Great Grains

How chefs make a bowl of oatmeal

All oatmeal is not created equal.

At its worst, it's gummy. At its simplest, it's...meh. But we've found three versions that are downright majestic.

"Put some thought into oatmeal and it becomes as awesome as any composed egg dish," says chef Jeffrey Mauro of Jam. At his brunch restaurant in Logan Square, Mauro folds nuggets of caramelized banana into cooked-to-order stone-ground oats, garnishing the bowl with crunchy oat streusel ($8).

Maple syrup isn't exactly thoughtful; instead, there's maple gastrique–a mélange of vinegar, caramel, maple syrup and English apricot ale. Mauro states the obvious: "Oatmeal has never been an afterthought on our menu."

In true Stephanie Izard fashion, the oatmeal at Little Goat and Little Goat Bread is cooked in goat's milk. Izard simmers Michigan-grown Seedling Farm oats in the tangy dairy and Three Sisters' apple cider, topping the bowl with honey, Greek yogurt and oat crumble ($6; offered until 11 a.m. only).

Paul Virant showcases his affinity for fruit preservation in Perennial Virant's indulgent belly-warmer ($5). The secret to its richness: Milk and butter are stirred into Illinois-grown oats from Three Sisters Garden; then come brown sugar and the bowl's crowning glory, a dried-fruit compote (currently comprising cherries, raisins, apricots and figs, sourced from Seedling last summer and dried in-house).

Pro tip: Score a bowl on the go from Elaine's Coffee Call next door.