What if you liked hash browns? What if you really liked hash browns? What if you liked hash browns so much that the paltry tater tot excuses for them at the grocery store just didn’t cut it? What if you spent days and nights encamped by your window-side, perhaps weeping, wondering when the delicious potato-y goodness of your dreams would at last triumphantly appear on the culinary horizon?
You cried out, friends, and Hashbrowns answered. The imaginatively named brunch joint delivers exactly what it promises. Situated in the heart of what was once the Maxwell Street Market, Hashbrowns takes up the bottom floor of a building that could best be described as brownstone-inspired. The inside is tastefully decorated, if a little cramped, and the cushion-padded walls that act as backs for chairs at some of the wallside tables are a nice touch. Oranges used to make the restaurant’s fresh-squeezed juice and a chalk-written menu behind the serving counter complete the feel.
My dining companion and I were seated immediately upon entering, though the restaurant is apparently busy from opening at 6am till early afternoon, and even at 2pm didn’t lack for customers. Dishes are available for both breakfast and lunch–breakfast is served until closing, at 3–and are fairly diverse, with options including sandwiches, eggs, and breakfast standbys such as waffles and pancakes. Ten different varieties of omelet are also available, most of which take their theme, with varying degrees of logic, from different neighborhoods of the city: the Maxwell Street omelet, for instance, is made with pork chops, onions, cheese and Polish sausage. The crown jewel of the lot, the City of Chicago, is a monstrous composite craft from six eggs, two kinds of sausage, steak, chorizo, pork chops, bacon, onions, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and cheese. It costs $17.95 and should presumably only be eaten over the course of several days, with help from a friend.
The omelets were too dry, but fairly good and appeared to have been made in an actual omelet pan. The equally arid waffles had no such saving grace, attempting to rely on dollops of butter and merely adequate maple syrup to save them from such low density they sometimes threatened to disappear. Nor did the toast prove anything out of the ordinary. But why waste your time with such details? We know why you have come. We know what you are here for. You don’t go seeking waffles at a place called Hashbrowns.
They come in separate bowls, in large enough portions to serve as a meal in themselves, with their raw hash enhanced by cheese, garlic, rosemary, and other seasonings. The “house-style” hash browns are actually, rather unusually, made with sweet potatoes, although other types are available. If you like sweet potatoes, all the more cause for joy; if you, like this reviewer, find them faintly disgusting, you’ll be surprised to find the sweet potato browns still relatively delicious and can seek refuge in red or Idaho potatoes for your second course. Of all the varieties, the Killer Hashbrowns, made with Idaho potatoes, cheese, sour cream, and corn flakes, are the most flavorful, albeit a tad too similar in execution to stringy macaroni and cheese. The Combo Hashbrowns, a marriage of Idaho and sweet potato hash browns topped with cheese, are tasty initially, but don’t include enough cheese to harmonize the differing tastes of the two hash brown types.
Service was attentive, to the extent that I actually felt rather rushed to leave at the end, but it was better than being neglected. As I was being shuffled out the door, I considered Hashbrowns with the impression that there are two distinct ways of eating at this brunch joint. You can order an omelet or pancake that will be adequate at best and may well leave you disappointed, or you can put down $7.25 for a platter of hash browns at a place that takes them as seriously as you do. Next time you find yourself craving potato hash, weep not, but rather endeavor to give this University Village hopeful a try.
Hashbrowns, 731 W. Maxwell St. Open daily 6am-3pm. (312)226-8000. hashbrownscafe.com