I was in Chicago last weekend for St. Patrick’s Day because I had heard from many of my friends that the city does this Irish celebration bigger and better than anyone else. Aside from the city dyeing its river green, the plethora of parties (people get tables at restaurants just to pop champagne bottles and drink green beer all day long) had my head spinning. If there is one thing Chicago is famous for, it is their deep dish pizza and steaks. And though it’s worth it to try different pizza and steak joints, you’d be remiss if you didn’t try the new restaurants with dedicated to Southern, British, French, Italian and even African cuisine.
For Sunday brunch however, my friend Alexandra and I headed to the Wicker Park Neighborhood for brunch at Carriage House (1700 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622), located at Division St. and Paulina Street. At the helm of this quaint low country restaurant is chef Mark Steuer, a South Carolinian at heart (he grew up on John’s Island, South Carolina).
We called an hour before our arrival to make a reservation, which the very polite hostess was happy to oblige. For a 1pm reservation, parking was a bit hard to finagle but we ended up with a spot in a back alley street off Paulina Street. Make sure to plan ahead if you are driving. There were several people waiting for tables when we got there, probably those without reservations but they were seated within 15 minutes of arrival.
Alli and I were seated on the covered and heated outdoor seating area, which will no doubt become a hotspot in the summer when the weather warms up and the makeshift plastic and metal covering is removed. As part of its Southern hospitality, the restaurant seats were accessorized with plaid blankets, which no one was using because the space was amply heated.
What brought us to the Carriage House was the review of its beignets, the light fried doughnut topped with piles of powdered sugar which comes with a side of devilishly delicious coffee fudge dunking sauce topped with coffee froth. We placed an order of the beignets – can be either desert or an appetizer – and a French press coffee. I was in heaven when I sunk my teeth into the mouthwatering coffee fudge covered beignet, which complimented the savory coffee effortlessly. Would I order that again? In the words of Mr. Big, “abso-fucking-lutely!”
We decided to skip cocktails and instead order two entrees, the shrimp and grits and the pork shoulder, as shared plates. The portions are perfect for one but meat and potato guys might want to order something a bit hearty if they are expecting a heaping plate of good stuff. As Alli said, “Marcus [her fiance] would be mad if we came here and he saw these small portions.” For us girls though, we appreciated the calorie savers and surprisingly we were full.
The shrimp and grits with hunter gravy (brown gravy) and bits of tasso (spicy cured pork cut into strips) was lick your plate good. The grits were cooked just right with the hearty gravy serving as its flavoring agent. Atop were two large shrimp, with heads and tails still attached. Low country cooking its best if you ask me. This dish was good enough to slap your mama. And of course, our favorite.
The pork shoulder, which came with the Carriage House hash, pickled peppers, smoked Bearnaise and a fried egg, was hearty but a little underwhelming when each item on the plate is eaten by itself. The hash isn’t what I was used to. I was expecting cubed cut potatoes with onions and peppers. The Carriage House hash was sauteed small whole potatoes, with little flavor.
The pork shoulder was good but not amazing. What made this dish unique and even worth ordering again was the symphony of flavors when all the elements on the plate were mixed together. When we mixed all the layers, the egg, with its golden yolk engulfing the pork and potatoes, plus the pickled peppers adding a tinge of slight saltiness, we were pleasantly surprised at how good the dish really was. Will I order this again? If I’m super hungry but there are other items on the menu worth trying, like the Pullman French toast and the Biscuits and gravy.
Though we didn’t try any of the cocktails (we partied a bit too hard the day before at all the St. Patrick’s Day festivities), two of the brunch cocktails caught my eye, the Carriage House Mimosa with Miller High Life, Buffalo Trace bourbon, orange bitters and fresh orange juice and the Bloody Mirabelle, made with Tito’s vodka, Simon’s Savory Carriage House mix and house-made celery hot sauce.