Last summer the food world was freaking out over “artisanal toast,” pricey butter-and-jam-smeared slices from high-grade whole-grain loaves, like something your weather-beaten ancestors might have kneaded out of einkorn, oats, and prairie dust. Many laughed at the presumption of this latest outrage of food-hipster pretension, but nobody’s laughing at Bunny, Elizabeth chef Iliana Regan‘s latest effort, a bakery in a Lakeview shoebox of such modest dimensions she dubs it “the Micro Bakery.” Hundreds of its artfully framed toasts populate Instagram, all taken by the gentle light of the front window on a single wooden bench table seating 12—tops. The space is compact, but not so Lilliputian that it can’t serve as a bread-baking classroom or as the scene of Regan’s periodic Wunder Pop dinner series.
Behold the toast. There’s the glistening salmon poke crowned with a golden egg yolk, shimmering on a slice of deep green seaweed sourdough. There’s the toad in the hole—mineral-rich grass-fed beef tartare, capers, and garlic aioli concealing a dripping egg. And there’s the lightly pickled mackerel with herb-infused butter on seeded rye.
But no slice—probably no single dish in Chicago currently—has been so relentlessly documented as Bunny’s foie gras toast. It’s a buttery slice of brioche (or sturdier nut-berry), smeared with raspberry jam and topped with a tiny molded owl figurine made from foie gras mousse—so cute you’ll evacuate rainbows. It’s a breakfast made more for social media than for eating (which might be why no one complains that the heavy smear of preserves overwhelms the rich, creamy bird liver). But Regan is Chicago’s only magical-realist chef, and it’s a beacon of the whimsical style on display at her flagship restaurant. Pair the toast with a cup of her beefy mushroom tea with chamomile buds and cocoa nibs and you’re breakfasting through the Looking Glass.
Thick crusty bread is also the vehicle for rotating specials that highlight the sort of ingenuity you could previously experience only by paying hundreds of dollars at Elizabeth. You may find Sichuan peppercorn-spiked dulce de leche and chile de arbol whipped cream one day. Or scrambled eggs, house-made kimchi, and wood ear mushrooms marinated in sweet soy sauce on another. These special toasts aren’t cheap, ranging from $9-$12 each, but more modest toppings (bread, jam, yogurt, honey, ricotta) at $2-$4 per slice can lower the bill and help you save room for lunch specials like a cheeseburger on a caraway brioche bun or a shredded kale salad with shaved sheep’s milk cheese.
There’s also a “Dutch oven of the day,” always some sort of soupy/stewy brew poured over chunks of buttery toasted sourdough, such as a French onion soup built on a powerfully umamic vegan stock made with charred onions. Specials of startling refinement include a bowl of chewy house-made spaghetti in a tart cream sauce made from nutty Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, garnished with nasturtium flowers and shaved cured egg yolk—something that wouldn’t be out of place on the table at Elizabeth.
Airy, cheesy gougeres, towering buttermilk biscuits, crumbly blueberry thumbprint cookies made with acorn flour, whiskey-glazed doughnuts, and spongy but crisp-edged canele are the sort of treasures that fill up the modest pastry case. But Bunny’s all about the bread. Hearty, crusty boules with an open, pillowy crumb are sold for takeaway, including varieties made with kamut and flaxseed, oat porridge, and whole wheat. Bunny’s black boule, colored with squid ink and ensanguined with pork blood, is a tribute to Tyrion Lannister’s visit to Castle Black, created for a Game of Thrones dinner at Elizabeth, proving that even in a bakery Regan’s dark sense of humor translates. v