A couple of places in Chicago are synonymous with hosting or having a party or group brunch, and as my birthday approached, I began to think about where to celebrate the beginning of the last year of my twenties. I could only think of one place: Zella.
I had heard of the infamous Zella brunch, and had always been curious. It had been described to me as intense, insane, and something you don’t do if you need to be productive the next day— sounded perfect for my birthday.
I had also heard that Zella is the kind of place you need to wait in line for before the restaurant even opens—seriously? Being a brunchin’ Bitch, I called ahead to see if Zella would be willing to reserve tables for myself and ten friends on Saturday. I was met with some resistance, which I didn’t understand until I saw the chaos and the line before Zella even opened for myself.
Since I couldn’t reserve tables, I told my friends to arrive early, and said I would be there waiting at 9:45 a.m. I honestly thought 9:45 a.m. was early to start waiting in line at Zella, and I thought I would be the first one there—nope, not true. When I arrived, my friend Citali was already in line, and believe it or not, she was not first in line, nor the last. I am floored by the dedication of those who are willing to wait in line for brunch weekend after weekend—I am not, and never will be, that patient. Ultimately, I knew waiting in line this time was for the greater good of my friends, so I stuck it out for this one.
As the crowd grew, it became apparent that I might be out of my league—everyone looked like they had just stepped out of college and were still in frat-rage mode. But, I had committed 45 minutes of my morning to waiting in line, so this brunch was happening!
As the doors opened at 10:30 a.m., we were led to an area on the patio where we were given three high top tables to spread out upon. The patio at Zella is amazing—it was voted one of the best patios in Chicago and I completely understand why. It’s large and open with high top tables, and booth seats, and is encased with high walls, which makes the patio feel more intimate and private.
It was a perfect day for a party brunch on a patio. Our waitress, Rachel, was incredibly helpful and prompt with our drinks (I mean, carafes) and explained the brunch deal. The bottomless brunch is $40, all you can eat, and drink. There is a bottomless buffet brunch, and bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Bud Lights, and there is no time limit—you could eat and drink open to close—no wonder this is the party brunch of Chicago!
As we all got our wristbands deeming us privy to the buffet, and bottomless beverage service, I jumped to get in line for the buffet.
This buffet was very, very basic. It was nothing spectacular, but it had all of the basic brunch necessities: scrambled eggs, egg wraps, pancakes, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, fruit salad, tater tots, chicken tenders, and a couple other items for when lunchtime rolled around.
When it came down to it, this buffet reminded me a lot of what our breakfast buffet looked like at my sorority. Honestly, this buffet would not be worth it if this brunch had a time limit. But for $40, all this food and anything to drink for up to five hours is completely worth it.
Considering the food is made in mass, the pancakes, tater tots, and bacon were all delicious. I also, at one point, got an entire plate of just mac and cheese—when in Rome (or Zella!) The best thing about the brunch buffet was no waiting on servers or deciding between one menu item! No need to wait to order, simply walk up and choose at your leisure.
As we got back to our tables, we all chatted, laughed, and of course, poured what seemed like endless mimosas. One after another, we would empty a carafe and it seemed as if a new, freshly mixed one would magically appear. A couple of my friends ordered Bloody Marys to mix up the beverages. The Bloody Marys were potent, but simple with only a lime as a garnish.
Our waiter, Rachel, always seemed to be around the corner with drinks, but that may be because she was tipped off by my friends that it was my birthday.
My friends and I stayed until 3:30 p.m.—the very end of the brunch service—and were absolutely content with our decision to do a party brunch that day. For a birthday party, or even just a weekend where you want to relive your college years, Zella will give you the atmosphere and the deal you need to make that possible. Zella had high expectations, and certainly exceeded them.
The Bitches say: A. This party brunch, especially during patio season, can’t be beat. With the bottomless brunch deal, it’s a great way to celebrate with friends for an occasion, or for no better reason than just Sunday Funday.
1983 N Clybourn Ave,
Chicago, IL 60614
Zella serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.