First, I've made about a million things since Earl Grey cake, mostly tests of recipes from Deb's archive. Whole wheat apple muffins (incredible), "Car bomb" cupcakes (boozier and better a day later), pear ginger coffee cake and sour cream poppyseed bundt cake (both forgettable). Even currently waiting for two and a half sticks of butter to soften, so I may join the legion of bloggers who've eulogized David Leite's nearly year-old perfect chocolate chip cookie. But I'm not in the mood to format fractions, so here follows the long-researched Chicago French Toast Round-Up.
You know those things so irresistible their presence alone necessitates indulgence? Like Blade on TNT. Fried plantains, red-velvet-and-cream-cheese cupcakes, an Old-Fashioned. And, up until this past winter, french toast. While I've recently come to the savory side of well-done (both quality and cook time) eggs, thanks to Brett's paper-thin sriracha omelets and grana padana-laced scrambles, my heart belongs to the sweets. Here, modest findings accumulated over line-braving weekends between 2006 and 2009.
1. Raspberry french toast @ Victory's Banner
Being OCD about wet ingredients and potential sog, I order the fresh raspberry sauce on the side. The bread (challah, I think) is thick-cut but light, gently sweet, and only dusted with powdered sugar. You can finish the plate without feeling like crying. It's as if the transcendental aura so adamantly performed by the servers suffuses the french toast, saving it from the saccharine density from which most other toast suffers. This is my far and away favorite french toast in the city, and possibly anywhere? (Blue Moon french toast with fresh fruit and vanilla ginger syrup, I think of you).
2. Two-cream challah french toast @ Earwax (pictured)
Not for the nascent sweet tooth: two slices of thick challah stuffed with pastry cream (think lighter than the typical éclair, with a bright sweetness) and topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. Yet this toast turns out an unexpected lightness (which is then challenged by my/your insistence on veggie sausage patties and potatoes). I'm usually turned off by stuffed toast since it's invariably a cream cheese sandwich (I'm looking at you, Caffe DeLuca: your banana french toast was a fucking atrocity), but this, this is different. Big enough to share but I no longer want to.
3. Sunday Brunch french toast @ M. Henry
Left ambiguous because those crazy Andersonvillains are always changing it up. I've had a surprisingly delicious brie and granny smith french toast, an ambitious-if-cloying Key Lime pie french toast, and heard stories of mascarpone and Grand Marnier. Their plain old toast (last ordered with a small platoon of strawberries crowning the top slice) is pretty great, but the inventions are worth coming early.
& now, the losers. In no particular order:
* Housemade Brioche french toast @ Hot Chocolate
There's a lot to like about Hot Chocolate: its proximity to BCBG and Nine West, their eponymous drink menu, the breakfast pastry sampler thing which really blew my hair back. The french toast, sadly, is ordinary. Even heavy. A big-ass portion on a little rectangular plate. Even Joseph gave it a miss.
* Brioche french toast @ Lula Cafe
Came here for brunch on my birthday, felt ambivalent at best toward the toast and downright hostile toward my blackberry bellini. Like Hot Chocolate, Lula seems to rest on the laurel of brioche to produce a worthy french toast. It doesn't work.
* Kitchen sink french toast @ The Bongo Room (Wicker Park)
Just kidding. It was pineapple rhubarb: "brown sugar crusted brioche on top of warm pineapple rhubarb compote topped with fresh strawberries, strawberry coulis and candied ginger gelato." All those on-top-ofs and topped-withs and I ordered the components all separate, which our impossibly likable server accommodated kindly. I can't say the isolation saved this toast - for me, too many elements, all of which tasted more like granulated sugar than fruit. I'm not wooed by most candying and crusting (see: cornflake-crusted french toast, or mortal sin; exception: M. Henry's oat-crusted toast and pancakes), but perhaps you are, like so many Chicago brunchers loyal to the Bongo Room. For me (again), their elaborate combinations evade subtlety and inspire the urge to brush teeth.
* Plain french toast @ Bite
Bite, I love your dinner specials, your buffalo tofu and your homemade desserts. I think you are the perfect casual date restaurant and I've reconciled myself with your oppressively policed "Close the door before you open the second door!" policy. However, your french toast is totally regular diner french toast: two slices of nondescript bread that tastes only like bread and comes with not-for-real syrup and sometimes fruit. It's fine, but I'm glad I eat eggs now.
I can't remember the toast at Milk & Honey. I haven't been to Toast or Yolk. I watched my fellow french toast loving friend Chase eat some pretty insipid looking stuff at Nookie's Too (and my "spring" frittata was garbage). I've only enjoyed a single stolen bite of the chai french toast at Orange, but am happy to join any takers in giving them a fair shot. Even higher on my to-eat is Sweets & Savories.