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Sunday, December 8

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Feature Fri Jun 06 2008

The New, The Old, and The Closed

Chicago has a lot of restaurant options. You can eat on the cheap, on the high end, or somewhere in the middle and still eat well. While some focus on the best new places to eat in Chicago, the Drive-Thru staff is talking this week about the new, the old and the closed—the places we’ve all heard someone say “You have to eat at ______” for several months or years before finally making our own trip or a place that gets revisited after a long hiatus, the places that are newly opened but not exorbitantly priced, and the places that have dearly departed a storefront, but not our hearts.

If you're going to barbecue, you're going to need to be an expert in smoke, cause that is where the flavor should be. And that's where the flavor is at Honky-Tonk Barbecue (1213 W. 18th Street). Their sauce is good, but sauce should enhance the smoke, not cover up bland and dry meat. Thankfully these folks cut their teeth, and their brisket, for years at street festivals before settling down in Pilsen with their eccentric space, BYOB license, and darned tasty sides so you may be eating at a new restaurant, but these folks know what they're doing. Service is very casual (think white paper towel, not white tablecloth) but the owners truly do care that you have the best experience they can provide. And the honky-tonk and swing bands they hire on the weekends just add to the atmosphere and make their food taste better.
-Cinnamon Cooper

I always look forward to having dinner with my friends A and D. Both are exceptional chefs, and I never walk home feeling I had a bad meal. Until the night we went to Starfruit (1745 W. Division) for dessert.

I knew that Starfruit was frozen yogurt, but my memories of the soft stuff involve a bowl of white chocolate mousse from TCBY with a dollop of sprinkles. When Starfruit was recommended, I jumped at the chance to relive the 90s and get a nice, creamy treat in the process. A, D, and I walked in to the bright storefront; they already knew what they wanted, and gave me recommendations for Starfruit’s topping selections (avoid the chocolate, go for the cereal). I ordered vanilla with blueberries (anti-oxidant, right?) and Fruity Pebbles (empty but tasty calories). The portion wasn’t cheap, around $5, but what the hey, it’s frozen yogurt.

I dug in and briefly thought I was eating a lemon. The bitingly sour chill gave me a dual “brain freeze” and a taste bud attack. Starfruit is frozen kefir and not the smooth, chemical goodness that I once knew as frozen yogurt. I trudged through the bowl of fermented tanginess, with no plans to go back, as I was jonesing for Dairy Queen at that point (and thankfully one is planned to open soon at 1649 N. Damen soon). Starfruit is a healthy alternative to ice cream, but buyer beware.
-Robyn Nisi

This past weekend, my old college friend Megan came for a visit from Louisiana with her husband Eric, who has never been to Chicago. Megan and I went to school in Evanston in the late ‘90s; our budget dining out excursions most often led us to Dave’s Italian Kitchen, Pita Inn in Skokie, or Giordano’s. Their first night in town, we waxed nostalgic and exposed Eric to his first taste of Chicago-style pizza by ordering two stuffed crusts from good ‘ol Giordano’s.

Truth be told, the last time I had Giordano’s was as a student in Evanston. Since then, I’ve discovered Pizza Capri and La Gondola, not to mention un-Chicago-style spots like Piece and Pizza Metro. When my husband and I want “nostalgic” pie, we order from the venerable establishment both of our families were loyal to as kids – Gino’s East, which happens to have a killer special on Wednesday nights. Despite my old and new attachments to some of Chicago’s finest pizzas, Giordano’s didn’t disappoint. The crust is flaky (though not as flaky as Pizza Capri), and the cheese and toppings ample. I especially enjoyed the spinach, which seemed less watery and more flavorful than at other joints; and the sauce, which is on the zestier side. In case there was any question, yes, Eric loved his first slice of heaven. In fact, he also loved his second and third slices.

Sunday night before attending a performance of Avenue Q, we had reservations for an early dinner at Weber Grill, a special request of Eric’s. My husband Brian and I ate there once when the place was fairly new. We thought it was good at the time, but we also knew we could count on as good, if not better barbecue from less corporate spots like Fat Willy’s or even local chain Hecky’s. Still, it’s hard to argue with an out-of-towner against a restaurant named for America’s favorite backyard grill inventor, a Chicago-area native at that. So we went – and it was good! The brisket was flavorful and tender, the ribs fall-apart, and my turkey burger was the best I’ve ever had (something I hate to admit because I make a lot of turkey burgers at home.) Brian upgraded his side to potatoes au gratin, and the huge portion of cheesy, creamy, heavenly potato goodness was well worth the $3 surcharge. Despite that the place was packed, service was quite good. When two plates came to the table with small goofs (my turkey burger was topped with mayo I had requested on the side, and Megan received fries instead of asparagus with her veggie burger), the section manager made them right within minutes. The upshot: Weber Grill deserves to be a Chicago tourist attraction, not only for its place in Americana, but also for solid barbecue and great service.

After Avenue Q, Megan, Brian and I had a craving for sweets, and Eric wanted suds. We stood on the street corner near the Cadillac Palace Theatre and used Megan’s kick-ass iPhone to locate a spot off the Blue Line that was a. open on Sundays at 11 p.m.; and b. offered food and drinks at that hour. We decided on Smoke Daddy on Division, keeping our fingers crossed that their dessert (which I’ve never tried) would be as good as their entrees. It was. Megan and I ordered the homemade banana pudding with vanilla wafers and brown sugar. As I sit here, I wish I had a giant bowlful of the stuff in front of me – and an extra hand to shovel it in while I keep typing. The waitress brought Brian a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate topping, which did the trick for him, and Eric polished off a couple of beers. The place was still hopping at around midnight when we left, and I’m definitely filing this one away as an “Excellent spot to please all cravings, day and night.”
-Mandy Burrell

Violet (3819 Southport Ave) is a bright new brunch location in Lakeview, conveniently located a block from the Music Box Theatre. The service is friendly, the ingredients are fresh, and the prices are fair (an entree will average about $9). For special occasions, bring your own bottle of champagne to dress up your orange juice; the restaurant is BYOB.
-Gemma Petrie

Duke's (2616 N Clark St) has been a neighborhood staple for a while. But three months ago they rehabbed their menu. They've always offered a variety of burgers: turkey, veggie and beef. Recently they added a fish burger, a buffalo burger and a portobello mushroom option. With it, there are more than a dozen choices, such as au poivre; Popeye (spinach and cheese); low carb, which comes wrapped in lettuce with bacon; or the garbage burger, with fries, pickles, lettuce and tomato. Served alongside are the best potato chips I've ever had; they're housemade, thin, crispy and salty. The place is also known for martinis.
-Lori Barrett

Restaurants come, and restaurants go. That's an inevitable cycle, I know that. But seeing a favorite restaurant close its doors can put a big hole inside of me, and often the hole is not easy to fill, even with new favorites.

The past weekend was a mixed blessing. We discovered amazing brunch at Sola. But we also discovered that Cafe Suron, an excellent middle eastern place in Rogers Park, is now gone.

Suron's vegetarian combo plate was what convinced me that middle eastern food is really, really good. (Before that, I'd had only limited--and mostly unpleasant—encounters with middle eastern cuisine in Tokyo.) Suron's hummus was creamy and full of chickpea flavor, their Persian salad fresh and crisp, but the highlight was their incredibly smoky baba ganouj. It certainly was the best I've ever had anywhere. And there was the chicken koubideh, ground chicken with saffron and herbs. It was so light yet aromatic and savory that the contradicting sensations left me in a state of blissful confusion every time I ate it. I've had better beef koubideh elsewhere, but Suron's chicken koubideh was next to none.

The laid-back restaurant was within a strolling distance from where we live, so, as summer approached, we were looking forward to nice evening strolls for some tasty middle eastern dinners. Without Suron, Rogers Park just isn't going to be the same for us. On the other hand, I can't deny that I'm curious about the new wine bar that's supposed to come into the now vacant space...
-Yu Kizawa

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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