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Monday, September 21

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Feature Fri Jul 24 2009

This Must Be the Place

A few months ago, I called Editor Andrew in a desperate moment. I had friends in town from New York over a holiday weekend, and I wanted to take them somewhere impressive and affordable for dinner--but for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single decent place (this is how stress overtakes me). He instantly knew the answer--the Hopleaf. We went, had a great meal that they raved over--and they even paid the whole bill. I should've ordered a second CB & J to go.

So I decided to ask the Drive-Thru staff for their must-visit lists, which I've provided for you in those moments that your out-of-town visitor (or newly arrived resident) looks at you and says "Where do you want to go to eat? I'm sure you know of all the great places." Yes, do know of a few good places.

A lot of times, we end up going to places where we're regulars because...well....we're regulars (and we're often too lazy to trek to some hip places in Bucktown/Wicker Park/Logan Square.....I'd go to the Map Room more often, if it was closer). However, here are a few places on my list:

Italian: Soprano's. I don't quite understand why everyone raves about Mia Francesca. I went there once and the food wasn't that great, plus the tables crammed next to each other made me really claustrophobic. Soprano's has good, hearty food (great minestrone; I will say the bread is sometimes a little drier than it used to be), good atmosphere, good service.

Pizza: One friend who visits regularly has been working his way through all the Chicago-style pizza places. Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder was a big hit. For regular pizza, we tend to say Lou Malnati's---it's not as overwhelming as stuffed, has good crust, and my lactose-intolerant husband can get a decent cheeseless pie there. If it's true Chicago-style the guest is after, I opt for Bacino's.

Cocktails: Nacional 27. LOVE this place! And we really only go there to sit at the bar--good service, innovative drinks, excellent times. Also Weegee's (which is a bar I will trek for). The owner of Weegee's is great to talk to, and he makes a mean cocktail. It's all wrapped up in an adult environment (no TVs! good music!), and is a great place to hang out. If I lived closer to it, I'd be there all the time.

Breakfast: Ann Sather. Proximity and cinnamon rolls.

German: Glunz Bavarian Haus. Food is great (and authentic--better than Brauhaus and Berghoff combined). The oompa band that plays on the weekends is a lot of fun too.

Bar: Fizz Bar & Grill. Granted, we're regulars, but the place has a fantastic outdoor patio, makes a decent cocktail, and has really good bar food. They just changed their menu and added a fantastic Cuban sandwich and USDA Prime burgers (which I haven't had yet but have heard are delicious). Good pizza, great grilled cheese, tater tots. What more could you want at a bar?

Most people I know want to start their vacation days out one of two ways: either with a good cup of coffee and a light snack to tide them over to a dinner-sized lunch, or with a big breakfast that will give them energy to go all day until dinner.

For the coffee lovers, I insist on Intelligentsia. Yes, their policies can be a little snobby; but their service isn't. And let's be honest: If you're on vacation and coffee is what's for breakfast, don't you kind of want it to be just a little fussy? Most importantly, Intelligentsia knows beans; this may just be the best cup of coffee your friends ever have. If they're health nuts, I recommend pairing their joe with one on the holy-God bran muffins in the pastry case. Those who know how to enjoy vacation should go for the Black Cat brownie, a biscotti or a Southport Grocer cupcake.

Now, if your friends want to tuck in a big breakfast, you have two options. If you want to stay close to central attractions, it's Ina's all the way. Her web site isn't for nothing. Go all out here and get a mimosa to go with Ina's great egg dishes or the famous Heavenly Hots pancakes. Then walk it off by touring around the Loop and Lakefront.

If you don't mind going a bit further afield, take a nice drive all the way north on LSD to Sheridan, past Loyola, through Evanston, into Wilmette, and cut over to Green Bay Road, where you will find Walker Brothers. Be sure someone at the table orders the apple pancake, trusting that they will not mind sharing this enormous, puffy, gooey, fantastic mess. As a breakfast lover, I've never left Walker Brothers feeling anything less than deeply satisfied. (And for the coffee lovers, they serve Kona.)

I always encourage my guests to try places like Hot Doug's, Kuma's Corner and the Hop Leaf, but the thread in Fuel just reminded me about my favorite pizza in Chicago, and how long it has been since I ordered one. It's a hike for most visitors, but I think the deep dish pizza at Hyde Park's Caffe Florian is the best in the City. If guests insist on eating downtown, I usually recommend Bin 36, the Gage, Russian Tea Time or beers at the Berghoff.

If they like sushi, they must go to Tanoshii. Experimental fare unlike anything I've seen elsewhere.

Hot Dougs, yo! Seriously! Otherwise I try to talk them into hitting Bhabi's Kitchen at Leavitt and Devon for fantastic Indian food, or Tank Noodle on Broadway at Argyle for great Pho, or even getting Cypriot food in Greektown at Venus.

Handlebar in Wicker Park, Lula Cafe, Atomix for a panino, Maiz, Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown, Ras Dashen, Soul Vegetarian, and Udupi Palace.

First, a tour of Chicago's public art. The Picasso, Miro, Chagall mosaic, the Bean (moonscape) and the Tiffany dome at the Cultural Center. Then (in the summer) Al's Beef (combo, dipped hot and sweet) and Marios. Finish at Bar de Ville or Violet Hour. A unique Chicago experience.

My own recommendations: Smoque, M. Henry, and Kuma's are kind of my triumvirate of restaurants. I've gone to Smoque so often that the counter clerk kind of recognizes me, and I have easy banter with the owners who can always be found herding customers to tables. I apparently take my own recommendations very, very seriously.

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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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