Tradition meets whimsy at Perennial brunch

February 25, 2011 9:41:43 AM PST
Chef Ryan Poli's brunch is taking a French turn at Perennial restaurant, located in the heart of Lincoln Park.

Chef Poli draws several influences in his cooking -- Spain, France, and even Mexico show up in some form on his weekend brunch menu. But it's two French-influenced brunch items that caught the eye of ABC7's Hungry Hound recently: both of which aren't going to win any low-calorie awards.

Brunch is a time for catching up over a lazy meal; making plans and looking at the week ahead. At Perennial, in the heart of Lincoln Park, floor-to-ceiling windows flood the room with daylight, setting the backdrop for a hearty, weekend afternoon meal with a slight twist.

"We're trying to not so much reinvent the wheel, but maybe recreate breakfast; serve things in a different manner... So it's breakfast items that are fun, kind of nostalgic, even for adults, kind of something from their childhood," said Ryan Poli, the chef at Perennial.

Remember the French toast sticks from Burger King? Well, Poli takes that as inspiration for his French toast "sticks." He soaks eggy brioche bread in eggs, cream, cloves and nutmeg, then lightly fries them until just crisp on the outside. To top them off, some sauteed and poached bananas.. plus a handful of candied pecans to give the dish some much-needed crunch; a liberal dusting of powdered sugar adds yet another wave of sweetness.

Another French accent comes in the form of a croque madame. Traditionally, it's an open-faced ham and cheese with a creamy sauce and an egg. But Poli borrows a page from French chef Jacques Pepin, and uses confit chicken - that is, soft, shredded chicken that's been cooked slowly in its own fat. He starts by griddling a piece of brioche that's been soaked in cream and eggs. He adds some gruyere cheese to the top until it's melted; In a mixing bowl, he combines a touch of milky, creamy mornay sauce with chives and the pulled, shredded chicken. He adds a layer of that to the cheese-topped bread, followed by a few spoonfuls of mornay sauce, and finally, a fried egg. To reinforce the French theme - a basket of crispy fries on the side.

"I would say it's rich, it's soaked in egg and a little bit of cream. The bread, we use a brioche toast made from practically all butter, flour, gruyere cheese, mornay sauce, confit chicken, fried egg. It's not for the people watching their heart for sure," said Poli.

One important note: Poli announced last week that he's leaving Perennial, to take over at a new restaurant in River North. The owners are bringing in Paul Virant, from Vie in western springs, so the menu will likely change. However, the brunch items just featured will be on the menu at least through March 7th.

1800 N Lincoln Ave