As a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Rogers Park. The most northern neighborhood in Chicago, Rogers Park sits right along Lake Michigan and offers a relaxed feel and a diverse community. Since graduating, I don’t make it up to this neighborhood too often, but on a recent Sunday my brother, his girlfriend Rachel and I had plans to go visit family in the northern suburbs. So before hitting the traffic on 90/94, we figured we would fuel up with a good brunch.
Tjam Kitchen is situated just a block from the lakefront park in the heart of Rogers Park. It’s a small little store front with big welcoming windows on the outside, and walls filled with bright primary colors on the inside.
The restaurant doesn’t take accept reservations, but fortunately as we were on a schedule, we only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table to be clear. We grabbed a seat in the back corner.
As we sat down at our table we ordered three cups of coffee. Tjam Kitchen is BYOB, which is always wonderful. We were only going the coffee route on this particular day.
As we looked through the menu, our server came over and kindly asked us if we would like to try the coconut pineapple tamales that they had on the menu that day -as a thank you for waiting for our table. We of course did not turn down the offer and I’m sure glad we didn’t because these tamales were delicious! They were sweet and just the right consistency with large pieces of fresh pineapple throughout.
As we looked through the menu I noticed that tamales are a staple of the restaurants. The tamales are noted as a Tjam Kitchen tradition, and the flavors change daily. Even though the three of us had just polished off two of the coconut pineapple tamales, I suggested that we try an order of one of that day’s savory flavors. They come in orders of three, so it all just worked too perfectly.
We decided on an order of the cheese and pepper tamales to share and I selected the Breakfast Tacos while Rachel ordered the BELTA sandwich, and Alex elected the special of the day, the mango ceviche tostadas. The rest of the menu at Tjam Kitchen is interesting and not what you might expect from what I’ve described so far. All of the dishes are made fresh daily and combine South American cooking with traditional North American flavors. The restaurant does a great job creating a comfortable and familial vibe.
The cheese and pepper tamales arrived at the table first and they certainly did not disappoint in comparison to our first round of dolce tamales. The cheese and pepper tamales maintained the same perfect consistency as the first ones had, but the further you dug in the more cheese you uncovered and the more delicious it became. The peppers added a nice amount of flavor while not overpowering the traditional taste of a tamale.
Our three main dishes arrived a just a few minutes after we had finished devouring the tamales. My Breakfast tacos were delivered on flour tortillas filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, roasted poblano, onions all topped with a pico de galo. These were yummy. I’m not traditionally a fan of scrambled eggs, it’s a texture thing. But mixed with all of the other delicious flavors or the chorizo and roasted poblanos I could barely even sense the scrambled eggs.
Rachel’s BELTA sandwich arrived across the table from me and looked like the ultimate BLT with just a few extra bells and whistles. In case you hadn’t figured it out, the BELTA stands for bacon, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and avocado. The sandwich itself was good, pretty much what you would expect of a BLT with a little something extra. But the real treat was the pile of breakfast potatoes that came on the side. These things were packed with all sorts of savory flavor. Both Alex and I may have reached across the table more than once to steal a bite.
Now, let’s talk about the mango ceviche tostadas that Alex ordered. These guys were beautiful. I guess I’m a sucker for beautifully colored food, but I can’t help myself. As Alex struggled with the appropriate way to eat them, either with a fork or just skip it and go straight for the hands to mouth approach, I grabbed the one that was closest to me and took a big bite. They were fresh and oh so delicious. In addition to being a sucker for brightly colored, beautiful food, I am a bigger sucker for anything mango; the mango on these tostadas was as ripe and fresh as could be. The mango paired with the fresh sea bass and fresh tomato topped with fresh cilantro and crunchy corn tortilla – it doesn’t get much better than that in my book.
We finished our meal with a final cup of coffee each, feeling refreshed and ready to attack the day after a lovely brunch experience. I’m already anticipating my next visit and the exciting tamale flavor surprises that await!
The Bitches say: A-. Tjam Kitchen is a comfortable space with friendly staff and allowed for us to visit a neighborhood that doesn’t nearly get enough credit.
Tjam Kitchen serves breakfast and brunch Tuesday through Sunday from 7am – 4pm.