According to a recent study by moving company Allied Van Lines, the Chicagoland region of Illinois was the top source of people relocating to the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Combine that migration pattern with the impact of seasonal visitors during the winter, and it can sometimes seem like Phoenix is functioning as a remote suburb of the nation’s third largest city. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Elly’s, a small chain of breakfast restaurants based in the Chicago suburbs, operates its only outpost outside of Illinois at Uptown Plaza in central Phoenix.
With Elly’s four other locations scattered ten miles or more from the Loop in the northwestern part of Chicagoland, the Phoenix restaurant is a departure not only for being in Arizona, but also for being at a relatively central address in Uptown Phoenix, diagonally across the street from the Central/Camelback light rail station. Elly’s at Uptown Plaza can be found in the northeast corner of the shopping center, where restaurants and retail line a courtyard. Bike racks are found at both ends of the grassy space, near Elly’s neighbors Huss Brewing and Chula Seafood.
Elly’s has a small outdoor dining area that is activated during pleasant weather. Behind that patio lies an expansive interior space defined by an open kitchen on one side and mirrors on the wall of the other, making the room look even larger than it already is. The cavernous feel is further augmented by high ceilings with exposed ducts overhead. The decor is otherwise simple without alternation of the original Uptown Plaza brickwork that was re-exposed during the shopping center’s recent renovation after several decades of being obscured behind stucco.
Elly’s currently brands itself as a “brunch cafe,” offering a wide spectrum of breakfast and lunch items. Before that, however, it was described as a “pancake house,” and those particular items are still at the core of the restaurant’s approach. The menu offers not only classic buttermilk pancakes, available with banana Nutella, apple cinnamon, and berry mascarpone toppings, but also buckwheat and gluten free variations. All of these types of pancakes can be customized with strawberries, blueberries, bananas, pecans, chocolate chips, or even Oreo cookies.
Beyond basic pancakes, Elly’s extends its reach with crepes. These supple, foldable creations come with the same topping combinations as the buttermilk pancakes with the mascarpone and Nutella options being particularly effective enhancements when used inside the crepes. Another pancake variant are the baked pancakes, large shareable dishes that take a bit longer to prepare but offer an entirely different texture. The basic model is anointed only with powdered sugar and lemon wedges while the cinnamon apple version incorporates fruit and spice.
Of course pancakes alone do not typically sustain a breakfast/brunch menu, even in a place that has defined itself in terms of them. With that in mind, Elly’s also offers brioche French toast and Belgian waffles, again with the same topping assortments associated with the pancakes and crepes. For customers who favor a more savory approach to the morning, the restaurant serves a wide variety of omelets and egg dishes. The pancakes don’t disappear in this part of the menu, though. They’re offered as an included side with hash browns as the alternative.
Elly’s approach to bagels and lox takes the form of a chewy sandwich rather than the usual open-faced presentation. Other breakfast sandwiches include a “Number Five” containing ham, cheddar, and a fried egg on a croissant and a standard sandwich of scrambled eggs, bacon, and American cheese on sesame brioche. These provide a bridge from breakfast to lunch, where selections like a mushroom patty melt or a Reuben offer additional choices. A standard cheeseburger has recently been augmented with special burgers featured in recent months.
Although the hash browns can serve as a worthwhile side dish at any time of day, Elly’s also offers its own versions of regular and sweet potato fries to accompany its sandwiches and burgers. The restaurant’s approach to chicken and waffles incorporates crisp drumsticks or tenders over one of its Belgian treats. On a lighter note, bowls like the Southwest salad or the chopped Cobb provide a less carb-intensive approach to brunch and lunch. All salads can be topped with a choice of chicken breast, skirt steak, or smoked salmon over the greenery.
Although breakfast tends to be a sweeter meal than lunch or dinner, there are always some pastries available at the front counter. Muffins or danish provide an opportunity for a snack to be enjoyed on site or taken home for later. In terms of beverages, Elly’s pours freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices and serves bargain priced mimosas with the option to add a fresh fruit garnish for a little more. Additional breakfast cocktails coexist on the menu with fruit smoothies with trendy add-ons like chia seeds, milk shakes, and a full array of espresso drinks.
With a beverage selection almost as extensive as its food menu, Elly’s has a broad reach that covers some of the most popular choices for breakfast, lunch, and everything in between. Despite that expansive focus, the quality of the kitchen’s output is consistent and the classic Elly’s emphasis on pancakes has not been neglected. In some ways, Elly’s seems a long way from home 1500 miles away from its origins in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, but after five years in operation, an Arizona branch of Elly’s now seems a natural fit in Uptown Phoenix.
100 E. Camelback Rd. #166, Phoenix AZ 85012