The Run Down

This guide takes us to Chicago's Northwest side. We're going to spend the morning hiking through a beautifully preserved nature center with trails covering 46 acres of woodland, wetland, prairie, and savanna. But before any successful hike, we start with a meal. Today, that means Korean pajeon pancakes and bread pudding french toast at a nearby breakfast spot. Here are the details.

1. Pajeon Pancakes @ Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club

2. Hike @ North Park Village Nature Center

1. Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club

Before our early morning hike, we’re getting up even earlier to beat the busy breakfast crowd at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. This place opened up in the North Park neighborhood in 2014 and almost immediately became  the go-to breakfast spot for locals.

The menu and the concept come from the mind of chef and owner Manny Mejia, who has an incredible all-American story. Meija immigrated from Mexico to Chicago at 15. He got his start as prep cook and eventually worked his way to running the kitchen at M.Henry, the uber popular brunch place in Andersonville.

In 2014, he struck out on his own with Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club, and since then he’s got the beginnings of his own mini-empire. He opened up Big Hill, a bar and grill a few doors down, and to top it off, he opened a second breakfast club up in the middle of the pandemic.

Now onto the food. The menu has all your breakfast favorites and a few items inspired by Meija’s broad culinary experience. Perhaps as an ode to the neighborhood’s Korean community — just look up and down the block at the scores of Korean restaurants that are along this street — they serve Korean pajeon scallion pancakes with eggs and a pork belly and potato hash.

If you haven’t had pajeon pancakes before, this is a savory dish. It’s made from a batter of eggs, wheat flour, rice flour, and scallions which is then fried up in a searing hot pan of oil.

We got one savory dish, now here’s one sweet dish to balance things out. This is the bread pudding french toast. Not much to add that this picture doesn’t tell you. This is the way.

2. North Park Village Nature Center

After breakfast, we’re about a 15 minute walk to our next stop, the North Park Village Nature Center. As you make your way there, you’ll probably be wondering what sort of nature center is in the middle of this big concrete, urban setting. Trust us, keep going because this is a legit nature walk.

The entrance to the nature center is actually inside a bigger campus of buildings, much of which is dedicated to senior housing. The campus was originally constructed in the early 20th century in response to a Tuberculosis pandemic. Sounds familiar..time is a flat circle.

Once you get into the campus, follow signs for the nature center and you’ll find a gravel path leading you to the entrance.As you make your way in, you’ll come across two signs for the Main Loop and the Wetland Trail. It’s easy enough to do both in under an hour. They are both connected, so go on one and you’ll eventually get to the other trail. This is part of the Main Loop trail which take you to a variety of different ecological environments. Pictured above is part of the woodland portion of the nature center.The massive trees along side the trail create a nice shaded canopy. There are certain spots along the way like this that make you completely forget you’re in the middle of the city. At a certain point you’ll move out of the woods and the trail will open up to a big field of wild flowers and prairie grass.

You’ll eventually come across these set of stairs built into a small hill. Walk up it for a bit of elevation. In the middle of it all are two different ponds teeming with wild life. Folks here were trying to catch a glimpse of a great blue heron that was criss crossing around the pond. These are massive birds with a 6ft wing span. Here’s a fun fact to end this guide. The great blue heron will eat almost anything within striking distance: insects, birds, small mammals, and bull frogs.