My review of etta: tasting the magic of the hearth

I’ve always thought eggs are a pretty straightforward affair. Hard boiled, poached, scrambled, covered with hollandaise, smothered by chimichurri. There are numerous ways to reinvent tradition, and yet many of them invariably gravitate towards a few tried-and-tested standard applications. I believe that to make your breakfast/brunch eggs brighter and to make you truly happier, a journey of a special kind is needed – one which combines a passion for innovation with a love for quality ingredients, flamboyant and versatile, and most importantly, bursting with rich, immersive flavors. I recently embarked on such an incredible culinary journey at etta, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, etta is famous for its wood-fired hearth, which bestows charred flavor to dishes ranging from focaccia to meatballs and from salmon to pizza. I visited etta (short for “Henrietta,” which in French means “keeper of the hearth”) for brunch a couple of weeks ago, and I was impressed with the high quality of the ingredients used, as well as with Executive Chef Danny Grant‘s hearth-informed vision.

I started off the preparations for my visit as I usually do: trying to find out more information online about the overall concept of the restaurant, to investigate the menu itself, and to discover what etta’s customers (be they food critics or part-time passionate foodies) have thought about the dishes they’ve tried. I don’t know how you usually find information of this kind, but in my case the restaurant’s own website is the first port of call. Thankfully, most of the information I needed was available on etta’s beautiful website designed by BentoBox, which also collaborates with other important local restaurants such as Maple & Ash, Protein Bar & Kitchen, Tzuco, Lost Larson, and Miller’s Pub.

Just like its interior and the hearth at its center, etta’s website is warm and inviting, and a true pleasure to navigate. Using BentoBox’s clean and intuitive platform, the site is bursting with relevant information without becoming overpowering to the reader. Here I was glad to find not just the menu and information about the restaurant and its staff (as part of a meaningful, carefully curated “About” section), but also a “Press” section that’s very important to me during my research process, which featured recent media reviews, including Chicago Tribune’s Phil Vettel’s.

Once the research part ended, the most exciting part – the visit! – came into play.

Uniqueness lies at the heart of etta. While the exterior welcomes you with a clean, sharp design and a straightforward black and white color scheme…

…the interior makes you feel at home with its emphasis on warm colors and comforting combinations of wood.

The photos on the walls underpin the fun, relaxed environment etta wants to provide to its guests, who “are welcomed to eat and drink as if they are in their own home.” What a fitting way to translate etta’s concept into pictures, and to introduce warmth and family-friendly vibes!

I had brunch on the patio upstairs, which offered plenty of natural light and luxuriant views of the street.

… it was time for the brunch itself – and for me to fall in love with etta’s fire-roasted eggs.

Surrounded by a rich tomato-based concoction which also featured habanero, hot sauce, olives and capers, etta’s fire-roasted eggs reminded me of shakshouka, Israel’s famous breakfast dish which is currently taking Europe and America by storm. As with most other dishes on etta’s menu, this is cooked in the hearth to make it uniquely delicious.

Once the cast iron baking dishes are filled with the sauce, the eggs are cracked open.

They are then cooked for 3 minutes at 750 degrees.

This is where the magic happens!

Three short minutes later, the eggs are taken out of the hearth oven…

…and they are served hot, with sourdough toast from Aya Pastry.

Playful and assertive, the champagne vinaigrette was gentle on the salad ingredients and on my stomach (I am always wary of vinaigrette due to a stomach sensitivity I have). Bursting with hearth smoked salmon and buttery avocado, this vibrant and meticulously constructed salad was a triumph!

Every pizza that comes out of etta’s hearth oven is served alongside a not-so-standard pizza box with freshly-grated parmesan, house-made spicy giardiniera, and “pizza powder.” etta’s giardiniera was definitely my favorite.

Is it pizza with giardiniera or giardiniera with pizza? I still can’t decide since each one of them was so delicious in its own right. The pizza crust was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, elastic, and perfectly foldable. Meanwhile, etta’s olive-strong rendition of a spicy giardiniera was impressive both flavor- and texture-wise. Taken separately, these two were delicious. Taken together, they became legendary.

Having finished the pizza, it was now time for coffee and dessert.

They were very fresh and delicious!

I left etta excited and happy: excited to have found such an amazing dining destination, and happy to have been able to witness remarkable creativity at work. Who knew egg dishes could be so rich in meanings and experiences – and who knew the hearth can impart so much flavor and contentment? Tasting the magic of the hearth is now a delightful possibility: at etta, in Bucktown, the fire keeps on burning.

*Disclaimer: This dining experience was arranged by BentoBox, who paid for my meal. While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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