When Barbara and Leon, Chicago Splash Magazine restaurant reviewers, visited Prairie Grass Café to celebrate National Waffle Day, it was like visiting a friend. It is not unusual for these reviewers to enjoy an occasional brunch at Prairie Grass Café following a weekend walk at the Chicago Botanic Garden. There was also an event hosted by a relative from Washington, D. C. that was so special that he never fails to visit Prairie Grass Cafe when he visits Chicagoland.
We always enjoy the casual feel of the restaurant. There is a bar area and a private room and a small curtained private space. I also like the monitors – room dividers that bring up changing prairie scenes. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming with dark woods and large windows.
Coming to celebrate National Waffle Day, however, was a new experience. Barbara and Leon had the opportunity to talk with Chef/Co-owner, Sarah Stegner and to try a variety of wonderful brunch fare. Sarah Stegner said that this was the first year that Prairie Grass Café celebrated National Waffle Day and she thought it was fun. Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris (Chef/owners) are two of Chicago's most highly regarded culinary stars and preparing waffles are among their favorite treats.
Waffles in North America date back to 1869 when a man named Cornelius Swartwout received the first U.S. patent for a waffle iron. They were popularized in the United States during the 1964 New York World's Fair by Maurice Vermersch of Brussels, Belgium, and named the Bel-Gem Waffle. In honor of this day, Prairie Grass was featuring: Prairie Grass Cafe's Peaches & Ice Cream Waffle features the tastiest local peaches from "Mick Klug Farm & Orchard," topped with a scoop of homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($11) while the Caramel Banana Waffle is a fluffy Belgium-style waffle with brûléed banana and salted caramel sauce ($10), which were available on the Cafe's brunch menu.
Kati was our very attentive and pleasant server. Once seated, Leon ordered Intelligentsia Coffee. He raved about it so much that although Barbara doesn’t often drink coffee, she ordered some, too. It was fantastic.
Leon ordered some Fantinel Prosecco, which he thought was excellent. He agreed with the description that it is a “velvety, bright and lively wine that's quite elegant, with delightful floral aromas”. This was so good that there was no feeling of impatience while the food was being prepared.
The brunch menu is very impressive. Here are the sections: Juice, smoothies, cocktails, yogurt; Benedicts, Omelets, Pancakes, Prairie Grass Favorites, Sides, Desserts and Hot Drinks. Choices are hard to make. It is also noteworthy that Carry-Out is available for lunch and dinner. The menu also says “Chef Georg Bumbaris & Chef Sarah Stegner- Founding member and co-president of Green City Market. Sarah noted that times have changed so much in the years since the market began and that organic local produce is in much greater demand and is much more available.
Sarah said the peaches were at their peak and they were amazing, just perfect for the waffle. This sounded good to Leon who ordered the “Prairie Grass Cafe's Peaches & Ice Cream Waffle”. He asked that the ice cream be deleted and then requested bacon. Leon commented that this waffle might have been the best waffle he has ever had. “ I couldn’t dream up a waffle as good as this one. I can’t believe how tasty the peaches are”, he said. He enjoyed using the syrup from the peaches instead of the beautifully presented syrup and butter. He also thought the bacon was very lean and crisp.
Being vegetarian and gluten-free, Barbara’s “Portobello Mushroom Benedict” received special treatment and was served without the Panko crust. When it arrived, it was beautiful. The flavors and textures were a taste treat. The eggs were not too soft and not too hard, but just right with solid whites a runny yolks. The lemon Hollandaise blended with the egg, spinach and mushroom into symphony of flavors that I could not get enough of. The potatoes were crispy outside and soft inside and the herb flavors were delicious, especially so when they blended with the eggs and vegetables. This was a real treat.
Neither of us really wanted dessert because we were full but we wanted to explore the special raspberry cream pie that was the special for the day. We were not sorry. The berries were the largest we ever saw. The cream on which they rested was smooth and rich. There was a contrast between the slightly tart berries and the sweet cream flavor. My husband loved the crust. The best part was that the natural flavors were allowed to come through and were not overpowered with a sweet flavor.
We strongly recommend a visit to Prairie Grass Café for brunch, lunch or dinner. And if you hear about National Waffle Day, you know where to go. When you go, I think you will agree with Leon that this restaurant is a “hidden treasure”.
NOTE: Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris, chef/partners at Prairie Grass Cafe are preparing to celebrate September which is National Mushroom Month. They have a number of menu items showcasing various types of organic, local mushrooms. "We buy our Button, Portobello and Shitake mushrooms from farmer Eric Rose of River Valley Ranch in Burlington, Wisconsin, as they are a Certified Organic Farm and the oldest mushroom farm in the Midwest," Sarah says. "All crops are grown without pesticides or chemicals. We connected with them through the Green City Market."
Prairie Grass Café, 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, IL 847-205-4433
Photos: Barbara and Leon Keer