Beverages Breakfast Restaurant Reviews

The Patio at Cafe Brauer at the Lincoln Park Zoo – Meh, Underwhelming [Review]

buffalo chicken salad patio cafe brauer

The only reason that I’ve been to the Patio at Cafe Brauer, just outside one of the entrances at the Lincoln Park Zoo, is because it’s convenient and it has nice views… that’s it. After 3 or 4 visits now I can honestly say that the food and service are definitely not reasons to eat at this place.

Over Labor Day weekend we decided to head out to the Lincoln Park Zoo with some friends and family to try and enjoy the last few nice days in Chicago before the weather starts to turn. We met up at the zoo around 10am and made our way through the animal exhibits without any issues. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be for a holiday weekend, but the overcast weather and cooler temperatures probably had something to do with it… also, it was still pretty early.

As lunch time rolled around, a couple of our friends had to head home in order to put their daughter down for a nap… or at least attempt to – she’s transitioning from 2 naps to 1, which is always fun to deal with – but the remaining crew decided it was time to grab some food.

Rather than venture too far outside of the zoo, we decided to see how long the wait was at The Patio at Cafe Brauer, which we have done a few times in the past. Like I said before, it’s really nothing special, but it’s conveniently located right outside one of the zoo entrances, it’s got a nice patio, and it’s got nice views.

To our surprise, the wait for the patio, for 8 people, at 12:30pm, was only about 20 minutes. So we put our name down and hung out while they got a table ready for us.

The Patio at Cafe Brauer – Nice Views, But That’s About It

When it was finally our turn to be seated, we immediately ran into some confusion regarding how many adults, how many kids, and how many high chairs we needed. And honestly, this didn’t really bother me too much. I can see it being a little confusing when we say that we have 8 people, 4 adults and 4 kids, and need 2 high chairs… Obviously we have 2 kids that are old enough to not need high chairs and 2 that aren’t, but in the context, and in the hustle of trying to seat us and get us settled, there was just some misunderstanding there.

Not a big deal.

Once we sat down and got settled we were greeted by someone who I thought might have been our server, but that would appear not to be the case later. She brought us menus and waters and I thought she said she’d be back in a couple minutes to take our orders, but she never came back.

It probably took a solid 15 minutes for us to finally flag down a different server to ask if she could find our original server so they could take our order. But even after disappearing into the building for a minute and then telling us that our server would be right with us, that 2nd server (the one we flagged down) ended up coming over a few minutes later and taking our order because she said our original server was busy… It was not that busy.

So with with the service off to a poor start, we decided to just put in everything at once so that we could hopefully get out of there before the kids started getting too antsy.

Food and Drinks – Nothing Special

Since it was a weekend, we were able to take advantage of the brunch menu, while also taking advantage of the fried calamari that appears on the normal menu, so that was nice.

The brunch menu is fairly basic, but this place isn’t huge, so I wouldn’t expect them to have a sprawling menu of super fancy foods, however the prices do reflect the fact that you’re eating in the city and are right outside the zoo.

A patio burger, with just cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle costs $18… and it’s nothing fancy. You can walk just a few blocks towards the city to Small Cheval and get one of the best burgers of your life… but again, this restaurant is much more convenient if you’re enjoying the zoo.

bacon eggs patio cafe brauer
2 Eggs “Over-Easy”, Hashbrowns, Toast and Bacon (zero runny yolks)

Since this was brunch though, and I’m a sucker for breakfast food, I opted for the 2 eggs any style instead of the burger. 2 eggs, hash browns, toast and bacon costs $13, which is still a bit more than you would pay for such a basic breakfast anywhere else. Brunch Cafe in Niles, which we ate at a few weeks ago, charges about $10 for the same meal, granted I know it’s not in the actual city of Chicago, I’m just letting you know to expect to pay a few bucks more per entree than you might be used to.

As for how the food tasted, well… they did manage to screw up “over-easy” eggs by over-cooking them, so I had no runny yolk to dip my toast in, so that was a bit annoying. And while I do enjoy my hashbrowns a little on the crispy side, and these were definitely soggier, they tasted pretty good overall as did the large pieces of bacon.

So overall I would say, while I was disappointed in the eggs being over-cooked, the food wasn’t terrible.

My wife ordered the Buffalo Chicken salad (pictured at top), which she said was very good, but again, it looked pretty basic for $13… Although I don’t order salads all that often, so I’m not really sure what one should expect when ordering a salad like this.

fried calamari patio at cafe brauer
Fried Calamari with Kids Chicken Nuggets in the Back

And as for the fried calamari, it’s pretty hard to mess up fried calamari, even if it’s just frozen out of a bag. However, and this is just a personal preference, there were very few calamari “rings” as it was mostly the little tentacle guys. Again, just a personal preference and a heads up to those that might only wish to eat the rings and not the mini squid looking dudes.

Finally I want to talk about my drink. I’ve been a huge fan of the hard seltzer craze that swept the country this year, so White Claw and Truly are a staple in our fridge at home. And while Cafe Brauer did not offer any of those particular brands, they did have some ready to drink cocktails in a can that included seltzer… however, the one I ordered was not very good.

western son vodka seltzer
Western Son Watermelon Vodka Seltzer

Western Son Watermelon Vodka Seltzer is not the same as a hard seltzer like White Claw or Truly. With those brands the alcohol is derived from fermenting the sugars, where as this Western Son drink is literally just watermelon flavored vodka mixed with seltzer, and it was pretty gross. The only nice thing about it is it’s 10% alcohol, so basically 2 cocktails per can, and it only cost $7. But even with it coming out to being like $3.50 per cocktail, it was hard to stomach the whole can. It just did not taste good…

So if you’re looking to enjoy a cocktail on the patio here, I would maybe stay away from this vodka seltzer, unless you know it’s what you want to drink. I was just not a fan at all… even though I finished the whole can… Hey, sometimes you’re just looking for a little buzz while you walk around the zoo with screaming children.

As for the service, like I said, it started off horribly, got better after we actually ordered our food (server checked on us a lot), but then when we needed the check, it was slow again. I’m not sure what the issue was, it didn’t seem busy, so I don’t think it was that, but they could have been understaffed… who knows.

And that was our day.

We were at the zoo from 10am until about 3:30pm. We saw most of the animals that were out (the giraffes and lions were nowhere to be found), we rode the train and the carousel, got to hang out with some great friends and family, and had a mediocre lunch with meh service and a bad tasting adult beverage, but it was still a good day nevertheless.

Has anyone else ever gone to the Patio at Cafe Brauer? What was your experience like?

 

 

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The Patio at Cafe Brauer
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About the author

Tom

I'm a married man in his 30's who doesn't really "like" food. If it weren't for my wife I would be living off of pizza and cheeseburgers for the rest of my life. Follow me as I venture slightly out of my comfort zone to try different foods and restaurants.

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