The occasion of esteemed former pastry chef Sarah Jordan taking over Logan Square’s Johnny’s Grill prompted some justifiable sarcasm about whether a place serving $9 pancakes and cheeseburgers is a legitimate replacement for a greasy spoon that served its “community” by serving breakfast for under $4. We’ll see about that. For now it’s worth pointing out that traditional upscaling of the classic greasy spoon has been in effect for quite some time; cases in point include ersatz versions like Dove’s, Little Goat, and even Au Cheval, but also at even more low-budget, low-profile neighborhood spots like Danny’s Egghead Diner, where you can get a $3 cup of soup along with more specialized stuff like a $12 double turkey burger with provolone and cranberry jam.
Places like that also break the mold by catering to their respective ethnic demographics (Danny’s does a number of elaborate, gut-busting Mexican egg dishes for weekend brunch). And that’s also the case at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club, a bustling North Park morning/midday spot helmed by Mexican-born chef Manny Mejia, who honed his breakfast chops at places like M. Henry and Marmalade—and his Korean chops during a stint at Andersonville’s Jin Ju. The BMBC is a snug corner spot that opened with little fanfare about year ago, but saw accumulations of weekend wait listers on the sidewalk almost immediately. Mejia offers very little in the traditional diner mode besides plain (but tremendously fluffy) pancakes, French toast, eggs and toast, and oatmeal. The rest is assertively cheffy: a burger topped with pulled pork and sriracha mayo, Shiraz-poached pear salad, fish tacos, an acorn squash and tofu plate, blackberry-and-kiwi French toast, and bibimbap made with quinoa instead of rice.
That last is a nod to the neighborhood’s dwindling Korean population. Another: the savory Korean pancake pajeon. That’s usually not a breakfast item but here it’s given the eggs-and-bacon treatment, with two ovum any style, potatoes, toast, and a brussels sprout pork belly hash. Pajeon are best when they’re thin because it allows the ever-present green onion and the glutinous rice wheat flour batter to fully cook on the griddle, plus the edges to crisp up a bit and better absorb the requisite soy-vinegar dipping sauce. Mejia’s “pajun pancake” is imagined for American appetites—thick and doughy, and consequently undercooked. Spread this baby out and I’m on board ($10.95).
If Mejia’s menu skews in any ethnic direction it’s Mexican, with a full complement of tacos, a breakfast burrito, chilaquiles, and this towering chorizo skillet, an intimidating Mount Doom of sausage, onion, tomatoes, black beans, avocado, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chipotle sauce. I needed a good snort of the old spirit of hartshorn after this one. ($10.95)
If you’re detecting any kind of theme among these three dishes it’s the massive portioning. Here it’s on display with the curry chicken salad in sandwich form, piled between two slices of bread with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and at least half an avocado ($9.75)
This supersize M.O. runs throughout the menu at the BMBC, which is just one reason it’s consistently busy on weekends; an exemplar for the modern neighborhood breakfast spot. Just don’t touch the Diner Grill.
Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club, 3401 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, 872-208-7079, brynmawrbreakfastclub.net.