg.
I would eat this dish everyday if I could. I might be partial as I spent the early years of my life living in Hong Kong, so I always have room for fried rice. However, I do consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur of the stuff, and I’m here to tell you, not all fried rice is good fried rice.
It’s the combination of the bacon and the ham, mixed together with the egg yolk and the flavor of the scallion, that is all sorts of salivating. Oh, and, the rice itself was perfectly crispy in all of the right places.
Both Dad and I shared our strong feelings about this dish with our server, and she informed us that the chef had created this item for restaurant week last fall, and it turned out to be so popular that they added it as a regular menu item. We are glad they did!
My Alaskan king crab Benedict was also beautiful, but of course much more of a traditional sight to see at a brunch table. It was prepared with the Alaskan king crab atop an English muffin, topped with a poached egg and covered in a delish Sriracha Hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, aside from the beautiful presentation, I was underwhelmed with the flavor.
Restaurants often put fancy items like an Alaskan king crab Benedicts on their menu to entice us, but at the end of the day, the flavor of that delicious crab is lost under the dripping Sriracha Hollandaise. The Sriracha Hollandaise was tasty, but at the end of the meal I would have been just as happy with a traditional crab eggs Benny. It was too much in one dish, though I do have to applaud Mortar & Pestle for the creativity.
Although I wasn’t obsessed with my dish, both Dad and I finished brunch feeling very pleased with our experience. There are so many other items on the menu that I can’t wait to try, like the Foie Gras and Eggs, I’m coming for you!
The Bitches say: A-. I’m not sure if it was the food, or the lovely atmosphere, or both together, but I know we will definitely be back.
Mortar & Pestle
Mortar & Pestle serves brunch Wednesdays through Mondays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.