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Friday, March 31

Gapers Block

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There are two things that consistently make me cranky: claustrophobia and extreme hunger. Unfortunately, I experienced both in large quantities at Victory's Banner last weekend.

It used to be that during prime breakfast-dining hours on the weekends you could stroll through the front door, receive a warm greeting from the staff, and be ushered immediately to a table. Even on the busiest of days, you might have to wait a mere 10 minutes, but a mug of steaming coffee made these rare delays exorbitantly pleasant.

Last Saturday, I found the scene at Victory's Banner to be quite different. A throng of people stood shoulder to shoulder in the tiny entryway waiting for a table, while those brave enough to tolerate the cold milled around outside. The host (who did not bring coffee to me or anyone else waiting) informed me that the wait would not exceed 20 minutes; nearly an hour later, I had still not been seated, but I had succeeded in being bumped, pushed, and prodded a multitude of times by my fellow waitees. My stomach rumblings were so loud that everyone in the restaurant could hear, and I had taken to glaring at the other diners while holding the door open to let in a blustery draft, desperately hoping they would be encouraged to leave soon.

What is it about Victory's Banner that draws swarms of people and causes me to demonstrate such ghastly behavior? The food, of course.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before this tiny vegetarian brunch spot in Roscoe Village became immensely popular. You can't serve up such toothsome breakfast marvels as the Athenian omelette stuffed full of fresh tomato, onion and feta cheese or the raspberry French toast dusted with powered sugar, and not expect to attract a hungry following. Apparently, the secret of Victory's Banner is out -- much sooner that I had expected.

I may have been distraught by the long wait for a table, but I was by no means disappointed with the breakfast I was served. All it took was a cup of strong coffee and cream and a pesto and goat cheese omelette to help me regain composure. A pile of soft goat cheese was folded into a fluffy omelette, made with three free-range eggs, tinged green from homemade pesto. Mouthful after mouthful of the creamy cheese laced with fresh basil and parsley did wonders for my grumpy mood, as did the side of grilled potatoes sprinkled in hot sauce and slabs of thick, multigrain bread smeared with jam.

The omelettes are all entirely worthy of extreme gushing, but the undeniable star of the Victory's Banner show is the French toast. Enormously thick wedges of egg-dunked bread are grilled to a golden brown; the outside is crusty, but the inside has the consistency of a moist piece of yellow cake. There is only one acceptable way to devour this delicacy -- slathered in the accompanying peach butter and drizzled in maple syrup. I'm not sure if this description is even partly doing justice to this culinary masterpiece, but I implore you to believe me that the French toast is indeed luscious.

Victory's Banner gets crazy with their pancakes as well, employing a hodgepodge of ingredients -- oat bran, apples, pecans, chocolate chips, raspberries, bananas, walnuts -- in an effort to induce salivation. For those who prefer to skip breakfast, there is also an extensive lunch menu complete with salads, wraps, and soup. I have yet to try any of these offerings since I am so very addicted to the morning items (which are served all day long), but I have heard diners compliment the veggie burgers and the neatloaf, a combination of grains, cheese, tofu, rice, and spices served as a sandwich or alongside mashed potatoes.

For all of my complaining about the wait at Victory's Banner last Saturday, I must admit that it wasn't any longer than what I have experienced at other breakfast places at that time of the morning. In retrospect, I am a little embarrassed by my impatience. Owner Pradhan Balter, a student of mediation and the Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, touts his restaurant as a "spiritual expression" on the menu; as a result, his staff is more interested in serving good food in a relaxed, sunny environment than they are about turning over tables. On most occasions, I find this compassionate perspective refreshing -- just not when my stomach is painfully empty.

Victory's Banner is located at 2100 W. Roscoe. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. except on Tuesdays.

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Naz / February 22, 2004 11:23 PM

Lunch is also excellent at Victory's Banner, which I actually get more often than breakfast. The Smoky (un)Chicken Wrap or Tofy Curry Wrap are to be savoured.

I'm also a little surprised by this report of new found popularity. I haven't been there in two weeks maybe and I've never seen or experienced such a wait. It's good for their business I'm sure. I also tend to go there for lunch more than I do breakfast and moreso on weekdays so perhaps I've missed out on these waits -- perhaps not a bad thing.

amyc / February 23, 2004 8:43 AM

All hail Victory's Banner, the best cult-run restaurant in the city!

If you go before 9 on the weekends, you won't have to wait at all. Of course, you'd have to wake up before 9, so there's that. As for the lunch stuff, their veggie burgers are wonderful, but be warned: They are messy as hell! Once you pick one up, you can't really put it down -- you just have to eat until it's gone, because you won't be able to pick it up again without getting it all over you. And the mashed potatoes rock.

kjack / February 23, 2004 9:23 AM

Maybe it was the dusting of powered sugar that got you feeling good. . . .

it can work wonders and goes great with breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, supper, late night munchies, or nothing at all. It could keep you going for days without the need of food, and it will relieve all your anxieties about claustrophobia and hunger pains, not to metion so much else. Try it with some desert mushrooms and you got yourself all the spirituality you crave, something better than what you can purchase at a restaurant.

"i don't like cocaine, just the smell of it!"

jenny / February 23, 2004 10:59 AM

Yeah, the last few times I've been to Victory's Banner, it's been a far from Zen experience...but that seems to be par for the course these days at just about EVERY brunch place in town...Bongo Room, Orange, Square Kitchen, The Medici and on and on...

When did Brunch take off like this? When I was younger, NO ONE did brunch, or if so, only rarely. Weekend mornings were for grocery shopping, paper-reading, laundry...every Monday, my co-workers compare where they went for brunch. What is this cult of the brunch? And if we're all members, where are the UNDISCOVERED spots? Because we need them. Because the 60-minute table wait/no elbow room/high decibel model is no way to relax on a weekend morning.

Naz / February 23, 2004 11:27 AM

Jenny - agreed. I love going for brunch and suspect many many many other people do as well. I've had to pass on Toast, Flo and other places because waits were in the hour to hour and a half range. John's Place at Racine and Webster (a great place for brunch) is good food and smaller wait times - I've never had to wait more than 20 minutes in it's busiest. I suspect their larger space (double Victory's Banner and with bar-like seating) allows them this.

Andrew / February 23, 2004 11:34 AM

Undiscovered brunch? Well, there's Fireside, 5739 N. Ravenswood. They only do brunch on Sunday, but they've got a killer Bloody Mary bar.

Brunch is hugely popular I think partly because we twenty- (and thirty-) somethings enjoy the social aspect of brunch. It's like we're continuing the jovialities of the night before.

da v3 / February 23, 2004 12:26 PM

brunch...byob...peanut butter and jelly vegan french toast...lovitt awww yeah!

rennab s'yrotciv

Andrew / February 23, 2004 1:40 PM

dav3, What's with the backwards spelling? Are you channelling Harry Cary?

Seth Zurer / February 23, 2004 3:19 PM

How's this for undiscovered brunchfast: teh edge brook diner at Central and Devon

Or abandon all eggy pretensions and go for dimsum in chinatown.

Or fried chicken and corn cakes at OT's in austin.

Or vietnamese brunch, pho style on argyle!

Or Brains n Eggs with spectacular biscuits at Edna's on the west side.

There ya go. Undiscover away!

Naz / February 23, 2004 4:25 PM

Brains n Eggs? What is that exactly?

jenny / February 23, 2004 4:27 PM

Thanks, Seth...Edna's sounds like one for this weekend.

Kim / February 23, 2004 4:53 PM

Wow, scary...I was actually planning on writing about Edna's next week!

amyc / February 23, 2004 9:17 PM

Looks like it's about to be discovered.

Seth Zurer / February 24, 2004 10:06 AM

Brains n Eggs is not just a cutesy name for a breakfast dish, it's an ingredient list.

Naz / February 24, 2004 10:19 AM

Ah, what kind of brains do they server?

Seth Zurer / February 24, 2004 10:39 AM

I think they're cow brains, although I haven't been since the recent re-scare re: mad cow, so they may have taken the dish out of the menu rotation. The eggs are scrambled with the brains. They all mix together into a yellowish gray scrambledy plate.

To be candid the only time I ever ate them at Edna's was at the tail end of the first chowhound allnightathon (chronicled here: And they were tasty, though not the best brains based meal I've eaten in chicago. That title goes to the brain empanada at the el colonial maxwell st market, with a close second prize going to the brains masala at Shan, a grocery store cum pakistani restaurant in Edgewater, which prepared the dish perfectly for me once, and has never recreated it since.

nnnnikki / February 24, 2004 8:31 PM

good lord, Shan Foods. I'd forgotten. Such incredible gulab jamun. Yet another place to miss while living in harlem.

re: victory's banner
actually, i remember it being pretty nuts/crowded five years ago...perhaps people have always known about VB, they just forgot for a year or two. BTW, the meditation classes at night aren't all bad.

say gang, out of curiousity, is el tinajon still in roscoe village? that was always a favorite--best beets in town.

purplestar / February 25, 2004 12:02 AM

Undiscovered brunch? Martyrs' on Lincoln. Sunday only and it doesn't start until 10. Delish and you always can walk in and get a seat. The host makes wonderful baked goods.

amyc / February 25, 2004 6:08 AM

El Tinajon is indeed still in Roscoe Village, nnnikki.

Shylo / February 25, 2004 12:10 PM

VB is really good. I had some lemon curd pancakes there that were to die for. But the place is creepy. Just creepy. There's that super-culty vibe and all that crap by the Sri Chinmoy everywhere. Art, poems, videos. If you're okay supporting a restaurant that probably donates heavily to a "guru", cool.

heather / February 27, 2004 11:29 AM

I second purplestar's Martyr's recommendation. Started going there for brunch 3 years ago, when VB was too crowded, and discovered the pub food to be far better!

three cheers for fruity muffins, crispy potato sides, and plenty of elbow room!


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