My brunch experience at Maggiano’s: When life gives you lemons, you make lemon ricotta pancakes!

Glorious cranberry raisin focaccia, with a crunchy crust, pillowy inside and fruity goodness galore. Supple and wholesome veggie frittata, with fresh tomatoes screaming sun, summer, adventure. Decadent eggs Benedict, covered by a velvety blanket of Hollandaise sauce, light and caressing like a midsummer night’s dream. And, last but by no means least, the lemon ricotta pancakes, self-assured and deliciously addictive. I tried them all at the recent brunch event I was invited to attend at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant on Clark & Grand in downtown Chicago. What a brunch, what a Sunday!

Brunch is growing in popularity these days, and Maggiano’s was determined to follow this trend and to satisfy its customers’ evolving preferences and demands. At the moment, this restaurant chain offers a full brunch menu nationwide, which features Italian-American twists on traditional brunch dishes and drinks.

Speaking of drinks, mimosa, peach Bellini and Italian Bloody Mary are the beverage options on Maggiano’s brunch menu. The one I sampled last Sunday was the mimosa. What a refreshing start to my experience!

During the week, you can choose from five brunch dishes at Maggiano’s, all available until 3pm: the meatball Benedict, Nueske’s smoked ham Benedict, crab cake Benedict, smoked salmon & spinach Benedict and Italian-American breakfast. On weekends, you can get the full menu, which includes frittatas, pancakes and more!

Since eggs Benedict can make or break a brunch, I was decidedly excited to see how the Maggiano’s Benedicts would fare compared to those crafted by other restaurants. The meatball Benedict came highly recommended and was the highlight of my experience in terms of savory dishes.

Maggiano’s meatball Benedict (back) and crab cake Benedict (front)

The meatball displayed a scrumptious combination of flavors and textures and was complemented by the oven-dried roma tomato, which provided a burst of fresh sharpness and sophistication to the Benedict ensemble. The egg was poached to perfection and gave away layers upon layers of unadulterated yolk lava (so good!). Having said this, the combination of egg Benedict and crispy Vesuvio potatoes was a bit too rich for my liking, so in the end I decided to only eat the egg to make sure I had room for the other dishes on the menu 🙂

The veggie frittata was chock-full of spinach, tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms, which played along nicely with the smoked mozzarella generously sprinkled on top of the dish. The Maggiano’s chefs clearly didn’t hold back when adding these ingredients: the more, the merrier!

One special moment during the event was when Maggiano’s executive chef Josh Rodriguez showed the audience how to make lemon ricotta pancakes. We had all noticed this dish on the brunch menu – and now it was time to see how these delicious pancakes came to life:

After the demo, the pancakes came to our table – and what happened next was pure joy. I can’t remember the last time I ate such a playful and charming dessert. The pancakes were fluffy and delicate, with a lemony flavor and aroma which matched the vibrant weather outside. It was spring on my plate – a spring I couldn’t get enough of. No more sickly sweet concoctions, no more heavy dessert burdens to bear. “Get out and taste the spring,” those pancakes seemed to whisper to me 🙂

Equally tasty was the crème brûlée French toast, served with an assortment of fresh fruit. The rich custard flavor was toned down by the freshness of the berries, while the raisin and cranberry in the focaccia provided layers of natural sweetness and goodness, and prevented this dish from falling into the trap of sweet uni-dimensional overload.

I ate a fair number of lemon ricotta pancakes and slices of French toast, to which I added a good dollop of whipped cream, maple syrup and fresh strawberries for fun. I was in dessert Heaven:

I left Maggiano’s energized, happy and ready to embrace the warm weather outside. I’ve had my fair share of health issues this winter, but getting out and enjoying a quality brunch has given me a confidence boost, has helped me to see things in a positive light, and has reconfirmed my greatest sources of pride and joy: family and cooking. I will go back to Maggiano’s for that sparkle of warmth and reassurance and for other memorable brunch experiences – and I intend to enjoy every minute of it 🙂

*Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated by Maggiano’s Little Italy for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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