Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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."