News & Features

"Monkey Around" w/Monkey Bread

March 01 2013 - 11:00 AM

Remember how your parents always told you not to play with your food? Well there’s an exception to that rule, and it’s monkey bread, otherwise known as pull-apart bread. One does not eat monkey bread with a fork. No, one must manhandle the doughy treat to pull it apart and dunk in accompanying sauces/glazes. Lately, I’ve noticed a number of chefs monkeying around in the kitchen. The Bristol started the monkey bread craze when it opened, and its savory monkey bread with dill butter has been a menu mainstay ever since. Now more restaurants are offering their own takes on monkey bread, from sweet to savory, breakfast to dessert.

One of my favorite renditions of monkey bread can be found at Owen & Engine (pictured above), which also happens to be my favorite restaurant-that-reminds-me-of-a-murder-mystery. Available on the Sunday brunch menu, O&E’s pull-apart buns come in two varieties, one sweet and one savory. The sweet version contains apples and cinnamon, with a satiny glaze, and the savory is rife with herbs and cheddar. These pungent beauties come out looking like warped muffins, and they’re some of the lightest and fluffiest buns I’ve tasted. They’re an ideal precursor to a beef-heavy brunch, and by the end of it, there’s a good chance you’ll be speaking in a faux British accent.

At Little Market Brasserie, the splashy new Entourage-esque restaurant in The Talbott Hotel, monkey bread enriches the appetizer menu. Sure you could go the sophisticated route and order a round of oysters or a plate of ceviche, but you know you want to tear into a warm loaf of pull-apart bread, glistening with a buttery sheen that practically winks at you. Presented in the most adorable metal pan that looks like it belongs at a young girl’s tea party, Little Market’s pull-apart bread reminds me of an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It’s served with a mound of whipped honey butter to contrast the salty, herbal qualities of the bread.

Monkey bread and honey butter must be a new thing, because Kanela Breakfast Club is another place combining the two. I first tried Kanela’s monkey bread on my birthday a couple years ago, when monkey bread was still somewhat rare on menus. It’s offered as a starter, and I like the concept of appetizers on breakfast/brunch menus. In fact, I can’t imagine going to breakfast and ordering just one thing. I need variety! True to its name, the monkey bread comes sprinkled with kanela and a pat of luscious honey butter. Smear the butter around and go to town.

Monkey bread goes to a savory extreme at Fountainhead. Studded with Gorgonzola and bacon, served with a side of sausage gravy, it’s as if the kitchen has a vendetta against diners’ arteries. But Fountainhead is not known for dainty food. In fact, I love this place for its sometimes over-the-top brand of comfort food. Familiar items are presented with exciting, albeit life-shortening updates, such as this monkey bread, and it goes great with the bar’s impressive beer repertoire.┬áSpeaking of comfort food that will shorten your life span…

When it comes to garlic bread, I like it slathered in enough garlicky butter to maim the entire cast of True Blood. This is one food that should just be straight up doughy, cheesy, fatty, and rich. I thought my favorite garlic bread would always be the outlandishly thick stuff from the freezer aisle, but Roots Pizza manages to cram more garlicky goodness into this guilty pleasure with its garlic monkey bread. It’s basically garlic bread that’s been pulled apart, cobbled together in a pan, and baked until ooey and gooey. I prefer the monkey bread style of garlic bread to the regular because the knobby crevices allow the garlic, butter, and cheese to seep in and really saturate the thing. It comes with a completely unnecessary but totally welcome side of garlic-Parmesan sauce.

Allium is a mecca for inventive doughy delicacies. The sleek restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel is filled with decadent pastries and breads all day long, and pull-apart bread is well represented. The housemade hot dog buns for the Chicago-style hot dog get a lot of attention, but the “snacks” section of the menu should not be overlooked. Along with cheese lavosh and soft pretzels, the restaurant turns out pull-apart bread with Meyer lemon and fennel, one of the more complexly flavored versions I’ve come across. Allium also offers a sweet version on its brunch menu. A riff on a typical pecan sticky bun, pecan-studded monkey bread arrives piping hot in a cast-iron skillet.

Soon to come, Smoke Daddy will be adding monkey bread to its new brunch menu when the Wicker Park barbecue spot opens its expansion in April. The weekend brunch menu will feature monkey bread made from cinnamon rolls that have been mercilessly torn apart, baked in a skillet, and slathered in cream cheese frosting.