By Emily Paster
When you are a parent who is passionate about great food, you usually have to choose between exciting food and being with your family. In other words, when you are with your kids, you eat at safe, inexpensive, family-friendly places that leave you uninspired. Other times, you hire a babysitter, leave your kids behind and venture out into the world of white-tablecloth dining or authentic and novel ethnic eateries, depending on the night and your budget. At least, this has been my experience. Finding a place that satisfies both my inner foodie and the good, self-sacrificing parent that I aim to be has proved challenging at best.
Enter the brunch menu at GT Fish and Oyster. A Michelin Bib Gourmand winner, GT Fish and Oyster is one of Chicago's most acclaimed restaurants. Chef Giuseppe Tentori won the 2012 Jean Blanchet award for the best chef in Chicago. Travel and Leisure named GT Fish and Oyster one of the best seafood restaurants in the country — and considering how far Chicago is from the ocean, that is quite an accomplishment.
Some of you may remember that we dined at GT Fish and Oyster last spring — despite my husband's complete aversion to seafood — with some extended family when my cousin graduated from Northwestern. As much as I loved the restaurant, I was quite sure that I would never have a chance to return because, again, my husband really doesn't eat seafood.
A few months ago, GT Fish and Oyster started serving brunch on the weekends and the critics were ecstatic. With innovative dishes like biscuits with lobster gravy and smoked whitefish quiche that went beyond the usual brunch clichés, the brunch at GT Fish and Oyster won over the doubters, who weren't sure that seafood and brunch went well together.
Brunch is a much more family-oriented meal than dinner. No one wants to take their kids out to an elegant dinner at 8 pm — well, except those people who brought a baby to Alinea. That's either date night or time to catch up with friends and actually finish the occasional sentence. But, brunch on the other hand, can be the perfect time to take kids out to eat. It's not past anyone's bed time and the fare is often pretty kid-friendly. Even my picky eater likes pancakes, eggs and bacon.
Perhaps realizing that brunch is family time and parents like to eat well too, GT Fish and Oyster recently introduced a reasonably priced ($10) kid's plate to its brunch menu that includes a piece of boneless fried chicken, two pancakes and fruit salad. To get the word out about this family-friendly brunch option, Chef Tentori invited me to bring my family to GT Fish and Oyster to experience the brunch menu. I could hardly believe my luck.
Brunch at GT Fish and Oyster was a big hit with my young diners. We started off with the churros with orange cream cheese. Three of us dug right in and were soon moaning with delight. This is a churro that is worth every calorie: indulgent but not greasy and the churro itself had a nice orange note, which was highlighted by a dunk in the orange cream cheese. JR was the lone holdout, which is funny because that kid loves doughnuts more than any of us. We kept assuring him that he would love the churros, but the unfamiliar shape deterred him until right at the end of the meal, when he broke down and tried a bite. Of course, then he was all about the churro.
My adventurous eater, Zuzu, scorned the kid's plate — although she was young enough to qualify for it — and instead had the bagel and lox of her young life with house-cured gravlax, herb crème fraîche and pickled red onions on top a plain bagel. JR was all about the kid's plate, although in truth, he did his best work on the side of Neuske's bacon.My husband ran anchor on the pancakes and chicken that JR left behind.
I went for the whitefish quiche because I absolutely love deli whitefish salad. What a fantastic dish! The quiche comes as a rectangular slice enveloped in a puff pastry crust, almost like a slice of Beef Wellington. The egg filling was fluffy and velvety and the chunks of whitefish provided texture in addition to salt and smoke. It's a dream of a dish. The quiche comes with a small salad of frisée accented with slices of grapefruit to offset the richness and salinity of the eggs and whitefish.
We also sampled the Butternut Squash Strata with PQM Toulouse sausage, sage and Gruyère. For those of you not familiar with strata, it is similar to a savory bread pudding. This was probably my least favorite dish because I found it to be slightly underseasoned. I did like the brioche croutons and the sausage was fantastic but the sweetness of the squash didn't really come through.
Not only does GT Fish and Oyster offer a kid's plate at brunch, but the staff seems genuinely welcoming of families. We were certainly not the only table there with kids. Across the room was a table of four with a baby and nearby was a large, multi-generational group clearly celebrating a special occasion.
So, if you are a parent who really cares about good food and likes to spend time with your kids, brunch at GT Fish and Oyster is the answer to your prayers. Yes, it is a nice restaurant and you will have to ask your kids to keep their voices down and generally behave themselves. But that is not a bad thing. I think it is important to take kids to the occasional nice restaurant so that they can begin to learn proper etiquette and to try different foods. At GT Fish and Oyster, luckily, you can do just that at a convenient time of day without breaking the bank. Many of the dishes I mention here are under $15.
Full disclosure time: I was invited to bring my family to try the brunch menu at GT Fish and Oyster and our meal was comped. I was not asked to write about my experience and all opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.