The Bongo Room, a South Loop extension of the legendary Wicker Park restaurant with the same name, is best described as the illegitimate brain-child of Willy Wonka and IKEA–a cozy yet modern spot where creatively concocted plates of food come readymade. Between the hours of 8am and 2pm, the location at the bustling intersection of S. Wabash and Roosevelt becomes one of the hottest spots in town for a scrumptious breakfast burrito and a delectable stack of cranberry pancakes.
The restaurant’s decor looks like a chic Swedish daycare, featuring birchwood tables, brick walls, and swatches of green and gray, occasionally livened up with a vivid geometric pattern. Lively breakfast chatter wafts throughout the place, but isn’t loud enough to aggravate you or your hangover.
The original Bongo Room opened in 1993 with the goal of serving breakfast and brunch with a uniquely fresh perspective. Their original piece de resistance is their gorgeous egg croissant sandwich. Still on the menu, this hand-held miracle is perfect in its simplicity–scrambled eggs are topped with crispy bacon in a flaky, buttery croissant. Their seasonally inspired pancakes and French toast are tasty and enormous. Even a half portion of these bigger-than-your-face deals could satisfy the direst of carbohydrate cravings. My selection from the menu, banana Oreo hotcakes, were light and airy. Once griddled to perfection, these plate-sized palate-pleasers are immersed in a rich, smooth, glossy banana crÃ¨me brulÃ©e sauce, and are finished off with an artistic drizzle of chocolate and a few slices of ripe banana.
But then there’s the white-chocolate and caramel covered pretzel pancakes. Crushed pretzels in the batter and a creamy white chocolate sauce make this dish a salty-sweet force to be reckoned with. As with the hotcakes, they feature a loving drizzle–in this case, caramel–which unifies the salty pretzels and the sweet chocolate. If balance is the key to formidable cuisine, these babies are top-notch.
The Bongo Room’s dishes look as good as they taste. The chocolate tower French toast is so well presented that it is almost a shame to eat. Thick slices of intense bittersweet chocolate-chunk bread are piled high with maple mascarpone cream in between, holding the architectural feat together. The tower is surrounded by a moat of banana crÃ¨me brulÃ©e sauce and decorated with banana slices and shaved chocolate. The cherry on top is in fact not a cherry at all, but a colorful, flower-shaped chocolate garnish.
If starting the day off with a sugar rush just isn’t for you, the Bongo Room’s egg dishes are nothing short of delicious. The duck-breast Benedict, for example, simply could not be better; an egg poached to golden, runny perfection; slices of duck breast that embody savory goodness; and a hollandaise sauce that is rich and zesty.
The Bongo Room’s expansion south is part of a trend: an increasing number of successful North Side restaurants are opening counterparts on the South Side. Just this week, for example, Wrigleyville’s Lucky Sandwich Co. announced plans to open a second location in University Village.
The Bongo Room is serving the breakfast for a new day–a day when the South Side of Chicago can shake off the mostly undeserved stereotype of “gourmet desert” and finally enter the realm of “gourmet destination.” Rise and shine–the future tastes sweet.
The Bongo Room, 1152 S Wabash Ave. Monday-Friday, 8am-2pm; Saturday-Sunday, 9am-2pm. (312)291-0100. thebongoroom.com