I would venture to say that I’m not alone when I say I’m often eager to finish my plate when it’s time for a meal and sometimes forget to explore the flavors, recipe origins, and even take in my surroundings – especially if I’m extra hungry. But, I always appreciate dining experiences that remind me why the very act of eating can be a learning experience which can be amplified through communal meals with people you’ve never met before. I am beyond lucky to have been invited to join the Chicago Food Bloggers group and until today, I had only met some members on Twitter. While my first involvement with the group was contributing Rebeccammended foodie gift ideas for the 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, I soon learned that the group was planning a relaxed winter brunch gathering at Nellcote in the West Loop and I was excited to partake.
Immediately, I met my dining buddies (no one was a stranger; upon meeting, we all dug our forks into each others’ plates to get a bigger taste of the menu), from Bunny and Brandy’s Brunchtime Blog and Cider Press (a blog focused on cider?! I’m in the Midwest for sure). My first flavors were from the simply delicious chamomile tea with hints of citrus and spice served in my very own teapot. It was also very affordable at $4, enough to fill about 4 cups. I learned it came from local Rare Tea Cellar on Ravenswood – I think I have a new destination on my to-go list. I was already learning new things after 15 minutes of joining the taste-loving table.
I went with the cured salmon served neatly alongside traditional fixings – tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, cream cheese, and a farm fresh egg (it’s so yellow!). While one thing on the plate – the bagel – may look standard and simple, I discovered it’s made in-house from the flour mill underneath the restaurant! The mini bagel barely sported the characteristic hole in the middle, but it wasn’t dry, had almost a sweet flavor, and was toasted perfectly.
A glimpse of my little open-faced bagel sandwich mid-bite.
I didn’t snap photos of my table neighbors’ dishes, but I tried the very rich, crispy, and buttery citrus pancakes with a berry compote on top that were such a treat and a bite of the lobster hash which had deep savory flavors and comforting texture. They’re known for their ‘ thin crust, wood-fired ‘Fork and Knife’ pizzas too, especially the one with the egg on top for breakfast, but I held out for my house-made bagel.
When I got home, I researched Nellcote a little and learned of it’s French and Italian influences inspired by Villa Nellcote, a mansion in Southern France, which came full circle given the mediterranean flavors, small plates on the menu, and the way they highlight their doughs and breads. Come to think of it, I’ve only had Italian brunch experiences less than a handful of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever had French brunch before. The clean, open, space with simple, solid colors, tall ceilings, eye-catching chandeliers, and concrete structural posts created a contrast that accurately represents the West Loop – modern, stylish, and comfortable with familiar, historical touches. In fact, that might just represent how I feel about Chicago’s aura all-around. I can’t wait to go back for dinner, or another leisurely weekend brunch.
A big thank you to Nellcote for hosting the Chicago Food Bloggers, and for the complimentary bites and champagne we used to toast in celebration of our gathering.