Few restaurants exude lounging-in-a-hammock warmth quite like Sola, the Hawaiian-inspired restaurant in the heart of North Center. Chef/owner Carol Wallack is a culinary Jack Johnson, seamlessly combining her love for Hawaiian culture with the bounty of the Midwest. Eating her food is like attending a very well catered luau, and it does a fine job of helping you forget you’re still in Chicago and have a heating bill to pay.
The best way to start a meal at Sola is with an order of malasadas ($7), Portuguese-style doughnuts that are to Hawaii as beignets are to New Orleans. These fist-sized dough balls are deep-fried until dark and crunchy, with fluffy brioche-like innards, served with raspberry coulis and hot fudge. The malasadas taste like condensed funnel cakes, albeit yeastier and sweeter, due to the hilarious amount of sugar heaped upon them. I assume surfing culture in Hawaii arose solely as a way to burn off calories from malasadas. And the menu only gets heftier from here.
The short rib Benedict ($12) is a brawny stack of beef, eggs, pesto, hollandaise, and cheddar biscuits. The short ribs are braised until they are so tender that they fall apart when you whisper at them, with a texture akin to ropa vieja. Between the short ribs and the cheddar biscuits, which run circles around Red Lobster, the rest of the components sort of get lost. This is probably the first time I’ve seen a Benedict where hollandaise isn’t the richest thing on the plate, and that’s fine, because this dish is really just an excuse to eat a heinous amount of beef before noon. Sola’s potatoes, however, play second fiddle to no Benedict. Whittled into crispy threads, these hasbrowns are the stuff of diner dreams.
For the indecisive, ham and cheese French toast ($11) bridges the gap between sweet and savory, doubling the pleasure and doubling the risk of coronary. Thick slices of ham and gooey cheese are stacked between slices of French toast so rich it tastes more like a doughnut sandwich. Plum-ginger preserves draped overtop help to cut the extravagance, and a sheen of mustard-laced honey gilds the lily with a bit more sticky sweetness. You should probably sign a waiver if you’re going to attempt to eat all of it.
Unlike Miami and California, which are sunny destinations with (annoying) reputations for fitness and dieting, Hawaii just says “screw it” and pigs out on decadent food all day long. I suppose it’s all part of the laid back surfer-at-a-beach-party mentality, and I can absolutely understand why a chef would want to mimic that ideology in Chicago.