CHICAGO: NORTH POND & A WIENER
I felt a little bit rough this morning.
After the meat fest of the last few days, my innards rebelled and, well, let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty.
Still, that’s why, as traveller who is becoming as well seasoned as all those pork ribs I have been eating, I always carry Immodium. So, blocked up good and proper, thanks for asking.
It did make the flight up to Chicago an interesting one and the lady in the seat next to me when we took off soon took advantage of the fact it was an empty flight to change seats the moment we were in the air. Don’t blame her really, the gurgling of HS’s tum was audible over the hum of the engines.
Still, by the time I had landed, caught a shuttle to my hotel and checked in, I was ready for a bit of lunch and walked the few minutes through Lincoln Park to see if I could do a walk in at North Pond.
The terrace looking across the pond to the city was packed, but as it was nearly 90o, I didn’t mind sitting inside and they soon had me at a lovely table in the corner.
Bruce Sherman, Chef at North Pond is a self professed member of the “get good ingredients and don’t bugger around with them club” and it shows in the brunch menu which offers three courses for $32 with breakfast staples like oatmeal being given a fresh twist with organic cream cheese whipped through it.
First up, an inconsequential little muffin thingy which hardly distracted me from the glass of rose I had ordered.
A crab Caesar came on crunchy romaine as it should and, although the leaves had been over doused in the sauce, it was a good enough version that it didn’t matter. Plated along side the leaves came a couple of fillets of fresh and freshly grilled sardines and a bruschetta topped with a pleasing amount of crab meat.
A comped course of corn soup was probably the best thing of the whole meal, with a base of shrimps and fresh, sweet crispy corn topped with a velvety liquid that actually tasted of corn and not stock and salt.
Then things began to go downhill. A main course of trout saw the fish come over cooked over a bed of semolina run through with bacon and pecans that over powered the fish as indeed did both other elements of the plate, beets that had been glazed in a mouth puckering balsamic dressing and a rocket pesto that was overly oily.
Dessert too was a misfire with the filling of a lumpen apple tart sliding greasily off the base and a sorbet of blackberry doing its best to out do the balsamic over the beets in the mouth wince stakes.
That, in the end is the problem with brunch. Not so much the oft quoted Bourdain horror stories of what goes into the Hollandaise etc, more the fact that the A crew is usually taking a well earned break and the chef has to create a menu that the B team can do without screwing up. It means a menu that doesn’t light any fires but can be fine if the execution is good. Here, unfortunately, in the last two courses it wasn’t.
Even with the once mighty US$ being as weak as an undernourished kitten, the bill of $50 + tip (only about £25) for five courses and two glasses of wine left me feeling decidedly less than whelmed and I didn’t bother to stay around for the offer of tea.
My spirits were, however, greatly improved on the way back to hotel by the sight of the legendary Weiners Circle, home (arguably) of Chicago’s best hot dogs and also (without any argument) of the most irascible service.
ME: (wanders in, ums and ers, looks around a bit)
Woman Behind Counter: Big Ears, order or get the hell outta here.
ME- Could I possibly have a Red Hot with everything and a diet coke
WBC: Say what? Didn’t get a word of that, honey. You a retard?
ME: Er, no, er British.
WBC: Same thing. (shouts to crew behind) One with everything for big ears. That’s $3.50 and ( points to tip jar that says “for the tips, bitch”) make sure you put something in there. Don’t you make me come around that side of the counter
ME: Ye’m (obediently places another $2 in jar)
Mind you, for all that theatre, the hot dog is worth it with mustard, pickles and relish on top of a toothsome sausage with a nice char and all for less than the price of a Sunday paper back home.
I am rather enjoying America.