Isn’t It Pleasant?

Pleasant House

A few months ago a great friend from Dallas sent a note to me via Facebook about a British public house in Chicago. As I only received a link to the website, I imagined that the restaurant had caught my friend’s attention after being featured in an article or on a show. Turns out that this particular eatery had been featured on a segment of Check Please! Well, well, well. The manager of any restaurant in the Chicago metropolitan area on the verge of a swift death should beg, plead, snivel, make promises, and put on performances to get on Check Please! for a revitalization of its business. But Pleasant House Bakery at 964 W. 31st Street is relatively new and a feature segment on Check Please! would no doubt make it skyrocket. Tucked in the middle of the Bridgeport neighbourhood, which is undergoing a change due to gentrification, this eatery/bakery does a fantastic job of leaving those of us with British grounding and British leanings missing that little old isle.

Steak and Ale PieA staple on the menu is the royal pie. In America, there are customary pot pies that can be large and hearty, with fillings much like stews. Royal pies are smaller and less filling. Therefore, you enjoy the pie without falling prey to food comatose thereafter. I started with a steak and ale pie, which is definitely a must-have on the isle and off the isle. Because my diet is primarily pecatarian, meat is not something I indulge every time the whim strikes a note with me. Steak and ale has steak in it, of course, and Pleasant House Bakery uses all-natural beef instead of meat riddled with additives, growth products, and other non-organic not-so-goods. Also added are slices of carrots in a gravy made of an ale that you can actually taste. No, to all the alcoholics and those who have recently turned twenty-one, you will not get drunk from the ale in the royal pie. I had spuds as an accompanying side order with a red wine gravy. And these spuds, or rather potatoes, were not made from powder. There was no from-the-box aftertaste to give them away.

Chicken Balti Royal PieI should have stopped at the steak and ale pie. No, I just had to have the chicken balti pie. I had to have more meat. I had to give in to the delectable taste and succumb to my addiction. The chicken balti pie was absolutely incredible, in all caps. Again, there is the pie with a flaky and rather flavourful crust, nothing like the Swanson’s frozen treats from the local market. Just like the steak and ale pie, the chicken balti pie’s crust was like that of a pastry. Think a more solid, yet fresh, croissant. All-natural chicken, not the danger chickens that have been enhanced for quick distribution, in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds completed the wonderful pie that I polished off with flourish. To add a hint of Indian dining to the mix, there was some coriander chutney that I had for dipping.  Wow. Again, I had spuds with the red wine gravy, and I also had English peas buttered with mint. There was a break in the clouds and a ray of light shined upon my table, illuminating the glass of ginger soda — oh how I love home-made ginger soda — that I drank in between heavy sighs of food bliss.

Trifle

Late last year, I had found out that I needed to be more careful with my sugar and carbohydrate intake. So, I had taken sugar out of my diet, full stop, not quite overzealous enough to eliminate bread in the same manner. Things are better now and I will indulge a sweet every once in a while, in moderation, of course. Because I have been good, I allowed myself a bowl of trifle. You simply do not have to be fancy with custard, apples, sponge cake, and whipped cream. However, a parfait of it goes over so well, so very well, so incredibly well. Fresh? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Would I have some more? Yes, it goes without saying. While some restaurants and even some bakeries could have too much sugar in the recipe, the sweetness of the apples — that were not doused in syrup, thank God — and the lightness of the sponge cake leave you with a dessert that does not have your doctor screaming, Alas! Along with the trifle, I took a cup of coffee with thick cream that resulted in me not needing any sugar. I was completely sated after I was done.

Ginger SodaUsually when restaurants try to include British cuisine on its menu, the attempt wows in the naming convention of certain menu items, but the output splashes. Pleasant House Bakery shines. I shall warn you that because the food is absolutely fantastic, the eatery fills up quickly. Get there early, be prepared for a wait because the establishment is small and quaint, or be okay with ordering something for take-away. Whoever started the restaurant apparently went to the United Kingdom and went to some eateries way out in the country where you indeed get some of the best royal pies there are to be had. It is also obvious in the minimalist atmosphere the restaurant exudes. I got a breeze of Cardiff, a whiff of Ipswich, a hint of New Castle on Tyne, the smiles of Peterborough. My visits to London, Bromley to be more specific, may not be all that frequent. But in the meantime, I will gladly make the dash over to Pleasant House Bakery for a taste of the old country.

Pleasant House Bakery on Urbanspoon

Forget Crepes, All About Pannenkoeken

Pannenkoeken

While perusing some photos of food on Foodspotting, I had come across a composition of a pancake that screamed for me to come and get it. I had made a note of the name of the restaurant where the photo was taken and had entered a reminder into my cell phone for a visit. Chicago winters make it impossible to extract yourself from your warm bed on Saturday mornings. And I have fleece sheets on my bed. For every Saturday in February my alarm went off, I hit the off button, and then promptly went back to bed. With a little bit of warming in the temperatures and going to bed early on a Friday evening, I finally got up and went to Pannenkoeken, the restaurant where the photo I saw on Foodspotting was captured. At 4757 N. Western Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, is one of the quaintest German cafes in the city. When I say quaint, it is very small, in the vein of cafes and eateries in Europe, where you indeed sit close to neighbouring patrons. It was just my style.

Eggs Scrambled Well with Mascarpone

Because I needed to wake up completely, not just merely functionally, I had a cup of coffee to start. The only sweetener I had in the coffee was whatever there was from the sweetness of the cream. I made a mental note that whatever roast they were using was not bad. Perusing the menu, I was quite happy to see that there was a retention of authenticity in the servings. Pannenkoeken evidently does not feel a need to accommodate breakfast cuisine not of the German kind. Yes, there were Belgian waffles on the menu, but Belgium is not far from the borders of Germany and I am sure Germany is not without having been influenced accordingly. There was French toast on the menu, yes. But there were options for pannenkoeken that really stood out most. Not an exhaustive menu, like you find at something as pedestrian as an Original Pancake House, but the flavourful options seemed daunting because after looking at the servings, temptation wants you to try everything. I was content with sampling at most three menu choices on this first visit.

French Toast with Mascarpone and Blueberry Compote

Switching into my vegetarian mode for breakfast, I started with a plate of eggs scrambled well with mascarpone cheese. I have such a great love for cream cheese in my scrambled eggs, but trying mascarpone cheese in my eggs really hit a resounding note with me. Now when I go to restaurants for breakfast or brunch, Italian restaurants for sure, I will request mascarpone cheese to be added to my scramble. Then there was the plate of French toast with mascarpone cheese and home-made blueberry compote. After eating the blueberry compote, the blueberries exploding with flavour that the tongue relished, I do not want any more of that syrupy brew that comes from the can. I could quickly devolve into a brat in a high chair throwing his plate against the wall if I get anything claiming to be home-made compote yet nothing more than fruit drowned in molasses. There was so much flavour in the compote at Pannenkoeken and the French toast not reminding me of cinnamon on an Eggo waffle. And then an apple ginger pannenkoeken arrived at the table. By the time I came up for air, and I mean every word of that, there had been a change of faces at several tables. Again, the apples were not from some can, apparent because they were not dripping with syrup. And the ginger in the pannenkoeken. You could taste the ginger in the pannenkoeken. The thin pancake looked as though it would be a feat to undertake, but I smiled as I worked my fork, knife, and teeth on it. I was satisfied thoroughly — and again, I mean every word of it.

Apple Ginger Pannenkoenen

One thing I should mention is that Pannenkoeken has a cash-only policy. It can become quite easy to find yourself delighting the taste buds without a care in the world and then extract a credit card from the wallet once the bill arrives. You will have to pay cash. That is a small inconvenience — and you cannot even call it that. After all that I had eaten, the bottomless cup of coffee while at the cafe, and the coffee that I bought to go, the tab was considerably lower than what I would have had to pay at any of the brand name big box restaurants. As I mentioned earlier, the cafe is very small and intimate, so I highly recommend that you arrive as soon as the doors open. I am not joking. Trust me. When you get there, you will understand. Hmmm. You may even find yourself saying, “Lecker,” and not even know where your impromptu use of German came from.

Pannenkoeken Cafe on Urbanspoon