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Friday, June 17, 2005

Orange - Chicago - A Breakfast Review

posted by snekse

The menu
Originally uploaded by snekse.
It's said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's understandable and probably even more true when you're on vacation, at least, if you vacation like my wife and I do. We tend to have very active trips - to the point that we often feel like we need another vacation when we return. Without having the fuel to power us, we'd never get to see half of the things we have planned. I swear this is not a PSA. No streaming rainbow proclaiming "The More You Know" - I promise.

Think about the last time you went on vacation, if you ate breakfast, where did you go? The restaurant in the hotel? Mickey D's? A Denny's wannabe with a waitress named Flo? The free continental breakfast? Americans just don't give breakfast it's proper due. Too many buffets and basic Denny's fare joints. This is what truly makes Orange so amazing. So amazing that we ate there 3 times in the 5 days that we were in Chicago.

So, what is Orange? Well, it's definitely not your standard eatery. It's got a very casual, hip and trendy vibe. It's a little hippie, Bohemian, punk, alternative, and yuppie all rolled into one. It's an odd mix, but it works well in the fact that almost everyone will feel comfortable to the point that it makes you want to become a regular. Not just a regular, but that kind of regular where they know your name. And not just the staff, but all the other regulars, who's names you of course know as well, because you're all there regularly at your regular times. I'm not saying this happens, just that you might want it to.

So, who might not feel comfortable here? Anyone who might get easily offended by tattoos, body piercings, middle fingers, anime hair, mixing Prada purses with Chuck Taylors, the music of Bob Marley or The Sex Pistols, or the words "massage oils". If I just offended you, you might as well move on to the next post. The food at Orange may not outweigh your squirm tolerance; plus it's hard to chew with your jaw on the table.

Alright, for those of you still with me, let me set the scene(s). Plural because Orange now has 2 locations, which we didn't find out until after we had been to their marque location on Clark street. Since that's the first one we visited, let me start there.

The Clark street location isn't very large, but it has a lot of charm. The seating is close, but not cramped. The restaurant is laid out in a way that showcases their juice bar/frushi station. The walls are all brightly colored and large front windows let light flood into the entire place. Just a nice quaint breakfast bistro.

I mention all of this, because the downtown has a bit of a different vibe to it. Being located on Printers Row in the Loop, the Harrison street location is far more spacious, but doesn't really have the same charm as it's Clark street sister store. If you have the time or ambiance is important to you, then by all means, make the trek to the smaller, cozier Clark/Belmont spot at least once.

I know, I know, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD! Well, despite the mumblings of some amateur food critics have espoused, I thought the food was excellent. Not mind blowing, but a hell of a lot better than the alternatives. The menu follows lock step with the restaurant by focusing on items that are a bit edgy, creative, alternative in nature, but still works well in the sense of harmony with everything else.

The "menu" itself exudes all of those things due to the fact that it's not a menu at all. Instead of printing the plain old standard menu that everyone is used to, Orange has come up with something that almost brings tears to my sucker-for-marketing mind. Introducing for your reading pleasure...The Menuzine! This thing is awesome. It's a 20 page magazine with an issue number, a table of contents, articles, interviews and of course...ads. I won't even go into all the reasons why I think this is brilliant, but I will say that it about sums up what Orange is about. Practical yet frivolous and irreverent all at the same time.

So, when you first sit down at Orange you are presented with not one, but three menus. The first being the menuzine and the others being a build-your-own juice menu and weekly specials menu. The juice menu lets you pick a base juice, like apple, and add other juices to it, such as grape, celery, kiwi and ginger - all of which are freshly juiced on site. The other menu features 3 or 4 interesting special items as well as their almost famous pancake flight. Oddly enough, there is no sushi style menu for ordering frushi. This is probably because giving people a choice on which frushi they want would be more hassle than it's worth.

I'm not really going to talk much about the juice. Juice is juice. In the midwest you can't really expect greatness and it's a little like Mongolian barbecue in this form, if it tastes bad, there's a good chance it's your own fault. What were you thinking when you ordered Grapefruit/Blueberry/Lime juice anyway?

As for the infamous frushi, all I can say is "eh". It's not bad, it's not great. It sure looks pretty, but I don't think I'd ever order it again. There's just something about fruit and rice that isn't right in terms of texture. However, it's a clever idea and I hope they keep it on the menu. If they do take it off the menu, try making it yourself sometime just for fun.

Besides frushi, the other thing Orange is most known for is their weekly pancake flights. Four stacks of silver dollar pancakes, each prepared differently with a common theme. The week we were there the theme was: Michael Jackson ~ Episode 2! This consisted of stacks named: The Trap!, The Jury's Question, The PJ's, and The End (be sure to check out the descriptions under each picture). It just so happened that the verdict also came in that week. And the verdict on the pancake flight? A guilty pleasure! Pancakes and loads of sweets, what's not to love?

Not to be out shined by frushi or the pancakes, each of the items on the weekly specials menu was also outstanding (yes, we tried them all). Heck, even the regular menu items blew us away. About the only things we didn't enjoy were the frushi and the rosemary sausage. Neither were bad, just not on the same level as the other items we had. If you want to be a stickler, you can throw the juice in there as well since we only ordered it on our first visit and never bothered to order it again because it was too tart and we felt it just wasn't worth the money.

So, what were the standouts? I'd probably say the Pan-Seared Oatmeal, the Pancake Flight and Chai Tea French Toast. My wife would switch the Chai Tea French Toast for the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes. All around a kudos to chef Alex Gomez for creating some truly innovative and delicious creations revolving around the most important and under appreciated meals of the day.

RELATED LINKS:
RESTAURANT REVIEW: Alinea - Chicago
RESTAURANT REVIEW: Blackbird - Chicago
RESTAURANT REVIEW: TRU - Chicago
UrbanSpoon Reviews: Orange in Chicago

Chicago - $25 Gift Certificates for $10


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