If you’ve ever relied on frozen snacks from Trader Joe’s when hosting a party, you can really appreciate it when someone invites you over and bothers to make everything from scratch. And you’ll also probably like Frunchroom, a little restaurant in Portage Park, as much as we do. Because eating here reminds us of hanging out with a friend who enjoys cooking - and also happens to be really good at it.
Lots of people rely on old family recipes (the kind written on little cards, back when people still had good handwriting). And the short menu at Frunchroom looks a lot like a random collection of these recipes. But unlike Aunt Eileen’s ambrosia salad that hasn’t changed since 1957, the dishes here are tweaked and updated regularly, keeping things seasonal and interesting. Still, everything falls roughly into the category of “comfort food.” You’ll find matzo ball soup, seared polenta, and “Grandma Terry’s meatballs” - plus a fantastic cheeseburger that we’re pretty sure tastes identical to one we had at a pool party when we were nine years old. There are also fish options like sardines, lox, and pastrami-smoked salmon, and even delicious house-cured meats that make ordering a charcuterie board a necessity.
When Frunchroom first opened, it served lunch and dinner, but now it’s mostly just a daytime spot. Except for on Thursdays, when they serve pizza and pasta from 5-9pm. There are a lot of great pizza spots in Chicago, and the pies at Frunchroom aren’t worth making a trip across town - but if you live in the neighborhood, the chewy, thin crust and tasty topping combinations (like fig and honey) are worth looking forward to every week. And the housemade pappardelle will inspire you to buy a pasta maker, before you remember why your stand mixer lives in your closet. While we do like these Thursday night options, we wish they still served their full menu for dinner every night of the week.
One thing to note is that, kind of like your friend who underestimated how long a mortar and pestle would take to grind spices, Frunchroom’s small kitchen can take a long time to get food out, especially when things are busy. And the frequently-changing menu is limited, so don’t come here anticipating a lot of options. Do come here anticipating that whatever you decide to eat will taste good.
When someone cooks you a meal from scratch, it’s comforting - the fact that another person went to all that effort makes you feel good, and ideally, the food itself will make you feel even better. The good news is that you don’t need to wait for a friend to invite you over (or make a new friend who knows how to cook) to have this experience - you can just go to Frunchroom instead.
There’s a chalkboard menu of different housemade fish and charcuterie options (ranging from smoked salmon to chicken liver mousse) every day, and you should order at least a couple of these when you’re here.
Delicious seasonal food can make us sad, because eventually it goes away. So we have bittersweet feelings about this fantastic salad made with broccoli, sweet corn, blueberries, gorgonzola, and balsamic. Just order whatever salad is on the menu here, and be grateful for the time you have together.
This polenta dish looks fussier than the other dishes at Frunchroom (like it was made by your friend who watched too many Top Chef reruns), but it’s great - crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
Get this if it’s available. The hummus is creamy and topped with harissa spiced chickpeas, and while the delicious housemade laffa bread is sometimes a little more charred than it should be, we love it anyway.
This soup has dense matzo balls, a spicy broth, and pieces of smoked chicken. We wish the matzo balls were a little fluffier so they could absorb the soup.
These are a menu staple. The meatballs are occasionally dry, but they have a great flavor, and the rich tomato sauce they’re served in is delicious. Plus, the seared garlic bread on the side makes us very happy.
Thursday is pizza night (from 5-9pm), and the pizza is pretty good. There are topping combinations like sausage and peppers or fig, panna cheese, and honey, and the crust is thin and chewy, with bubbled edges. Not worth driving across town for, but very nice if you live in the neighborhood.
Pasta dishes are also only available during dinner on Thursdays, and the preparations vary. But when you’re craving a big bowl of pasta, this will do the trick. The pappardelle has just the right texture, and whatever it’s in (might be a bolognese, or a bacon cream sauce) will be good.
There’s always a vegetarian pasta option, and it’s often this one. The gnocchi are fluffy, but the mushroom sauce they’re in is heavy and too salty.
This is a straightforward cheeseburger, made with American cheese, pickles, and a toasted sesame bun. Will it run Au Cheval’s out of town? Nope, but it’s still a delicious burger.
If the smoked chicken is on the menu when you go to Frunchroom, order it. It’s a half chicken in a buttery lemon sauce with roasted garlic. It’s smoky and juicy, and exactly what we want if we’re having a bad day.
There are always some pastries available at the counter, and you should make sure to pick one up. If you come across the sweet corn donuts (topped with a corn frosting and popcorn), get as many as you can.