After a really wonderful time away (see here), it honestly wasn’t until I was on the plane back to the U.S. that I started thinking about, you know, being back in the U.S. That first week was fairly chill (as have been the subsequent weeks, too). I may get into that side of things in a future post, but for now I want to focus on much more important matters: food.
As it happened, I had two separate plans for the weekend after I returned. One, a chance to catch up over dinner before a friend jetted off on her own travels. The other, brunch with my cousin who’d been feeding my cat, so I could get my keys back and check out a local gallery he was interested in.
Both occasions took us to Logan Square, that hip, quickly-gentrifying neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side. Indeed, when I moved back to the city two years ago and inquired with locals what neighborhood might be the closes to my dear Williamsburg, to a person they all said Logan Square.
And they’re not entirely wrong. On the cusp of becoming so cool it’s not cool anymore, Logan Square is just north of the famed Wicker Park, that hipster bastion of yesteryear (you know, like 2010). Everyone who can’t afford it these days is going just a few stops up the Blue Line to Logan Square, with its tree-lined boulevards, indie coffee shops, brick two-flats and great restaurants.
I don’t get to this trendy area as often as I’d like. For one, I’m off an entirely different train line. And also, my natural state is solo Netflix bingeing from my couch. (Kidding…I think.) My point is, I was glad for the excuse to enjoy good food with great company at new-to-me spots.
For dinner on Saturday night, we ended up at Lula Cafe. Opened in 1999, it was one of the earliest entries into the burgeoning farm-to-table movement, presenting fresh, seasonal menus in an approachable storefront setting. Fast-forward 18 years, and the place has stretched out across three storefronts that offer intimate two-tops for date night, long community tables for groups and two bars – one for cocktails and the other, with just four seats, facing the open kitchen.
Nicknamed the Chef’s Bar, that’s where we sat, and though slightly awkward as they’re directly in the path of the restrooms, the service was nonetheless impeccable and the food…well, let’s just say I can understand why they’ve been thriving for the last twenty years.
We shared a seafood starter with mussels and scallops, then moved on to the roasted chicken (me) and quesadilla (her). Though those sound like simple options, let me assure you under Lula’s treatment they are anything but. My chicken was moist and flavorful (and plentiful – I took some home!) and her quesadilla was the fanciest tortilla and cheese I’d ever seen, with house-made verde sauce and a side of spicy slaw. I don’t see either of our choices in this gallery, but go ahead and click through anyways. I’ll wait.
It just so happened that brunch plans brought me back to Logan Square, when my cousin invited me to tag along while he checked out Gallery F for some new gig posters for his walls. We’d done brunch at Longman & Eagle before (a total must if you haven’t been yet), so I was looking for something else to try. Jam was one of the first options to pop up in my search, and the phrase “upscale diner” piqued my interest. The spot, just around the corner from Lula, is smaller and more focused in its offerings – it’s only open until 3p, serving up breakfast, brunch and lunch in a bright, crisp setting.
I was a bit late to arrive, but with our name on the list we hung out at the bar while we waited for a two-top to open up. It took longer than necessary as the hostess prioritized bigger parties ahead of us for their limited seating, but eventually she posted us up at a four-top. Mimosas followed soon after, and at her suggestion, we shared their signature Malted Custard French Toast. Topped with stone fruit compote (I didn’t know that term either; it basically means fruits with stone centers – peaches, cherries, etc.) and fresh cream, the custard-drenched bread melts in your mouth.
Having waiting as long as we did for a table, we saw plenty of brunches pass by on their way to happy diners. In twenty minutes, I swear I saw twenty plates of their take on chicken and waffles go by. Clearly, a popular option.
My dirty little culinary secret is that, despite having lived down the street from a Sweet Chick outpost, I’d actually never had the new classic. So I opted to give it a go, while my cousin was won over by their breakfast burrito – braised beef, jardiniere peppers, sunnyside egg. This, friends, is what they call doing brunch right.
The two restaurants couldn’t be more different in their objectives; one is a Logan Square staple serving up artisanal plates from day into evening, the other a relative newcomer, smaller in both physical space and menu offerings. But both meals were affordable and delicious, served up in welcoming, bustling settings with solid attention to detail.
And in less than 24 hours, I got an unplanned but lovely (and tasty!) glimpse of Logan Square, a neighborhood I may just have to make more of a habit of visiting.