Lately, as the economy plummets to somewhere in between “awful” and “OK, how much is a kidney worth, exactly?,” I find myself worrying that I need to save more in case of financial emergency (or um, for February and March).
So I'm forgoing life’'s little pleasures, including frequently dining out. Especially brunch. (I can pour some cereal easily enough.)
However, when I heard about what may be the cheapest brunch deal in town – Zapatista’s $5 breakfast burrito menu - I had to test it out. If brunch cost less than doing laundry, how could I say no? (I hate doing laundry, and I say yes to that all the time.)
So last Saturday, three friends and I stopped by Zapatista for a late-morning meal. The place was by no means crowded; we didn't have to wait for a table even though we got there around noon. And the server was really attentive, even after my friend told him she wanted to show him her treasures. (She was referring to a necklace she'd made; he, however, thought she was preparing to flash him and quickly fled.)
I was thrilled to find the $5 options included much more than just a burrito. The restaurant has a number of full-priced brunch entrees ($7 to $12) like a vegetable frittata and a steak and eggs dish. But the $5 portions were by no means tiny.
I ordered the Tostada Frances, which the menu described as “Mexican-style French toast.” That basically appeared to mean it was served with a ton of fruit on top, which was fine by me, and a special Piloncillo syrup, which the waiter assured me did not differ much from regular old maple syrup. The serving size was perfect: four decent-size slices. Plus the waiter threw in an extra side of fruit for just $1 per my request.
Other options included a crispy chimichanga breakfast burrito and huevos rancheros (which was an impressive amount of food for five bucks.) You can select one of the restaurant's five salsas, available in varying degrees of heat, and for a few bucks can add meat to any of the menu options.
Because it was snowy out and just a generally miserable week, we opted to also get some festive morning cocktails. My Tequila Sunrise wasn't on special – the full price is about $7 - but it sure was tasty. (I'd never had the drink before, but I assumed it would be something I liked, as I enjoy both alcohol and scenery).
The restaurant has a number of drink options: Intelligentsia coffee, Mexican coffee (spiked with three different tequilas), Bailey’s, Kahlua, Frangelico and more. All bloody marys are served with a small Corona, so it's more beer bang for your buck. (And also a fairly economical way to get trashed before 3 p.m.)
The best part? Since my total food and beverage cost came out to be under $15, I didn't even feel guilty about forgoing the oatmeal I had at home.
After all, I have plenty of time to eat in; the economy doesn’t look like it's getting better any time soon. However, that same weak economy is forcing many publications to have to make some unplanned cost reductions - including Centerstage. Which means, unfortunately, this will be my last Cheap Thrills column.
(We had toyed with the idea of just running a large photo of me looking sad with my pockets pulled inside out every other week in lieu of text, but decided that probably wouldn't really help the people of Chicago plan an evening out.)
It’s been a great five years. You are the best readers that a columnist could ever hope for (all six of you...I mean it). I hope I've given you at least one or two ideas for a fun, cheap night out - or saved you some time by warning you what to stay away from. Thank you for reading Cheap Thrills.
Luckily, this isn't my only job (just the only one that enables me to eat appetizers as part of my workday). I'll still be writing reviews and other things for Centerstage - and I hope you'll keep reading them.
Seriously, please do. For real. I have to justify all this drinking somehow.
Curious? Zapatista's Mexican brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays at 1307 South Wabash, (312) 435-1307.
Erin Brereton has been giving Centerstage readers tips on cheap city living every two weeks for the last five years. Want to thank her for all her investigativ work? Drop her a line.