Carnivale (702 W Fulton Street), long a festive destination for Latin fare in Chicago, recently added brunch to their repertoire. They invited me to take a bite. Or two. Or three…who am I kidding? I tried all the bites.
Make an entrance
I arrived at Carnivale to the sound of violins rocking Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. This orchestral anthem set the stage for an awesome meal, and though this wasn’t done to impress me, it will go down as the best entrance I’ve made to a restaurant. Kudos.
If you’re planning your own dramatic appearance, don’t fret. The ensemble plays every weekend for brunch. Their covers of classic rock songs are sure to keep you dancing in your chair.
Quenching the thirst
As expected, the coffee came fast and was quite good. I took a few sips of caffeine as well as a few of vuelve a la vida, a pulpy apple nectar, before the temptation of white sangria became too hard to resist. My advice? Skip to the sangria. Dotted with fresh apple and tropical fruits, it’s a sweet, refreshing, and loaded way to start the most important meal of the day.
An appetizing start
Brunch at Carnivale has starters, believe it or not. Our waiter brought us smoked salmon flatbread, with salmon layered atop a thick dill ricotta and onion relish. The dish was completely outclassed by the bacon wrapped dates. It’s hard to beat sweet fruit encased with cured meat and drizzled with honey vinaigrette, right?
If you were going to try to beat the dates, the calamari would be a contender. Carnivale amps up the heat of this dish by mixing a sweat and sour adobo sauce to pour over perfectly tender fish and julienned papaya and carrots. The combination of sweet and heat was irresistible and we licked the plate clean.
The main course
The entrees cater successfully to both team sweet and to team savory. On the sweeter side, we tried the churro style waffle first. I initially thought the waffle came with syrup but it turned out to be a rich, Mexican chocolate ganache. This addition, drizzled over the cinnamon-dusted waffle, completely transformed the dish from nice to wowza.
The key lime french toast was even more amazing. The thick slices of perfectly toasted bread were stuffed with a tart-sweet key lime filling and floated in a deletable pineapple syrup. Blueberries and strawberries added a fresh contrast. Don’t let the ugly presentation fool you, it was the best thing on the menu. So yummy.
The savory side fans don’t lack for things to try. On the waiter’s recommendation, we ordered the skirt ‘n eggs. The steak was unbelievably tender, and with the addition of tangy chimichurri and runny eggs, it was over the top good.
The carnitas chilaquiles were also served with an egg on top. Unlike the steak, the corn chips didn’t hold up so well against the tomatillo or runny yolk. The spicy, soggy mess tasted great, but couldn’t compete against the better entrees on the table.
If you have room and are so inclined, Carnivale has a weekend doughnut special from nearby Glazed and Infused. I had no room, but still managed a maple long john with a long strip of bacon on top. There’s always space for that.
Turns out, there was also room for the Red Velvet French Toast — a chocolatey cake served with burnt meringue and topped with sour cream ice cream and pineapple syrup. I didn’t care for the ice cream, per se, though it went well with the dish and was meant to be the “cream cheese” frosting. Unlike many renditions of red velvet cake, this was neither over-baked or under-flavored. I may get order it again, or go for the Ecuadorian dark chocolate dipped bacon. Bacon candy sounds decadent, doesn’t it?
Fit the bill
Prices for dishes run between $6 and $15. With drinks, expect to pay around $40 per person. It’s a little on the high side for brunch, but has the advantage of a spacious atmosphere, large group accommodation, and entertainment. There are some stand-out dishes on the menu, though the food is uniformly good and worth the calories.
Have you been to the new brunch at Carnivale? Let me know what you ordered!
Enjoy more bites…