Fall’s Fantastic Flavors

Pumpkins are one of the culinary highlights of fall. (photo: Rachel Tan)

By Rachel Tan
Hapless Intern

One of the best things about fall is the great harvest of ingredients. Squashes, pumpkins, beets and mushrooms are indicative of the season, as our tastes shift from light and citrusy to robust, nutty and earthy.


Here are some restaurants around Chicago that use the fall produce to their advantage in the kitchen. Please allow room for them between Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.


Karyn’s on Green does not serve meat, but their acorn squash pancakes and mushroom bacon strips are equally great pick-me-ups for brunch.


Acorn squash pancakes at Karyn’s On Green. (photo: Rachel Tan)


The acorn squash pancakes are of a fluffy and slightly crispy nature; omelet adjectives oddly work for these 4-inch flapjacks. The squash-studded medallions are more porous compared to a normal pancake, and their slight griddle cake texture reminds me of a good cornbread; maple syrup soaks into them rather easily. Syrup adds to the moistness of the pancakes, making the accompanying apple butter unnecessary. They are also slightly sweet to begin with, and the apple butter sends it over the top. But all in all, a nice sweet treat with texture airy enough for you to finish the plate.


Mushroom bacon at Karyn’s On Green. Close to the real thing. (photo: Rachel Tan)


In case your mouth needs a break from sugar, accompany your brunch with mushroom bacon. Not bacon and mushrooms – bacon made from mushrooms. It is umami goodness with a surprisingly similar texture to actual bacon. Non-vegans can easily take a liking to this.


The Pump Room is also a brunch destination not to be missed. Three things that must be sampled: Beet salad, pecan sticky buns – because one will not be enough –  and Kabocha squash with ricotta bruschetta.


Colorful beets at The Pump Room. (photo: Rachel Tan)


The beet salad is a combination of variously colored beets that all taste different, micro greens and a light yogurt dressing. It’s the perfect palate cleanser and appetizer. Follow it with the richness of a pecan-packed carb package:


Pecan sticky bun at The Pump Room. (photo: Rachel Tan)


Surprisingly not too sweet, the sticky bun’s texture and mouthfeel is a cross between a brioche and a kouign aman. It has all the density but the nuttiness of the pecans and savory bread notes even out the sweetness of the caramel coating.


Kabocha squash, a Japanese squash, is slightly sweeter than its American counterpart. (photo: Rachel Tan)


Somehow, find a way to fit in the squash toast. Mashed, caramelized and slightly charred, this generous dollop of sweet Japanese squash is a delight with the coolness and neutrality of ricotta. On grilled country bread that is slightly crisp, this bite is a great contrast and combination of textures.


Another great pumpkin find is not too far away at Allium, inside the Four Seasons Hotel, where their seasonal offering of pumpkin bread with a drizzle of pumpkin oil is good on a weekday, or for that matter, any day. Four buns that resemble parker house rolls are packed into a small ceramic dish and are served piping hot from the oven. Cut them out from their little dish to reveal a full-bodied, chewy dough.


Allium’s pumpkin bread, perfect for fall. (photo: Rachel Tan)


Doughy and dense is the best way to describe it. The sea salt sprinkled on the top doesn’t overpower the bread’s subtle pumpkin flavor and adds a welcome balance to the frequently sweet bites of bread.


One more option – probably recognizable to my fellow Northwestern students – comes in the form of pumpkin loaf bread from Brothers K Coffeehouse in Evanston. It definitely feels suitable, especially this time of year, accompanying a breakfast coffee.

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