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Breakfasts to Beguile

The city's top morning eateries.

By CHICAGO LIFE

Fountain sodas. Lattes. On rare occasions, when I have more time, some shredded wheat and soymilk. As someone who often neglects the most important meal of the day, those are some of the items I've been known to hurriedly consume while on the go. Then I decided to give myself a little time to relax and discover a side of Chicago cuisine I had been ignoring. Here are the best places I discovered:

Culinary Adventure Meets Tradition

Ina's
1235 W. Randolph St., 312-226-8227
Breakfast: $5-$8
Remember that friend whose mother always made you taste her recipes, didn't let you leave until she knew you were full and encouraged you to try new things? That's what breakfast is like at Ina's, where owner Ina Pinkney can often be found strolling around her dining room with a coffee mug and a big smile, making sure everyone is eating well. Ina started me off with a slice of her frittata, made of pasta, cheese and fresh saut?ed vegetables, served with lightly saut?ed tomato sauce. Next was the Scrapple, cooked with cornmeal, corn kernels, black beans and cheddar. As a complete breakfast, the Scrapple is served with two eggs and choice of meat. But my favorite was Ina's Vegetable Hash, a hearty dish consisting of potatoes, yams, mushrooms, eggplant, onions, garlic and Brussels sprouts, served with two poached eggs. It's a recipe Ina says customers either love or hate, but always find to be unique. For something sweeter, Ina also serves a variety of pancakes, including Gingerbread Pancakes with lemon cream. All breakfast entrees on Ina's menu are vegetarian, but meat can be added to any dish. "I can tell exactly what people will like," Ina says. "I've seen enough people to tell if they have limited food choices or are adventuresome." My advice about Ina's: Be adventuresome.

Pioneer Turned Breakfast Hotspot

Caf? Selmarie
4729 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-989-5595
Breakfast: $5-$8
Packed with a flavorful punch, the omelet I tried at Caf? Selmarie might be too delicious to eat before 9 a.m. Made with yellow squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, lemon thyme, fresh mozzarella cheese and fine herbs, it was one of several specialty omelets included in the Caf? Selmarie rotation. "You have to eat a wholesome breakfast," co-owner Jeanne Uzdawinis says. "We do breakfast so well because it's almost the way you would make it at home. It's great, fresh food." A longtime resident of Lincoln Square, Uzdawinis opened Caf? Selmarie with friend Birgit Kobayashi 22 years ago as a European-style coffee and espresso bar before the neighborhood had started to take off. "I felt very strongly about living and working in the neighborhood," Uzdawinis adds. "We felt there was a real need for this kind of caf? here." Other tempting Caf? Selmarie specialties Uzdawinis suggests include the breakfast burrito with chihuahua cheese, the corned beef hash and the French toast with triple sec in the batter. And since Caf? Selmarie began as a coffee spot, ordering their cappuccino or latte is a good start.

'Soul' Food

Victory's Banner
2100 W. Roscoe St., 773-665-0227
Breakfast: $4.95-$8.55
Though this Roscoe Village eatery serves all vegetarian fare, even the most carnivorous of palates will be satisfied here. The proof is in dishes like the popular Satisfaction Promise, a flavorful combination of two eggs scrambled with spinach, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. Open since 1999, Victory's Banner also offers a variety of omelets, as well as the delicious Victory's Banner award-winning French toast, made with cream in the batter and served with peach butter and maple syrup. As for his title, owner Pradhan Balter says he proudly considers himself more the "ower" of the restaurant. "I am the owner, but am indebted to everybody who works here and our customers," Balter says. "The food comes in two different varieties. Number one, of course, the food that's for eating. Another kind of food though is inner food." The servers, who, like Balter, are students of the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, add to the atmosphere by wearing colorful saris. So check your karma at the door, relax in the sunny dining room and enjoy one of Balter's specialties. Both your stomach and your spirit will be grateful.

Urban Legend

Hilary's Urban Eatery (HUE)
1500 W. Division St., 773-235-4327
Breakfast: $4-$10.50
The breakfast experience at this Division Street hangout on the edge of Wicker Park in East Village is not only filling, but also friendly and pretentious-free. Drinks are served in Mason jars, and I was pleased to see the servers will substitute the ham on the Eggs Benedict with spinach. The dish, served in generous portions with fresh hollandaise sauce, comes with potatoes and stewed peaches. Other popular breakfast items include Steak and Eggs, the HUE Scrambled, made with three eggs and choice of two ingredients, and the Breakfast Burrito, served on a spinach or tomato-basil tortilla with scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, diced tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, gorgonzola cheese and black bean spread. The menu also offers a frittata and corned beef hash with eggs. While enjoying breakfast at Hilary's, check out the artwork from owner Hilary Farrell's collection or some of her other eclectic d?cor, like the horse collar mirror hanging on the wall in the back room. Hilary's definitely draws in the neighborhood folks, but is warm and welcoming to newcomers. Grab a menu and do some people watching from one of the window spots or take a seat on a sparkly retro stool at the counter. As Fun to Taste as it Looks

Orange
3231 N. Clark St., 773-549-4400
(second location at 75 W. Harrison St.)
Breakfast: $4.95-$11.95
Like juice? At this hip, contemporary Lakeview breakfast spot, it's practically an event. Customers choose from a selection of fruits and veggies such as carrots, cucumbers and celery to be tossed in the juicer. While I sat among the comfy pillows on a long bench in the dining room, Stephanie Whiton, the manager, brought me a refreshing combo of cucumber, watermelon and strawberry juice. Orange's creativity only starts with the drinks. Although the Green Eggs & Ham looked tempting, I ordered the Chai Tea French Toast, a pyramid of baked slices of bread soaked in chai tea and served with ricotta cheese and caramelized fuji apples over a chai latte reduction. Stephanie served me this sweet, creamy treat with a side of house potatoes formed into a cylinder. "We always try to play around with things and have fun with the food," Whiton says. One typically doesn't expect to use chopsticks during breakfast, but Whiton brought me some to try a particularly unique Orange specialty--Frushi, or fruit sushi. Instead of fish, small pieces of fruit such as strawberries, watermelon, kiwi, mango and apples combine with grape and coconut rice for a refreshing breakfast. The Frushi selections change each day.

Authentic and Down-Home

Sweet Maple Caf?
1339 W. Taylor St., 312-243-8908
Breakfast: $4.95-$8.95
Jazz music plays softly in the dining room, and fresh flowers decorate the tables. Only open six years, Sweet Maple Caf? already has become a breakfast staple on Taylor Street, bringing in regulars from the nearby University of Illinois campus and lifelong neighborhood residents. Many of the recipes made at Sweet Maple are items that first-time restaurant owner Laurene Hynson used to serve to her own friends. The photographs from Hynson's family that adorn the unfinished walls make the atmosphere cozy. I ordered the Sweet Maple Special, which included a large portion of scrambled eggs, homefries, sausage and a huge homemade buttermilk biscuit, which would have been a meal on its own. In addition to the homefries and biscuits, the pancakes must be tried at Sweet Maple. "We have regulars who come here every day to eat," manager Twyla Estell says. Word has it that one of those regulars is none other than Laurene Hynson herself. If that's not the testament of a good restaurant, I don't know what is.

Breakfast with a Kick

Heaven on Seven
600 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-7774
Breakfast: $6.95-$13.95
Bring your appetite to Heaven on Seven, where the Midwest meets the South. This Louisiana-style restaurant originated as a coffee shop on the seventh floor of 111 N. Wabash Ave. I tried the Michigan Avenue location, open for breakfast and brunch at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and offering some of the same generous portions of Cajun and Creole selections served at the Wabash Ave. restaurant six days a week. For something different and sweet, try the Banana Foster Pancakes, an enormous helping of hotcakes topped with fried bananas and powdered sugar. Heaven on Seven also features a mouth watering Creole Eggs Benedict made with andouille sausage and Creole hollandaise sauce. Manager Steve Skutnik says that since Hurricane Katrina, he's noticed some customers from New Orleans stopping in to eat. "They come in here to kind of remember," he says. "It's a sad situation." Owned by restaurant veteran Jimmy Bannos, Heaven on Seven also features 15 different omelets and has a third city location at 3478 N. Clark St. and a suburban spot at 224 S. Main St. in Naperville.

Killer Cuisine

m.henry
5707 N. Clark St., 773-561-1600
Breakfast: $4.95-$10
Andersonville's call for a more upscale breakfast spot was answered with this cute and trendy Clark Street eatery. Owner Michael Moorman had me try the Fannie's Killer Fried Egg Sandwich consisting of two over-medium eggs, applewood bacon, sliced plum tomatoes, gorgonzola and fresh thyme on toasted sour boule. Just as deadly and delicious as the fried egg sandwich were the Blackberry Bliss Cakes, which are layered with warm blackberries and vanilla mascarpone cream and topped with a brown sugar and oat crust. They've been featured on the Food Network. If you're worried about cholesterol, the m.henry menu also features vegan and vegetarian selections such as the Vegan Epiphany, a dish made with organic tofu scrambled with peppers, yellow onions and spices.

Published: October 01, 2005
Issue: November 2005