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Chicago’s tops for brunch, and our favorite spots prove it

The breakfast sandwich Nightwood Restaurant.

The breakfast sandwich at Nightwood Restaurant.

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When fan-based website Yelp declared Chicago the winner in the great American brunch war, it got us to thinking: What exactly makes for a winning, mid-morning to afternoon meal?

In a city teeming with Zagat-rated brunch spots — and celebrity chefs — the answers came easy.

“It’s a great way to relax at a meal out,” says bartending guru and Food Network superstar Steve McDonough, who is one half of the Hearty Boys, whose popular Lake View restaurant, Hearty, is perhaps best known for its festive brunch. “Certainly at brunch there’s no pressure. You can dress more comfortable. You don’t have to be concerned about the cost in the same way, and people feel very childlike about their breakfast. You can turn those foods you loved as a kid into a meal and you don’t feel guilty.”

And, adds McDonough, there is the liquor. “It’s a little naughty. We shouldn’t be drinking that early and so if you’re going to, it gives you more license to have a cocktail if it’s got a fun name and has bubbles in it.”

The meal is also fun for restaurant staff, says Gale Gand, a renowned local pastry chef who penned a book on brunches. “Brunch has all this flexibility to it,” says Gand, who recently celebrated her birthday courtesy of a Hearty Boys-cooked brunch. “ I mean, [for me the Hearty Boys] did grits with caviar and a poached egg on top. They added their famous lavender fried chicken and waffles. And Steve did a cocktail with sparkling wine, fennel-infused gin and lemon juice. ”

Are you hungry yet? So are we. Here then, are 10 staff-recommended brunch spots to try:

1. Sinha offers Brazilian brunch Tuesday through Sunday on the West Side, not too far from the United Center. The beauty of the place is in the decor: You dine inside a residential home and meet other foodies who share the table with you. If you go on Sunday, reservations are highly recommended. Fave dish? Mineirinho No Rio, a corn meal and shrimp mashup. (312) 491-8200; 2018 W. Adams,

2. Nana Organic specializes in farm-to-table cooking in its easy-to-find Bridgeport location. The menu changes due to locally-sourced materials, but the Nanadict (eggs, potatoes, chorizo, poblano cream sauce), biscuits and duck gravy are consistently on the largely vegan-friendly menu. (312) 929-2486; 3267 S. Halsted,

3. The Clubhouse in Oak Brook has an extensive Sunday brunch including everything from a turkey carving station to a seafood and raw bar. (630) 472-0600; 298 Oak Brook Center, Oak Brook,

4. Nightwood in Pilsen is another farm-to-table delight that oft pairs Lake Superior walleye with scrambled eggs for a Sunday-only brunch plate. The menu changes weekly, so call ahead to check for offerings. (312) 526-3385; 2119 S. Halsted,

5. Yolk’s South Loop location is trendy and busy, but oh so good. The French toast is classic, and the coffee sublime. (312) 789-9655; 1120 S. Michigan,

6. The Publican is a meat-eater’s dream. Stop by on Sunday for a breakfast sausage corn dog and smoked fish pancakes. (312) 733-9555; 837 W. Fulton Market,

7. Yes, it’s part of a chain, but the Original Pancake House in Kenwood/Hyde Park was so busy the owners had to buy a new building to accommodate the lines that wrapped — and still wrap — around the spot. The food is basic, budget and very traditional. Still, for a twist try the spicy sweet andouille sausage hash. It’s genius. (773) 285-1400; 1348 E. 47th St.,

8. The ultra affordable and uber-expansive, weekend-only brunch at Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap in Lincoln Park offers everything from an omelette station to chicken a la King. (312)642-0007; 1790 N. Lincoln, stanleys

9. Enjoy eggs, oysters, king crab legs, Bloody Marys and mimosas at this interesting take on seafood brunch in the River North area. It’s pricey, but Shaw’s Crab House always delivers. (312) 527-2722; 21 E. Hubbard,

10. Big Jones does Southern comfort food right: biscuits and complimentary beignets. You can get grits with shrimp, or just on the side with dishes like a Simple Cajun Breakfast (eggs with fried crawfish boudin patties and cornbread). Keep the Southern theme with a Sazerac. (773) 275-5725; 5347 N. Clark,

What’s your favorite spot for brunch? Tweet
@adriennewrites and use #suntimesbestbrunch.

Twitter: @adriennewrites

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