“How am I going to eat this?,” I thought to myself while starring at the gorgeous plate of food in front of me. I was at Prairie Grass Cafe in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook with my friend Marina, and I was trying hard to convince myself that I should start eating. As any mom knows, first trimester morning sickness makes you crave anything but food. With my first pregnancy, things were a lot easier: I used to feel sick in the morning, but then the nausea went away. With this second pregnancy, the situation is different: I feel sick pretty much all day long, and find it hard to eat anything else besides toast and crackers. Still, what I had in front of me at the table was different from toast – and a million times better. As soon as my lips touched the velvety hollandaise sauce, fresh and light like a Shakespearean summer night dream, I forgot about morning sickness, and my heart started smiling. Great food always makes me so happy!
One of the most popular weekend brunch spots on the North Shore, Prairie Grass Cafe is well-known for both its delicious dishes and its commitment to sustainability, and Marina and I had been invited to try out some of its most famous brunch options. I said yes to their invitation, fell in love with their eggs Benedict – and the rest was history 🙂
Prairie Grass Cafe is owned by Chef/Partners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris, who are joined in the day-to-day management of the restaurant by Sarah’s husband, restaurateur Rohit Nambiar, and Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth Stegner, who is responsible for many of the pies on the dessert menu. Chef Stegner serves on Chicago’s Green City Market’s board of directors, and her culinary mission is to cook with the best seasonal ingredients she can find. As such, Chef Stegner has managed to build meaningful partnerships with small regional family farms, which provide the restaurant with fresh, in-season produce all-year round.
I met Chef Stegner the day I visited the restaurant, and I was impressed with her demure appearance and uncompromising honesty. Chef Stegner clearly wants to stay true to herself as a chef and as a human being – a quality I have come to appreciate quite a bit over the years.
The restaurant is run by a family and feels like a family-friendly spot: this was my first impression upon entering the venue. The lighting is warm and comfortable and the setting boasts impressive wooden panels, classic furniture and a homely fireplace to brighten up the mood even more.
Prairie Grass Cafe makes brunch even more special on the first Saturday of every month by hosting live jazz performances from 10am to 2pm. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the performers and to eat our food on cool music vibes. Brunch and jazz? I’ll take it any day, not just on Saturday 🙂
The Prairie Grass Cafe (PGC) menu features an impressive range of specialty brunch options. From the Ancho Marinated Skirt Steak served with eggs, breakfast potatoes and a choice of toast, to Chiliquiles topped with eggs, guacamole and sour cream, to the famous Prairie Breakfast featuring eggs and homemade ancho chile sausage, among others – all dishes look promising to the hungry foodie on a brunch mission. For those of us interested in lighter options, the Egg White Omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, jalapenos, onion and green pepper topped with avocado and pico de gallo looks like a sure bet.
My friend Marina ordered the matcha latte to get things going. She said it was delicious!
The Benedict section of the PGC brunch menu features four options: the Signature PGC Benedict, with sautéed spinach, crumbled bacon and roasted tomato hollandaise sauce; the Smoked Salmon Benedict, with salmon, English muffin and hollandaise; the low-calorie Portobello Mushroom Benedict, with two panko crusted portobello mushrooms in lieu of the English muffin; and the Traditional Benedict, served with Canadian bacon and hollandaise. I picked the latter to see how PGC delivered on this classic.
If I were to use one word to describe the PGC Traditional Benedict, that would be: wow! I’ve had my share of benedicts, and on many occasions I found the heaviness of the added hollandaise sauce simply off putting. This time however, it was different: the sauce was silky and supple, and miles lighter than the egg itself. It was a lava of fresh lemon & butter flavors, uncompromising in their simplicity and delicious to eat on their own:
My friend wanted to try an omelet, and just like me, she was spoiled for choice. The omelet section of the PGC brunch menu features five options: the Open-Faced Smoked Salmon, with cream cheese and scallions; the Mediterranean, with feta, tomato, spinach and onion; the Denver, with smoked ham, cheddar, onion and green pepper; the Local Omelet, with farmer eggs, River Valley Ranch mushrooms and goat cheese; and the Create Your Own Omelet option, with a choice of three ingredients. In the end, Marina chose the open-faced smoked salmon variety.
This omelet benefited from the addition of a generous helping of salmon, which had a subtle smoky flavor and aroma and was fresh, meaty, and texturally delightful. I’m not someone who usually raves about an omelet, but this was more than just an omelet: it was a work of art which exhibited commitment to flavors and authenticity, and a desire to achieve perfection. High quality ingredients made up a truly memorable omelet tasting experience!
I usually have a very sweet tooth, however on this occasion I was a bit apprehensive to eat any more because I feared the sickness would kick in again. Still, I couldn’t resist one of PGC’s highest recommended desserts: lemon ricotta pancakes. Tangy and sweet yet also amazingly light, the pancakes were served with maple syrup and whipped butter, and just melted in my mouth. The fragrant notes of lemon permeated the air with a fresh aroma, which made me come back for more. I have had lemon ricotta pancakes before (I also make them at home), and these were among the best I’ve ever tried. The pillowy pancakes had the right consistency, while the lemon flavor was pure and unmistakable, yet far from overwhelming. So good!
My friend and I ended the brunch by sharing a vanilla bean crème brûlée. Talk about decadence!
Upon reaching beyond the crunchy crust, I was in flavor heaven: the crème brûlée was deep and rich, luscious and smooth, and a joy to the senses. My husband (who is a big fan of crème brûlée since childhood) would have loved it too!
We had a high quality brunch experience at Prairie Grass Cafe and left the place with full stomachs and happy hearts. As I said before, great food always puts me in a good mood, and this time was no exception. Reluctant at first, fully committed after the first course, I forgot about morning sickness and had a wonderful time with my friend, enjoying the dishes, the music and the excellent service. My love for Prairie Grass Cafe began with a hollandaise sauce – and long may it continue 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.