Savory or sweet?
Choosing either doesn’t have to be guilt-inducing at m.henry’s, a byob restaurant serving up breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch in Andersonville. Executive chef and owner Michael Moorman takes pride in having never installed a fryer in the m.henry kitchen, but don’t let the lack of fried chicken and waffles on the brunch menu keep you from checking it out.
Savory or sweet?
The Food Network rated m.henry’s Cinnamon Roll French Toast America’s number one brunch dish this past winter, and for good reason. Aside from the top-notch presentation — mango as a garnish, yes please — the dish combines flavors of fluffy cinnamon roll, Neufchatel cream and granola — and it’s all homemade. Finished with berries and powdered sugar, Moorman’s creation is vying for the most popular plate at m.henry, which the Blackberry Bliss pancakes and Killer Fried Egg Sandwich previously held. Incorporating Neufchatel cream in the dish cuts down on the fat content as well, which is an added plus.
Moorman’s success with m.henry is immediately evident upon entering the doorway on North Clark St. The restaurant’s front doors open to a bakery/cafe. The establishment also houses a main dining room and a back patio. Even on a Tuesday, the doors kept opening. A hidden bell dinged with each hungry customer, and the chatter of people filled the main dining room. With a hint of sadness and regret, Moorman talked about the closing of his dinner spinoff, m.henrietta, which closed in the summer of 2014. It proved to be a blessing though, as he now spends all of his energy on m.henry every day.
Tucked away in a corner table outside of the main dining room and sipping on coffee, CUSP Magazine sat down with Moorman to talk about what he called “the road to m.henry, or how a man ages.”
Q&A – CUSP Magazine & m.henry
CUSP Magazine: How would you describe the brand or theme of m.henry?
Michael Moorman: We’re kind of a new American, French-Zen bistro with a little bit of American prairie and Amish thrown in. Our motto is “chow for now” — it’s cooking for now. What are our people eating? It’s always going to be different variations of global foods. What is appealing to people? What gets them to try new things?
CM: When did you open m.henry?
MM: We opened here in 2003. … We’ve been a big part of Andersonville and of a lot of the development that came this way, because we were the first business up at this end of town, north of Bryn Mawr. In 2003, it was all mostly closed storefronts or Latino or Korean small shops. Then within the two or three years of us moving in, 20-something new places opened up in the immediate area that followed us up here. We thought back then that a lot was going on in Andersonville and knew that this end of town was inevitably going to keep getting developed. We’ve gotten to be a good part of the community, watching it grow, and we’re a real community restaurant where a lot of other business owners come in here every day, and us vice versa. It’s cool. Andersonville is cool in that it’s a much more small town within the city of Chicago.
CM: What other things do you like about Andersonville?
MM: A lot of the community itself: the mix of restaurants, the fact that you can walk down the street and know half the people that are walking there and say hello. You know, for years we talked about moving to Europe to some little village, and before long we realized that we actually have our own little village here. Our house is only two blocks from the beach on the North side, so you know, it could be worse. This neighborhood is really cool, and we utilize it a lot.
CM: It sounds like it was a big and brave decision to be the first business this north of Bryn Mawr. What inspired that decision?
MM: Brave or actually out of fear and necessity, because a partnership that we were involved in with another restaurant downtown —
CM: What restaurant?
MM: It was called Heartwise Express. It was a healthy, fast food concept, kind of a sexy back-to-the-earth McDonald’s with five registers, no red meat … and roasted potatoes, fries, all of that. It was a good model. We actually brought a lot of what we got from there up here, but the partnership fell apart and we had to do something quick. I started looking and found this space. We hustled and pulled together a small amount of money, enough to come in and secure it. It was half the size it is now. We were able to open in just a matter of two months. We had to do something fast.
CM: Whom did you start the restaurant with?
MM: My partner, George, and my daughter at the time who lived with us and helped us out. We looked at the neighborhood and tried to see, what does Andersonville need? We thought about doing an upscale, fancy hot dog place — something similar to Hot Doug’s — but there was Huey’s Hot Dogs, and it was a neighborhood favorite, so we didn’t want to go head to head with them coming into the neighborhood. But the feedback that we did get at the time 13 years ago was that we need a Bongo Room, an upscale breakfast place. We didn’t have one, and it worked out. We opened up, and we were really well embraced and took off. And, knock on wood, we kept growing. We had a sister restaurant, m.henrietta, which we opened up four or five years ago that did dinner, and we opened that up about a mile away.
Michael – “We’re a restaurant, and we know what we’re doing. If someone asks for something and we have the ingredients, we’ll make it for them. We try to be as accommodating as we can to our customers and take care of them.”
CM: And what happened to that restaurant?
MM: After three, four years, it was a lot more effort than what it was worth. We had done a complete, beautiful build out, so all we had to do was mention that we were considering selling the space, and within a week we had an offer. They bought us out, not running it as another m.henrietta but as a new concept. They bought everything out and let us step out gracefully and come back and put all of our attention back here, which is what we should have done, but we were tempted. We closed in the summer of 2014 over there, so it’s been a year and a half, and it’s the best thing we could have done. All of our attention is here. I’m here every day. We’re running better, doing better.
CM: What is unique about m.henry compared to other upscale breakfast places?
MM: I think we’re one of the top breakfast places in the city, if not the country. What we do is different. We weren’t a big fan of no substitutions, mandatory tips. We’re a restaurant, and we know what we’re doing. If someone asks for something and we have the ingredients, we’ll make it for them. We try to be as accommodating as we can to our customers and take care of them. We cook both rich and healthy stuff. We always have healthier options, even our Blackberry Bliss Cakes or the Cinnamon Roll Brioche French Toast. The mascarpone we cut with Neufchatel cheese because it works, and also because it brings the fat content down and nobody notices. We try to do that as much as possible. Even though it’s decadent, we’re doing what we can to not be over the top. Also, spending and putting a little more into garnishing the plates. On Sunday, I’m constantly saying, “Let’s make that beautiful food, everybody. I want those plates looking great.” The people ooh and aah when the food comes out.
CM: You’re passionate about eating healthfully?
MM: Yeah, we have no fryers in the kitchen ever. Most of what we do and how we cook is through roasting, sautéing, baking, that kind of stuff. No hydrogenated oils. Organic milk where we can use it, free-range eggs — that kind of stuff.
CM: Can you tell me a little about your menu and what inspired it?
MM: Looking at what was out there, what people were doing and how can we improve on that. What did we really like that people were doing? For our Blackberry Bliss Cake, our first inspiration for that was the chain Toast. They do a Strawberry Orgy from Toast, and it’s good. But what’s good about it is it’s soft and warm and creamy and crunchy. You’ve got the vanilla creme and the tartness of the fruit. So we did the same thing with our Blackberry Bliss Cakes … homemade granola that we put on top, dusted with powdered sugar. It’s quite tasty. Our vegetarian dagwood [stacked sandwich] comes from when I was 20 or 21 and saw it at a little hippy vegetarian cafe, and I liked it. We’re working on a brown rice breakfast bake that comes from back then too. We do bread pudding on the weekends only, Saturday and Sunday, and we sell out of it every week. We’ve probably got five to six signature items at least. We’re known for doing really good soups at lunch hour that keep rotating. For a sweet dish, the Blackberry Bliss. … Every time I taste one, it’s always one of the best things I’ve ever had.
CM: How do you think Chicago has helped and/or hindered your opening and running m.henry?
MM: It’s helped with SBIF money and SBA loans. There are a lot of those resources available, even now. On Clark St. north of Bryn Mawr, this is still considered a SBIF area. So in that way, they did help.
CM: Would you ever consider opening up another m.henry?
MM: Yeah, in Puerto Vallarta or some place like that. But no, not right now. M.henrietta took a lot out of us.
CM: Do you have a favorite item on your menu?
MM: Our rustic peasant quiche, we make a great quiche. We do a veggie quiche and a regular meat quiche, always delicious.
CM: Do you get in the kitchen?
MM: They don’t want me in there. I’m there all the time watching the plates come out. When we first opened, I was behind the line, but after a couple of months, it was time for me to step out. And it’s hot. On Sundays, we do 500-600 people easy, and it’s better done by a much younger chef that doesn’t mind the heat, because it’s a bit intense.
M.henry balances the rustic with the quaint. It is the dream kitchen that composes Pinterest boards, and with food to match. One can stroll in for a quick pastry and a masterfully made cup of hot chocolate topped with a homemade marshmallow or stop in for a drawn out Sunday brunch with family and friends. Either way, Moorman will be there to welcome you with a smile on his face.
To stay in the loop on all things happening over at m.henry, check out their website and follow them on Facebook.