On a blustery snow-covered morning, my husband and I decided to make the trek up to Baker Miller—Chicago’s first grain-centric sweet and savory bake-house.
Baker Miller doesn’t take reservations, so we pulled ourselves out of bed bright and early to ensure we could snag a table. From River North, a venture to Baker Miller’s Lincoln Square location isn’t exactly convenient, especially with snow coming down at two inches an hour.
As we peered outside our 15th floor windows, we contemplated the idea of either remaining in hibernation mode, or attempting the journey into the white wonderland. Twenty minutes later, as we bustled into Baker Miller, I knew the adventure was going to be worth it.
Since opening in September, Baker Miller has already received tremendous hype. As a clinical carb-a-holic, I was certainly intrigued by the concept of house-ground grains and flour milled on site. Their idea was real, honest, simple, and delicious.
Baker Miller’s unrefined, country-house ambiance is a relaxing way to spend the morning. Light oak tables were coupled with bright-colored chairs, each table donned with a small electric toaster. The welcoming hostess walked us through Baker Miller’s rotating menu of breads and pastries (which change daily), and also recommended a few of the Baker Miller staples that reside permanently on the unpretentious clip-board menus.
No skim latte, we were told, but I get it: espresso and frothed milk isn’t their thing. This place is about grains and flour. Simple coffee did the trick, and was just what we needed after a flurry-filled crawl up north.
We started with the ‘Toast Bar.’ Bloody Mary bar? Been done. Bellini bar? Old news. But this, I had never seen before. The daily bread selection of sunflower, pumpernickel, and sourdough is accompanied by a rotating menu of accoutrements. Communal mason jars were filled with assorted jellies, jams, and butters-all house-made of course-labeled with scotch tape and permanent marker.
The Pear Verbena on sunflower bread, tasted like a crisp, ripe pear encrusted with sunflower-seeds: delicious. The sourdough was next – crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Once toasted, I smothered it with Blueberry Verjus: a jam made from unripe berries and filled with perfectly sweet, plump blueberries.
For entrees, we had the Baker Miller grits and the Baker Miller rolled oats. Sound ordinary? Don’t be fooled. These dishes were as basic as Kanye is polite.
The grits were the perfect combination of sweet and salty, with a consistency that was silky yet hearty. They served as a pillow for the still-warm-inside soft boiled egg, and the slow-roasted Giardiniera beef. If you are from Chicago, it’s natural to find Giardiniera—a pickled spicy mix of celery, carrots, olives, cauliflower, and peppers—layered on top of an Italian beef sandwich. You can imagine my excitement to find it on a breakfast menu.
It may be hard to believe that the Baker Miller oatmeal was my favorite dish. The house-cured cream acted as if it was a moat around a castle, with the oats being the sacred fortress. Once you blend everything together, you get an eruption of flavor. I warn you, this is not your healthy bowl of oats; but the butter, raw sugar, and cherry jam woven throughout was worth it. It was creamiest, richest bowl of oats I’ve had.
The Millers are among the inaugural group of contenders for the James Beard’s first-ever Outstanding Baker Award, and I can certainly see why! I’ll definitely be back to try their cinnamon rolls and savory hand pies, but perhaps on a sunny, flip-flop wearing, spring day.
The Bitches say: A- A quaint café that serves pastries, breads, and other grain-focused selections that are a cut above the rest. Whether you are on-the-go, or have the time to sit down and catch up with an old friend, Baker Miller is an inexpensive but satisfying way to start the day.
4610 N Western Ave.
Baker Miller serves brunch Tuesday – Friday starting at 7:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m.