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  • Medha Imam: When you think of brunch,

  • you think of pancake houses or waffle houses,

  • but this one spot in Chicago

  • has people waiting hours in line

  • to try their French toast.

  • It's called Batter & Berries.

  • Batter & Berries' French toast flavors

  • include blueberry, lemon, and caramel,

  • along with weekly special flavors

  • like peach cobbler, Oreo, and banana pudding.

  • So, we decided to go with French toast

  • because we felt like we could do

  • a lot more different flavors,

  • a lot different more varieties with the French toast

  • than what you could probably do with a pancake or a waffle.

  • We stepped inside the kitchen

  • with chef Ken Polk, who showed us

  • how he makes some of the signature flavors.

  • All right, chef, what are we gonna start with today?

  • Ken Polk: All right, so we gonna start off with our

  • caramel toast. We use brioche bread.

  • Nobody else gets this cut;

  • it's strictly cut just for us from Turano.

  • Medha: How do you make your French toast

  • differently than other restaurants?

  • Ken: In this caramel one, we actually use real caramel.

  • The caramel is actually in the batter.

  • And then my spice mix goes in.

  • Medha: What, maybe besides cinnamon, is in that spice mix?

  • Ken: Then I would tell you the secret!

  • [both laughing]

  • Medha: Can I guess nutmeg? Ken: So, the basics are

  • cinnamon and nutmeg. Medha: OK.

  • Ken: After that, I can't tell you anything else.

  • Medha: What are we trying to taste?

  • Ken: So, what you're gonna taste is

  • you're gonna taste depth and vibrance.

  • So it's gonna go deep, and it's gonna be very, very bright.

  • A lot of people don't like French toast,

  • but they love ours because the texture is so buttery.

  • Most French toasts are very egg-based,

  • so it's a lot more egg,

  • where ours is a lot more fat-based.

  • People like fat.

  • What makes it a little special, obviously,

  • is the amount of caramel that we put in it.

  • The different caramel that goes on the toast,

  • we put a dulce de leche.

  • Medha: A lot of customers said that

  • this one is their favorite.

  • I'm gonna give it a go.

  • So, you can 100% taste the spice mix,

  • but the best part of the caramel French toast

  • is the crunch that comes from the caramelized pecans.

  • And let me talk about the bread for a second.

  • The bread here is brioche bread,

  • and it's super light and super fluffy.

  • I don't think I've ever had French toast

  • this fluffy, but at the same time so filling.

  • It's not soggy, like a lot of French toast

  • I've eaten in the past.

  • It's really, really well done.

  • If you're into chocolate chip pancakes

  • and you like that kind of route for your brunch,

  • I would go with the caramel French toast.

  • But the surprise choosing of the day was the lemon.

  • Ken: Well, the lemon one's gonna have a little bit of

  • sumac in it, which most people don't know.

  • Medha: Usually, I never imagined

  • sumac would be in French toast.

  • Ken: It's a tart spice.

  • So I decided to put sumac in

  • because it goes really, really well with citrus things.

  • It makes citrus things taste more citrusy.

  • Lemon zest, we use lemon juice,

  • we use lemon extract, we use...

  • we use a lot of lemon.

  • And you need enough lemon to cut through

  • all of the cream.

  • Medha: I don't know, I'm not a fan of those acidic French,

  • like the tart-y ones,

  • but I'm excited to try yours [Ken laughs]

  • to see if I like it.

  • Ken: Tell you what it's gonna taste like.

  • You ever had lemon cream pie?

  • Medha: Yes.

  • Ken: It's almost gonna have the texture

  • of a lemon curd, almost.

  • Medha: Aah.

  • Ken: Right, and here's another trick for this one.

  • It's turmeric.

  • Medha: Turmeric?

  • Ken: We don't use any artificial flavorings

  • or whatever around here,

  • so turmeric is a way for me to make the lemon look lemony.

  • Medha: The lemon look lemony?

  • So it adds color?

  • Ken: So it adds color.

  • When the heat hits this,

  • it's gonna brighten up and get really bright.

  • Medha: You really thought this through.

  • Ken: Yeah, I'm a —

  • Medha: It's amazing.

  • Ken: Borderline mad scientist. [both laughing]

  • All right, last thing this needs.

  • Medha: Yes. Salt.

  • Ken: Salt.

  • I add in all the batters, believe it or not.

  • Medha: Wow.

  • You just get hit with a punch of lemon.

  • Lemon French toast, for sure,

  • it's something that I didn't expect to like,

  • and I really like it.

  • I think it has the most depth and flavor.

  • The pecans with the lemon-flavored French toast

  • adds kind of, like, a smokiness to it.

  • So you don't need any sauce.

  • You don't need any syrup.

  • You can just eat this on its own.

  • Ken: On to the blueberry!

  • Medha: All right, now I'm —

  • Ken: I need to get another little

  • Medha: I see all these spices already.

  • Ginger.

  • Coriander?

  • Whole anise.

  • And what's the last one?

  • Ken: Clove.

  • Medha: And these are all going into the blueberry batter?

  • Ken: Mm-hmm.

  • Medha: I would have never expected

  • whole anise and coriander and ginger.

  • Ken: Believe it or not,

  • it's to make the blueberries more blueberry-y. [laughs]

  • So, the whole trick for me

  • is to give things natural complement

  • so that they pop more.

  • And so the flavors of the blueberries can change

  • from season to season, like we said,

  • but we use them all year long.

  • So what I try to add with the spices

  • is a little consistency to kind of mellow out

  • the acidity of the blueberries,

  • the acidity and the sweetness of them,

  • and I do that with spices.

  • So the spice level kind of stays the same

  • when the blueberries go a little crazy,

  • so it kind of evens it out.

  • I'm adding lemon to the blueberries.

  • Medha: And why is that?

  • Ken: Tart! Medha: Tart.

  • Ken: Secret, for lack of better words,

  • to this batter.

  • Medha: The lemon? Ken: The lemon.

  • Medha: Wow. It's like a punch of flavor.

  • It's so tasty.

  • I love that they put fresh berries on top,

  • because not only do you taste the blueberry

  • in the batter and in the toast itself,

  • but you get literally a burst of blueberry flavor

  • in your mouth as soon as you take a bite.

  • And the sauce is also really, really good.

  • It pairs so well with the toast.

  • But Ken's favorite are the specials.

  • With a new flavor every week,

  • Batter & Berries has made over 200 variations.

  • Ken: I like the specials.

  • They're whimsical. They're seasonal and cultural.

  • Like, this week, we're doing Super Donut.

  • Last week we did a lunchroom butter cookie.

  • So, this is a Chicago public schools lunchroom favorite

  • back when I was growing up.

  • So this is one of those back-to-school flavors.

  • Medha: It's the legit Super Donut.

  • I wonder what he's gonna do with it.

  • I have a feeling you're gonna crush it,

  • put it in the batter.

  • Ken: Yep.

  • Medha: And add your spice mix

  • and potentially a special ingredient

  • that'll throw me off again.

  • Ken: So, here's the trick for this one.

  • It gets a hit of caramel.

  • And whip it!

  • Whip it good!

  • [Medha laughs]

  • The last one we have today

  • is the Super Donut French toast.

  • That tastes like fall.

  • A very strong taste of cinnamon.

  • It has a different texture than the others

  • because in the batter,

  • there's bits and pieces of doughnuts,

  • so you actually taste

  • a very strong sense of a doughnut as well.

  • Customer: Whatever flavor that is,

  • it's in the bread.

  • It's not just in the topping;

  • it's not just in the butter; it's in the bread.

  • Medha: Since Batter & Berries opened,

  • customers say the French toast is worth the wait.

  • Customer: I actually waited, like, a hour or two before

  • on this food.

  • Customer: We thought there was gonna be a waiting list

  • today, so we lucked up.

  • There was no waiting list. Medha: You did!

  • It was, like, an hour wait!

  • Customer: We heard! So I was, like, checking Yelp,

  • trying to see if we can get on the waiting list.

  • Customer: This is a long drive for me,

  • but I have to come here at least once a month.

  • Customer: I work in this neighborhood all the time.

  • I noticed the line, and I just said,

  • I gotta go check it out.

  • I gotta go check out the food.

  • Medha: Batter & Berries was founded

  • by husband and wife Craig and Tanya Richardson

  • in 2012 in Lincoln Park,

  • a well-known hub for brunch spots in Chicago.

  • Craig: Obviously we have our locals

  • who are living around Lincoln Park,

  • but we also have a big following

  • from the South Side of Chicago, from the West Side,

  • all around the suburbs

  • that are just here on a daily basis.

  • Medha: Because of its success,

  • Batter & Berries has been featured on PBS

  • and Chicago's Best.

  • And in more recent days,

  • the restaurant has been in the news

  • as a must-try Black-owned restaurant in Chicago.

  • Craig: You know, we're a Black-owned restaurant

  • in Lincoln Park, which is, you know,

  • not known for having a lot of Black-owned business.

  • So it's been a little bit of a challenge,

  • but it's also been very rewarding

  • because a lot of folks will come here

  • and feel inspired.

  • Medha: Craig and Tanya wanted to create

  • a world-class breakfast and brunch restaurant

  • that set itself apart and could attract people

  • from not only Chicago,

  • but surrounding states in the Midwest.

  • And the way they sought to do that

  • was to specialize in French toast.

  • Craig: I don't know if I expected it to happen,

  • but my wife always knew it would happen.

  • One day, she was, we were eating breakfast,

  • and she looked at me and she said,

  • "Do you think you ever want to open a breakfast restaurant?"

  • She always had that vision.

  • She said, "People are gonna be waiting

  • an hour and a half, two hours to eat there."