Vegetarians have had more than a few options over the years. From the legendary Blind Faith Cafe in Evanston and Chicago Diner in Boystown to the more recent Victory's Banner in Roscoe Village and Mana Food Bar in Wicker Park. But Green Zebra aspires for something more: high-end vegetarian, definitely not vegan, that brings out the bold, bright flavors, and keeps the meat off of the menu.
Vegetarians finally have a Sunday morning respite, a place far from the aromas of sausage and bacon. At Green Zebra, which is in Ukrainian Village, the menu has always emphasized local, seasonal produce in a small-plate format. However, brunch is a little bit different.
"Zebra does all the small plates. So, I think brunch is an opportunity to do a little bit bigger, a little more comfy food, a little more homey food, things I kind of grew up with, things I like," said Green Zebra Chef Molly Harrison.
An assortment of wild mushrooms is sauteed with a little bit of butter and sliced asparagus. Then, a hearty mushroom stock is poured in, left simmering until the liquid is reduced. The saute is spooned into a homemade popover, then topped with bits of fresh goat cheese and shaved, raw asparagus. Portobello mushrooms are smoked and sliced thin into pieces of veggie "bacon" that form the backbone of the thick BLT, served with homemade chips.
Enchiladas are cheesy, stuffed with salsa verde, but no meat. Well-seasoned potatoes are added instead.
"We want it very similar to the chorizo flavor. So, it's kind of a chorizo-flavored potato inside of it," Harrison said.
Smoked shitake mushrooms and caramelized onions are sauteed with hearty Tuscan kale. They're ringed in a bowl around grits, forming a border of sorts, for two jumbo poached eggs.
Harrison's Wisconsin-German heritage even comes through in a childhood favorite.
"My dad's German, and I remember as a little kids we'd always have German apple pancakes in the morning because it was a big thing we'd only do on weekends. He'd make a big one for the whole family to share," she said.
But Harrison version is a little more elegant, filled with cooked apples and dusted with sugar.
Even the little things are a little more special at Green Zebra. Instead of boring rolls with butter, delicate madeleines are paired with flavored butter and fresh fruit preserves.
It's a welcome break from heavy brunch fare and a more civilized way to spend a Sunday morning.
"We're all running around. No one has time to have dinner together. It's the one meal where there's no excuses not to get together. Whether it's with friends or your family, it's a slow time of the week," said Harrison.
A quick reminder: Green Zebra may be suited for vegetarians, but not vegans, since they love to use dairy products.