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Saturday, October 25

Gapers Block

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Foodporn Fri Oct 24 2014

Friday Foodpic: Pleasant House Bakery

IMG_1452.jpgPic by yours truly; submit your own foodventures to the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

Robyn Nisi / Comments (0)

Business Thu Oct 23 2014

Local Restaurateurs on Making it in Chicago

how to be a restaurateur in chicago.jpg
Packing House, the former Market, recently closed to the public after reconcepting only six months ago. SmallBar Division, the 10-year old veteran of Division Street announced its impending closure this week. They are among the newest casualties to join the shuttering list that includes Laughing Bird and Cicchetti, which shockingly closed after only 10 months despite glowing reviews.

Why those restaurants closed is a mixture of many factors, but all are testament that making it in the restaurant industry isn't easy.

As a model, opening a restaurant is arguably the stupidest thing anyone can do -- thin margins, large overhead, unpredictability, seasonal dips (say Q1 to anyone in the restaurant business in Chicago and they reach for the nearest bottle of whiskey and call their accountant). Yet we continue to do it in this city, almost to the point of exhaustion.

In a panel at the recent Chicago premiere of Taste Talks, "Ten Years Later -- Building Restaurants That Last," Donnie Madia (One Off Hospitality), Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Michael Nahabedian (Naha) and Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro & Perennial Virant) convened to answer the overarching question, "How do you make it in this city?"

Continue reading this entry »

Brandy Gonsoulin / Comments (0)

Recipe Tue Oct 21 2014

My Adventure Cooking Pig's Head

rsz_dsc_1152.jpgI fancy myself a female Kevin Gillespie--a little thinner, Asian-er, less MIT-caliber. But that Southern pork spirit--it rages in my veins. From carnitas to gelatinous trotter, I've cooked my way through the pork body, but never have I tried the head. That changed a week ago, as I was skipping merrily through the ethnic market, perusing through the aisle of delectable meats. There Wilbur was, his cranium Ned-Stark'd and split in half, his glossy eyeballs staring at me from beneath the plastic packaging. Buy me, it called. I wanted to cook him. I had to cook him. So I tossed Wilbur into my shopping basket and headed home.

Pork is a versatile product--you can make crispy skin and crispy ears, cheeks for tacos, bones and fat for tonkotsu ramen, and rest of offal goodness for headcheese. A pig's head is cheap because eyeballs, teeth, and snouts scare the utter shit out of people. You will not find this cut in Whole Foods, Jewel, or Mariano's, so your best bet will be ethnic markets. Half a pig's head cost me roughly $7, so a whole head will average around $15. A suckling pig (baby pig) will cost significantly more.

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Judy Wu / Comments (0)

Closings Tue Oct 21 2014

SmallBar Division to Close

small bar division

The owners of SmallBar Division, one of the bars that helped revitalize Division Street in Wicker Park, announced today that they are closing and selling the bar. The last day is Thursday, Nov. 13. Smallbar Logan Square, which is owned by a different group, is unaffected by the closure and will remain open.

Despite its legacy on Division, in an interview with Good Beer Hunting, owner Phil McFarland said that the bar has been fighting against the current of the area's nightlife trends in recent years. "I wanted to prove that what Division St. has become could co-exist with what we wanted to do," McFarland said. "So we've been fighting hard to maintain a hold, and relevancy on the street. And we have, but I'm looking to have a business that's growing, not fighting to survive."

Before it closes, Smallbar will host two more events. One will be a "pop-up taproom" Nov. 3 with Firestone Walker, with eight beers from the California brewery on tap, including four rarities only available that night. Then on Nov. 13, the bar will throw a Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers pre-party as its final sendoff, with rare barrel-aged beers, brewers from several local breweries on hand, and a general celebratory vibe.

Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Foodporn Fri Oct 17 2014

Friday Foodpic: Le's Pho

15331948460_99185e642b_z.jpgPicture by Road2Nowhere from the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

This weekend is Open House Chicago, a great (and free!) way to see buildings all over the city (businesses, churches, etc.) that normally aren't open to the sniffin' of public folk. The Reader has some nice suggestions on where to eat between gawking at buildings; food or no food, take advantage of this event. It's worth it.

Robyn Nisi / Comments (0)

Interview Mon Oct 13 2014

The LYFE Story: A Conversation with Nate Cooper & Jeremy Bringardner

rsz_11lyfe_logo_use.jpgI first learned about LYFE ("Love Your Food Everyday") in March 2013, when I struck up a casual conversation with Jeremy Bringardner, fresh into his new role as corporate executive chef. He described LYFE as "an innovative healthy fast casual restaurant concept" and that they "just opened [their] second restaurant in Los Angeles (first one is in the bay area) and... have 248 more to go in the next five years." Though I admired his fervent optimism, I imagined all the heads of Chipotle and Cosi and Pret, giggling in their seats over sustainable salmon and chia-infused juices. Now almost a year and a half later, with 15 LYFE storefronts, I'm sure they're feeling the glowing embers of that bright-orange logo heating up underneath their seats.

Though founded by two McDonald's executives, LYFE strays far from that sugar and fat-laden image. Their all-encompassing motto is "Great food can do amazing things. It can make you feel better. It can support local farms. Promote sustainability. Reward environmentally sound businesses. Give back to the community." And if one doesn't care about any of the aforementioned claims, then at least LYFE is relatively affordable for the type of premium quality it serves. Not that I can taste the sustainability or organic-ness, but LYFE food certainly tastes healthy. It's portioned according to normal, weight-maintaining standards, and overall, fairly light for the salt-accustomed palette. To compensate for the lack of butter, cream, and salt, the food relies heavily on acidity and spice to round out its dishes. Healthy food can shock a tongue accustomed to heavy flavors, but not everything is chia seeds and vegan quinoa wraps. Flatbreads, burgers, and "Art's Unfried Chicken" are as good as expected for less than 600 calories.

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Judy Wu / Comments (0)

Beer Fri Oct 10 2014

Your Perfect, Beer-Filled Weekend

Beer Hoptacular at Aragon BallroomVery rarely do the stars align to offer not one, but two amazing beer festivals in one weekend. But thankfully, there's no need to choose between them-- here's how to do both:


Head down to the Beer Hoptacular after work and sample more than 150 small-batch beers from 70 breweries from around the country to get a birds eye view of the craft beer movement. While you're taking a break from sampling all 150 beers you can get tips on home brewing, check out the epic facial hair in the BeardHoptacular, and vote on your favorite brew for the 2014 Beer Of The Year.

Friday 6:30pm - 10pm and Saturday 1pm - 4:30pm or 6:30pm - 10pm at the Aragon Ballroom. Regular tickets $45, VIP $85 and Designated Driver $20.


Drag yourself out of bed and get some bacon to recover from the many, many beers you tasted last night in the name of thoroughness. Then make it to Lagunitas Brewery by 11 am to start the Gapers Block Microbrewery Crawl. This boozy meander across the city will take you on a deeper dive into the Chicago beer scene, including tours of Goose Island's new barrel house, BreakRoom Brewery and Begyle Brewing. GB even tops it off with a beer-friendly dinner from ManBQue.

Saturday, 11am - 7pm. Tickets $60. Starts at Lagunitas, 1843 S. Washtenaw Ave .

Annie Conway / Comments (0)

Foodporn Fri Oct 10 2014

Friday Foodpic: Ramen

15405804796_121be13073_z.jpgPhoto by Mel Hill Photography from the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

Robyn Nisi / Comments (0)

Event Wed Oct 08 2014

Cooking Demo at Treasure Island with Knife & Tine

dsc_0022.jpgTreasure Island Foods brands itself as "America's Most European Supermarket," though I think "The Lovechild of Whole Foods and Jewel" or "Mariano's Long-Lost Cousin" are more fitting titles. That being said, the one thing that sets Treasure Island apart from its competitors are its cooking demos, which showcase renowned or emerging chefs from Chicago's culinary scene. Past restaurants have included The Publican, Range Chicago, and Honey Butter Fried Chicken. I recently attended a demo by Nate Park, chef at Knife & Tine in Lincoln Park. A Moto and Iron Chef alum, Chef Nate Park cooked a menu that aptly reflected his corn-brimming Midwestern roots:

Cheese ball: Delice de Bourgogne Serano with plum jam, pickled pecans and honey
Braised boneless shortrib with sautéed oyster mushrooms and warm fall marble potato salad
Panna Cotta with blueberry, ginger and mint

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Judy Wu / Comments (0)

Book Wed Oct 08 2014

A New Bible for Cooking Veggies

Vegetarian Flavor BibleGrowing up, the release of a new Beatles album was an event. We didn't know what it would contain but knew we were in for a treat. As an adult, a similar giddy excitement beckons when I hear of a new project by Karen Page, co-author of the James Beard Award winning culinary classics Becoming a Chef and The Flavor Bible. (See my interview with Page and Flavor Bible co-author Andrew Dornenburg here.)

So imagine my feelings when walking out of my apartment, I found an advance copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, sent by Page's publicist, leaning on my door. Be still my heart. Only the best songs, books or movies become standards -- go-to's. The Flavor Bible was that for me, and this food-from-plant follow up is no doubt destined to sit at the same table -- as if Sgt. Pepper was a chef.

And as a chef for over 30 years, I'd rank The Flavor Bible and now its sequel, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, in rarified air amongst my 400+ cookbook collection. As comprehensive as its predecessor, it's a must own A-to-Z reference book on plant-based cuisine for anyone who loves cooking with creativity and intuition. There are no recipes per se, but the harmonious flavor pairings found within will lead to numerous culinary money shots, guaranteed.

Alan Lake / Comments (1)

Restaurant Tue Oct 07 2014

El Metro: Not Just Another Taco Spot

El Metro TacoEl Metro, a small counter-service restaurant touting "Mexican street food," has recently opened in the old Lorraine's Diner spot at 1959 W. Chicago Ave. -- breathing new life into the busy Damen corner.

The generous menu goes beyond just the ubiquitous taco (although you'll find an array of the old favorites -- pescado, pollo, pastor) and offers up some playful takes on street food standbys: There's the tostada de champiñones, a crispy tortilla slathered with a super-savory layer of mashed potatoes and topped with a heap of caramelized mushrooms and goat cheese; and pambozos, white bread dipped in guajillo pepper sauce and stuffed with chorizo and potatoes.

metro03.jpgAntojos, or snacks, are also plentiful in true street food style: sweet and spicy esquites, juicy corn served off the cob with mayo and cojito cheese; and a vegetarian version of chicharrones made of crispy cheese with a side of salsa. Don't miss out on the dessert offerings either, especially a dense and decadent tres leches milkshake that's essentially a liquid slice of cake.

Part-owners Betty Romo and Veronica Pineau are no strangers to the neighborhood. They also own and operate Gaudi Cafe, famous for its brunch and evening tapas menu, which has recently moved to a larger location (with a liquor license!) on Grand Avenue. El Metro seems to be Gaudi's younger, hipper sister; staying open until 11 pm on the weekend (perhaps to attract the bar-hopping crowd that frequents haunts such as Bar Deville). It's certainly a welcome addition to growing number of local eateries in the West Town area -- despite what some people may contend, I truly believe that there can never be too many taco joints in the city.

Danielle Snow / Comments (1)

Chicago Gourmet Fri Oct 03 2014

The Grand Cru Shines as the Real Chicago Gourmet

photo 1.JPGThis past weekend provided the perfect weather for more than 12,000 food and wine lovers to head to Millennium Park for the seventh annual Chicago Gourmet. The two day food event joins local and celebrity chefs for tasting pavilions, where you'll find the executive chefs themselves plating and handing out mini-versions of their creative interpretations on the Park's Great Lawn, live demonstrations on the main stage and endless wine samples and cocktail concoctions.

While live cooking demos and seminars account for most of what you hear about happening on the Great Lawn, the Grand Cru, located on the Harris Theater Rooftop, is where the real Chicago Gourmet exists.

As an additional cost to the entrance ticket ($199 on top of $170), Grand Cru is the step up, particularly when it comes to the wines, featuring master sommeliers, samples of higher-end vintages and carefully crafted mini-bites from top local chefs.

My Saturday visit included chefs Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat, Little Goat), Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia), Bruce Sherman (North Pond), Jimmy Bannos Jr. (The Purple Pig) and Chris Marchino (Spiaggia).

Bruce Sherman presented a smoked king salmon pave in a mutsu apple pudding with a ginger crumble. As usual, Spiaggia didn't disappoint with a roasted fig on a fennel puree, finished off with rendered andouille flecks. Bannos turned usually tough sirloin into a tender bite with a salt crust, matched with a piquillo pepper and tropea onion jam. The real winner was Zimmerman, with a perfectly al dente shaped roasted eggplant tortellini in a cashew, curry leaf and sesame broth.

photo (1).JPG Notable wines for sample included the likes of Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Opus One, Grgich Hills Estate and Trinchero. A few delightful shockers I came across were some beautiful pinot's and chardonnay's from Patz and Hall, particularly the "Chenoweth Ranch" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2012 and the "Hyde Vineyard" Chardonnay, Carneros 2012 -- both in the $60 range. Patz and Hall is a relatively young winery that relies on single vineyards and small-lot production.

The Barkan "Assemblage Series - Reichan" Upper Galilee 2010 from Barkan Wines of Israel was also an unexpected delight, combining the classic cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot blend. ($40). Israel, although no stranger to the wine business, is one of the lesser known regions to produce blended wines. This version tasted more like a classic Bordeaux and could be enjoyed with or without food. And Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siecle" Brut Champagne, NV and the "Cuvee" Brut Rose, both crossing the $100 mark, although pricey, should be in consideration the next time you have a big event or dinner.

Brandy Gonsoulin / Comments (1)

Foodporn Fri Oct 03 2014

Friday Foodpic: The End

14018171202_61c963b11e_z.jpgPicture by Andrew Huff from the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

Robyn Nisi / Comments (0)

Recipe Wed Oct 01 2014

Ode To Jiang Bing (Chinese Savory Crepe)

jiangbing3.jpgWhat the hell is Chinese jianbing (JYANG-BING)? Is that a David Chang thing? Or am I thinking about Roy Choi? Mmm, Morimoto?

In short, jiangbing is culinary perfection 2000 years in the making. In HD panoramic splendor, jiangbing is a supple, elastic crepe, wrapped around layers of crispy egg, sweet spicy sauce and fresh herbaceous substances. Jiangbing is firm yet chewy, savory yet fresh, sweet yet intensely salty, and every sensual bite fills your body and spirit with a self-loathing ecstasy. Ask anyone who's eaten at Nali in Chicago, and they would agree.

I bought my first jiangbing in my hometown of Shanghai from a peasant lady with golden teeth and threadbare clothes layered with city dust. But her plump hands were spotless, and the makeshift cooking station on the back of her motorcycle was equally spotless. She would spread the light yellow batter over a flat griddle, spreading it to become a thin circle. Just as the crepe began crisping at the edges, she would crack two eggs over the top, gently scrambling it before slathering a sweet and spicy paste over it. Yes, I want scallions and pickled radishes, no cilantro. Finally, an enormous fried wonton (or youtiao -- savory donut) was placed in the middle, the crepe was rolled up, and sliced down the middle. Crack! And then she flipped the jiangbing into a plastic bag, the heat fogging up the interior.

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Judy Wu / Comments (0)

Chicago Gourmet Tue Sep 30 2014

Chicago Gourmet: The Lollapalooza of Food

After my brute force strategy failed at last year's Chicago Gourmet, I approached this year's event with a game plan that involved curtailing the amount of food I shoved in my mouth. Before the event, I perused through the lineup of 12 different food pavilions, seminars, and food demos. With protractors and complex algorithms, I outlined my favorite spots and created a list of simple rules:

1. No ceviches or crudos. No lukewarm octopus tentacles bursting through a citric pool of pungent onions.
2. No donuts, cookies or cupcakes, unless I was still thinking about that donut 15 minutes later.
3. No lobster rolls. No tacos.
4. No returning on Sunday.

Of course, the minute I stepped into Millennium Park, my plan crumbled like a warm shortbread cookie infused with tangerine peels. As someone with little to no ability to delay gratification, I should've known better. There I was, bulldozing food into my mouth like I had emerged from a 30-day fast. My ego is gently whispering, "Pace yourself," while the id is frantically screaming, "Holy shit, only 30 minutes before Carla Hall comes on stage! But don't you want to eat Bistronomic's 'Kit Kat' bar? And those wild boar meatballs?" Eventually, my frontal lobes gained control, and I realized that the best plan would be to eat eye-catching dishes I hadn't tried before.

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Judy Wu / Comments (0)

Event Mon Jul 21 2014

A Garden Party at Rick Bayless' House

By Judy Wu

I was using Rick Bayless' restroom, I mused, staring up at the ceiling window that was projecting a heavenly beacon of light upon my less-than-angelic duties. I could barely distinguish Rick's faint murmurs through the orange walls, something about how...
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Sat Oct 25 2014
Halloween S'mores Tasting @ Veruca Chocolates

Sun Oct 26 2014
For Grace Premiere @ Portage Theater

Sun Oct 26 2014
9th Annual Andersonville Dessert Crawl

Tue Oct 28 2014
Chemistry of Chocolate @ Peggy Notebaert Museum

Fri Oct 31 2014
Boneshaker @ Redmoon Theater

Fri Oct 31 2014
Haunted Punch House

Fri Oct 31 2014
Moonlight Manor @ Moonlight Studios

Fri Oct 31 2014
The Trip to Italy @ Film Center

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