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The Friendly Fox
Out of a possible five
By Ryan DuVall
A spicy grilled cheese sandwich and the Friendly Fox's signature tomato soup.

Diners at Friendly Fox will say yum

Sometimes you can’t help but fall in love with a place.

The food may not be the most fancy or unique, but its location, its staff, its customer base and its overall vibe force you to keep going back.

Welcome to the Friendly Fox.

The little coffee shop at South Wayne Avenue and West Foster Parkway, which dubbed itself “The social hub of Southwood Park,” always had a friendly, cozy, welcoming atmosphere. Its employees are welcoming and seem to love working there.

It has always offered sandwiches and soups, as well as homemade desserts, but now a brunch on Saturdays, a tantalizing array of appetizers, a surprisingly impressive beer and wine menu and occasional theme dinners have taken it to a new level.

The Fox’s social-hub vibe was most evident during my Saturday morning visit as regulars trudged in from the cold, many being greeted by name. Whether it was the running club in the side room enjoying coffee beverages before hitting the streets or the young couple splitting a garbage plate at a table up front, everyone was smiling. And so was I.

The brunch runs from 8 a.m. to noon with a menu offering standard breakfast fare. The only thing that screamed brunch on the menu was the mimosas, and, sadly, the Fox was out of sparkling wine when I went.

Still, the breakfast was great.

(See my photo gallery).

The Southwest Breakfast Wrap was the most enticing offering with scrambled eggs, chorizo, red onions, roasted red peppers, potatoes and cheddar cheese wrapped in a soft, fresh wheat tortilla smeared with ancho chile sauce. It was hearty and flavorful, and there was not one thing bad I could say about it.

The Veggie Breakfast Wrap did have some issues. I had mine on a house-made bagel, and it was sandwiched around a cheddar-topped omelet, fresh spinach and green onions. There was plenty of spinach, but barely any onions. It needed to have more than just spinach and onions. There were tomatoes on other breakfast offerings and roasted red peppers on my wrap, and both would have helped it.

I also was not a big fan of the bagels. They were huge, but they were too airy and crumbly like bread instead of dense and chewy like a bagel should be.

The Malted Milk Waffles were perfectly chewy and just a little crisp, and had that unmistakable malt flavor. The best thing about the waffles, however, was the side of heavenly vanilla butter, which I could have smeared on about anything and still gobbled it down.

Those waffles came with a side of the Friendly Fox’s breakfast potatoes, which were the best thing I ate during breakfast there and may have been the best breakfast potatoes in town. They were cubed, skin-on spuds that were flecked with black pepper and had a wonderful buttery-salty favor. They were just slightly browned, but still had some crispness, and I ended up eating not only mine, but all the leftovers that had been neglected on my kids’ plates.

The secret, I was told, was that these potatoes never see a griddle like most hash browns or home fries. They are parboiled, seasoned and oven-roasted ahead of time, then they are popped back into the oven for another short roasting before they are served.

There was one oversight at brunch that I discovered when I went to check out the baked goods in the dessert case. The Friendly Fox had several quiches, which are available daily, but they were not on the brunch menu. Had I been reminded, I would have probably gotten a slice of the spinach quiche because it looked fabulous.

Speaking of that dessert case, if there is one item everyone should try, it is a macaroon. These were not the coconut versions, these were the proper whipped meringue versions. Made on site, they were airy, fluffy, tiny pillows of decadence. The ones I had were little purple peanut butter and jelly flavored – the jelly flavoring the meringue with the peanut butter sandwiched in between.

If you have never had a proper macaroon, go to the Friendly Fox as soon as possible. As my server said during one visit, the chef there “gets kind of emotional about them,” because they are so delicate and difficult to make.

I also vouch for the scones in that dessert case. They, too, were perfectly made and were the perfect addition to a hot coffee beverage.

My lunchtime visit to the Friendly Fox got off to a great start with the hummus duo. Toasted crostini – crisp but still tender in the middle – Indian naan bread and cucumber slices were served with a big scoop of chipotle-lime flavored hummus and a scoop of roasted garlic hummus. The garlic was not shy on garlic and the chipotle-lime had just the right amount of peppery heat to make it interesting without overpowering.

Another great snack option was the Phyllo Goodness – triangle pockets of dough stuffed with chorizo and smoked gouda cheese with a creamy avocado-lime dipping sauce. The layers of dough were super crispy and flaked all over my shirt, but that collateral damage was worth enduring because they were so scrumptious.

The best part of lunch, however, was a classic – grilled cheese and tomato soup. The soup was the Fox’s rustic tomato, which is available daily. The grilled cheese, in this case, was the restaurant’s spicy version with muenster, cheddar and goat cheese, bacon and Sriracha hot sauce.

The soup was crazy good with a true tomato flavor that is often lost in soup when muddled by spices, too much salt or too much sweetness. This soup tasted like a fresh tomato and the seasoning was perfectly restrained to accentuate the acidic tomato goodness. The sandwich was also perfectly executed and pretty good, but it became a thing of beauty when properly dunked in that soup.

The Friendly Fox sure is a thing of beauty, and it seems to be truly loved by those who live in Southwood Park. I don’t live anywhere near there, but I still want to be a part of its “social hub,” so I will be back.

But mostly because I want more macaroons.

Restaurant: The Friendly Fox

Address: 4001 S. Wayne Ave.

Phone: 745-3369

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Phyllo Goodness ($6.95), hummus duo ($7.95), spicy grilled cheese ($7.95), soup (tomato $3, du jour $3.50), Southwest wrap ($5.95), veggie sandwich ($4.25), waffle ($5.95), macaroons (75 cents)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.