The Run Down

We're getting the kids out of the house for an early morning hiking on the Northwest Side of Chicago. You'll walk through a beautiful nature preserve with trails covering 46 acres of woodland, wetland, prairie, and savanna. But before that, you'll fuel up with 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 and got his start as a prep cook before eventually 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 has since started the beginnings of his mini-empire. He opened up Big Hill, a bar and grill a few doors down, and created a second breakfast club during the height of the pandemic.

So before we get to breakfast, here are some logistics notes that are helpful to know.

– They don’t take reservations, so you might run into a bit of a wait if you come during primetime on the weekends

– There’s a patio in the back when the weather cooperates, and they’ll cover and heat it when it gets chillier

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 — look up and down the block at the scores of Korean restaurants along this street — they serve Korean pajeon scallion pancakes with eggs and a pork belly and potato hash.

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

For the kids, they have an excellent kids menu that isn’t just your basic stuff. But think of things like mini-bread pudding French toast and blueberry multi-grain hotcakes.This is the adult-sized bread pudding French toast. Not much to add that this picture doesn’t tell you.

2. North Park Village Nature Center

After breakfast, you’re about a 5-minute drive to the next stop, the North Park Village Nature Center.

You’ll probably wonder 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 nature center entrance is inside a more extensive campus of buildings, much of which is dedicated to senior housing. The campus was initially constructed in the early 20th century in response to a Tuberculosis pandemic.

Once you enter 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 see two signs: one for the Main Loop trail and the other for the Wetland Trail. It’s easy enough to do both in under an hour. They’re connected, so go on one, and you’ll eventually get to the other trail.

This is part of the Main Loop trail, which takes you to various ecological environments. Pictured above is part of the woodland portion of the nature center.

The massive trees alongside the trail create a nice shaded canopy.

You’ll move out of the woods at a certain point, and the trail will open to a giant field of wildflowers and prairie grass.

You’ll eventually come across this set of stairs built into a small hill.  Two different ponds teeming with wildlife are in the middle of it all. Folks here were trying to catch a glimpse of a great blue heron, a massive bird with a 6ft wing span. They’re basically modern pterodactyl and will eat almost anything within striking distance: insects, birds, small mammals, and bullfrogs.