By Ivan Yeh
While strolling through the quiet neighborhood of Andersonville on a lazy Monday afternoon, I encountered something that was both new and familiar to the streets of Chicago. It was the latest Bongo Room, which has only been in operation since May 1.
Although this particular location has just recently opened its doors, The Bongo Room has been serving Chicagoans since 1993. A popular breakfast and brunch restaurant, the other two Bongo Rooms (located in Wicker Park and the South Loop) frequently have blockbusting lines and hour-long waits.
At the Andersonville location, however, getting a table was as easy as walking through the glass doors and sitting down anywhere at the bar, dining room or outdoor patio, all of which have qualities unique to this location (granted, it was on a weekday).
According to co-owner John Latino, each Bongo Room takes on a familiar yet completely new design, incorporating similar styles and colors with a twist distinctive to the particular restaurant. The Andersonville location uses a more subdued ambiance, with pale blue-green walls, wooden decor and dim lighting complementing the natural light that flows generously through the large windows.
While the appearance of this Bongo Room is different, the food was as delicious as ever. I ordered three of the restaurant’s signature dessert pancakes and was not disappointed. Flavorful yet not overpoweringly sweet, the sauces generously cover the entire plate and melt into the pancakes, which are cooked firm to prevent them from disintegrating underneath the heavy toppings.
The white chocolate and caramel pretzel pancakes are finished with a thick, warm white chocolate sauce with drizzles of milky caramel. The pancakes themselves have crushed pretzels baked into them, providing a salty bite to neutralize the sweetness of the sauces. The red velvet hotcakes use red batter pancakes topped off with vanilla creme and small chunks of toasted walnuts, looking and tasting just like its namesake cake. And the raspberry Oreo flapjacks provide a sweet and tart taste with the creamy, chocolatey crushed Oreos, warm vanilla bean cream and tangy raspberry coulis. It’s dessert and breakfast all-in-one.
These flavors aren’t permanent, however, and if you want to try them you must hurry. The Bongo Room uses only seasonal ingredients to create its pancake flavors, and switches its menus at least twice a year according to the seasons. Latino says that summer flavors incorporate lighter fruits and berries, while winter flavors make use of ingredients such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes and apples. Flavors that are cycled out often do not reappear on the menu for several years due to the large number of ideas the cooks come up with.
Further attesting to the high level of innovation present at The Bongo Room is the cooking method used to make the pancakes. In order to create a unique batter for some of the dishes, ingredients such as crushed pretzels and Oreo bits are baked into the batter. According to Latino, early attempts were unsuccessful because the dry ingredients would soften if mixed directly into the batter. Now his trick is to add the ingredients halfway through cooking, which would allow them to bake into the batter after the pancakes are flipped in the pan.
With the same fresh, creative dishes and a new dining environment, this new Bongo Room is just as good as the others; best of all, I didn’t have to wait.
5022 N. Clark Street
1152 S. Wabash Ave.
1470 N. Milwaukee Ave.