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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

As far as breakfast goes, I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who crave large amounts of sugar in the morning, and those who don't.

Me? I belong to the second camp and my parents are entirely to blame for this preference: They forbade my sister and I to eat sugar cereals until we were in high school, and even then they wouldn't keep any of it in the house. While I unfortunately (fortunately?) was deprived of some of the artificially-flavored wonders of the '80s like Count Chocola and Pac-Man cereal, the only repercussion I see carrying over into my adult life is that I prefer an omelet and home fries with a sprinkling of Tabasco to French Toast and syrup any day of the week.

That is why Flo is the perfect brunch place for me.

This spunky spot in the Ukrainian Village lists the usual sweet choices on the brunch menu -- pancakes, smoothies, French toast -- but it is best known for its New Mexican-inspired fare. Black beans, pico de gallo, warm tortillas, and a variety of chiles find a way into most of Flo's dishes; it's most likely the only place in Chicago serving up such startlingly fresh Southwestern flavors.

Depending on how much spice you can handle in the morning, I would recommend starting your brunch off right with one of Flo's creative cocktails. The Maria Chili Rojo is a thick blend of red chili paste, homemade mix and jalapenos; this drink has the consistency and the fixings of a well-made Bloody Mary, including a garnish of celery salt and stuffed jalapeno olives, but instead of the standard V8 flavor, the red chiles lend a piquant peppery taste to this delightful concoction. Mimosas and several coffee drinks are also available as well as a more potent Maria Chili Verde -- but my stomach can only handle so much at such an early hour.

I have heard people rave about Flo's huevos rancheros (a cheesy red chile enchilada topped with over-medium eggs and black beans) and the breakfast burrito (spinach tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, jalapenos, cheese, and the usual burrito ingredients), but on my visit I wanted to try something a bit different. I settled on the chilaquiles, a pile of warm tortilla chips covered with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and pico de gallo. This was topped off by black beans and a salsa of roasted tomato and Poblano peppers that emanated a muted, smoky aroma instead of a fiery kick. Be forewarned: This dish is NOT pleasing to look at, especially if you think soupy salsa and soggy chips are unappetizing. But all of the ingredients were tremendously fresh and tasty, and if you are not one to fret when all your food runs together, this could be the dish for you.

I am sure there are some readers who think this description sounds heavenly and others who are about to vomit at the thought of so much spiciness in the morning; my dining companion, who hardly ever orders anything but pancakes for breakfast, was having a hard time watching me eat. Luckily for him, the sweet items on the menu were just as good. I had a few bites of his fluffy pancakes laden with chocolate chips and banana and was definitely impressed; fragrant almond butter and maple syrup ($1 extra) made this dish a bit over the top for me, but my friend was extremely satisfied. One of the specials, a blackberry and banana smoothie, was equally fresh and fantastic.

Besides weekend brunch, Flo also serves dinner nightly and is open for breakfast and lunch during the week (closed on Mondays). I can't say enough good things about it; the space is cute and casual with vibrant folk art decorating the walls. It is likely that this spot gets crowded come noon, but at 10:30 on a Saturday morning, I was surprised to be seated right away and it was comforting not to be rushed through our meal to make way for the next customers. But most of all, I appreciated this restaurant most for giving attention to the freshness and creativeness of its offerings instead of trying too hard to be the "cool spot" in the "cool" part of town.

Flo might not be able to impress all diners, but if there is one thing I hope readers will take away from this review is that it should be commended for offering customers more than the standard brunch items in a trendy environment. Well, and that kids who aren't allowed to eat sugar cereals actually turn out alright in the end.

Flo is located at 1434 W. Chicago Ave. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Most brunch items run from $5.75-$7.95.

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Comments

jt / April 5, 2004 9:33 AM

Hey! That's where Allison and I had our first breakfast when we decided to go out instead of make it ourselves. It was unforgettable.

Al / April 5, 2004 2:03 PM

I used to work for Flo's owner back when she had a bead store in Oak Park. She left to start this restaurant and I know she puts all her heart into it even though it drives her crazy. The food is truly amazing.

Naz / April 6, 2004 1:11 PM

I went to Flo sometime late last year. Good food indeed and different for breakfast. I've been back for brunch but the hordes of people and absurd waits have kept me away from the food. For now at least. A good thing for them I'm sure.

 

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