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Takis Kastanis: Cracking the Yolks at Yolk
When dining out, whether it’s breakfast or brunch, eggs are always on the menu, and you can pretty much have them anyway you like them – scrambled, hard-boiled, poached, fried, sunny side up, or folded in an omelet. You can even have them for dessert too. If it’s not egg custard, you can always find them to be the key ingredient in making your pancakes and waffles thick and fluffy or your whipped meringues light and fluffy. There’s no “eggs-it” when it comes to breakfast or brunch, unless you choose to pass on the eggs and go for yogurt with fresh fruit, avocado on toast, a thick juicy burger, or your choice of proteins, legumes, veggies, and varietal greens in a salad. Eggs will always be on the menu. They are loaded with vitamins, full of protein, and always fulfilling. They are fuel for the day and a symbol of life. Although not everyone can agree on how they like their eggs or whether they want eggs at all, folks in the Midwest, and now the South, are giving yolk a good run.
It’s been over ten years since Yolk, a breakfast/lunch hot spot (and sweet spot!) opened in Chicago’s South loop in 2006. The owner, Takis Kastanis, is no stranger to the restaurant industry. His parents owned ten diners in the Chicago area where he helped out after school in between homework assignments, on weekends, and days off. After cracking the eggs, he cracked the books all the way into medical school. He managed to stay there for three years until he decided to follow his food passion. He traded in his lab whites for egg whites and switched to business school, where there is still a science involved in making the dough and making it stick.
At the ripe age of 22, Takis opened his first breakfast focused restaurant, Yolk, an elevated diner concept, and rolled it out to 16 more restaurants located throughout Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Boca Raton, and he continues to expand with another store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Louisville, KY, Nashville, TN and Oklahoma City are all possible new location options. All restaurants serve breakfast and lunch. No dinner plans yet, but with hearty dishes like Pot Roast Benedict, Chicken and Waffles, Red Velvet French Toast, and Breakfast Mac ‘n’ Cheese, you can probably have a late lunch and skip dinner, or take that baby kale salad with blueberry pomegranate dressing to go for later. These are just some of the menu highlights, which are the same across all restaurants, with some changes twice a year including seasonal and limited time offerings.
While not everyone starts their day with eggs and toast or waffles and griddles, most people start their day with coffee, so if your appetite is not as big as your bite, there is always a cup of coffee to grab at their coffee bar, or to sit down and enjoy. Coffee is serious business at Yolk, especially at the test kitchen. They have regular coffee cuppings with small bites where they try out new roasters. A guest roaster comes in and customers get to taste different types of coffee. They have a special focus on espresso based beverages and cold brews where they get to explore more creatively through an elevated coffee program. If you aren’t feeling the flavor for pecan pie, you can always get your macchiato with a shot of sweet potato pie.
They make their own syrups in house which often get infused in coffee beverages. Their coffee bar, like their breakfast kitchen, is open for business at the crack of dawn. But you can start your day there at 7am or end it at 3pm. You won’t find any hens in their backyard, but they support local business as much as possible through local coffee roasters and food suppliers.
At Yolk, coffee is not just coffee and food is not just food. It’s meant to be savored, tasted, and enjoyed. At their test kitchen at the Bucktown location in Chicago, they come up with menu favorites like the popular Breakfast Mac ‘n’ Cheese. It comes with a sunny side up egg, bacon, applewood ham, cheddar and parmesan cheeses, panko bread crumbs, and chives. If you want to start your day off with a kick you can spice things up with Korean Hot Chicken and Waffles. It comes with a sunny side up egg and pickled slaw. But if you really want to rack up those ribs and go the whole hog, why not make a dent in it with a smoked pork belly BLT? You can still keep the lettuce, mayo and tomato, and add a fried egg on top of it too.
Traditionalists and creatures of routine need not worry. There is something sweet and savory for everyone on the regular menu too. If pot roast is not your grandparents’ cut of meat, you can still get your Canadian bacon and Hollandaise sauce on your eggs Benedict. But why would you? I may be from the Northeast, but in the Midwest, I’ll take grandma’s pot roast over my eggs any day, and right this minute please, without forgetting to thank you sir…or ma’am.
I may be partial to salt, but I don’t want to leave out anyone’s sweet tooth. For those who like a more refined blast of sugar in their breakfast, and balancing it out with fresh fruit and bananas, there are always classics like Nutella crepes with strawberries, bananas, walnuts, and chocolate. I personally wouldn’t mind trying out that shot of banana liqueur, brown sugar, pecans, and whipped cream on their Banana Foster Cakes. I may have to save that for Sunday brunch at the test kitchen in Bucktown.
Not saving the best for last, but I don’t think I could go in and leave without trying their Red Velvet French Toast. If food is your true love and red is the color of love, it’s always going to be Valentine’s Day with this red hot mama on the menu. She sells better than hotcakes! It comes with a cream cheese swirl, strawberries and whipped cream. It’s a signature menu item in high demand if you want something sweet and a little cheesy.
This item may or may not be kid approved, but Yolk serves up something for everyone. Breakfast Mac ‘N’ Cheese with pipette pasta and white cheddar is kid friendly too, so if you have children don’t forget to visit their Kids Menu. More adventurous children can get their breakfast mac with a chili stack, or they can stick to the basics like chicken fingers and French fries or a healthy side of grapes. I’m betting that two pancakes with Oreo cookies baked into the batter and topped with Oreo cookie crumbles and whipped cream are all-kid approved.
While there is no medical evidence that Yolk Restaurants can cure a disease, or that an egg a day can keep the doctor away, egg yolk can be separated and omitted for those watching their cholesterol levels. Menu items can always be adjusted to meet allergy and dietary restrictions. With a passion for food pumping through his veins, Takis whips up a menu, not exactly like a doctor or nutritionist, but more like a food therapist that can feed your fever when you’re not starving your cold.
For those of us who don’t live in the Midwest or the South, but want a taste of Yolk, we can always visit their online shop at eatyolk.com. You can order specialty items like their signature pancake batter, maple syrup, Habanero hot sauce, craft-roasted coffee beans, or Bloody Mary mix. I’m already thinking of testing out a splash of hot sauce and maple syrup in my home brew, but if Yolk wants to make a run for it at their test kitchen, I’m willing to go out there and try a new brew!