If I had a dollar for every time a restaurant manager told me they wanted to recreate a city dining experience in the suburbs, I’d have enough money to open my own restaurant.
Some things are a given these days—fed into an endless loop like some restaurant version of Groundhog Day. Chefs will inevitably talk about the importance of using local seasonal ingredients. Bartenders will rhapsodize about rediscovering the glory of brown spirits. And local restaurateurs will look for ways to convince diners it’s not worth their time or toll money to zip back into the city for a meal on the town.
Sitting at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights on a chilly Saturday morning—while a Bluegrass band strums a soulful version of Lyle Lovett’s song “If I Had a Boat”—I think General Manager Garrett Supples may have cracked part of the code.
When he says that Hey Nonny was meant to be a beacon for local music lovers designed to draw from across the Northern Suburbs, I can’t help but agree that he’s filled an important dining niche.
Hey Nonny’s “listening room” is an intimate concert space, which feels like the old MTV Unplugged stage from years back. There are different tiers of seats (for ticketed shows), just like you’d fine at any other concert venue: premier high-top seating along the windows that offer elevated views of the action. Cabaret seating that fans out at ground level around the stage. And then general seating in a backroom, which is situated behind the main bar, where the sounds drift in due to more obstructed views. If you’re coming in for an evening concert, you need to book your spot, but for brunch, the menu and music is available for everyone sitting in every seat.
It’s a simple yet ultra inviting space. Blue curtains. Halo-shaped chandeliers. Great tunes. And in our case, a morning filled with a killer brunch menu.
Supple says there’s so much local musical talent that he rarely has to repeat acts during dinner, and he’s also chosen a regular stable of morning acts that have built a loyal following.
The same can be said for the quality of Hey Nonny’s brunch offerings, which subvert convention without ever veering too far into the unknown. Hey. You’ve seen the general foundations of these brunch staples before, but each comes with a welcome surprise or two.
Nonny’s brunch burger, for example, arrives nestled between a black charcoal-activated sesame seed bun and is topped with not one but two condiments—a slightly sweet bacon jam and a truffle aioli—along with a smoky gouda. The result is rich and dynamic, playing with the sweet and savory foundations of any good brunch, almost as if the toppings were inspired by a cheese platter: semisweet jams, some smoky cheese, and a memorable dark toast to top it all off.
You find this skilled balancing act between pastry-like sweetness and good old-fashioned meaty proteins throughout. The house’s impressive steak and kale salad comes studded with bittersweet cranberries, goat cheese, and poached pears. What sounds like too many flavors per square inch turned out to be the most balanced and nuanced dish on the menu.
Unlike so many other brunch spots, Hey Nonny doesn’t mail in the breakfast side of its menu. Our favorite egg dish was the house skillet, which ladles sausage gravy over a mix of ramps, kohlrabi, sweet corn, and Lyonaise-style potatoes. Crowned by eggs of your choice, it’s the breakfast version of a personal fast-food weakness: KFC’s gravy-coated mashed potato bowl. It hits the mark, as does a wintry French toast topped with dollops of maple mascarpone cheese and crunchy bits of granola.
It doesn’t hurt that diners can upgrade to a bottomless Bloody Mary or Mimosa option for $17 with the purchase of any brunch offering. What’s more difficult to capture is the general spirit—the joie de vivre—of the space. During our visit, when our musical performers, took occasional breaks, they fanned out across the dining room, talking to families young and old around the restaurant. It’s personal, intimate, and affordable: a musical chair dining experience that would make any Chicagoan jealous.
Hey Nonny is located at 10 S. Vail Avenue in Arlington Heights, 224-202-0750, heynonny.com.