Brunch lovers have come to expect certain “standard” items on any brunch menu – eggs Benedict, French toast, Bloody Marys, and mimosas to name a few. With that paradigm firmly entrenched, it is difficult to find a menu that can satisfy that traditional craving yet still manages to have a unique spin.
Chef Nate Henssler of Portsmith has not only managed to meet those demands, he has crafted one of the best brunch menus I have sampled in quite a long time. Henssler, a New Hampshire native, believes in a “less is more” approach and showcases the fresh seafood offerings with bold flavors yet simple plating.
According to the Portsmith website, the restaurant is named “. . . for the notion that seafood is a staple of most port towns and our chefs are the food “smiths” and craftsmen elevating one of nature’s greatest gifts to man.”
On a recent Sunday, I was invited to bring a guest to sample the brunch menu at Portsmith, located on the ground level of the Dana Hotel and Spa in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Both of us were impressed – so impressed that we have both decided that we must return on our own to keep working through the menu. There was not a single item on the menu that we both would not order. That’s not hyperbole – literally not a single item that we both didn’t want to sample.
The focus on fresh seafood, bold flavors, and simple yet elegant plating carries over into Henssler’s inventive brunch menu. The food menu has three broad sections:
- Benedicts & Toasts – Here you will find items like Pork Belly Toast (Pinto Beans, Queso Fresco, Avocado Puree, Sunny Side Egg) and for the vegetarians the Californian (Avocado, Everything English Mufﬁn, Crispy Shallots, Radish Sprouts). My guest ordered the King Crab & Eggs served atop an Everything English Mufﬁn with hollandaise and a small salad of fresh peppery greens. This was a simple yet elegant presentation that ticked all the brunch boxes for both of us. My choice was the Charred Octopus Benedict, another unique take on a classic. The octopus was fork tender and cooked to perfection, served with hollandaise, on top of a potato cake alongside some sautéed spinach. The use of the potato cake instead of a bread option was a superb choice.
- Raw & Lightly Cooked – This section presents options such as Shucked Oysters, Herb Cured Lox & Bagel, Tuna Tartare, and a Charred Shrimp Cocktail. We decided to go for something completely different and ordered the Swordfish Pastrami. This unusual dish comes with slices of the cured fish served on fresh pumpernickel rye toast with sauerkraut and whole grain mustard. As delicious as this was, my suggestion is to remove at least half of the sauerkraut so that you can truly taste the swordfish pastrami. In fact, we each had one portion and then decided to just take the fish off the last piece to sample it alone – and it was amazing! I hope that they find additional uses for this inventive preparation of swordfish.
- Brunch – This is the section of the menu with the heartier traditional brunch offerings such as omelets, burgers, French toast, breakfast burritos, and pancakes. My suggestion? Stray away from these and try some of the restaurant’s more unique options such as the Fried Fish and Waffle (Classic Tartar Sauce, Dark Matter Maple Syrup) or Tonkotsu Mussels (Poached Egg, Shiitake Mushrooms , Ramen Noodles). After all, why go for something simple and traditional when you can truly dig into some of Nate Henssler’s more intriguing preparations?
The menu will change seasonally, so be sure to visit the website to get the most updated version. Chef Nate Henssler strives to keep everything as fresh and seasonal as possible, so no matter what shifts on the menu you can be assured that it will be excellent.
Portsmith has a small yet superb wine list, with several excellent glass pours. The cocktail menu shows an equally well-curated vision. The Classic Bloody Mary contains vodka and celery but diverges from tradition with the addition of charred tomato, dehydrated cucumber, mint, and a dash of Old Bay. I sampled the Sunshine Mary (Gin, Natural Blonde Bloody Mary Mix, Kimchi Oil, Thai Basil) – a delightfully lighter cocktail with hits of flavor from the kimchi oil and basil. My guest opted for the Portsmith Michelada (Corona Light, Shishito Pepper, Togarashi) with the added tequila. The pepper gives it a hefty zing, so be sure you enjoy spicy. On a future trip, we will both sample the Bottomless Bubbles, well-priced at $20/person with a two-person minimum for a maximum of two hours. Considering the high quality of the bubbly options on their wine menu, this is a great deal.
Portsmith is open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Guests can secure reservations for brunch here or by calling 312-202-6000. Portsmith is located on the ground level of the Dana Hotel and Spa in Chicago’s River North neighborhood (660 North State Street), serving New England inspired seafood creations. More information is available on the Portsmith website. You can also follow their social media conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.