Saw the post down the board about terrible experiences at Bransfields and Woodrows in the Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, and I couldn't agree more. But Selmarie and Martyrs are two places in the area that I think are pretty good, but that many people don't seem to know about yet (unlike She She, Cafe 28, Villa Kula). And Benz Bar is a place to avoid, like Woodrows and Bransfields.
Selmarie is very quaint and in Lincoln Square proper. There is a long narrow bakery in the front and the restaurant is in the back. I've had brunch once and dinner once, but both were very good. The dinner was especially nice - I had a "bistro" steak with a parsnip and potato puree and caramelized fennel and my husband had the double cut pork chop with a cherry sauce. The execution was good, so was the price (around $15 for each entree). My only complaint is the small menu, but there are daily specials to round it out. There is the standard bistro fare like we had, a few pastas and I believe some individual pizzas. There is beer and wine, no bar. The atmosphere is low-key, with bright, funky art work on the walls. Very laid back and unfussy.
Martyrs on Lincoln about 2 blocks south of Irving, being mainly a bar, is also unfussy, but it has a very solid, inexpensive brunch. The fare is mostly straightforward - omelets, eggs benedict, a few sweet options. But they have some nice additions, like a pesto-red bell pepper strata, some interesting omelet choices (e.g. potato-leek) and a traditional Irish breakfast. Also, they have a homeade coffee cake each weekend, which is really more of a pound cake in my mind, but it's great nonetheless. The pumpkin was especially good recently.
Benz Bar. ugh. How does this place stay in business? It's a few doors down from Martyrs, and I've had better bar food at a Bennigans. It's supposed to be a place for many varieties of oysters, but even though they have a long list of types, complete with descriptions of their flavors and textures, they never seem to have more than 1 or 2 varities available any time I've visited. The fried seafood is clearly not fresh or battered by hand, but instead the mass-battered, frozen kind. I once ordered a tuna steak sandwich and got a dry slab of meat on a semi-stale hamburger bun. What makes this all so terrible, aside from the obvious, is that Benz Bar has a very nice outdoor seating area which would make it a wonderful place to hang out at for a meal. What a waste. Go for beer, sit outside and eat elsewhere.
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