On a rainy October weekend last year, I was visiting a friend and her boyfriend in Chicago. We had all endured a couple of late nights in a row—there was a Halloween party where the Windy City denizens made out-of-towners try Malort. And so when it came time one morning to decide where to have breakfast in Chicago, I put myself entirely in the hands of the people who lived there. And thank goodness I did, because if I hadn't been OK with their suggestion of Uncle Mike's Place, a Filipino joint in Ukrainian Village, I would have missed out on one of the best breakfasts I've ever had.
When we arrived at Uncle Mike's, the restaurant was already bustling. The back room looked more like a banquet hall than a dining room, with large groups taking over rows of pushed-together tables. While we waited for our table, we watched servers whirl out of the kitchen with balletic precision, carrying pots of coffee, steaming bowls of lugao—rice porridge—and plate after plate of heaping servings of rice and cured meat. All the smells speeding by were rich and heady: garlic, strong coffee, and what I later learned was anise wine.
Yep, anise wine for breakfast. If you make the right choice, here's what you'll order: a bowl of creamy, stomach-settling lugao, quickly followed by a bursting-to-the-seams platter of a pile of garlic fried rice, a gorgeous tangle of bright scarlet tocino (annato—a red plant extract—and anise-cured pork shoulder), a few links of equally red longanizo (anise wine-cured chorizo, more or less), a small pot of soupy beans, a small dish of heavy-on-the-tomato pico de gallo, and two perfectly fried sunny-side-up eggs draped over everything. When it arrives, you should sprinkle the dish with a few deliberate turns of the pepper mill and you should add milk and sugar to your coffee.
The sweet will balance the savory; the milk will balance the spice. You should eat small bites of the pico with big bites of everything else. You will probably not want to speak in close proximity to someone afterward until you have a chance to brush your teeth, but I think this is to be celebrated.
Uncle Mike's doesn't let you ease into the morning with something understated. It forces you to grab onto bold flavors first thing, to try something new, and—maybe, possibly, not saying it happened to me or anything—unbutton your skinny jeans part way through your meal so you can eat every last bite.