I admit that I was getting a little worried at the end of last year that I’d run out of really good places to write about. I should have known better and trusted that there are chefs who really understand how to make delicious breakfast and serve it in a thoughtful way.
More menus include the kinds of savory items that have been missing from the decades-old “two eggs up, bacon, hash browns and whole wheat toast.” I’m not saying that plate isn’t just what you want and need once in a while, but this month’s restaurants have figured out the secrets to keep me coming back.
Because April’s weather was a roller-coaster ride of temperatures, I wondered if I could find breakfast food that would warm me on those cold days but not overwhelm my taste buds. Yes, I did!
I went to the Astoria Cafe & Bakery, which is Serbian, specializing in Balkan delicacies, such as burek, along with cakes, crepes and desserts.
The gracious owner, Tanja Jeftenic, introduced us to the menu, which needed a lot of translation, and she made everything sound delicious. There were omelettes and French toast, but I wanted the real deal.
We had the komplet lepinja because who can resist a house-baked, large round bread filled with house-made Serbian cream cheese? It’s an ethereal mix of butter and cream cheese, with an egg baked in, and covered with roasted pork shoulder and its juices.
The Serbian breakfast plate had four different cured sausages, Greek feta, a mild Swiss, the cream cheese, red-pepper sauce and over-easy eggs. It came with right-out-of-the-oven small buns.
The coffee was Serbian — by definition strong — which fit with the assertive flavors of the food.
Of note: Table service, take out, metered street parking, accessible.
Find it: 2954 W. Irving Park Road, 773-654-1033.
Open: Daily Tuesday through Sunday. (Call for hours, which seem to vary.)
Everyone who has headed onto the Kennedy Expressway at Irving Park has probably overlooked this corner spot. The wooden front and interior make it look like it might have been an old-time tavern, but the logo on the windows of two stylized birds announces there might be something unique inside. I quickly looked up the word finom and discovered it means “delicious” in Hungarian.
Across from the coffee counter as you enter are tables, with more in the back. We took some helpful paper menus to the table to make our choices, since the fare here requires some explanation.
Gulyásleves — traditional Hungarian soup with beef, parsnip, carrot, potato, onions, dumplings and served with bread — sounded like it would be heavy. But since I was sharing, it was my first choice.
My second choice was Mushroom Paprikás. It features mushrooms, sour cream, cured egg yolks and black truffle pearls on paprikas sauce.
Now for the surprise: Hungarian food is often thought of as heavy. Think again. Every spoonful was balanced, delicious, mellow and calming. We finished every morsel, which is the true test.
Chefs and co-owners Daniel Speer and Rafael Esparza have redefined Hungarian cooking — and I’m thankful.
Of note: Fast casual, metered street parking, accessible.
Find it: 4200 W. Irving Park Road, 312-620-5010, finomcoffee.com.
This beautiful, open, glass-enclosed space is on the second floor of the renovated lamp factory that we used to see from the Kennedy Expressway. It’s LEED certified, and just walking through the main door makes you feel good.
There is no identity crisis here at this so-called cafe by day and restaurant by night. Four of us ordered four dishes plus a side to share, and there was nothing left at the end of our meal.
Here’s the list: The Dirty Bird sandwich had grilled chicken sausage, roasted mushrooms, fried egg, cheddar and garlic mayo on a tender English muffin with crunchy edges.
The perfectly named Break Potato featured a salt-roasted baked potato, broken open and topped with scrambled eggs, bacon jam, chive sour cream with fried onions, and sausage on the side.
Then there was the Severson Farms oat berries with spiced cranberries and apple preserves that was topped with cinnamon creme and granola. And I had to have the sweet potato hash — perfectly caramelized little cubes of sweet potatoes, mushrooms and cauliflower — with over-easy eggs on top.
The side was their glorious potatoes that are roasted and then smashed and then crisped. Dip them in the aioli tomatillo for an extra treat.
The restaurant is proud, with good reason, of its garden, and uses the harvest well in its dishes. The coffee is carefully sourced: Tonka Bean Latte is made with caramel “infused with magic. When a menu describes something with magic, I’m all in. It was soul satisfying.
On the restaurant’s website, it says co-owners Chad Little and Leonard Hollander promise a journey. I will follow them anywhere.
Of note: Metered street parking; fast casual; special dinners, including a Midwestern omakase; catering; online ordering; accessible.
Find it: The Green Exchange, 2545 W. Diversey Ave., 312-866-0795, arborprojects.com.
Open: Daily except Sunday.
Ina Pinkney, aka The Breakfast Queen, owned iconic West Loop breakfast spot Ina’s for more than 30 years and now writes “Breakfast With Ina” monthly for Food & Dining.