[Note: Since the publication of this post, Jam has moved. It is now located at 3057 West Logan Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60647 (773.292.6011). www.jamrestaurant.com]
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so we’ve been told. And Jerry Suqi clearly takes that statement literally at Jam, his contempo breakfast-centric spot in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.
You see, Suqi didn’t hire any random hash slinger to crank out fried eggs and flapjacks when he opened his hip little restaurant in 2009. Instead, he brought in a culinary artist with some very impressive credentials. Jeffrey Mauro – who trained with such big names as Bradley Ogden and Charlie Trotter – approaches breakfast with the same intensity other chefs reserve for dinner. Although Jam also serves lunch and summertime dinners, Chef Mauro’s innovative morning fare is the big draw.
“Seasonal,” “American ingredients,” “artisanal,” “hand-crafted,” “sustainable” and “consistent” are words not normally associated with breakfast food. But Mauro rightfully uses them when describing his artful cuisine.
After all, he doesn’t just grill up egg-dipped white bread when making French toast.
Mauro prepares his popular malted custard French toast ($11), in the most chef-like manner. He takes brioche, dunks it onto a malt custard royale and then sous-vides, or vacuum cooks, it. Forget the syrup, although Jam serves top-quality maple for an extra buck. Mauro tops his version with seasonal macerated fruit – quince, cherries or rhubarb, for example – pink peppercorns and a complementary-flavored cream, such as lime leaf or citrus.
Why malt? “Malt ice cream is my favorite thing possibly in the whole world,” says Mauro, explaining his inspiration.
One of my favorite things possibly on Jam’s whole menu is Mauro’s savory buckwheat crepes ($11), which he lovingly fills with tender braised lamb and tops with lightly sweet Asian pears bits and a hazelnut-sage glaze. I use the word “lovingly,” because Mauro has a special connection with this signature dish, which he prepares from start to finish each day.
“I will always have braised lamb neck on my menu no matter where I am or what I am doing,” says Mauro, who traveled around Greece during a career slump a while back. There, he tasted the most amazing lamb at a “cafeteria in the middle of nowhere.” “It rekindled my love for being a chef.”
Jam’s seasonal menu is filled with classic breakfast dishes remastered by maestro Mauro.
Right now it’s winter, so eggs benedict ($11) features two cute – yes, cute – sous-vide poached eggs, crisped pork belly and English muffin bites atop a painterly brush stroke of winter squash hollandaise. Hearty biscuits and gravy ($5/$10) envelop cotechino sausage, “sunny side up” eggs and cauliflower-maitake (mushroom) salad. And apple pancakes ($10) showcase this quintessential winter fruit and are served with chai crème fraiche, apple compote and whipped butter.
To get a good sense of all that Jam offers, both sweet and savory, I recommend dining with others. And make sure your companions are willing to share – or are at least willing to let your fork wander onto their plates.
Also don’t expect to eat and run, as you might at your local Greek diner. The small restaurant can get crowded, particularly on weekends. And Mauro takes meticulous care in preparing the dishes that come out of the chef’s open kitchen.
“We’re the only breakfast place where speed isn’t the main issue,” says owner Jerry Suqi, with a grin. “This is not a seven-minute breakfast place. We shoot for 17 minutes.”
937 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622