Last Sunday morning found me a little worse for the weekend wear. But as disjointed text messages lamenting the night before and proposing breakfast started coming in, I realized that compared to my potential dining companions, I was in reasonably good shape. My one-too-many was certainly a far cry from the impressive 3 a.m. nightcap at Starz that one of them reported. I could tell it was going to be a delicate brunch with disaster looming around every corner. The slightest lapse in service or undercooked egg could send someone over the edge. I bargained that the best chance of pleasing four fragile, hungover friends (well, really three hungover and one still drunk) with many and varied sensitivities was CHOW.
There was some skepticism among our ranks, stemming from a few less-than-stellar experiences when the restaurant first opened on Newport Avenue in 2007. But if CHOW went through an awkward phase, it was entirely resolved by the time I discovered it. One of my go-to restaurants, I've probably visited CHOW more times in the past year than any other daytime spot, and I was convinced it would win them over.
After a short wait, we took our seats in the backyard, and I watched as any residual anxiety at our table melted away. A local acoustic musician crooned as we perused the vast menu of breakfast and lunch options, our cheerful server promptly took our drink order (phew!) and the calm set in. Even the four year old at the table next to us was mercifully well behaved. Something about the setting at CHOW just makes you smile. The cozy cottage interior is charming and warm in cooler weather (maybe too warm in summer) and outdoor seating areas on the front deck and in back are serene and shady. Even Chef David Touvell's menu is friendly, dotted with notes like "Our mission is to promote and support the local economy and make a difference" and "We love special requests." If you look closely, you might see "love" listed as one of the ingredients in your dish. As much as that sends my irony sensors into a tailspin, I have to admit, you can taste it.
Drinks at CHOW are almost like a first course. Juices, teas and other elixirs are made in house with a chef's attention. The Bloody Mary, a fresh-squeezed, garlicky masterpiece topped with a garden of pickled vegetables, actually makes you feel like you're getting healthier while drinking. Delicious specials like hibiscus mimosas and tart vodka lime rickeys are available daily.
Food options are seemingly endless. The basic theme is New American with global influences, but that hardly sums it up. What you will get - no matter what you order - is a heaping, colorful, creative dish with big personality. Our table's orders included Eggs Blackstone ($11), a plate with a carnival atmosphere including poached eggs, pan-fried tomatoes, spinach, bacon and béarnaise sauce. The roasted natural beef brisket sandwich ($10) with chipotle aioli, queso fresco, tomato, avocado, roasted jalapeños and greens is always one of my favorites, though the herb foccacia it came with on this particular visit was a little dense for my taste. The chicken-fried steak ($10) smothered in your choice of five kinds of gravy was a triumph, seeing as my most finicky companion, sobering-up with every bite, deemed it the best she'd ever had. Specials like mac and cheese with pepper jack and mushrooms and an Asian seared ahi salad over rice were good enough to be served as dinner entrees, but were half the price.
Needless to say, my party left converted. And even though our subsequent trip to Devil's Lake ran head-on into all that aforementioned disaster, the meal had put us in a state of mind where we could laugh our way through the thunderclouds, mosquito bites and painful trip back to shore in freezing cold water using flip-flops as paddles after chasing an errant floatie clear across the lake. Should have just had another Bloody Mary.
1110 NW Newport Ave, 728-0256. 7am - 3pm daily