Home cooking, generous brunch portions on the bill at Elgin's new Larkin Cafe
Larkin Cafe's tag line is "Home Cookin' at its Best." And, it's true. The food and atmosphere are like something out of your mother's or grandmother's home circa the 1960s or '70s. Deep green booths and dark wood, huge portions of victuals and a sassy waitress are reminiscent of a time when no one cared about sodium content, feng shui or Keto diets.
Louie Gjata, Ari Golegos and chef Carlos Ramirez opened Larkin Cafe about two months ago after dozens of years of experience (Gjata owned Spring Garden in Elgin and Ramirez cooked around the kitchen of Corfu restaurant for many years). The exterior is still under construction but don't let that dissuade you from coming in.
You can get breakfast or lunch all day, which is sweet when you crave a messy egg skillet, hot biscuits and gravy, a classic eggs Benedict, oozing crepes or a stack of flapjacks at lunch -- or you just have to have a cheeseburger at 10 a.m.
Gjata says they want to offer an alternative to the fast food joints in the area (the restaurant is right across the street from Larkin High School) with hearty food at reasonable prices.
We arrived around noon on a weekday when there were four or five other tables filled with retired couples, a young mom and her infant and a man dining alone. I was going to order an old-school open-faced breaded pork tenderloin sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy ($9.49) when our super-friendly waitress, Lynn, suggested the "Big Lunch Appetite" version for 50 cents more. It included soup or salad, choice of potato or rice and veggie of the day. It was a lot of food.
The pork tenderloin was deftly fried and crisp and the spuds were real. The dish disappointed when it came to the overly salty but otherwise tasty gravy and the veggie of the day -- a generous scoop of peas, which was unappetizing to me. Try your salad with housemade buttermilk ranch or creamy garlic dressing.
Ramirez makes two soups every day, so you might get offered navy bean, chicken dumpling, cream of broccoli or French onion, among others.
My dining companion adores biscuits and gravy but opted for a breakfast skillet thinking it wouldn't weigh him down for the afternoon. His burger skillet ($9.99) had a foundation of hash browns piled with a half-pound of chunky Angus beef, onions, smoked bacon, cheddar and Jack cheese and three medium-sized overeasy eggs. He also got a choice of toast, buttermilk pancakes or French toast on the side. He went with the French toast, a nice upgrade not offered for free at most other breakfast cafes. He asked for Tabasco, and the waitress schooled him about how Cholula hot sauce is just better (it is!).
The dozen different skillets are a popular choice at Larkin Cafe, ideal for those who like the breakfast elements stacked on top of each other. Skillets range from steak tips to a veggie to a butcher's skillet featuring a mountain of meat.
The menu is encyclopedic in terms of breakfast and lunch dishes: omelets, oatmeal, pancakes, French toast and French-style crepes, scramblers and Benedicts.
Lunch lovers can choose from build-your-own deli sandwiches, various melts, wraps and clubs, burgers and larger plates piled with liver and onions, homestyle meat loaf, and various fish and chicken options. Unless you have a mega appetite, it's likely you'll be toting a portion of your meal home.
The 10 entree salads are just as hefty as anything else on the menu. There are some "Light and Lively" items involving grilled chicken, broiled salmon and various vegetables. If you're going with an egg dish, it's no problem to substitute fruit for hash browns, either.
There are four or five daily lunch specials, including options such as Sunday's roast pork or turkey ($9.75) draped over homemade stuffing and topped with gravy to an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Friday for $9.99. Specials generally include soup or salad. Plus, there's a menu that saves seniors a buck or two as well. And coffee and soft drinks are refilled for free.
And what's a family restaurant experience without a slice of freshly baked pie ($2.99) to go with that final cup of joe?
As of now, Larkin Cafe closes at 3 p.m. However, the owners hint that they might open for dinner in the future.
Overall, Larkin Cafe serves substantial portions of standard breakfast and lunch fare all day, which is nice when you're feeling pancakes in the afternoon or catfish in the morning.
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1568 Larkin Ave., Elgin, (847) 429-2222, larkincafe.com/
Cuisine: Breakfast and lunch
Setting: Throwback diner
Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Prices: Breakfast: $5.99 to $14.99; appetizers: $2.99 to $11.49; lunch items (sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salad bowls, "Light and Lively" plates and generous entrees): $6.29 to $13.99; dessert (pies, shakes, pudding and sundaes) $1.99 to $3.99; free refills of coffee and soda
Also: Dine-in or carryout. Delivery is coming soon.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.