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TODAY

Thursday, August 22

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From the outside, Dunlays looks like a typical neighborhood bar. A giant picture window looks in on a few bistro tables and stools flanked by a shiny wood bar. The outside patio is usually packed with casual neighborhood folk chowing down on pizzas and burgers. Attractive servers in black t-shirts and jeans scurry in and out of the sliding glass doors, balancing trays of beers and food orders on their shoulders.

It is definitely not the sort of place where you would expect to find one of the best desserts in Chicago.

Yet, Dunlays' signature chocolate chip cookie is just that: possibly the best sweet treat I've eaten -- not once, not twice, but many, many times -- this year. I crave it constantly and recommend it anyone who merely mentions the word "sugar." In fact, I'm embarrassed to say that I talk about it incessantly. Yes, it's that good.

The dessert of which I speak so highly consists of a good-sized, straight-out-of-the-oven cast iron skillet, the bottom of which is covered with a thin layer of half-baked chocolate chip cookie dough. The dough itself is oozy on the inside, crispy on outside while retaining a temperature hot enough to melt the quart of vanilla ice cream piled on top, yet cool enough to eat. As if this weren't heavenly enough, now imagine hot fudge and caramel being drizzled overtop. It's not at all fancy but still delivers an amazing amount pleasure, similar to eating raw cookie dough straight out of the package. Four people could easily share this decadence but I prefer to split it with only one other person.

Luckily, the rest of the food at Dunlays (which is in the space that once housed Clark Street Bistro) is pretty decent, warranting multiple excuses to partake in the chocolate chip cookie experience. Usually I opt for something light, saving room in my stomach for better things to come. A large bowl of the soup of the day -- spicy chicken tortilla being my favorite -- and the sashimi pepper-crusted tuna appetizer (thinly sliced and beautifully rare) have often proved to be an excellent dinner combination.

The Wrightwood salad is another of my favorite meals, an enormous mountain of fresh veggies, hacked chicken, dried cranberries, almonds and goat cheese tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette. Also very good is Dunlays' version of the veggie burger -- a fantastic mixture of brown rice, sweet potatoes and other veggies made daily. This burger is so fresh that you have to order melted cheese on top to hold it all together, otherwise the burger crumbles all over the plate and is difficult to eat. Again, it's nothing elaborate; I'm convinced Dunlays excels in the culinary department because of its commitment to keep things simple.

Besides this sort of above-average pub grub, which is priced in the $8-$12 range, Dunlays also offers a variety of more expensive entrees should you be in the mood for something heavier. The pork tenderloin served with a tasty raspberry sauce is a clear stand-out item, as is the tender grilled breast of barbecue chicken. One of the things I greatly appreciate about Dunlays is its attention to sides; in place of fries, you can opt for garlic mashed potatoes, wild rice, or -- my favorite -- terrific grilled asparagus served with lemon wedges, a perfect choice if you are trying to save calories for the end of the meal.

Brunch is also good here; omelets and astoundingly good pancakes make up the majority of the menu, along with decent salads and sandwiches. Even if you think the offerings are pretty standard, you have to admit it's nice to find a brunch place without an hour-long wait on the weekends. Plus, since Dunlays is a bar, you can count on killer Bloody Marys to nurse that hangover come Saturday or Sunday morning. (And if anyone argues against eating the chocolate chip cookie so early in the day, I would remind them of the popular '80s phenomenon that was Cookie Crisp cereal.)

There are many neighborhood places in the city that while being quite exceptional aren't always worth the trip for patrons not living in said neighborhood. I would recommend Dunlays to people living all over the city because of its fantastic food and fair prices, and as proof of its excellence, let me just say that I don't live in Lincoln Park, yet I still make it over there at least every other week.

It's amazing what one will do for a chocolate chip cookie.

Dunlays is located at 2600 N. Clark St. It offers half-priced glasses of wine on Mondays and half-priced bottles of wine on Tuesdays.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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