I found myself wanting to hum “My Favorite Things” when I recently interviewed Gregory Ellis, chef and co-owner of 2Sparrows, a new gourmet breakfast/brunch/lunch spot in Lincoln Park.
Not because I have any sort of weird obsession with Julie Andrews or “The Sound of Music” or anything quirky like that. It’s rather because Ellis, who earned his credentials cooking at Charlie Trotter’s and other fine-dining establishments, has filled the menu at his local, seasonal café with, well, his favorite things.
Ask Ellis why a chef with his pedigree would want to flip flapjacks and fry bacon, and he’ll answer you with a sly smile.
“[Breakfast] is my favorite meal of the day, and it’s the most important meal of the day,” he says.
Ask him to discuss the presence of his house-braised corned beef sandwich on the menu, and he’ll reply, “Corned beef is one of my favorite sandwiches ever.”
Talk about his passion for canning and the hand-crafted pickles that pop up all over his lunch menu, and he’ll say, “I’m a pickle fanatic.”
In fact, Ellis loves his menu so much that when he did some recent tinkering, he found it impossible to remove any dishes.
“I can’t bring myself to take away anything on it,” he says. “The slowest-moving [dish] is steak and eggs. But how can you have a breakfast restaurant without steak and eggs?”
Lucky for diners that a lot of Ellis’ favorite things are our favorite things as well — eggs Benedict, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, Cuban sandwiches, tater tots.
“I really wanted to take the comfort food everyone is used to and give it a twist. It’s breakfast and lunch food with a more upscale feel.”
Ellis makes almost “absolutely everything” in-house, he says. Lacking sufficient space to bake, breads come from Chicago’s The Bleeding Heart Bakery. Oh, and there’s that top-quality commercial Dijon mustard. But other than that, Ellis takes his commitment to hand-crafting all the way down to the condiments. Deconstruct his signature house-made Thousand Island dressing — which embellishes his corned beef sandwich — and you’ll find it’s made from house-made ketchup, house-made aioli and house-made pickles. He employs a highly labor-intensive, multi-step process to produce the colossal, crispy tots that accompany his sandwiches.
“It all comes back to where I started,” he says. “My best working experience was at Trotter’s, and everything was made from scratch there.”
My friend CoCo and I had a difficult time selecting from Ellis’ favorite things on a recent outing to 2Sparrows. So we just gave up on any pretense of self-control and ordered a copious amount of food for two average-sized women. Our playful server Christopher was duly impressed, as he noted — and I’m mostly paraphrasing here — that he’d never seen “ladies who lunch” chow down like us.
Please note that 2Sparrows frequently changes menu ingredients based on seasonal availability, so some of the items we ordered may no longer be available.
Saving ourselves for a sweet meal ending, CoCo and I eschewed such decadent-sounding breakfast offerings as pear French toast ($9) and apple-buttermilk pancakes ($9) — both served with dairy-fresh whipped cream and fresh maple syrup.
Instead, we decided to make an appetizer out of Ellis’ breakfast market quiche ($10). The day’s mix included kale, leek, caramelized onion, poblano pepper, fennel and white cheddar. Anything but wimpy, the tall slab featured a thick, buttery pastry crust filled high with custardy egg filling. The accompanying fresh green salad did more than add an attractive garnish to the plate. Lightly dressed and dotted with a dice of Ellis’ sweet canned pickled beets, the greens added crunch and a healthful balance to the rich dish.
At Christopher’s suggestion, we went with 2Sparrows’ two most popular sandwiches — the aforementioned corned beef ($10) and the Cuban ($12). Belly busters both, the pull-apart corned beef was served on beer-brushed rye with Swiss cheese, grilled onions, Thousand Island and pickles.
As for the Cuban, “a lot of people are familiar with a Cuban sandwich,” Ellis says. “My take is slightly different.”
Ellis uses a chewy sourdough roll instead of the traditional French-style Cuban bread and stacks it with moist and meaty pulled pork, thick-cut pork belly, Swiss cheese, grainy Dijon and those tart house-made pickles.
We closed out, to Christopher’s delight, with two sizeable breakfast sweets. The pear “pop tart” with lemon-thyme icing ($4) thankfully bore no resemblance to its chemical-laden namesake. Here, a warm and toasty pocket pastry enveloped a fall-spiced fresh pear filling. But nothing could beat Ellis’ soon-to-be-famous maple and bacon doughnut ($4.50). Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, the doughnut was enhanced by a hint-of-maple glaze and irresistible smoky, chewy bacon nibs.
Despite our sated state, CoCo was laughably unable to stop eating those darned nibs. Clearly, they were one of her favorite things.
553 West Diversey Parkway
Chicago, Illinois 60614