Optima Chicago ( 1252 N. Wells St.; www.theoptimachicago.com/ ), a newcomer to the Old Town area of Chicago, stands out in at least a couple ways.
First, the spot ( which is more casual than you might think ) is an unmistakable homage to ( mostly rock ) music. Yes, the music is piped out through the sound system, but the wall is literally papered with images of hundreds of musicians; the second floor has a section that consists only of speakers; and even the wall by the restrooms is made up of nothing of cassettes. ( Remember those? ) Even the menus come in vinyl-record sleeves.
Second, Optima has menu offerings that fit the vibeand they mostly succeed. There's even a little attitude with dishes like Yesterday's Soup, which comes with the description "Whatever we want."
Shareable appetizers include the Optima V ( which I still don't know is pronounced like "five" or "vee" )but it's a more-than-satisfying selection of meats, cheese and accountrements. And the pretzels and cheese ( housemade pretzels with fontina fonduta and porter beer mustard ) is practically addictive.
As for the sandwiches, the double cheeeseburger is definitely a step or six above what you might get at most of the fast-food chains. ( Vegetarians can get an Impossible Burger if they wish. ) However, the intriguingly named Morning, Noon & Night ( toasted ciabatta, giardiniera, avocado, lettuce, tomato, ham, fried egg and Swiss ) should lose a couple ingredients; maybe "Morning & Noon" would be enough. But Ma's Meatloaf ( a spectacular dish ) more than made up for the second sandwich.
Dessert ( a trio of ice creams ) was pretty impressiveeven if it was our only choice because the spot was out of the other two choices. I hope that's not the case the next time I visit.
By the way, the restaurant's name comes from the word "optimum," meaning to get most out of an experience. I don't know if Optima reaches that rung necessarily, but for a casual spot, it's pretty close.
( BTW, Optima now has weekend brunch ( 10 a.m.-3 p.m. ), with items like avocado toast, chicken-and-waffles Benedict, savory French toast and cinnamon rolls. Rock on! )
A few blocks away from Optima is Booth One ( 1301 N. State Pkwy.; boothone.com/ )the space formerly known as the esteemed Pump Room.
There's definitely a more upscale atmosphere here, down to the sweeping curtains and weekend brunch items. ( It's open for breakfast through dinner the rest of the week as well. )
There are some standard brunch itemsbut with this spot, there are certainly some elevated dishes. Even the egg sandwiches have variations such as smoked turkey ( with fried egg, avocado and harissa ). However, the caramel monkey bread is a must-try. And I'd definitely return just for the black truffle scrambled eggs, which are just as delectable as they sound.
The only drawback for some might be the prices; after all, Booth One is a Gold Coast hotel. Yang's Imperial lobster toast ( which I didn't try ) is $28.95, the aforementioned scrambled eggs are $24.95 and even the monkey bread is $8.95.
And, yes, there is a Booth One in the spotand although Beyonce could sit there, you and I would have to just gaze and sigh.
I do recommend Booth One; just be advised that the prices are not on par with a lot of restaurantsalthough the quality is above the bar as well.
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.