Earth + Ocean – Brunch Only, Mount Prospect

View my full, one-star review of E+O from autumn 2013.

The suburbs of Chicago have historically been a food circus, an unfortunate joke that suburban residents reliably attempt to convince themselves and city-dwellers is at least vaguely comparable to Chicago-proper. The best of one’s hopes for good food in the suburbs are the same hopes one generally has in Boise or Omaha: Chain restaurants like P.F. Chang’s or The Cheesecake Factory. And–in all honesty–this was a marked step up from local diner fare and conventional American meat & potatoes fine dining. Somewhere along the way and sensing opportunity, successful restaurateurs began “going chain” and opening up suburban locations. Steakhouses such as Morton’s and Gibson’s, seafood restaurants such as Catch-35, and even Tony Hu’s Lao Chinese eateries have moved into the suburbs, as well, creating some kind of culinary cirque de soleil.

As you may well have guessed, it’s unclear to me whether any of this has been for the better. Although 15 years ago, one could hardly even get a decent steak and a glass of wine in Chicago’s suburbs (whereas now one most certainly can), today there is momentum behind the idea that one can not only find good food in the suburbs, but great food. Chefs such as Guildhall’s Christian Ragano (formerly of NoMi and, briefly, Tru), Found‘s Nicole Pederson (formerly of C-House),  Perennial Virant’s Paul Virant (splitting his time between the city and his suburban Vie) and, of course, E+O’s Rodelio Aglibot (formerly of Sunda) have all found a kitchen to call home in the suburbs. On paper, there is a lot to like in everyone’s attempt: Innovative menus, locally-sourced and seasonally-focused ingredients, accomplished restaurant concept designers. Of course, everything comes down to execution.

And the execution at E+O is a complicated topic that starts with the menu. The menu at first glance is perhaps best described as of the “glorified Cheesecake Factory” variety. Chef Aglibot and team seem to be of the mindset of offering something for everyone–from Hong Kong-style lollipop chicken to gnocchi with pesto to maki to Argentinean gaucho ribeye. Unfortunately, I’m not acquainted well enough with the massive dinner menu to comment upon it yet.

However, I have been over much of the brunch menu and it is of interest that–in contrast with the dinner–brunch is quite restrained, rooted in Chef Aglibot’s Hawaiian and Filipino heritage. Dotting the menu are Hawaiian diner fare close to my heart, including loco moco, spam fried rice, and pork chops and eggs. Rounding out the menu are a variety of brunch staples such as the house’s take on chilaquiles, fancy omelettes, french toast, and hash. Although everything is not a hit, much of it is quite good.

Malasadas with citrus crème anglaise
Malasadas with citrus crème anglaise

Among the highlights are the malasadas–something a kin to a doughnut hole, originating from Portugal but ubiquitous among the Hawaiian islands–which are a heavy consistency, but still soft and pleasing. The malasadas are coated in sugar, and served with what the house calls “citrus crème anglaise” for dipping. The crème anglaise was curious in that it was neither citrusy nor crème anglaise. It had the consistency of whole milk but with slightly less richness and no citrus flavor to speak of. As a result, it was extremely unsatisfying to attempt to coat the malasadas in what I’ll call the dipping sauce–most of it just dribbled off. The presentation, however, was playful with a to-go container lined with foil, a reference to the numerous Hawaiian bakeries that serve the treats in exactly that manner.

Mushroom and ricotta omelette
Mushroom and ricotta omelette

Another good plate is an omelette baked in a cast iron dish with ricotta cheese and baby shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms. The omelette was very light–the obvious result of baking–and delicious with incredibly fresh mushrooms.

Short rib hash with poached egg and hollandaise topped with smoked paprika
Short rib hash with poached egg and hollandaise topped with smoked paprika

On the heavier side is a short rib hash which our server insisted first was braised and then suggested was, in fact, roasted. Come to think of it, the poor dear couldn’t pronounce “orgeat” or “orecchiette” to save her life. In any event, the reader might be interested to know that the short ribs are first roasted, constructed into patties with fried potato, and then finished in the pan. Topped with poached eggs with a side of smoked paprika-dusted hollandaise, you’d be forgiven if you thought the dish was yet a third eggs benedict for the menu. Although it’s tasty enough, I wished the short ribs were a bit more flavorful (something a braise might have achieved).

Pork chop and eggs
Pork chop and eggs

One missed opportunity was the purported smoked pork chop served with over easy eggs. The cut on the two pork chops included in the dish are single thickness and pounded even flatter. It was also boneless–something I thoroughly hate. A bone-in, double-cut pork chop would have been delicious with the same amount of meat on the plate. The presentation was also dubious with the eggs served separately–and not atop–the chops, leaving much yokey richness puddling on the plate when it could have just as easily flavored a thin and dry pork chop. But, then again, I can be a tad fussy.

Spam fried rice
Spam fried rice

Another curious offering is the spam fried rice which is rather basic. One could just as easily have this exact dish served in a greasy spoon outside of Poipu than a suburban Chicago fine dining oasis. This would be fine with me if the dish were not $9. I’ve honestly tasted better in Hawaii, and for my money, I could easily do better in my own kitchen. (The spam itself wasn’t even properly browned.)

I pair brunch with cocktails, generally, and both the cocktail menu and the bartender execution does not disappoint at E+O. As this is practically unheard of in the suburbs, E+O might be best utilized as a happy hour spot, as well. One of the well executed highlights of the cocktail list was a cross between a watermelon limeade and a dark and stormy, unceremoniously called a “watermelon storm.” Also on the menu and made well enough for the suburbs is the last word classic cocktail, which I can never turn down, especially for brunch. Although service was airheaded and undertrained as I previously alluded, it was also genuinely friendly and ambitious in its accommodativeness. So, amid the culinary circus that is Chicago’s suburbs, E+O manages to do right enough by brunch to make it worthwhile (but only just).

E+O Food and Drink
125 Randhurst Village Dr
Mt Prospect, IL 60056
(847) 398-3636

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