The Winchester — House, Hotel, or Restaurant

The Winchester

As of late, things have been quite scrambling. What is one to do when you’re dealing with work, CrossFit training, trying to squeeze in a few television shows, and catching up on reading? I can’t speak for most, but I get an appetite, after which I experience that sleepy feeling when I’m done gnashing away on too much food. Nevertheless, I have resigned myself to not skip out on breakfast or brunch. For my latest morning hankering, I ventured to the Ukrainian Village to The Winchester at 1001 N. Winchester Avenue.

Orange Juice

Orange Juice

Mimosa

Mimosa

What looks like a giant beige block is a rather nice contemporary restaurant in one of Chicago’s hip neighbourhoods. Upon entering the spacious area, there is the hipster contingent and a mix of hipster parents. Still, there isn’t the distant demeanor that tends to be prevalent at hipster spots where the service is outstanding if you fit the hipster mold. Actually, the staff at The Winchester is quite engaging, which is a nice change from feeling as if you’re an inconvenience.

Waffle of the Day

Waffle of the Day

I started with fresh squeezed orange juice to whet the palate while scanning the menu. It was brunch, so I figured I would have my “when in Rome” moment and partake of an alcoholic beverage — a mimosa. Yep, champagne and orange juice in the morning is not a bad option, especially when you couple it with waffles topped with toasted rice, apples, and a dollop of whipped cream. Given the waffle was not saccharine, the natural sugar from the chopped apples provided enough sweetness such that no syrup was required.

As if the large plate of waffles was not enough, I ordered a plate of fried black rice with Thai green curry and topped with a fried egg. The football player sized guy sitting next to me looked at me with what I could only describe as mild shock. I know I am not quite the size of a linebacker, but CrossFit really keeps my hunger on full tilt. It became clear to him and his two fashion model girlfriends that I was not playing around. This is not fried rice you will find at a Thai restaurant, but it is definitely fried rice that Thai restaurants may want to add to their menus.

Fried Black Rice

Fried Black Rice

Although not on a main road, The Winchester is not far off from West Division Street or West Chicago Avenue. Those who rank restaurants according to ambiance will love the well-lit interior as well as the spaciousness. The diners who entered received a lot of attention from the wait staff, which is a plus. Where The Winchester shines is with the food. I can say with certainty that the breakfast offerings are top. One of these evenings I shall have to return to sample something from their dinner menu. Based on brunch, The Winchester draws a crowd. I can only imagine how the restaurant packs out after 5:00 PM. There may be popular variations of Winchester, but The Winchester in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village is the one that I have fallen in culinary love with.

The Winchester on Urbanspoon

Original Pancake House, Not the Original One, Though

Original Pancake House

Imagine a Saturday morning in April with birds chirping, blue skies, a gentle breeze, and temperatures hovering in the 70’s. It sounds almost like a scene you would project during meditation. For those of us in Chicago, we view it more as a tease because we are almost certain that the temperatures will drop by 11:00 AM and it will start to feel again like the beginning of winter or the last vestiges of winter. Of course, we cannot be bothered with Mother Nature tempting us with pleasant weather this early in the spring, so we continue with things like running errands, jogging, staying in bed late, and even avoiding chores around the house. And then there are those of us who rush to some breakfast spot. It goes without saying that eating is priority in my life and starting off with a divine breakfast is top priority — when I can actually get out of bed on Saturday mornings with any kind of inertia.

Orange Juice

Orange Juice

It was off to Original Pancake House at 7255 W. Madison Street in Forest Park. Having passed the restaurant several times, I knew how quickly it packed with patrons. So, it was necessary to arrive as soon as the doors opened because with the weather being so nice, I knew that people would be there like it was Black Friday. Wouldn’t you believe that I got there before the rush? Menu in hand and appetite alarm driving me insane, I ordered orange juice, a mushroom and cheddar omelette, and a Belgian waffle. Oh happy day!

Mushroom and Cheddar Omelette

Mushroom and Cheddar Omelette

The omelette was not some concoction from the kitchen, much like what I have had at countless breakfast restaurants made from fringe eggs. Granted it was not all cute and rectangular. That didn’t matter. It filled my plate before I started gobbling it and filling my belly. Then there was the Belgian waffle. Once you have a waffle from Original Pancake House, you will boycott Eggo. “Leggo me Eggo.” Please, you can have it because I’m going back to Original Pancake House. Now, one may think that the breakfast here may be much like what you get anywhere. No, no, no. The eggs and omelette are fluffy. The pancakes and waffles aren’t weighty, but are instead light and airy. I was happy when I finished dabbing at the corners of my mouth.

Belgian Waffle

Belgian Waffle

One thing to note about Forest Park is that there is a very strong atmosphere of family. You will find most establishments filled with families and close friends. Also, it appears that customers return to restaurants constantly to the point where the staff knows them well and interacts with the customers accordingly. The same can be said of this Original Pancake House location. The drive out to Forest Park was not all that bad as a result of a really good breakfast, which I knew I was going to enjoy, and pleasant service that was conversational. I have always been a huge fan of European breakfast options, but when I want a proper American breakfast, I will find myself at some Original Pancake House that isn’t bursting at the seams with diners. The location in Forest Park may not be the original one, but that’s okay. It’s good enough for me. (Isn’t that “It’s good enough for me” a part of some commercial jingle?)

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon The Original Pancake House on Foodio54

Annual Narcissism Celebration

Iguana CafeSeveral years ago, I did something that a lot of people who have limited success in relationships refuse to do. I backed off and spent time getting to know and love myself rather than seeking someone to do that for me. Well, those several years were actually fifteen years ago. What was supposed to be a brief self-assessment turned into a case of me practising narcissism. And truth be told, since then I have not gone to bed with grief, tears on my pillow, sleepless nights, or a diminished sense of self because I was abiding by an emotionally damaging mantra of “I am nothing without a woman.” This had marked my fifteenth year celebration. Not being one for shopping and I am going abroad mid September through mid October, I made an appointment with my ego to go to some restaurants and feast in celebration of having discovered that the world will not come to a screeching halt because I am single.

Belgian WaffleMy first stop was Iguana Cafe in the River North section of Chicago at 517 N. Halsted Street. It is one of those boutique restaurants that has a coffee-house feel to it and fills up with those who have an urban chic appeal to themselves. That may be very much due to the ambience that the cafe exudes. Two very close friends had given rave reviews about Iguana Cafe, almost bordering on fanatical. So I had to see what the appeal was. On entry, one thing I found a bit disconcerting was whether to seat myself or wait. Not as though the cafe was bursting with patrons, the staff seemed rather scrambled. But I waited for a few minutes before being acknowledged and taken to a seat — where I waited for a noticeable amount of time before my order was taken.

Iced ChaiWith it being morning, I scanned the extensive menu for something along the lines of breakfast fare. Usually breakfast menus leave me with a gasp, for there is so much that leaps from the pages along the lines of appetizing dishes. At Iguana Cafe, the bill of fare was somewhat pedestrian although exhaustive. Noting that, I ordered a Belgian waffle because I was confident that the kitchen staff would not botch that. I also ordered Greek yogurt with strawberries and bananas and an iced chai to wash it all down. The Belgian waffle certainly was not a defrosted breakfast delight, as it was still crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside after I had snapped about 75 shots of it from various angles. Filling the whole plate, the taste finally made things feel okay, because the initial impression of the cafe was — shall we say — a bit run of the mill. As an individual who is not a fan of yogurt from the dairy section at the local grocer, the Greek yogurt with strawberries and bananas really etched itself in my mind as a highlight. Greek yogurt alone is a bit of an acquired taste because it is not loaded with sugar, saccharine, Splenda, Equal, or high fructose corn syrup the way you find yogurt in the supermarket. The natural sweetness of the fruit was all that was needed. And the chai, although it may have been the quick mix in the pourable carton, was still good enough on ice to wet the throat. So, I get to say that the dining experience at Iguana Cafe was worthy.

Greek YogurtAfter an enjoyable breakfast, I felt as though I was at a Jamaican cafe when it came time for paying the tab. In Jamaica, you practically beg for the tab and have to push your way to the counter to pay the bill. I waited for the tab to be brought to the table — and I waited, and waited, and waited. By the third time having to request the check, I walked to the till to pay the tab. Crime. Treason. Horror. Murder. The stares I received from the staff, as if though I was supposed to sit and wait for fifteen more minutes while the time on the parking metre ran out. This is not written as a deterrent, but while the food left me with a smile, the whole customer service thing was missing from the equation. To quote the youth of the present urban setting, “It is what it is.” And as I walked out the door with a filled stomach, I checked Iguana Cafe off my list of restaurants to sample.

The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi BarBy lunch, my belly was growling. I had been pondering whether I wanted to go to a restaurant on the North Side but remembered a certain cafe from my days of living in Hyde Park. The first experience was so pleasing that I wanted to return for another episode at the outdoor seating area. So it was off to The Sit Down Cafe at 1312 E. 53rd Street. The weather was perfect: no hot and humid temperatures, blue skies, and a mild breeze. Reaching the restaurant and finding that there were plenty of outdoor seats because everyone was inside — or elsewhere — I requested a table that was in a shaded part of the front patio and had pulled out my camera to start my calibration for my photography. And wouldn’t you know that out of all of the outdoor seating, these two loud-mouth women sat immediately next to me and grimaced at me clicking away with my camera in advance of receiving my food. Apparently none of the other seats were good enough. To borrow an observation from my brother, “We have been cursed such that we have a tendency to attract foolishness.” He actually used another word rather than “foolishness.”

Pineapple, Orange, and Pomegranate JuiceFor a refreshing beverage, I had a pinorgranate juice. This was a blend of pineapple juice, orange juice, and pomegranate juice. Oh was it tasty. I have had pineapple and orange juice but the addition of the pomegranate juice added a hint of tartness that did some tricks on the tongue when matched with the sweetness of the other juices. Americanized Asian dishes have a love of adding sweet and sour meat-of-your-choice to their menus. The sweet and tart marriage in the glass of pinorgranate juice had given me an idea of some juicing to try at home. Not to stuff myself relentlessly, I opted for a maki roll because the rolls I had during my first visit were so outstanding that I do not think I gave the write-up justice when I did my first journal entry for The Sit Down Cafe. On this visit, I ordered a dragon roll. Tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, and barbecued eel. What more could you ask for in food satisfaction? Of course I could rattle off several more choices, but the dragon roll never fails and I found a bit of a perverse satisfaction watching the two mouths frown and scoff at my photography enjoyment and subsequent exaggerated sighs of bliss. I bet they won’t sit immediately next to someone else in an otherwise empty restaurant or patio again. I don’t remember having the dragon roll when I had gone the first time, so the light feast this time was virginal at The Sit Down Cafe. Although the cafe has some other fare on their menu like a few Italian dishes, they are absolute top in terms of their sushi.

Dragon RollThe waitress who had taken my order remembered me from a year ago during my first visit. Since patrons usually snap photos with their cell phones and point-and-click phones, seeing someone photograph their food from multiple angles and with up to well over 300 clicks of the camera, I guess it would be hard to forget someone who is not only passionate about their photography but who also cleans his plate. Again the loud mouths sized me up because to hear the waitress engage me in long conversation about what I do for a living if photography is not it, what I had been doing since the first visit, some of my favourite cities for specific cuisines, and some  recommended restaurants in the city was not something she did with the other dining patrons. The complete converse of Iguana Cafe, I left The Sit Down Cafe feeling as though I had left a friend’s house. And as the waitress had said, I have a feeling that you’ll be back more now that you’re in Chicago more, I will indeed return for more juice and sushi on a regular basis.

Brownie SundaeTowards the latter part of the day, and after having snacked on something throughout the remainder of the afternoon, I decided that I would treat myself to some ice cream. I had gone to one of my favourite neighbouring suburbs to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the picture show. A little extra time on my hand I walked over to the Oberweis Ice Creamery at 124 N Oak Park Avenue and had a brownie sundae with a large scoop of chocolate ice cream, a scoop of cookies and cream, whipped cream and topped with a cherry. It was a perfect ending to an A+ day. After a full day of having my cell phone off so that I would have no disruption to my annual narcissism celebration, I returned home to voice mails from friends about broken hearts, divorce, and emotional torture. For some twisted reason, I smiled to myself because if I were to introduce them to the joys of narcissism, they would learn to love themselves and know the next time when someone is trying to bring trash into their homes to mess up the merry work. People take trash out for a reason. For me, if I’m not busy staring at myself in a mirror, I’m staring at my reflection in an empty plate. And I smile.

Iguana Cafe on Urbanspoon
The Sit Down Cafe on Urbanspoon