But Then I Remember Why Belize is SOOO Special

Especially after a nice Cuba Libre for breakfast....
I asked the lady running the hotel breakfast room if it would be nuts to have rum for breakfast and she laughed and cheered me (with her own bit she was nippin on)!  My kind of peeps.  Life is too short to not have a damn drink when you exit the hell of the Belizian jungle.  The pina colada I had the night we got out tore my stomach up.  I was so used to just beans and rice and water. Good to know you can't just go back!
Anyhow - we roll out different people.  At least I was.  You begin to realize what you should (and shouldn't) leave home for.   I used to be the gal who would tear out for a job with barely a minutes notice, but things are on the change...I missed Minka something terrible - but then met 2 dogs on the island we had to stop at on the way to Snake Island.  They made my day with their funny dreads and their excited way they greeted every boat that roared by.  
What a simple life the ranger led.  Visitors come.  Tell them about the islands.  Day done.  Holla.
The boat ride over to Snake Island was perfect - I made rum and cokes with fresh ginger and limes.  Coconut rum, mind you.  We swam with sharks.  We saw loads of crazy colorful fish while snorkeling.  We had a ball our last day.   And, then it was over.  Just like that.
Kylie went on to film this new show on Discovery Channel - Naked and Afraid. Her episode premieres July 28 so mega root for her (it's the season finale)!  Dave the DP had just wrapped the new Robert Redford sailing movie he shot in Baja (ALL IS LOST - cannot wait til that comes out this summer)!  And, we will wait and see what becomes of Mark and his footage of the shoot.  Forgot to tell you - in all that freaking jungle...WE FOUND IT.  It was an impossible discovery, but we did it.  

Late Night Diners

Dscf1412 If I try, I can remember points in life when I had all the time in the world to hit up late-night diners, with absolutely no fear about waking up in the morning. I'd blaze through the Hollywood Grill every other night after having drinks at Katerina's and sit there 'til the wee hours laughing with my friends.

Times like those have changed. My schedule is rocked with atrocious deadlines, wildly sporadic hours and hellacious turnarounds. I finally had a meltdown.

I got out of work at 1 a.m. last night and had to be back by 8 a.m. I just wanted to feel like my old self again, the girl who had all the time in the world to pick and choose where she wanted to eat then sit there with plate of country-fried eggs, steaming hash browns and buttery pancakes. Not the girl with a seven-hour turnaround and a delirious mind.

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Perfect Oatmeal for Low Dollars

Dscf0164I have located the most perfect bowl of homemade oatmeal in the city.  I know that's a mighty big claim, but there are many reasons why this one sits at the top of my oatmeal list.
1.  It's really homemade AND made to order--so many b'fast joints use instant, which is just crapola
2.  It's made with whole milk--which of course makes it creamier and thicker
3. It comes with a side of brown sugar, super-soft butter, and heavy whipping cream--who else give you whipping cream?
4.  Cost--$2.75...now, that's a steal.  This same bowl would be almost double that at trendier b'fast haunts.
5.  I just love the little diner.  I discovered this bowl at an adorable new breakfast/lunch place on Western and Fullerton called Cornerstone Cafe.  Very cozy and warm.
They've been renovating the place forever and finally opened up this past week.  It's a way better deal (and vibe) than the Golden Nugget across the street, plus the folks who own it are really sweet and open to suggestions.
6.  There is a great big flat screen TV positioned on the wall so you can get all the news.   I guess I love **This oatmeal is like one big ole delicious cookie once you mix all the toppings in...just the way my mom makes it.

Breakfast at terragusto: RV's new Italian Cafe

Dscf0119I have to admit, I couldn't wait to try the food at terragusto, the new Italian market and cafe in Roscoe Village--I've been by there a number of times since they opened about six weeks ago, and I finally rounded up a few friends and went in for b'fast this weekend.  Ummmm, yeah.....Actually, the food was pretty delicious, but the prices were just ludicrous(especially since the portions were tiny).  $9 oatmeal?  $9 french toast?  And, for my little, itty-bitty bowl of eggs, potatoes and ONLY 1/2 piece of toast (what the?), $6.50.  Just plain 'ole silly.  The potatoes were delish, though...because they were fried up in bacon fat and  magically no grease anywhere to be found.  The eggs were great, too, but the toast was cold and not buttered, as promised on the menu (these little promises matter, you know?).  I think they still have a few kinks to work out for b'fast--but, they seem to do much better at dinnertime with homemade pastas and  salty, perfumed half-chickens for the table to share (cooked in a cast iron skillet, no less).  Plus, they serve up that awesome organic carrot cake made by Maude, the permanent fixture at the Green City farmers market.  I'd say, slam the prices way down and jack the portion size way up or you just might go the way of La Bodega and eno, the two not-so-lucky restaurants in that space before ya!  We dropped almost $40 for b'fast (three people) and I left starving and needing a drink immediately (problem solved at neighboring Four Moon Tavern--which, by the way, has AWESOME brunch...with all portion sizes huge)!

Turquoise Cafe Brunch-Best deal around

Dscf3345There's a super-cute little Turkish restaurant in my Roscoe Village 'hood called Turquoise Cafe that I head to pretty frequently.   I used to go only for dinner (they have this dish called manti that is literally heart-stopping...it's little ravioli's filled with a speck of lamb and they're all doused in a creamy yogurt sauce with hot chili oil.... Christ!)...Anyway--I kept forgetting that they have Sunday brunch 'til recently when I rolled past looking for somewhere to eat.  It's pretty insane what they call a Sunday brunch.  You basically just sit down and they start plowing out with plate after plate of different egg dishes (one with sausage, one scrambled, one with marinara), potatoes, mixed green salad, warm homemade sesame bread with honey and butter, Turkish crepes, and this noodle casserole that is so soft and loaded with feta cheese....plus tea or coffee and fruit.  I'm sure there are other things that I'm forgetting, but for $12.95...you'll be blown away.  Especially since they start you out with a glass of champagne.  Try not to get too full on the bread...it's very easy to do--and, surprisingly...it is never really crowded on Sundays--gotta love it~

Lookin' Round-the-World for the Breakfast Club

Dscf3921My two favorite aspects of traveling are planning the whole (usually tropical) shebang and the reintroduction back into my real life in Chicago (not so tropical). I get as much joy in the actual escape as I do convincing myself that I'm ready to return to the grind...this time with a whole new perspective, of course. Either way, I usually start and end my trip at the Breakfast Club, 1381 W. Hubbard St., my idea of a perfect exit/re-entry haunt.

Diners are strategically placed on every corner in the city, but few come close to matching the ideal set-up. Not only does the coffee need to be hot and strong, it needs to be poured frequently. Not only should there be buttery waffles and pancakes on the menu, there's gotta be a whole-grain version. Are the biscuits and gravy homemade or popped right out of tin cans? Are portions huge and worthy of sharing? Are there several of the day's newspapers scattered about, leftover from customers that happened to roll in before me?

When I find one deserving "yes" to every question, that's the place I love leaving on my way out of the concrete jungle, and the place I love coming back to after several weary weeks spent, often, in a real jungle. Through a giant order of whole-wheat pancakes smothered in soft butter and doused in sweet syrup, I can say goodbye to healthy eating and hello to road food in a foreign county: Beans and rice, here I come. And through that huge platter of soft biscuits and sausage packed cream gravy, I say hello to American eats once again.

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Bear Naked Granola~Hell Yeah, It's Worth the $6 Bones

Dscf3090_3The very best granola creation is made by a company called Bear Naked and I cannot seem to get enough of their goods.  I know that Whole Foods sells all the varieties of their brand, but the other day, I wandered into Southport Grocery and Cafe and was delighted to find that they were fully stocked as well.  If you're a granola fiend like me, you'll appreciate the consistency of the Bear Naked brand of granola; it's not crunchy, it's not too sweet...it's a little soft and chewy, sorta like a super soft cookie...meaning, easy to chow by the handful.  I've attacked all of the granola bulk bins at Whole Foods, but this is way superior than any crunch WF is offering...though I have heard that Milk & Honey Cafe has a really great version (they also have some rockin' tuna fish).  I like to take this granola (the blue bag), pour a bunch in a bowl, toss on some Fage Greek yogurt (Trader Joe's has the best deal for all you Fage addicts) and  honey, plus some chopped Fuji apples...you have never tasted anything so sublime~

Brinner @ Wishbone

Dscf2698_12Every Tuesday, Wishbone has this nifty little deal called Brinner.  All it really means is that they're rockin' some breakfast items (at breakfast prices) on the dinner menu.  Not too big a deal, but I must say I tried the french toast (plain, not with the cornflake crust) and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  Wishbone has the perfect french toast, who knew?  Even better (sad to say) than Victory's Banner....
The cost was less than $6, and there were four thick brioche wedges, perfectly crisp and not too eggy, pats of already soft butter and not-too-thick (or sweet)  maple syrup. I never eat an entire order of french toast, but this time around, there wasn't a single drop left on the plate.
Back on Tuesday, then....

Victory's Banner: Best Breakfast Around

Dscf0028_1As humble as the photo may be, to me there is nothing in the entire world like practically killing myself on a movie shoot and then waking up (knowing that the shoot is over, done and done) and dashing straight over to Victory's Banner in Roscoe Village.  They're a totally vegetarian Breakfast/Lunch place that serves up the very best French Toast (extra crispy) with slathers of peach butter and the fluffiest, yellowest scrambled eggs I've ever had.  The butter flavor just melts in my mouth and I cannot seem to get enough of them (I down the whole dish in about 30 seconds flat).  This is my absolute perfect breakfast (I guess, really, I'm there 3x per week).  They also have  a frequent diner card that I diligently get stamped every time I'm in and cannot seem to have the will to redeem...I just like getting it stamped (of course, then there's the hassle of stapling all of my cards together and fumbling through the little box, looking for the awkward stapled batch...).  I just love the Ban~

Four Moon Tavern: Breakfast of Champions

Dscn1258 Breakfast was always the highlight of my soap opera-fueled days as a kid. My grandmother and granddad would whip up fluffy scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits (with mountains of molasses and butter), sausage and black pepper gravy, juicy sliced tomatoes, vats of greasy bacon, creamed style corn, fried potatoes with onion and fresh orange juice every single day of the week. The smells penetrating through our house at 6 a.m. were enough to make me bellow out of bed and race to the kitchen, wide-eyed and bushytailed, ready to crack an egg or pour some juice (really, just to eat some raw potato with a shake of salt).

These days, I usually delight in a bit of crunchy granola with Greek yogurt (Fage is king) and fresh berries or nice bowl of steel cut oatmeal with brown sugar (the version at Victory's Banner rocks) and I can't even imagine stuffing down that sort of monstrosity of a meal at 8 a.m. Well I guess I could. Actually, I guess I do pretty often. But in the city I've found that breakfasts are more roadside dinery or upscale stacked than plain ol', damn good Southern comfort food.

Leave it to a bar to change that and bring me straight back to my roots. The Four Moon Tavern (long known as an actors' after-hours hangout) is the perfect neighborhood bar, complete with a super-cute outdoor patio, candlelit bar tables, a pool table, a great jukebox and a breezy vibe that's cozy and intimate. All that plus they have some awesome handcut French fries with homemade ranch and let's face facts, that's all you really need in a bar. (I could do an entire book on my quest for the best homemade ranch).

Back to breakfast, though. Who knew a dark bar would be dishing up the yellowiest, fluffiest, cream cheese-filled scrambled eggs I've had since the South (Four Moon Scramble $7.50)? And who'd have thought it would come up with perfectly chopped little potatoes with a sprinkle of rosemary and thick English muffins covered in melting butter to go along side the pile of eggs? For a bar, that's the big time.

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