The scent of freshly baked cookies in the oven, the heat from sun rays, the steam from a fresh brewed cup of coffee, these are a few things that warms my soul. It gives me a sense of comfort, a cozy feel that in my mind, could last a lifetime. Think of something that instantly warms your soul. It feels great doesn’t it? Now imagine combining that feeling with an amazing dining experience right in the heart of your city. I’m glad it exists here in my hometown Chicago.All of those cozy feels came to life instantly the moment my parents and I walked into River Roast for their Blues & Brunch this past March. It’s an ongoing live blues and brunch series hosted every Saturday and Sunday from 12pm - 3pm in the heart of the loop, nestled right on the Chicago River. The marriage between live blues accompanied by shared contemporary American style brunch on a Saturday afternoon just feels right.
The moment you walk in, you’re greeted by a large River Roast logo hiding behind contrasts of wooden panels and illuminated by hanging wall lights. It reminds you of those small lights you see in art galleries hung over canvases. You instantly get the warmth of southern hospitality and the comfort of home, but also a contemporary decor that pays homage to the coolness of Chicago’s contemporary urban vibe and tall windows looking out into stunning river views.
Is it crazy to say it felt like the decor was speaking to me on the way to our table? It definitely felt that way and I liked it. It only made me more anxious to try what was on the menu.
River Roast is known for it’s James Beard award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano and Executive Chef Hogan’s menu of contemporary American tavern fare serving brunch, lunch and dinner. Think fork and knife, roasted veggies, large cut meats, big portion sizes, and all round American favorites. Their drinks on draft, craft cocktails and Midwestern beers are the cherries on top. We started off with a round of mimosas. To me, a mimosa is a brunch staple for drinks. Almost like an initiation into the first course. If that's not your thing, there's an array of craft cocktails or regular drinks to choose from.
As my parents and I clinked glasses in celebration of my father's birthday, we were greeted by our server Eibar. Big bright eyed, a subtle smile and a thick soft spoken accent excitedly went through the gamut of menu favorites.
For starters, let’s go with the…
SHRIMP & CRAB TOASTS
We could have bypassed appetizers because River Roast serving sizes are quite large, and not in a bad way. We didn’t discover that until later and couldn’t pass up trying Eibar’s menu favorites. If you love seafood, you would appreciate this starter. Emphasis on portions, River Roast doesn’t cut back on the shrimp and crab in this dish. The soft and juicy texture of the shrimp and crab meat compliments the crunch of the toast.
Pro Tip:You can find this under the “Bites, Boards & Greens” section of the menu. Great for sharing.
FRENCH ONION BUTTER
We never tried French Onion Butter, so this was a first. A creamy spread with a tang of onion and a sudden break in texture thanks to the crunch of the crispy fried onion pieces and the toast. The Shrimp and Crab still won my heart, but doesn’t mean I wouldn’t order this again. This was a tasty and light appetizer.
Pro Tip: I recommend ordering one appetizer to share to save room for the next course. It all depends on how hungry you and your guest(s) are.
Cool Fact: Most tables in their downstairs dining area have a remarkable river view. We were lucky enough to snag a table right by the window where you can bask in the beauty of Chicago’s tall buildings, architecture, and the Lasalle Street Bridge where the Chicago River flows just below it. During the warmer months, River Roast opens their patio for seating alongside the river walk. This view made me appreciate my Chicago roots and the beauty I sometimes take for granted because I’m a local living here. Makes you appreciate the little things.
It was time for the next course and we were ready.
We’ll order the…
RABBIT & WAFFLES
*cues blow horn* Hands down my favorite. And apparently my parents favorite as well as they were guilty of reaching across the table to dig in. My instinct never lets me down. When I saw this on the menu, I went after the uniqueness of the deep fried rabbit paired with the crispy waffles. Chicken and waffles is a delicious but typical brunch pairing and I was really impressed with River Roast thinking outside of the box. The golden crispness of the outside crunch paired perfectly with the tender meat of the rabbit inside and the buttery waffles dressed in powdered sugar. You get a sweet and savory taste to the palette and I didn’t even have to use the syrup. The only con, not ordering another round.
Pro Tip: Don’t let this go unordered. Our server Eibar mentioned this dish being a popular brunch favorite on the menu. If you’re open to trying new things, then trying rabbit is a breeze. I honestly prefer rabbit and waffles now over chicken and waffles. Highly recommended.
OMELETTE OF THE DAY
My father ordered the Omelette of The Day - egg, green onions, basil, bacon bits and roasted potatoes on the side. A nice sharing size, so my mother and I also tried some. This dish is for the egg lovers. Not a big omelette fan, but personally loved this dish! It was well seasoned and the roasted potatoes were a perfect pairing.
Pro Tip: This dish is seasonally inspired and changes quite frequently. Make sure you ask your server what the omelette consists of. River Roast keeps their menu fresh and new which is awesome.
My mother is a big quiche fan which makes perfect sense why she was drawn to ordering this dish. The quiche was perfectly seasoned including smoked ham, rainbow swiss chard, gruyere and chives and there wasn’t a shortage of flaky buttery crust. But, the eggs were a bit damp and too soft for her liking. My mother is more of a scrambled hard type of girl so it was her least favorite. Again it all depends on your palette. If you like your eggs more on the juicier side, you would love this dish. Really depends on the individual.
Any room for dessert?
We underestimated the size of the desserts. Their massive! So be prepared to share. Or tackle it yourself, not judging. We ordered the Adult Sundae Fundae and Carrot Cake and came to the consensus that the Adult Sundae Fundae was hands down our favorite. According to Eibar, both desserts are very popular. There’s a reason 21+ is noticeably emphasized next to this dessert on the menu. Everything in this sundae is boozy and just the way I like it. From the soaked whisky cherries, Guinness dry stout beer flavored ice cream, to the whiskey soaked pineapples. Order two of these and you may need an Uber ride home. What’s unique about the Sundae Fundae are the house made potato chips sitting pretty on top as garnishes. It was odd, but surprisingly loved the savory flavor it gave to go along with my sweet tooth. Highly recommend it if you don’t mind a boozy treat.
As we started to wind down, and prepared to head out, our server Eibar surprised us with a wishbone. This was a nice touch to an already amazing dining experience. My parents and I broke both sides of the wishbone, made a wish and let the universe do the rest.
Pro Tip: If you don’t automatically receive a wishbone after dining in, ask for one and make a wish!
*SINGING* IF YOU GOT A GOOD WOMAN. TAKE MY ADVICE."
During the entire brunch experience, the hymns, soulfulness and southern swag from Jimmy Burbs and his band could not go unnoticed. “If you got a good woman. Take my advice.” is a verse in a song Jimmy sang that continues to replay in my mind. It’s no longer just brunch, but an unforgettable experience. You leave with a deeper appreciation for the blues, it’s history rooted from African-American culture and the beautiful influences it has throughout American culture.
Throughout each course we realized that River Roast is perfect for groups, large and small. But you still get the warm and cozy vibe of an intimate family dinner in the comfort of your home. River Roast is the epitome of the warmth that Chicago exudes, its uniqueness, southern influences and the contemporary coolness that Chicago graces daily. Makes you fall in love with this city all over again.
*RIVER ROAST PROVIDED ALL SERVICES COMPLIMENTARY. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.