Since Empanada Boy has been on his diet (11 lbs lost!), I’ve had to find other people to accompany me on most of my cheap eats adventures. Luckily, there are always eager candidates to be found. I don’t usually have mid-week breakfast offers, but last week I met up with Mr. Fancy Food, a Wesleyan graduate who lives in Baltimore and runs Bradmer Foods, a venture capital firm that invests in niche specialty food companies. He was in Chicago for the All Candy Expo, scoping out the scene for one of his companies, a chocolate maker. Mr. Fancy Food is a true foodie and will seemingly stop at nothing to try the best a given city has to offer. I met up with him before he left for the airport, and he had already visited many fine restaurants. But when he is in Chicago, he always stops for breakfast at the Southport Grocery & Cafe for personal and professional reasons. It was there that we met at 8 am, entering as the doors were being unlocked.
Just as its name suggests, Southport Grocery & Cafe is a grocery store, selling high-end gourmet products from artisanal pastas to imported spices to small batch chocolate and house-made baked goods. Mr. FF’s chocolate company has some of its offerings on the shelves here. The racks of goods line the edges of the room and run through the middle. The area around the perimeter is devoted to cafe tables where diners can order breakfast, fresh sandwiches, salads and soups. Mr. FF is my kind of dining partner in that he was eager to order and share half of each dish. As the seasoned veteran, he recommended the stuffed French toast, filled with citrus-cream cheese struesel and topped with blueberry compote. This sounded decadent and delicious but a little too sweet for my early morning palate. On the advice of our server, we chose the sweet and savory French toast. This was made with challah, topped with rosemary-roasted ham, Gruyere and a side of mustard-infused maple syrup. While the challah, ham and cheese combo may be causing my ancestors to turn over in their graves as I write this, the results were delicious. The French toast was light and airy and the sweet-salty ham and cheese added texture and depth. All of this was made cohesive by the phenomenal syrup. It was sweet, but had little mustard seed balls floating in it. The combination made everything explode in my mouth.
Mr. FF is a big fan of Southport’s housemade sausage, and our second selection, the sausage, mozzarella and pesto omelet, gave us a chance to sample it. As it turned out, the omelet actually didn’t have as much sausage as I had been hoping, and what was there was a little too mild for my taste. The mozzarella gave the dish a good stretchy texture, but its mild flavor didn’t add much. Pesto dominated the flavor, but it wasn’t exceptional. I did like the potato salad that came on the side. This just confirms the validity of my normal rule about not ordering omelets at restaurants. I could do just as well at home.
On the whole, however, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the freshness of the food at Southport Grocery & Cafe. I’d like to come back sometime to try the steak and eggs (supposedly massive) or the hash. And now I know where to replenish my supply of pimentÃ³n de la vera, the Spanish paprika I bought when I was there. I’m sure there is a line out the door on weekends, but there’s something luxurious about going out to breakfast on a weekday morning. Considering that, I’ll try to time my next visit as Mr. FF did this one: 8 am on a Thursday morning.
Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657