Wedged in the Adolphus Hotel, City Hall Bistro fills a distinct modern style that pairs against the historic design of the surrounding space.
Windows allow light to pour in against white subway tile and warm caramel, leather seats. It is an excellent place to be for a summer brunch — naturally lit like an outdoor patio, but with air conditioning blowing at max force the entire time.
Despite the elegant atmosphere and comfortable setting, City Hall Bistro was surprisingly empty for a Saturday morning. While we arrived closer to noon, we passed by only two other occupied tables in the entire restaurant.
This sparseness of customers did, however, mean we were served very quickly and never went more than a few minutes without being checked on or having our glasses refilled. Our server was cheerful and attentive without being overbearing.
For those looking for alcohol, the Western revue — a cocktail made with tequila, aperol, lime, grapefruit and agave nectar — was as beautifully tasting as it appeared ($12). No one element outcompeted the other, and the resulting drink was refreshingly delicate while still packing a tequila-fueled punch.
The brunch menu at City Hall Bistro is simple, containing the usual omelette ($18), avocado toast ($14) and oatmeal ($9) mixed with their more adventurous American fare. We opted to get one sweet item, one wagyu item and one item recommended by our waiter.
The waffle was topped with “macerated berries,” or more adequately put, soggy strawberries and blueberries. Macerated berries are generally coated in sugar for a short period to draw out some of their juices to create a more tender, sweeter product at the sacrifice of a bit of the fruit’s structure.
These berries were sad, mushy shells of their former selves. The cinnamon mascarpone that was added to the top of the waffle was not in its prime either, having dissolved away into the warm waffle before it had even reached our table.
Its essence lived on though, as blots of damp spots scattered across the waffle’s surface. The waffle itself though was fine, having a more cake-like texture than a true Belgian style, which worked nicely with the chocolate-hazelnut syrup that lightly coated each bite.
It's topped with Choron sauce, a kind of tomato hollandaise that adds some needed moisture back to the beef while providing a rich, fatty flavor of its own. The eggs are served however you prefer them and come alongside the true hero of City Hall Bistro’s brunch: the papas bravas.
The papas bravas are preposterously good ($5 as a side). They are bite-sized cuts of tender-fried potato with a wildly crispy exterior that is more similar to potato chips than French fries. They're coated in a smoky paprika spice blend and garnished with garlic aioli and chive.
If I were to go back for brunch at City Hall Bistro in the near future, I would order nothing but three orders of the papas bravas and a variety of cocktails. It's that good.
Closing out the menu, we ordered an item our waiter recommended to us: the patty melt ($15). Or at least what City Hall Bistro calls a patty melt. It has no grilled or caramelized onions. It's not served on Texas toast or rye bread. It has no Swiss cheese. I’m not one to nitpick the authenticity of dish names, but in this instance I have no choice but to call City Hall Bistro out.
The “patty melt” they serve is fine — a little too salty in our case, but it is a burger, not a patty melt. It's a seasoned meat patty, topped with smoked bacon, white cheddar, house pickles and the usual burger accoutrements on a ciabatta bun. It's a decent burger, but it's a terrible patty melt. It does come with papas bravas on the side, though, so I was placated enough to not complain.
Their staff is competent, and by all accounts their traditional lunch and dinner menu goes over well with guests, so only a simple re-look of certain items would be needed to push City Hall Bistro’s brunch into one of the finest in the city.
City Hall Bistro, 1321 Commerce St. (downtown). Brunch served 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.