Returning from three days of camping at Fields Fest, I needed some serious hangover food. Not for a booze-induced hangover per se (though that was certainly part of it), but more like the in-need-of-relief-from-living-off-Cheez-Its-and-dried-salami-and-getting-four-hours-of-sleep-a-night kind of fatigue. So, clearly, I needed a burger. Make that a burger with fries and wings and whatever else I can manage.
Opened on Pigtown's Main Street last year, Breaking Bread (771 Washington Boulevard,  708-1903, breakingbreadllc.com) boasts chef Kimberly Ellis' handcrafted burgers, wings, and other comfort dishes in a casual spot co-owned with her husband.
The door opens to a Roman column flanked by a table presenting a bowl of mints and an armored knight figurine draped with a black and orange boa. African masks and paintings adorn a cherry red painted brick wall. Against another wall are old-school quarter machines vending Skittles and Mike and Ikes. By the kitchen door, a large chalkboard lists the day's specials (including a soup of the day) in colorful script. There's a lot going on here, but somehow it feels understated and unified.
The restaurant also offers a kids' menu, breakfast, catering, takeout, and delivery—a total package, minus a liquor license. There is a bar, but not for ordering drinks, though you can bring your own for a $2 corkage fee. Instead, diners can peek into the kitchen to watch beef get sculpted into burgers or chat with the affable servers and Ellis herself. I've been going to Breaking Bread with my mom, a Pigtown resident, and she and Ellis have bonded over being mothers of four. The setup here is ideal for solo diners who find themselves craving a snack but don't want to take up a table.
And if you're not here for a burger, you're here for snacks. Ellis' "famous" stickywings are deserving of their title: the meat falls cleanly off the bone, the skin crackles under each bite, remaining crispy beneath the thick coat of mildly spicy honey sauce. The wings come in six-piece ($8.99), twelve-piece ($14.99), and eighteen-piece ($19.99) plates, all topped with cilantro and scallions and served with plenty and very necessary hand wipes. Confession; I am not normally of a huge fan of wings—I'd rather indulge in red meat, I'd rather not deal with the work and mess if they're going to be just OK, etc.—but I make an exception here, and I look forward to trying the various "soon to be famous" wings, which can be served naked or with hot honey, BBQ, jerk, or buffalo sauces.
Also pleasantly messy and aptly named are the "awesome fries" ($7.99), a plate of french fries topped with pulled, slow-cooked barbecue beef, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and scallions. The beef is impeccably tender, spicy and sweet. I would easily enjoy the beef on its own, but I can't complain when fries are in the picture. The fries are solid—thick and crispy with just the right amount of salt.
Each time I've dined at Breaking Bread has been on a Tuesday, when the restaurant offers "BOGO" (buy one get one) half off burgers. The first time, I ordered the black & bleu ($10.99): a blackened burger topped with bleu cheese. Often, blackened burgers come out dry and overcooked on the inside, but here, the inside of the burger was still juicy while the exterior was crisp and smoky. On my second visit, however, I got the All American burger ($9.99), a 1/3 lb. patty topped with red onion, American cheese, and chipotle aioli, and found it to be slightly overcooked for a "medium" request—I also couldn't taste the aioli—and my friend found her mushroom swiss burger ($13.99; the burger special of the day), ordered medium rare, to be totally absent of pink. Despite missteps in grilling to order, the meat is rich and fresh—never frozen, and it shows.
Also on the burger menu are the standard cheeseburger ($10.99), bacon cheeseburger ($11.49), and a turkey burger ($10.99) served with pineapple-habanero salsa and pepper jack. As stated above, I always go with red meat—health be damned—but for what it's worth, Mom reports that the turkey burger is a winner. All burgers come topped with colby-jack, American, swiss, or cheddar, plus lettuce and tomato, or to order. The buns are buttery enough to warrant more hand wipes—not a bad thing at all—and come with chips, which are interchangeable with french fries or sweet potato fries for an additional charge. On my most recent visit, the server also offered garlic Parmesan fries, which we enjoyed along with a serving of flavorful sweet potato fries.
The welcoming and familiar service gives the sense that you're dining at a friend's house. Our server frequently laughed with us and even serenaded another diner—quite well, I might add—for her birthday. He pulled up a stool to their table and just started singing, low and warm. Normally, singing wait staff brings nothing more than secondhand embarrassment, but here it seemed organic and felt anything but irritating.
I enjoy dining with my mother in part because our genes (and our jeans, as she pointed out) allow us to pack away a lot of food. So a plate of wings and two burgers and fries later, we are somehow ready for more. Ellis' desserts vary by day; usually there's an elegant cupcake arrangement at the bar. On this particular visit we ordered the bread pudding ($5)—probably the best I've ever had. Served in a shareable but not overwhelming portion, the pudding soaks up a rich bourbon sauce topped with whipped cream. Even if I hadn't any more room in my belly, I would still order this, and if I collapsed or vomited from overeating it would be kinda worth it. Isn't that what dessert—and American dining—is about?