Due to a scheduling screw up, I was stuck in the Chicago area for an extra night as I had to wait a day to help supervise the delivery of a pair of $90,000 Focal Stella Utopia EM speakers to a customer. I had gotten in the night before thinking that we were on for a 9 a.m. delivery by the freight company. I called my dealer first thing in the morning and he said, "You didn't get the call? They changed it to tomorrow morning!" Ugh! Since I suddenly had time to kill - and then some - that day, I decided to treat myself to breakfast at a place I've wanted to try in west suburban Downers Grove called Juicy O Pancake House.
Juicy O first opened in the fall of 2005 after partners Jimmy Banakis and Jimmy Bannos got together to open a family style upscale breakfast restaurant in the western suburbs of Chicago. Banakis and Bannos were no strangers to the Chicago restaurant scene - Banakis was a long time employee for Rich Melman's Lettuce Entertain You restaurants in Chicago (they include Shaw's Crab House, Twin City Grill, Maggiano's Little Italy, and Hub 51 - all of which have been reviewed on Road Tips). Banakis then worked for Connie's Pizza before striking out on his own in the mid-00's. Jimmy Bannos is the owner of Heaven on Seven, another favorite Road Tips restaurant with three locations in the Chicagoland area.
While Banakis never thought a breakfast place could be profitable, he soon found once he hit middle age that most of his contemporaries were going out for breakfast with friends rather than dinner. Along with Bannos, Banakis came up with a concept to have higher end offerings of breakfast items, along with a few lunch items, to serve in the restaurant. The Downers Grove location (see map) was the first to open, and they've since opened locations in far west suburban Naperville and in Willowbrook on the SW side of Chicago. Juicy O has proven to Banakis that breakfast can be profitable.
The menu at Juicy O is large and very diverse. They have nearly 20 different types of omelets, well over a dozen different types of pancakes (including potato pancakes and Southern cornmeal pancakes), a half-dozen different types of French toast (including the "Elvis" with bananas and peanut butter - Eeeyew!), crepes, frittatas, breakfast sandwiches, four different types of Eggs Benedict and scramblers and skillet items where you can throw just about any combination in the pan and cook it up. And, of course, true to their name, Juicy O has 10 different juices on the menu, from fresh squeezed orange juice, to pomegranate juice, to apple juice, to a spicy tomato juice, known as the "eye opener". Juicy O does not have a liquor license, so a little shot of vodka in the "eye opener" is not an option.
They also serve lunch at Juicy O with burgers, sandwiches, salads, wraps and hot toasted panini. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Juicy O is only open until 3 p.m., but they do private parties at their locations at night if you want to reserve the place for a party or gathering.
After I went out and got a change of clothes for the next day (I violated my cardinal rule in traveling - always pack for one day extra, because you never know), I got to Juicy O in Downers Grove about 10:30. I was shown to a booth in the back part of the well-lit restaurant. Even at 10:30 a.m., the restaurant was about a third full with people eating breakfast - some in large groups, others by themselves. There were at least two business meetings going on at tables around the dining area at Juicy O with men in business suits discussing whatever.
Whenever a menu is so vast and various as the one at Juicy O, I have a lot of trouble figuring out what to get to eat. I wasn't quite in the mood for either French Toast or pancakes, although they did have a stuffed blueberry and banana French toast where I thought I could just order them with the blueberries. I thought about the corned beef hash skillet with green peppers, onions, potatoes, two eggs and cheese mixed in. They had an Italian sausage skillet similar to the corned beef hash item. A steak and cheddar cheese omelet caught my eye. But then I decided to go with the "Lotsa Meat" omelet with cheddar cheese. It came with a side of homemade hash browns, and I also got a side of whole wheat toast, a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a large milk to come with it.
On the walls at Juicy O, they have a number of whimsical sayings, quotes and pictures - even in the restrooms. There were sayings like, "Work is fine for killing time, but it's a lousy way to make a living." Or, "The secret to life is truth and honesty, and if you fake that, you've got it made." And this little ditty, "Time is money! Stop reading these stupid signs." It sort of reminded me of the Lettuce Entertain You 50's/diner-style restaurant Ed Debevic's. Banakis probably got the idea for some of these signs from Ed Debevic's. (Come to think of it, I haven't been to Ed Debevic's in years. I need to go there sometime when I get back to downtown Chicago.)
To many, the highlight at Juicy O's is getting donuts hot off their own in-restaurant donut maker (below left). They make small donuts and them roll them in sugar and serve them to the table warm and toasty. The only problem that day was that service was a little slow at Juicy O. The waitress I had was stuck in neutral and didn't seem to enjoy her job very much. I probably waited 10 minutes from the time I sat down until she finally came over to take my order. In fact, she never came around to offer me any donuts until I was fully done with my breakfast. By that time, there was no way I wanted any donuts.
The reason I didn't want any donuts had a lot to do with all the food I got. I was sort of taken back by the size of the omelet which covered half the plate, and the hash browns covered the other half (above right). I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the whole breakfast, but I knew I'd make a serious dent in it as this would be breakfast and lunch all in one.
The omelet was good, nothing outstanding about it, though. True to its name, it did have "lotsa meat" with chunks of ham and bacon throughout. I thought, however, they skimped a little on the sausage. There didn't seem to be a proportionate amount of sausage compared to the bacon and ham in the omelet. The potatoes were OK, as well. It's pretty hard to screw up fried potatoes. If I had to rate the breakfast I'd give it 2.5 stars out of five. It wasn't great, but it certainly wasn't bad. It was breakfast. Maybe if the service would have been better...
I'm sure Juicy O does stellar business with the breakfast crowd. My wife and I are sometime-breakfast eaters and if we lived close to a Juicy O we'd probably go there from time to time. Actually, it turns out that my wife and her sister had eaten at this very Juicy O restaurant a few years ago, not long after it opened when they were in Chicago for a weekend. I remember her saying that it was just OK and nothing special. And she's right - it was good, but certainly nothing spectacular. I think I'd rather seek out a Walker Brothers Pancake House before I'd go back to Juicy O.