Thursday, September 20, 2007

Review: Orange

Before I even arrived in Chicago to visit my brother, he had e-mailed me to let me know that one of the things he wanted to do together was go to Orange.

While I was in Chicago, I did indeed go to Orange. Twice. But neither time was w/my brother. Oops!

Jeff explained to me that Orange is a brunchy mini-chain of restaurants at which Dale from this season's Top Chef previously worked. I did a little research on my own, eventually finding the menu online. Orange doesn't have its own website, really, but rather a URL (www.orangebrunch.com) that redirect you to another website. Regardless, the menu is there, so I was able to peruse the creative dishes that would await me in the Windy City.

The original plan had been to go to Orange the morning after I arrived in Chicago, but due to some business traveling, that plan never happened. So, the day after that, my sister-in-law, Sara, and I walked to the Orange on Harrison.

The restaurant was not terribly busy when we walked in around 1 that Thursday afternoon. The back area, in front of the open kitchen, was blocked off, so customers were corralled into the front section, which still had many tables open. While Sara and I were at the hostess stand, someone came over to her and said "HI!!!" so excitedly. Sara hugged this perky stranger, who then proceeded to say, "Now I can tell you're pregnant!" Sara introduced me to the friendly waitress, whose name was Cat. My brother and Sara are somewhat frequent patrons at Orange, and Cat has often been their server. Cat knew Sara was pregnant months earlier, but because Sara has the best genes ever, she probably didn't start showing until she was five or six months along. Bitch.

Orange's decor is certainly funky. The atmosphere is very warehouse-y, which is pretty appropriate for that part of town. The ceilings are very high, giving the restaurant an industrial feel. Adorning the walls are all sorts of art for sale, most of them paintings in extremely vibrant colors. Although I'd never buy any of that stuff, I enjoyed looking at it.

Cat seated us and brought over two things: glasses of water w/a cucumber slice floating on top (you'd think they'd use orange, but no! The water had a hint of cucumber flavor, which was really quite refreshing) and a little card detailing the week's pancake flight, which teams up four different pancakes on one segmented plate. The week's theme was "Back to School," so each of the pancakes had a name like "After-School Snack." The one pancake out of the four that made me really curious was the "Cafeteria Lunch": pancakes topped w/popcorn chicken and tater tots. To some people, that would be vile. To people like me, however, that would be heavenly. Despite the call of Lunchlady Land, I looked at the rest of the menu.

Orange's menu is ridiculously creative but a tad limited. For example, they offer five types of omelets, and five types only ($7.95-8.95); custom orders can take a hike. In addition to your traditional Eggs Benedict, you can get Caprese Benedict and Steak and Eggs Benedict. Pancakes are available in a number of versions ($6.95-8.95), including cinnamon roll and jelly donut, and a particularly interesting take on French toast involves skewers, coconut, and fresh fruit ($8.95).

In addition to breakfast standards like eggs and oatmeal, Orange also serves some lunch items. For under $10, you can have your choice of soups, salad, and sandwiches, all served in hefty portions.

When I went to Orange w/Sara, we decided to split the pancake flight. Sara also ordered an egg or two on the side to supplement the flight. After about 20ish minutes of waiting, the pancake flight arrived. Hoooooooly shit.

The presentation of the flight was absolutely gorgeous. A square plate segmented into quadrants held each variety of pancake. The pancakes themselves were stacks of kiddie-sized cakes, which made perfect sense considering how many pancakes come in the flight (four or five per stack I think). Sara and I looked all over for that "Cafeteria Lunch" combo, but couldn't find it. Cat returned to the table, so we asked her what the deal was. As it turned out, people thought the combination of pancakes w/tater tots and popcorn chicken was gross (WTF?!), so they substituted that w/something else. Psh. I was disappointed.

Disappointment soon gave way to elation, though, as I dug into the pancakes. The one in the upper right corner was PB&J. A good bit of PB was drizzled artfully across the stack in Jackson Pollock fashion. I don't like J or anything w/a J-like texture, but I gave it a shot anyway. I was surprised to find that these pancakes were not saccharine sweet; the peanut butter and the jelly were definitely toned down as to not taste like pure sugar. I was expecting something a little sweeter, though, so I wasn't really into these pancakes. (It's like thinking you're going to be drinking water and then realizing you're drinking Sprite. Ugh!) PB lover that she is, Sara enjoyed these pancakes. She later revealed them to be her favorite of the bunch.

Beneath the PB&J was a very dessert-like pancake topped w/chocolate chips and condensed milk. The chocolate chips were a touch melty and the condensed milk was warm and syrupy. The sweet flavors here were not toned down, so it tasted just as sugary as I had expected. A good blend of flavors and textures overall.

Moving to the left were that pancakes that substituted the "Cafeteria Lunch." Sitting atop these cakes were very thin slices of pineapple and watermelon--two fruits I'd never seen paired w/pancakes. Topping the mound was whipped cream, and a there was a rosette of whipped cream in each corner of the quadrant. A little upset that there was no chicken, I bitterly forked off a piece of these pancakes. But sweet Jesus, I saw the light! The pairing of the two fruits worked so amazingly w/the pancakes. The thinly sliced fruits added a heartier texture to the pancakes, which made for a great mouthfeel. The whipped cream made everything lighter and not too sweet. So, while Sara devoured the PB&J pancakes, I inhaled the fruity ones.

The last set in the flight consisted of pancakes layered w/applesauce and topped w/slices of apple and some cinnamon. I'm not really an applesauce kinda girl, but I happily gave these beautiful golden disks a chance. I did not find the apple flavor overwhelming, but rather complementary to the cakes. The crisp Granny Smith apples provided just the right tartness to balance the sweetness of the applesauce and the richness of the cinnamon.

The pancake flight set us back $10.95, but it was soooo worth it. Plus, it fed two of us handily, so it was a rather good bargain.

A couple days later, I was still thinking about Orange. So, my best friend, Michael, and I ended up going right back to the Orange on Harrison around noon on a Saturday. When Michael walked in, he said, "Whoa, this one's a lot bigger than the one by me." So, apparently the location in/near Wrigleyville is small. Well, I can say the location is small enough, because when we drove by it around 11:30 that morning, it was packed, w/a substantial crowd waiting outside to be seated.

But not at the big location! The hostess seated us immediately at the table next to the one I had sat in just a couple days earlier. While Michael and I perused the menu, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Cat, who had recognized me. I felt kinda special. :o) It was nice to be remembered.

I told Michael that my brother loved the kid-sized Fruity Pebble pancakes ($4.95), which, appropriate, appear under the kids' section of the menu. Despite being on the kids' menu, the pancakes made enough of an impression on my brother that he actually called me one day to tell me about them. This was enough to sell Michael on ordering those w/a side of eggs. I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich (which comes w/caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes; $6.95), then topped it w/some pesto, as recommended by the waitress, for a buck extra.

Orange has an orange-squeezing machine behind the bar which is in constant production. In addition to orange juice, the restaurant has a make-your-own-fresh-juice menu. Check off your main juice (orange, apple, etc.), add a second flavor (watermelon, mango, carrot, etc.), and throw something else in there (ginger, etc.) for a bit more panache if you're feeling sassy. For $3-4, you can have a custom-squeezed juice to enjoy w/your brunch. Michael, boring fellow he is, ordered a straight orange juice.

About 20 minutes after ordering, our meals arrived. Michael's pancakes consisted of about five Fruity-Pebbly cakes topped w/a blob of Fruity Pebble butter. Sprinkled on the plate like confetti was--you guessed it!--more of the colorful cereal. Michael took a bite of the pancakes and looked very happy. He told me I had to share in the joy, so I forked off just a bit. The original combination was so unique, so faux-fruity, and so truly tasty. Fantastic presentation aside, these cakes are winners, with just the right amount of fluff and just the right size pat of butter.

Sara told me that Jeff loves the grilled cheese at Orange, although she described it as being greasy. When my grilled cheese arrived, however, it was not the least bit greasy, as I had feared it might be. Two thick slices of bread had been topped w/cheese, onions, tomato, and pesto, and then thrown under a broiler; thus, no butter, margarine, oil, or mayo had been used to lube up the bread. The bread was crisp and golden, the filling melty and warm. The heartiest grilled cheese I've eaten, I had to use a fork and a knife to tackle the monster. There may have been a bit more cheese on there than my arteries would have preferred, but what good is a grilled cheese sandwich if there's hardly any cheese on it? Served alongside the sandwich was Orange's potatoes, which seem to me like roughly mashed potatoes thrown briefly onto a griddle to crisp up the outside. I think this is a great concept, one that is effectively used at my favorite brunch place near where I went to college. What these potatoes needed was a good dash of S&P, so I took the liberty of giving them this myself. I would have preferred French fries w/this sandwich instead of underseasoned mashers.

When I go back to Chicago in the next week or so for the birth of my nephew, I'll be eating at Orange. Maybe even twice. It's hard to find an original breakfast place that serves quality food at good prices. But with friendly, personal service, nice-sized portions, a completely bitchin' menu, and damn tasty food, I know Orange is a winner. Places like that make me sad that I don't have a reliable brunch place near me to fall back on.

Orange
75 W. Harrison St.
Chicago, IL 60605
312.447.1000
www.orangebrunch.com

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