Southern breakfasts take center stage at Sassafras American Eatery, now open in Jefferson Park
Pizzerias, a chef recently groused, are swarming the city like Miller moths. To the contrary, breakfast joints, he lamented, have been regulated to the back burner, slipping into the abyss like paying for porn.
But Julia Grother, who just opened Sassafras American Eatery last week in an historic Victorian at 2637 West 26th Avenue, an address that housed the original La Loma, and since then, more restaurants than we can count, is bringing breakfast -- specifically southern breakfasts -- to the forefront, and I can only wish that she'll open more, ideally on my block.
The menu, a creation of dishes that zigzag from chicken-fried eggs and smoked buffalo hash to a Benedict skyscraped with pulled pork, collard greens and pickled pepper jam on house-baked buttermilk biscuits, is the work of executive chef Colin Mallet, who hails from Louisiana and started his cooking career at sixteen in New Orleans.
"He responded to an ad I put on Craigslist, and when he came in to interview, he brought pulled pork, andouille sausage, biscuits and peanut butter fudge with him, and, honestly, of the 56 responses I got, he was the only serious candidate. I wanted to do a southern-influenced, American comfort food menu, and I wanted someone to inspire me -- and he's perfect," says Grother, an industry veteran who was the opening GM of the Corner Office and, most recently, a manager at Dixons Downtown Grill, which shuttered last year.
"I've been talking about opening my own restaurant for eight years -- this is my dream -- and I traveled all over the place to get ideas for decor, food, beverages and service techniques," says Grother, who responds to requests with "My pleasure" rather than "No problem," a phrase I keep hearing at restaurants that makes my toes curl.
"Good, polite, friendly service is important to me," she insists (and it definitely shows), and so, too, are her ingredients. "We make all of our own sausages with natural casings, we cure and smoke all of our own bacon, we bake all of our own breads except the roll we use for the po' boy, we make our own ketchup, jams and hot sauce, and we fresh-squeeze all of our own juices," she notes, adding, too, that the kitchen's repertoire of ingredients are primarily local and organic.
Mallet's breakfast board, which also hustles shrimp and grits with poached eggs, pecan sweet bread, sweet potato pie, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon-perfumed steel cut oats, griddled buttermilk flapjacks and a fried green tomato Benedict, is served all day, although he doesn't skimp on lunch, a catchall of burgers, sandwiches, po' boys, gumbo, buffalo Frito pie, fried chicken and chicken confit with pork and duck liver dirty rice. "I really wanted a menu that was innovative, a menu with integrity that we could be proud of, and I wanted to keep it affordable," says Grother, pointing out that the most expensive dish on the menu is $14 -- and the portions are huge.
I stopped by a few days ago with a friend to grab a bite to eat, only to realize that I wanted one of everything. We barely made a dent, but everything we had (save for the hollandaise sauce, which could benefit from an additional jolt of fresh lemon) proves that breakfast is alive and well and that this is a dwelling -- complete with a charming, wood-dressed interior and bloom-bedecked patio -- that has staying power. Herewith, the photos.