[Note: Since the publication of this post, Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner have parted ways with Michelle and Vinny Garcia. The restaurant, which will continue to be run by Mohr and Weiner, is currently closed and being reconceptualized. It will reopen as West Town Bakery & Diner, a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant that will be open for breakfast and lunch.]
I like the way Michelle Garcia thinks. Scratch that. I love the way Michelle Garcia thinks.
“Nothing about the word ‘organic’ means that something has to be especially healthy or low fat,” says punk pastry goddess Garcia, co-owner of West Town’s new organic eatery, The Bleeding Heart Bakery & Café.
Garcia has a “weird obsession with diners” and loves rich, decadent Southern comfort foods, although she espouses the virtues of eating organically, locally and sustainably.
And with her new breakfast-focused café, Garcia sets out to prove that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Garcia and her husband Vinny — both familiar faces on the Food Network — founded The Bleeding Heart Bakery chain in 2004. The in-your-face Chicago area bakeries are widely known for using quality, healthy, eco-friendly ingredients as well as for carrying a sizeable number of vegan baked goods. And Garcia — who has an organic flour purveyor’s logo tattooed on her arm — espouses the same values at her first sit-down eatery, which the couple owns with restaurateurs Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner (The Fifty/50, Roots Handmade Pizza).
Here, the menu literally screams, “We use local, sustainable and organic ingredients to make the best damn brunch you’ve ever had!” And servers proudly boast that everything is organic down to the ketchup.
“I don’t think there is value if only one thing is organic and everything else isn’t,” says Garcia, who plans to grow her own organic veggies and herbs on the café’s rooftop come spring. “I’m an all-or-nothing person.”
Yes, several items on the extensive menu would please a die-hard health nut — the seasonal squash, fresh herb and twice-baked tofu skillet ($12) or the micro herb omelet with goat cheese and seasonal micro greens ($9), for example. But at the same time, lots of wonderfully naughty stuff is being served up by the diner’s staff of cheerful, mostly tattooed and pierced servers.
Garcia was pregnant with her third child while she was creating the menu, which took her two years to develop. Consequently, some of her cravings worked their way in.
“I was obsessed with doughnuts the whole time I was pregnant,” she says. So after viewing a TV show featuring doughnut burgers — yes, doughnut burgers — Garcia developed the café’s deep-fried doughnut breakfast sandwich ($9).
With my high school reunion just weeks away, I begrudgingly took a pass on this bad boy. After all, the sandwich features a freshly made vanilla bean yeast doughnut topped with a fried egg, breakfast meat (bacon, country ham or a sausage patty), and cheese (white cheddar or Swiss). And if that isn’t enough to send a girl into her Spanx, the sandwich is then tempura-battered and deep-fried.
Still, my long-time breakfast buddies — CoCo and O. — helped me make a small dent in the BHB&C’s frenetically fun menu. Garcia says it’s an amalgamation of “comfort food with the odd ingredients that The Bleeding Heart is known for. ”
CoCo went all healthy on us, opting for The Farmers ($12), a seasonal skillet currently featuring giant chunks of sautéed fresh zucchini, carrots and roasted potatoes lightly tossed in a fragrant pesto sauce. Uncharacteristically, she swapped out fried eggs for the surprisingly toothsome tofu. This vegan dish was hearty and filling, and I envied CoCo’s willpower.
O., my Austin born and bred friend, never turns down anything Tex or Mex, so she went with Vinny’s Mom’s Chilaquiles ($10), one of the café’s more p.m.-ish offerings. This is the dish I would order if I stumbled into the BHB&C at midnight after a few too many beers. (The café is open 24 hours on weekends. Weekday hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Arriving in a humongous bowl, Mrs. Garcia’s recipe includes a soft scramble of eggs and tortillas mounded with mouth-heating ancho-chile refried beans and cooling queso fresco.
As for me, I ultimately went with one of Garcia’s purely evil Eggs Benedict specialties. After a game of eeny, meeny, miny, mo (fried green tomato, Florentine or wild mushroom polenta), I picked the wild mushroom polenta ($12). All of the café’s breads are house-made, and Garcia abandons the traditional pasty English muffin for two rings of her toasty fresh-baked brioche. Topping the brioche were thick, rich slices of soft and herby polenta, perfectly poached eggs and tangy roasted red peppers smothered in a citrusy, creamy persimmon hollandaise.
Craving something on the sweeter side, our breakfast club ordered a stack of lemon verbena waffles ($10) to split from the menu’s pancake and waffle section. Garcia, who became particularly deft with flavor profiles during her years as a pastry chef, tends to pair three different flavors in each of her creations, she says. Here, crispy lemon-kissed waffles, tart strawberry compote and fresh, ultra peppermint-y whipped cream made up the harmonious triumvirate.
If I didn’t have that blasted reunion to consider, I would have thrown in an order of Garcia’s personal favorite — hibiscus pancakes ($9) with lemon custard, berries and fresh whipped cream.
Not only are they tasty, Garcia says, but they’re her favorite color: “I also think I love them because they are pink. And pink makes me happy.”
The Bleeding Heart Bakery & Café
1916 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622