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?"
I 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.
The Logan Square location of the wonderful Provenance Food and Wine is in a rough situation; their landlord has sold the building, and the new owner is booting Provenance next month with plans to install--in this neighborhood that is oversaturated with nightlife--a bar. Provenance is enlisting the help of their customers to contact alderman Joe Moreno to help them work with the building's current owner to stay in the California Avenue space throughout the end of year so that they can relocate to another space in the area; fingers crossed that it works. UPDATE, 8/14: Provenance has announced that the current owner of the building is unwilling to postpone the building's sale, and that their last day of business will still be Sept. 27th.
Gracie's Cafe holds its grand re-opening this Thursday from 10:30am to noon at 1517 W. Warren Blvd., between Ashland and Ogden avenues. The coffeehouse is run by St. Leonard's Ministries as a training program for formerly incarcerated men and women, providing them an opportunity to develop skills in the food service industry.
"St. Leonard's had been doing a culinary arts program, back of the house training, said Gracie's Manager Mike Ellert. "But we found that a lot of the jobs were in front of house skills -- cashiering, barista skills, sandwich making, pastry trays, greeting people. The back of the house skills were great, but if they had some front of the house skills too, they had a much better chance at getting a job."
Gracie's Cafe launched in September of last year, and 12 of the 18 people trained so far have found jobs at such companies as Eataly, Pete's Market at the CTA.
The cafe is open 7am to 2pm Monday through Friday, 8am to 2pm on Saturday, and serves Intelligentsia coffee as well as pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads. Delivery to area businesses and the Loop is in the works. And given its proximity to Union Park, Gracie's will be a great spot for Pitchfork Music Festival attendees to grab coffee and a snack while they wait for the gates to open.
When I was young, my full-time working mother cooked an elaborate dinner every day: fresh white rice with a large array of vegetables and meats. Long green beans with garlic, braised rice wine pork shoulder, tomato and egg soup. The dying reverberation of the stove hood signaled our migration to the dinner table, where my mom gossiped about her co-workers and my dad talked about his vegetable garden. Meanwhile, my brother picked his nose, and I avoided talking about grades. Sometimes dinner lasted for two hours, when the sun had long set and the crickets began to chirp.
Have you ever wanted to host a dinner party in your home, but not worry about the actual cooking or cleaning up after? Perhaps you've wanted a personal chef for a special night but haven't known where to start? Enter Kitchensurfing.com - bringing you chefs with vision and talent, for whatever reason you might need one.
My partner and I picked a date, invited 8 friends over, pushed together our dining room and office tables, and gave them our list of food restrictions (pescatarian, coconut allergy). In our case, the Kitchensurfing team picked our chef, and they could not have made a more perfect choice. I communicated with Chef Carlos Dalisay via the Kitchensurfing website, and he came up with menu ideas and we narrowed things down; we also discussed what my kitchen did or didn't have, and what he could expect. I warned him it was vintage Chicago (no dishwasher, no counter space other than our Costco stainless steel island we bought for a song), and that we didn't have 10 matching plates or bowls (he said he would bring his own). While Chef Carlos has a regular gig as a chef de partie (sushi chef) at a steak house in the city, he definitely has his own personal style, and this side hustle is a fantastic way to showcase his talent.
On the day of the dinner, Chef Carlos and his team showed up about an hour before our agreed upon dinner time, as he'd done a large amount of prep work at his own home; they surveyed the kitchen they had to work with, got set up, and got to work. Friends trickled in with bottles of wine, and we hung out in the living/dining room area with my polite-as-she's-capable-of-being-in-the-presence-of-fish dog. All the humans were welcome to peek in on the action when they wanted, and before long it was dinner time.
Photos of the prep and dinner after the jump, courtesy of Belen Aquino.
While making an appearance at the Union League Club's First Friday Club, a speaker series designed to "provide a forum for men and women to make a connection between work, faith, values and issues that affect our daily lives," McDonald's CEO Jeff Stratton was confronted by Nancy Salgado, an employee who has worked at McDonald's for over 10 years and still makes $8.25/hour (by comparison, Stratton's predecessor at McDonald's made over $2m annually). Stratton's lone, bumbling reply to Salgado was, "I've been there for 40 years," before having her and several fellow protestors removed and ticketed for criminal trespass. Salgado appeared as part of Fight for 15, a Chicago-based labor group advocating for living wage increases.
There's something fantastically overwhelming about trade shows--the eager sales pitches, the free samples and goodies, the elaborate booths and displays. So when I was invited to the 2013 IFT Food Expo, my heart nearly collapsed with quivering excitement.
The IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) Annual Meeting & Food Expo merges the science and business of food into one giant conference, where representatives from industry, academia and the government gather to share scientific developments, innovations and trends on food. So it's not just about food items; it's also about the ingredients, the process, the legality and the engineering of food. In addition to your standard food suppliers (from foreign and domestic), there were plenty of scientists, lawmakers and engineers at the expo.
Although pints of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams have been available in select shops in Chicago for a few years now, we can confirm the rumor that Jeni's is set to open a scoop shop at 3404 N. Southport Ave. in Lakeview. While you'll be able to pick up the same pints to go, you'll also be able to get a cup or cone, and sample all of the flavors in the case like gourmet ice cream lovers in the Columbus, Ohio area have been enjoying for years. Unfortuantely we can't confirm when you'll be able to satisfy your sweet tooth, but we'll likely give you the results of a taste test when it opens!
"We've been in business 19 years, and in 2011 we moved into a building with geothermal heating and cooling," explained Big Delicious Planet founder Heidi Moorman Coudal. "There is so much waste in the food industry, so when I learned about Green Restaurant certification, I looked at the requirements and started making changes." Those changes included such things as switching to a green pest control company, installing appliances with Energy Star ratings, and composting.
Advance registration for Chicago's 2013 National Restaurant Association Show, one of the nation's biggest showcases for all things food, beverage, kitchen, and lodging, is now open!
Tickets to this extravaganza of cutting-edge industry technology and culinary curiosities are priced at $49 through April 5, and $99 afterwards. The show runs from May 18-21 at the McCormick Place, with over 1,900 exhibitors, education sessions, "cheflebrity" appearances (Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, Marcus Samuelsson, and more) and cooking demos lined up over the course of the four days. Additionally, Anthony Bourdain himself will be hosting "Restaurants Rock," the official after-party on Sunday, May 19 as well as a presentation and book signing on the NRA main stage on May 20.
Registration is restricted to those directly affiliated with the hospitality industry.
Should you find yourself wandering the Merchandise Mart in the next few days at the annual One of a Kind art and craft show, don't bother stopping by their over-priced cafe concessions -- make your way to the Gourmet Gallery section of merchants instead. Also known as FREE SAMPLE LAND! Now, proteins will be lacking, as will fresh produce, but if you're into dips on pretzel sticks, artisanal salsas, and sweets, you should still be able to carb up for the hike over to the Etsy section (rustic wood round cake stand on a faux-crystal base, you will be mine this year!) You could even buy gifts of packaged foods for other people...I guess. Gourmet merchants are featured from the Midwest at large, but look for some familiar local faces from the Chopping Block (booth 9036), and the Puffs of Doom team (booth 9044B), who seem to have graduated from the Nite Market in kind of a big way. Good on ya, cream puffs! And of course those sample stalwarts, Brunkow Cheese (booth 9050B) will be there, miniature grill sizzling with cubes of juusto cheese. It'll probably be busy enough no one will notice if you grab seconds. Just try not to wipe your hands on the hand-woven, limited edition screen-printed tablecloths next door.
Logan Square's Lula Cafe takes Halloween to a whole new level, dressing up their staff and space as a totally different restaurant for the night--Hot Doug's and Taco Bell come to mind--but this year seems to be going in a different direction. Perhaps to make even more use of their recent expansion, which included a massive new bar space, they are transforming into "The Violent Hour" on October 31st. It looks like a cocktail-heavy menu is in store.
Brew Camp, the North Center-based home brew supply store, announced today that it is moving to 4639 N. Damen Ave., after its former location at 2039 W. Belle Plaine Ave. was closed by the City earlier this week due to improper licensing.
"It's a great space -- twice as big as the other one, and a much better location," co-owner Jared Saunders said.
The formerly unmarked space on 2745 W. Armitage Ave. was being used as a kitchen to make decadent truffles and caramels, sold online and at Chicago's farmers markets for the past two years. The business' founder, Katherine Duncan, decided it was time to open a storefront after receiving calls from customers asking her how late she was open. One woman drove all the way from the suburbs wanting to buy truffles, only to discover there wasn't a shop. "Chocolate is an impulse buy; you don't think to buy it in advance," said Duncan, who grew up learning how to make confections with an "overachieving mom who made everything from scratch."
Remember when people who visited New York made sure they bought a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery? It was one of those things you had to do. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's because you never watched Sarah Jessica Parker bite into a pink-frosted Magnolia Bakery cupcake on "Sex and the City." It's been said that cupcakes exploded after that iconic moment on television. While tourists couldn't afford a pair of Manolo Blahniks, they could afford a Magnolia Bakery cupcake, a sweet accessory topped with buttercream frosting.
Then Magnolia Bakery opened its doors on State Street, and Chicago cupcake fans finally got the chance to try the infamous pastry. Now the bakery is celebrating its first birthday Monday, Oct. 1 by launching a signature Chicago Cupcake: a white chocolate disk with the Chicago skyline floating on a lake of pale blue icing on a vanilla or chocolate cupcake.
Customers can purchase these cupcakes beginning Saturday. The store is throwing a birthday party that day with a children's icing and decorating table. On Monday it will offer its classic cupcakes for a mere dollar from noon until 2pm. Since cupcakes are still on the cool radar, considered the United States' go-to soothing treat, we predict a long line.
City Council votes on new rules for food truck owners today. If Now that this law has been passed, this is what you have to look forward to:
• Food trucks must not be parked within 200 feet of "brick and mortar" restaurants (which sounds next to impossible in the Loop) or only in areas designated by the city.
• Food truck owners will be fined anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 for parking too close to a "brick and mortar" restaurant.
• Food trucks will be required to install a GPS device to enable city monitoring.
• Food trucks cannot operate between 2-5am.
The lone victory of this ordinance is that food trucks will now be able to prepare food on board as opposed to selling premade items, even if the only place they can park nowadays will be a side street near O'Hare.
This ordinance will do more to end this industry than to help it, and most of the opposition to food trucks has been engineered by restaurant owners who are obviously bitter over the high cost of operating an established restaurant and the threat that a food truck parked outside its doors presents.
Public health concerns over food storage, preparation and increased garbage are just ways of distracting the issue: with the right standards for refrigeration and cooking, the odds of foodborne illness are not higher in an item I order from a truck versus ordering in a restaurant, and Chicago has more dumpsters than people. I've never had to look far to throw out a wrapper.
The goal of this legislation is to crush the competition, and if it passes (which is likely), you're going to see an industry die. You're going to see entrepreneurs lose their investments in a business that the City has forced into instability with high-end surveillance and unreasonable rules. It's enough to make me lose my appetite.
Recently bought-out Chicago pizza icon Giordano's is now adding gluten-free pizza to their menu as part of what newly appointed CEO, Yorgo Koutsogiorgas, said "is an effort to stay aligned with the trends of the foodservice industry and provide for the needs of our customers while establishing the well-known Giordano's brand into new households". The conversation between Chicago vs. New York style has always been hot, and recently the debate has shifted in favor towards thin crust as Chicago restaurant newcomers move away from deep dish and cater to classic brick-oven techniques. "Giordano's as a pizza brand, especially with its stuffed pizza, has had many years of success and still continues to generate a good business," said Richard Levy, managing partner of Victory Park Capital, the equity firm who acquired the family business in a deal in November after a Ch. 11 filing. "However, the growing trend of gluten free in food-service and the shift away from deep dish is a signal to us that we need to innovate to move ahead and rebuild a profitable business. We strongly belief that offering gluten-free items can help us cater to a whole untouched segment".
To pilot the idea, the new management group is rolling out its gluten free program in its flagship eatery and headquarters at 730 N. Rush starting today. Click here to check out the new additions to the menu, which include items like the Spinach and Mushroom stuffed pizza as well as a Quinoa, Sausage, and Roasted Red Pepper thin crust.
Bad Happy Poutine Shop, which bills itself as Chicago's first poutine shop (it really should be "Chicago's first mostly poutine" shop), opens today for business at 939 N. Orleans. The menu offerings veer into Asian ("Viet-pork" patties, headcheese) and Pilsen-influenced (WTF is "Taco Curd"?) varieties of the Canadian delicacy, which may be a nice spin on a normally heavy (and I think, starchy and rather flavorless) meal.
An examination of how The Plant -- Chicago's Vertical Farm and food business incubator -- has been represented in the media. Learn more at plantchicago.com.
The Grid co-creators Ben Kolak and David Nagel have been documenting The Plant since 2009. More information about their work towards a feature-length documentary is available at vimeo.com/plantchicago.
About The Grid
This video is part of a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies, and experiments in form. Producer Ben Kolak's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's list of top documentaries for 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate. Graphic Designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's graduate program in Visual Communication Design. Jenna Blackburn, an undergrad at University of Chicago, and Victor La Porte, an undergrad at DePaul University, also contributed.
Don't miss your chance to have a fully stocked kitchen this winter. Green Grocer Chicago, 1402 W. Grand Ave., is offering its winter/spring produce share, starting on Jan. 17. Each subscription is $17 per week for a single share or $29 per week for a double share, both if which last for 17 weeks. Or, you have the option of only committing on a weekly basis if 17 weeks is a little bit too much of a good thing for you. Whichever plan you choose, you will be in support of local farms while strengthening your diet with freshly grown organic produce. And, better yet, if you pay in full at the store, you will receive 10 percent off the produce share price, as long as you make a payment before Saturday (1/7). Better hurry... only a couple days left! Call 312-624-6303 for more info.
Chicago-Kent College of Law hosts a GastroIP Law Symposium tonight (6-7:30pm, 565 W Adams) about trademarking food technology in an era of fast innovation. Among the panelists will be Nick Kokonas of Next/Aviary. Registration begins at 5:30pm; admission $20 for attorneys and the general public and $10 for students. A wine and cheese reception follows.
Beginning mid-month, Blommer Chocolate Company will be opening The Candy Factory, a pop-up store, in the former Pastecceria Natalina space at 5406 North Clark. The store plans to be open for at least six months, or until the smell drives them out of the neighborhood.
A joint Trib interview with chefs Grant Achatz and molecular gastronomy legend Ferran Adria revealed that starting in January, Next will be serving a twenty-course menu that pays homage to Adria's (now-closed) restaurant El Bulli. Additionally, The Aviary will also be serving Adria-inspired cocktails and snacks.
FYI, this Sunday is the last serving of Next's Thai menu; you can find same-day tickets for sale on the restaurant's Facebook page if you want to squeeze in a visit before it ends. The restaurant will begin selling tickets for the upcoming childhood menu next week.
Seamless, a New York- and UK-based food ordering site, raised the stakes in its battle with Chicago-based GrubHub with the acquisition of MenuPages from New York Media. GrubStreet.com, which grew out of the combination of New York Media's own Grub Street blog and MenuPages' city food blogs, was not part of the acquisition.
GrubHub has been on a growth streak lately, and just last week announced $50 million in new financing primarily to fund the purchase of Dotmenu, which owns CampusFood and Allmenus. Allmenus claims the nation's largest database of restaurant menus; the acquisition of MenuPages gives Seamless its own database of menus.
After moving into the New York and Los Angeles markets, Intelligentsia's plans to expand into San Francisco got pushed to the back burner. A new co-CEO will help founder Doug Zell reinvigorate the company's growth.
If you love The Southern mac and cheese truck but don't have the time or footwear to follow it all over the city, you're in luck: they're opening a little store at 60 E. Lake St. soon for your cheesy needs. Wasn't the point of a food truck to get away from brick and mortar restaurant model?
As you may know, Logan Square Kitchen has been going through a rough couple of weeks. Owner Zina Murray reports that their administrative hearing this past Thursday was somewhat of a success. The business was found to be "not liable" for fines issued earlier this month during an inspection from the City; however, Murray was turned down when she asked for a new report to be issued in light of the fines being pulled. She's starting an online petition to the Chicago Department of Public Health to demand improved leadership and better-trained employees, as well a staff ombudsman to facilitate dialogue between the City and businesses, especially in matters of correcting issues arising from inspections.
After being inspected 19 times in the two years since its opening, Logan Square Kitchen owner Zina Murray is challenging the Chicago Department of Public Health over a recently issued ticket for violations.
A ticket and fine was issued to Murray--which she says on her blog was for $500 while Jose Muñoz, Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs with the CDPH, says was actually $250--during an August 2 inspection, when a new supervisor accompanied their usual inspector. During the inspection, the supervisor found several violations: alleged black mold growing on both interior walls and an interior water tray; a freezer owned by another food establishment; and the threshold of an exit door being too low and causing light to come in through a door corner.
Murray believes that these violations were the result of nitpicking on the part of the inspector and had no grounds to be written up. "She made some decisions that I didn't think were appropriate and I challenged her on that," she said. In the blog post, Murray says that she feels as though she received the ticket as a result of questioning the supervisor's actions.
Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale is one of the brewery's most popular beers, so it's no wonder that new owner Anheuser-Busch InBev would be interested in expanding its distribution. The ability for Goose Island to ramp up production of 312 and other beers to meet demand in East Coast markets was cited as a major factor in the decision. And 312 is a very popular beer, so it makes perfect sense to bring it to as many cities as possible. What you might not have seen coming is how Anheuser-Busch plans to do it.
According to Craft Business Daily and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the company has filed for trademarks for the area codes of 14 cities: 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte) and 713 (Houston). Through some further searching on the US Patent & Trademark Office website , I found an additional trademark application for 215 (Philadelphia). Interestingly, neither Goose Island nor Anheuser-Busch have trademarked 312 -- the closest Goose Island gets is "312 Urban Wheat."
Artisanal cider has been a passion of Hall's for the past 10 years, he told Eater, after sampling craft-brewed varieties in England in 2000. He's currently in the process of selecting heirloom apple varieties in Michigan, where the cider will also be produced under contract until Hall is able to build his own facility. The plan is eventually to build the brand nationally, producing cider from varietals in Washington, New York, Virginia and other well-known apple-growing regions. "Cider will taste a lot better when picked by local farmers picked in season and milled and pressed near the farm and turned into cider," Hall told Eater.
The soonest Virtue ciders will be on the market would be late fall. Meanwhile, follow Virtue on Twitter be on the lookout for cider dinners hosted by Hall, featuring other cider makers.
An interior photograph of The Plant before conversion. Photograph by David Schalliol.
A new documentary project, A Sustainable Reality: Redefining Roots, has launched a kickstarter campaign to support their work filming the development of The Plant, a vertical farming and industrial reuse project on the South Side. In 2010, Bubbly Dynamics purchased the former Peer Foods meat packing plant and is transforming it into a hub for sustainable businesses. The facility already hosts organizations as varied as 312 Aquaponics and the New Chicago Brewing Company, and is adding more groups as the building is transformed. The film plans to document each step and will evolve with The Plant, starting as a a web series and then growing into a feature-length documentary film.
The kerfuffle between Logan Square's New Wave Coffee and La Boulangerie has turned a new corner. If you'll recall, the French bakery moved into the space next to the coffee shop last fall--kind of a boneheaded move, given the noncompete agreement that favored New Wave when it came to goods that both businesses could sell--among them croissants, a major staple of any French bakery. As a result, New Wave was free to individually sell the horns of buttery, flaky goodness, whereas La Boulangerie could only sell theirs by the dozen.
The Stew is reporting that La Boulangerie has found a clever workaround to the noncompete: their outdoor patio, which is approved by the City for operation and isn't subject to the agreement they have with New Wave. So while you can't get an individual croissant inside La Boulangerie, you certainly can outside. La Boulangerie owner (and now the recipient of Drive-Thru's "Rey Colon Award for Excellence in Community Relations") Vincent Colombet reportedly boasted that "outside the building, we can do whatever we want," whereas New Wave owner Zach Zulauf is frustrated by his neighbor's crafty behavior, calling the situation "aggravating."
Andersonville's Pasticceria Natalina will close up shop May 22; before you're all "Where am I going to get my gelato and expensive pastry?" be assured that owners Natalina & Nicolas Zarzour will continue to work "underground" (not sure what that means; hope the City Health Department doesn't read this blog) while working on a cookbook.
In some of the best news my Michigander mom has heard in a while, Francesca's Restaurants has just put out the word that they plan to go national.
If you live in the Chicagoland area you've probably eaten at one of their twenty restaurants, and if you haven't, then get out of town; you'll soon have sixty new restaurants across the U.S. to take home a doggy bag from.
Plans to mimic both the classic Francesca's style and the small plates at Davanti are already in the works in California and Arizona, with Raleigh, N.C. on the horizon.
Before you go complaining that the restaurant is leaving Chicago out in the dust, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Wicker Park's Francesca's Forno will be re-opening as a wine and bruschetteria shop under the name Panza, and if that's not enough, a donut shop named Glaze will be opening near the Blue Line tracks.
The tight-knit community of foodies who will be in attendance at Sun Wah BBQ for the April 11 dinner and presentation ceremony for LTH Forum's Great Neighborhood Restaurant Awards will be in for a surprise when Lisa White and Craig Gotratz step to receive their hard-earned kudos. Did the pair open up a small but passionate restaurant that has earned a cult following for its vibrant menu? No. The two will represent a trend in dining that has banished locally owned, neighborhood restaurants to a dark corner for a return to chain restaurant eating.
Lisa and Craig are the day and night shift managers of an Olive Garden restaurant located near the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, a location that is getting national recognition from publications as Food and Wine for their refreshing rehashing of signature dishes such as lasagna, fettucine alfredo, and spaghetti and meatballs. Barry Ziolo, an LTH Forum member from suburban Milwaukee, has made the nearly 200 mile round trip to the Schaumburg Olive Garden several times over the past year to celebrate special family occasions, despite having two locations of the restaurant closer to his home. "From the blinking beeper that I get from the hostess to alert me to my waiting table, to the mints on the tray holding my bill, every meal is a memorable, affordable journey through the flavors of Italy that is reminiscent of my own ancestors' voyage as they left their small village in Sicily in 1905 to come to America." While Lisa and Craig will not be allowed to make a public statement at the GNR dinner, a rep from Olive Garden's corporate office in Orlando expressed the pair's gratitude for the award in a statement.
The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Producer Ben Kolak's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films in 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate.
If you're brave enough to face the oncoming thundersnow, we've got a sweet deal for you. Boka Restaurant Group is offering 25% off your final bill tonight and tomorrow night at Landmark and Perennial. Plus, 25% off of your bill at Boka tomorrow night (they're closed tonight for a private event).
Today this could only be Rob Levitt (although I'm sure his staff are also equally happy), since he's opening The Butcher & Larder today from noon to 4pm. He'll also be open on Monday, which many of you should have off work, from 10am to 7pm. He's starting out with just cuts of meat to sell, but will have his full selection of sandwiches and other noshables on Wednesday.
The state of Vermont, known for its maple syrup, is sparring with McDonald's over its newest Fruit and Maple Oatmeal breakfast dish, as the "natural flavors" that compose its maple-y taste do not come from actual maple syrup. Vermont law states that the product has to contain maple products in order to rightfully have the name.
I realized recently that I never make it to Devon for Indian food anymore because I have Trader Joe's, which makes the best frozen Indian fare I've tasted. Their naan, Tikka Masala, and Butter Chicken wipes away the lesser angels in TJ's repertoire (they don't do everything well).
While I sit here weighing the pros and cons of licking the microwave container of remaining specks of sauce, what other TJ's products rock/rot your world?
The most important meal I've had this year was a box lunch from Sopraffina. No, it didn't earn a Michelin star or introduce me to sea urchin. Those are fun, exciting moments in eating this year that have been only subtly underscored by something much more serious, something which makes me uncomfortable and is much easier not to think about. So, like most people, I usually don't. But it was something that was staring me in the face in the form of a roast beef and provolone sandwich, nestled in a cardboard box resting on my knees during the lunch break at Wednesday's State of the Plate conference on sustainable meat production, the new (hopefully annual) forum put together by the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op: Where does our food come from, and what power can we possibly have over it?
It's not like these questions are groundbreaking in and of themselves. I've read The Omnivore's Dilemna and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I've skimmed through Fast Food Nation. I've seen clips of Food, Inc. CAFOs bad, local food good, organic labels confusing. It's frightening, and depressing. But there's something very different about encountering this information on my couch or in front of my TV in my spare time, and sitting in a room with people whose daily lives are very much affected by these issues. At State of the Plate, I was literally surrounded, with chefs and culinary students on one side, and sustainable ranchers and food scientists on the other. And through their words, in the form of several panels and a keynote from Robert Kenner, director of Food, Inc. it also seems that there may be a glimmer of hope in the dark night of American eating.
Logan Square Kitchen, the kitchen and event space whose future is in the hands of the City's zoning appeals board (the Reader explains why), needs your support at their hearing tomorrow. You're welcome to attend (City Hall, 9am, 121 North LaSalle, Room 200) but you can also help LSK owners Zina and Nick Murray right from your desk: visit their website, download the "Letter of Support" [Word doc], add your two cents and sign it, then email or fax (773-342-2335) the document to the Murrays. Businesses like these help neighborhoods; it's a shame we have to prove that to the City.
Spent all your hard-earned money on a processed food costume? Wear your Twinkie or McNugget outfit to any Chipotle outpost on Halloween after 6 p.m., and you can score a burrito for only $2.
Proceeds from the company's Boorito 2010: The Horrors of Processed Food campaign will be donated to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, and costumed customers can enter an online photo contest to win cash prizes and burrito parties.
There's no doubt about it: Chicago's a whiskey-loving town. And our own Koval Distillery is about to unleash the city's first legally brewed whiskey since Prohibition.
On November 6, Koval will introduce Lion's Pride Whiskey at a release party at -- where else? -- Delilah's, the Lakeview punk & rock bar that already features over 400 whiskeys.
The organic whiskey, named for the distiller's son, is aged in American oak barrels and comes in four different varieties: rye, oat, dark rye, and dark oat. Samples will be available at the release party, along with cupcakes from "experimental booze bakers" The Baking Lab. After the release party, Lion's Pride will hit retail shelves throughout the city, so start dusting off your pocket flask now.
The Downtown Farmstand is turning two this month, and will be celebrating with -- what else? -- exclusive, limited-edition local food. Sweet Miss Giving's is paying tribute to the shop with a limited edition pumpkin birthday cupcake with cream cheese icing and candied ginger, and Intelligentsia came up with a new Farmstand Blend. Both are available only at the farmstand, and only in October.
The Heartland Cafe is in danger of closing if its owners can't raise $50,000 to cover taxes and license fees. As noted in Mary Schmich's column today, the 34-year-old countercultural restaurant, bar, general store and music venue is one of the city's last bastions of hippiedom -- and as such serves as a cultural center for many folks in Rogers Park and Chicagoland at large.
Heartland is offering several incentives to help raise the money, including membership cards that get you a discount on purchases for anywhere from a year to a "lifetime." Read the full announcement after the jump.
I think we can all agree that croissants are awesome. What two Logan Square businesses cannot agree about is who can sell just one.
Last week, the Chicago Reader covered the news that newly-opened La Boulangerie cannot sell a single croissant, yet can sell them by the dozen. Turns out, owner Vincent Colombet signed a lease with a non-compete clause that prevents his business from selling goods that would overlap with neighboring New Wave Coffee: coffee, tea, sandwiches, baked goods, etc. This is a fairly standard business practice, especially when you consider La Boulangerie and New Wave are in the same building.
People in the rapidly-gentrifying area are up in skinny arms about this, bitching to anyone who will listen in the comments on the Reader story, on Yelp, and of course on the ever colorful Logan Square Yahoo! mailing list. Well, today New Wave owner Zach Zulauf responded on the mailing list. After the jump, the text of the letter:
OpenTable and the new "Top Chef" spin-off series "Just Desserts" are promo-partnering to give you a free dessert on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Check out OpenTable for the list of 100 eligible Chicagoland restaurants and the fine print (it's actually a dessert to split, and you have to order an entree... but still! Mostly free dessert!) and to set up a reservation. Ironically, or not, Stephanie Izard's restaurant is not on the list. But plenty of others are. Celebrate the "Top Chef" Emmy win, and make Gail Simmons proud!
Last summer City Provisions announced its plan to create a local, sustainable deli in Ravenswood. After attending one of the catering company's monthly Supper Club events, I've been hooked and have been anxiously awaiting the opening of this deli.
City Provisions Delicatessen will open its doors on September 3 and will feature a wide array of fresh ingredients, most coming from a 200 mile radius of Chicago. Chicagoans will be treated to prepared meats (made in-house) and cheeses, homemade salads and sandwiches. Off the shelf fare includes jams, jellies and spreads from local food artisans, bread from Nicole's Bakery and Bennison's, ice cream from Ruth and Phil's and Nice Cream, coffee from Crop to Cup, spirits from Koval Distillery, Death's Door Spirits and North Shore Distillery, plus regional small batch beer and sustainably produced wines. The raw meat case--with made to order cuts of meat (smoked on site)--contains meat raised from within a 200 mile radius of Chicago, and butchered on site.
"I believe it is important to know where your food comes from and what goes into getting it to your plate," said owner, Cleetus Friedman. "We want to be a focal point for the community and be a source for education about the local food movement."
I'm especially excited about the fresh-smoked meat, cheeses and ice cream. What more could you want from your neighborhood deli?
City Provisions Delicatessen
1818 West Wilson Avenue, Chicago
Located kitty-corner from the Green City Market at Clark and Lincoln, Perennial has first dibs on the freshest local fare all summer long. To show off this good fortune, the restaurant is hosting a free monthly event through September featuring cocktails made with ingredients purchased at the market.
I attended the July event last Wednesday, which set up a friendly competition between Benjamin Schiller, head mixologist at Boka Restaurant Group, and Danny Shapiro, head bartender at Perennial. Whose cocktail was the (market) freshest? Find out after the jump.
If you're headed to the Green City Market or the soon-to-start Lincoln Square farmer's market, and you have a knife or 8 that need sharpening, take them to Dave Nells who will get you ready to slice and dice. And the prices are so affordable you'll still have plenty of green to buy greens.
Chicago has seen an influx of cheerful frozen yogurt chains from Asia. This season brings something new from Taiwan: shaved ice cream from Cloud 9. Brother-and-sister entrepreneurs Kenny and Gawin Tsai, with the help of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago, have opened a shaved-ice-cream spot in Lakeview. The IJ clinic helped with Chicago's red tape, leaving Kenny and Gawin free to concentrate on the Taiwanese ice cream, also known as Xue-Hua-Bing. They offer a few flavors each day--currently including vanilla, mango, strawberry and chocolate. They're also quietly testing red bean and green tea, which they let my family sample the night we went in to check it out. The vanilla was refreshing, but held no surprises. The mango had a nice tartness, and the green tea had a bite. The ice cream, made in house, is naturally low in fat; it's not made with as much sugar or cream as traditional ice cream. It comes out of Cloud 9's freezer in a disc-shaped block, and after being shaved by machine, it lands in soft layers in a bowl. Like cotton candy, it looks larger and denser than it actually is. The toppings, too, are low in sugar. The fruit syrups contain no added sweeteners, and cut-up fruit, nuts, sprinkles or chocolate syrup are available as well. Each heaping bowl of snow ice is served with a plastic fork, the better to grab the flaky layers with. And, while at first it might seem flaky and ice cream don't belong in the same sentence, by the end of the summer I think many Chicagoans will find they enjoy ice cream in flakes.
If you've been to the French Market, you've probably seen the brightly-colored Raw food stall in the back corner. I visited recently and was not only impressed with the samples I tasted and the willingness of Polly Gaza, one of the shop's owners, to talk and answer questions. I have to admit, I was also really impressed with Ms. Gaza's glowing complexion. It made me want to get rid of my oven, clear out my pantry full of pasta, cereal, and cookies and become a raw foodist. In Chicago, that isn't such a hard thing to do. Besides Raw, which has been open since December, there are a number of caterers, restaurants and even classes offering food (or the chance to prepare food) untouched by mysterious additives or processing.
Chicago has a lot to offer hungry tourists, besides the chance to eat a watery hot-dog from the vendor next to the Wendella Boat Tour dock as you cruise the Chicago River. A self-guided Cupcake Crawl is available from Chicago Bites food bloggers Tammy Green and Bridget Houlihan. Their e-book maps out public transportation to different bakeries and includes coupons, hours and prices.
Or skip the cake and go straight for the chocolate. Chicago Chocolate Tours leads two-and-a-half hour strolls through the South Loop, Lakeview or Michigan Avenue (and shorter tours of the new French Market) to meet some of the city's best chocolatiers.
Chicago Food Planet offers walking tours of the Near North and Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhoods. These tours take about three hours, with stops at restaurants, specialty grocers and, to help keep your energy up, ice cream shops and bakeries. In addition to discovering mom-and-pop shops around town, you'll also learn about neighborhood history and architecture.
Entering its second season is Fork and the Road bike tours. This year the women behind Fork and the Road, Dimitra Tasiouras and Sharon Bautista (a Drive-Thru contributor), will lead samplings of diner specialties, dumplings, Eastern European cuisine, or Mediterranean restaurants and shops, among other tours of eateries, all of them off the beaten path. (No Italian beef or deep dish pizza.) Each ride is about 16 to 20 miles, which sounds worse than it is. The guides ride at a leisurely pace, and each stop offers a chance to rest and refuel. Tours always start at a location near a bike-rental shop, so even those without wheels can take part.
Of course, if deep dish is your thing, there are tours of local pizza purveyors. Slice of Chicago offers a deep-dish walking tour, and Chicago Pizza Tours will show you the city "one slice at a time" and through four different styles of pizza (deep dish, thin crust, stuffed and neapolitan).
When your guests show up this summer, show them there's more to do than hang out at Navy Pier or the Mag Mile eating franchised food stuffs and fighting the crowds.
A nonprofit watchdog group is calling for the resignation of Ronald McDonald as the McD's spokesman, claiming he "has hooked kids on unhealthy foods spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related diseases." Ronnie's current employer states that he "helps deliver messages to families on many important subjects such as safety, literacy, and the importance of physical activity and making balanced food choices." I think both of them are full of it.
In honor of Women's History Month, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs hosted a discussion panel of women business owners at the Chicago Downtown Farmstand last night. These purveyors of local products spoke about how they started their businesses and their experiences as women business owners in the Chicago area.
(Nicole Bergere of Nicole's Divine Crackers)
Nicole Bergere: Nicole's Divine Crackers
Nicole Bergere started her bakery 25 years ago after working in costume and clothing design. Her first loaves were baked in Rogers Park, and with the help of her friend "Little Grace," she soon landed her first big account -- Neiman Marcus. Bergere's company now produces crackers, breads, sweets and sauces for an international market and supplies some of Chicago's top hotels like the Four Seasons, Trump Towers and the Peninsula. She cautioned artisanal business owners seeking to expand to oversee everything and to be careful not to grow too quickly. "There's nothing like having your own business," said Bergere, who is now in her eighties. "All the headaches and all the awards" are yours. "If you believe in yourself, you'll be a success."
Microbrew fans will soon be able to get some local beer in a tall boy container. Half Acre Brewery announced to their mailing list today that they'll be installing a canning line at the end of the month and will transition from bottles to cans.
According to the newsletter, Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and Gossamer Golden Ale will be the first two beers to switch to cans. Although they're currently available as a 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles, they'll soon be packaged in 4-packs of 16 oz. cans. It will take a good month for the transition to take place. As Half Acre wrote, "That means Half Acre cans will be a reliable friend come late April."
Half Acre's jumping on the canning bandwagon. Many microbreweries are making the switch to cans, now that technology exists to help keep the beer from acquiring a metallic taste. Although many people may still prefer bottles to cans (much like the cork vs. screw-top controversy in the wine industry), canned beer actually has a tighter seal and prevents the possibility of skunky beer. One other benefit of cans is that they're a little easier to tote around, since they don't break nearly as easily as bottles.
We posted earlier this week about how Drinks Over Dearborn is struggling to stay afloat and could use your help. If you think you could spend $100 in the next few months on alcohol, then give them a $100 prepayment via credit card (that will only be charged on March 1 if 500 people sign up) and spend that money anytime, on anything.
Oddly enough, there is more information on their Facebook page than there is on their website. Making a prepayment will get you a 5% discount off any in-store purchase, 10% of all classes, and admission to special "Benjamins or Bust" members.
Their website says they're 38% toward their goal, but to help push through in what could be their final 24 hours, because they will close on March 5th if 500 people don't sign up, they're hosting a live Jerry Lewis-style telethon webcast from the store on February 27th going into February 28th. They'll have comedians, music, and operators standing by. So if you think you'll spend $100 on alcohol or related items, then head on over to their website and open an account with a credit card (checkcards will have a $100 hold placed on them so avoid using them) to prevent Drinks Over Dearborn from becoming Drinks Not On Dearborn.
World-famous cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufman, who has carved the likenesses of Katie Couric, Jay Leno and Brett Favre, will be in Niles on Saturday and Sunday. As part of an opening celebration for a new Meijer store, Kaufman will carve the Niles city skyline out of two 150-pound Wisconsin cheddar wheels. Shoppers, and cheese-scultpure afficionados, can watch her work from 10am to 5pm both days, at Meijer, 9000 Golf Road.
Haiti's needs are enormous, and many people I know (myself included) are doing what they can to support relief efforts. But yesterday morning, as I waited for my Americano to come up at Julius Meinl on Irving Park Road, I noticed a small sign next to a cardboard box in the corner of the shop. The sign offers a free 12 oz. cup of coffee to customers who donate nonperishable items to Lakeview Pantry.
It was a sobering reminder that my own neighbors are experiencing hardships - and small gestures can add up. Owner Steve Farley told me he and his wife have volunteered at the pantry and have great respect for the institution, which has served the community's residents for 40 years. He's hopeful his customers will make it a habit to bring in donations, fueling an ongoing program.
Continue reading after the jump to learn what specific items Lakeview Pantry needs.
Mezé is a new small-plate restaurant serving up an eclectic group of dishes inspired by cuisines from the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Asia, and the Americas. At first glance, I was worried that the menu was too eclectic, too many different styles - but it's the eclectic nature of Mezé that gives it it's charm. The global sampling of flavors is what sets it a part from other small-plate restaurants. And, the menu isn't as opposing as I initially thought - it has several repeating ingredients - red pepper, chipotle, and goat cheese to name a few - that help tie all the various styles together.
Prior to joining Mezé, the executive chef spent twenty-five years at the Ritz Carlton and his expertise shows in the dishes - they are flavorful and mostly unique. I say mostly because there are a couple items that felt too familiar, specifically the potato dishes. The Greek pommes frites and Papas Bravas didn't have that take-it-up-a-notch taste. I've had fries with feta before and while the signature chipotle alioli made the beef sliders, well more than a mini burger, the alioli couldn't help the uninspired roasted potatoes. But those dishes are the exception to the overall fantastic selection I sampled. A few personal favorites - the peppercorn beef with gorgonzola, the pepper-crusted tuna, and the goat cheese and tomato tart. The beef was tender and served with plenty of sauce and crostinis - this dish felt like home, it was comforting without feeling familiar. The gorganzola cheese gave the dish just the right amount of salt. The pepper-crusted tuna is served on a crispy wonton with a wasbai cream. This tuna plate is well balanced and light and would have paired nicely with a crisp white wine. Without a doubt, my favorite dish overall was the goat cheese and tomato tart. Wow-zah! This creamy cheese tart is served over a tomato and basil sauce with crusty bread. I could probably live off this tart forever.
Advent begins tomorrow, and nobody knows how to celebrate the countdown to Christmas like the Germans. Chicago's Christkindlmarket opened this past week in Daley Plaza, and, as always, plenty of good food is for sale: typical German fare such as wursts and pretzels as well as roasted nuts and hot chocolate. But for a real traditional Advent treat, try the stollen at the booth run by Dinkel's Bakery. The dough for this rich pastry, which is studded with fruit and nuts, is sometimes folded over from both sides to resemble the swaddling clothes the baby Jesus was wrapped in before he was laid in the manger.
News broke this week that Woodridge-based Pabst Brewing Co., the company that produces Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Old Style and other old-school brands, is putting itself up for sale. Apparently, the move is being forced by the IRS because the company is owned by a charitable foundation, which is against federal tax law.
A grassroots effort to buy Pabst through crowdsourcing is underway: if you want a piece of the theoretical action -- the asking price is $300 million, and less than $6 million has been pledged so far -- go to BuyABeerCompany.com and pitch in. (Thanks, Tankboy!)
Sometimes when one door closes, another one really does open.
I was still mourning the recent closure of Urban Café on Irving Park Road when the Julius Meinl Coffee Bar & Patisserie opened down the block (1416 W. Irving Park Road). I felt much like I did when I was about 10 and picked out a new hamster to replace our family's first hamster, which died after only a week: a little guilty and wistful, but, on the whole, selfishly happy to have a tiny, fuzzy poop-machine once again - or, in the case of Julius Meinl, an elegant neighborhood coffee-and-pastries stop.
Your home, that is. The venerable Chicago-based steakhouse chain has launched a mail-order business in partnership with Allen Brothers, their longtime meat supplier. They offer the same steaks, burgers, seafood and other meats as are served in the restaurant -- as well as the trademark pewter pig lamp -- so now you can order a pack of filets for that client without having to call Omaha.
It's too small to cost $4.39. That's what a friend told me about Upton's Naturals' breakfast sandwich. And that's exactly what I told Dan Staackmann, the co-owner of Upton's. We happened to be hanging out when he asked me for honest product feedback. Then he told me to check the stores that Friday, and the sandwich would be bigger. Was he kidding? No, he told me. That was about two weeks ago.
The sandwich is now quite significantly thicker -- all three layers, including two patties of sausage-style seitan and one of egg-styled tofu with a chipotle Vegenaise sauce. You'll find the breakfast sandwich -- along with other ready to eat items from Upton's and other vegan vendors - from my friends at Green Grocer as well as at Whole Foods South Loop, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and River Forest. Another improvement: a new English muffin on the breakfast sandwich avoids high fructose corn syrup. You can also make your own at home, with a tip Dan told me on forming Upton's seitan into patties.
Itinerant chefs, caterers and small businesses looking for space to test out new food concepts have multiple of options in Chicago.
Kitchen Chicago has been around for years, but they moved into a new space at 324 N. Leavitt Ave. about a month ago that is both more functional for chefs and more versatile as an event space. Their new kitchen includes two full cookspaces -- one oriented toward pastries -- as well as a climate-controlled chocolate room; there are plans to possibly add a demo kitchen for small cooking classes. Through two sets of double doors is a soaring event space: the building was once a foundry, and this huge room is the upper half of what was once flyspace for massive cauldrons of molten iron. Kitchen Chicago have kept the industrial chic look but finished it with hardwood floors, large cylinder lights and several big, rough-hewn wood tables. There's a loft space at one end that's bigger than many apartments. The room has already been used by Chef Stephanie Izard from one of her Drunken Goat dinners.
Logan Square Kitchen is new on the scene and also offers a private event space and a shared commercial kitchen, both in a small storefront at 2333 N. Milwaukee Ave. The business is dedicated to environmental, economic and social sustainability -- you can ask them what that means in practical terms at their open house this weekend, 10am to 3pm both Saturday and Sunday.
In most of the United States, not far at all. The image above is a map of all 13,000 McDonald's restaurants, with color indicating distance to the nearest Golden Arches. Unsurprisingly, The area around Chicago is particularly bright; if you zoomed in on Chicagoland, the dots stay pretty damn dense:
Where's the spot farthest from a McDonald's? Glad Valley, SD, at 145 miles by car.
UPDATE: Stephen Von Worley, the creator of the McDonald's map, has produced a follow-up focusing on the Midwest (really, more like the Great Lakes region). Fun fact: there are 424 McDonald's within 50 miles of the Sears Tower!
You may not get a free lunch, but on Thursday you can get free samples of lunch and breakfast food (and brownies) from Panera bread. In celebration of their new fall menu, all Chicago area Panera cafes are offering samples of the Power Breakfast sandwich; BBQ Chopped Chicken salad (with fire-roasted corn, tri-colored tortilla strips, all-natural chicken and a BBQ ranch dressing); Napa Almond Chicken sandwich (made with celery, almonds and grapes); and two new brownies, one blonde and one fudge. Tastings are available from 6 am to 9 pm at all Panera locations.
Central Illinois Farm Beginnings helps new farmers plan and start their farm business while being economically and environmentally sustainable. The farmer-led program includes business planning seminars, on-farm training, and one-on-one mentorships. Applications for the 2009-10 season, which starts October 10, are due September 14. CIFB is organized by The Land Connection and the University of Illinois Extension.
Dana Joy Altman, a local food writer and former co-manager of the Green City Market, knows there are lots of people who want to cook more, using fresh foods and seasonal ingredients (and not just the masses inspired by a brand-new interest in Julia Child). To help steer people toward the best ingredients and the best way to organize their newly-stocked refrigerators and pantries, she's offering a pantry rehab service. The rehab, which is available for only the next few months, costs $1,500--but before you blanch at the price, consider that it includes groceries and new containers to store them in (you decide whether they come from Goodwill, Target or some other kitchenware source), and eight hours of learning and shopping with Ms. Altman. She'll also make sure you have the cookware and utensils necessary to prepare your healthy meals.
Ms. Altman also knows that not everyone has $1,500 for her service.
On Chicago Public Radio's eight-forty-eight, South Side reporter Natalie Moore reports on this past weekend's "farmers market," held by Wal-Mart in Chatham. According to her report, the retail giant sold an impressive four days' worth of produce in just three hours. I briefly considered going to the Saturday event to see what it's like, but instead visited my sister-in-law (the allure of their new cats were too big). Thank God CPR was there.
Moore also interviews Rhymefest, a Chicago-based hiphop musician on the possible role of Wal-Mart in the South Side. His take on the proposed Wal-Mart, as a savior in food desert, is an interesting contrast to that of a woman quoted in the earlier piece, who says the characterization of the neighborhood as food desert is an offensive misnomer.
Tribune reports that Wal-Mart is bringing a "farmers market" to Southside neighborhood of Chatham, with the hope that the gesture will create more favorable climate to the recently stalled plan for the second store within the city limits.
The "farmers market" will be held this Saturday, July 25, from 10 am to 2 pm, at 83rd and Stewart, where the new store is proposed. Interestingly, neither the Trib story nor the chain's flyer for the event lists any details on who is going to be selling what, come Saturday. A "farmers market" without any identifiable farmers??? I briefly tried to get an answer for this, but quickly gave up when the only phone number provided turned out to be a generic customer service phone number. (This is why I'm not making my living as a journalist.)
Then I shall recommend this place. Nestled in the southwest-side McKinley Park neighborhood is Bobak's (5275 S. Archer), a sausage slinger and grocery store that is worth the trip if you want to go to the mountain of all things meaty. At first the place looks like a normal grocery that is heavy on the Polish foods--not everything here has labels written in English, which makes buying soda or yogurt a delicious crapshoot--but the entire north wall of the building is nothing but sausage and other meats. Bobak's sells normal sausage and ham, but my eyes stopped at a kiszka (ooh!), a headcheese (ehh!) and a Lithuanian-smoked sausage that sounded super intriguing. Being a major beet fan, I felt guilty skipping past a display of house made frozen borscht, but the poppy seed cake from Bobak's bakery told me that I did nothing wrong as I enjoyed a piece a few hours after my trip. I listen to sugar when it talks.
However, as we were leaving, Dorothee asked the barista if the drinks were indeed organic, and she replied, "No, but they're all-natural."
Since leaving the store, we've made numerous attempts to contact Doc's owners or managers to clear up the discrepancy, but our emails bounce back and none of the listed phone numbers appear to be in service. I'm not sure why Doc's is so blatantly false advertising (even the URL is docsorganic.com), but I do know that I probably wouldn't have forked over seven bucks for a drink had I known that it contained conventional ingredients.
So, the question is, should Doc's change its name? Are they "greenwashing" their product, making customers believe they're getting one thing when it's actually something else? What do you think?
Starfruit, the frozen kefir cafe, is opening a second location in Lincoln Park on Thursday. The grand-opening will have a live DJ and activities for kids served along with the kefir smoothies and parfaits. And, on Thursday only, each kefir purchase comes with a free topping. For Chicago parents facing a day with bored kids at home waiting for their teachers to finish filling out report cards, a little face-painting and frozen-treat outing might soothe a lot of pre-report card angst. The cafe is at 2142 N Halsted Street.
Smash Cake, the bakery named for a birthday cake meant for a one-year old to smash, had its grand-opening party on Saturday. The space has been open for about a month, offering cupcakes kids can decorate themselves, sandwiches, soup, coffee, tea and juice. As with sister store Bleeding Heart Bakery, everything is organic, and the store sells not only foodstuffs, but a lifestyle as well. At Smash Cake, there are homemade aprons covered with little skulls and crossbones for kids to wear as they decorate their cupcakes or take part in crafts activities. Similar aprons are available, in children's or grown-up sizes and fabrics, from designer Kerry Vitali. Her cards are displayed, as are the cards of other local designers and printers, along with sample party invitations, so you can plan and prepare for an indie kiddie party in one stop. Artwork is for sale as well. Currently one wall is covered with paintings by Derek Erdman, featuring bright images of neckties, ice-cream cones and school buses.
If you're like me (meaning, you have little to no self control when it comes to sweets), you've been guilty of making an emergency run to Whole Foods not for organic wheat germ or Acai berries, but for one of the way-inappropriately sized Carol's Cookies sold in their bakery. (Toffee Crunch is my fave.) Recently, I learned Carol's has been making these half-pound beauties in the Chicago area since 1979 - the year of my birth. Coincidence? I think not.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Carol's recently put out a call asking loyal fans to submit ideas for the company's next cookie flavor. (Yes, the winners get free cookies. Stick with me here.) To participate, visit Carol's Web site or join the new Facebook fan page, "Carol's Cookies Giant Cookie Club." The contest starts June 1 and runs through Aug. 12, 2009.
After reviewing all entries, Carol's bakers will select the top five flavors and spend four weeks perfecting the recipes at the Carol's cookie factory. The five finalists' recipes will be judged on Sept. 15, 2009, at the Carol's factory by Carol Goldman (yes, the Carol), and foodies Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Marc Shulman of Eli's Cheesecake, Bryant Keil of Potbelly's Sandwich Works, and restaurant critic Sherman Kaplan from WBBM AM 780 radio.
The winner will receive a year's supply of free cookies, as well as virtual applause from the online universe. Oh, and the champ also gets to be guest baker for two days at Carol's Cookies Highland Park bakery. The runners-up even get some cookie dough. So what more can I say, people: Cookie it up!
Being on bed rest for 23 hours a day has really put a damper on my ability to prepare healthy meals for myself. Therefore, I'm feeling particularly glad that I recently learned about The Stock Option, a local soup delivery service. I've been enjoying the soups at home, but I may continue to use the service once I go back to work.
Every day, owner Jack Price (a former insurance salesman who began The Stock Option when the recession started taking a toll on his old line of work) prepares a soup of the day, using lots of fresh produce and organic ingredients. Customers email or call before 10 a.m. for lunch delivery or before 2 p.m. for a dinner delivery. You receive 16 oz. of soup, along with bread and sometimes other garnishes, for $6 (which also covers taxes and delivery).
This Kansas City-based company produces small batches of sauces under a variety of labels, including Cheesecake in a Jar (kind of like Nutella, but cheesecake-flavored), Fiesta quesos, and the Pain is Good line of salsas, bean dips, seasoned snacks, and sauces. Their typical batch size is 136 gallons, and they produce no more than 300 gallon batches, which makes their facility ideal for a co-packing or private label arrangement (this means that if you wanted to take your sauce recipe and mass produce it, or create a store brand, this place can help you out).
The Pain is Good products were aptly labeled mild (aka "wimpy"), medium, zesty, and fiery and showed where they'd be on their heat gauge. Their 100% Pain hot sauce registered as "Meltdown," due to the Habanero peppers used in it.
After tasting a fiery option and not feeling much heat, I had to try the really hot stuff. Full of bravado, I grabbed a tortilla chip, poured some 100% Pain on it, munched away, and walked away from the booth. About ten yards away, the heat kicked in, my mouth caught fire, and I had to blink back the tears from the pain. Then I went into survival mode trying to quell it, but water, of course, didn't help. Neither did bread. Thankfully, after a couple of minutes of torture, the kind folks from the Census Bureau pointed me to a Mexican soda booth, and with that I was able to put out the flames.
If you want to feel the heat, look for the Pain is Good line in specialty food stores. Jewel also sells some of their product line. You can also buy their products online.
Rumors of Bennigan's demise have been greatly (or partially) exaggerated. The restaraunt chain did file for bankruptcy last summer, but some franchise owners have reopened their shops on their own. Among these newly reborn Bennigan's is the restaurant on South Michigan Avenue, across from the Art Institute and currently the only Bennigan's in the city of Chicago. On Monday, the restaurant launched a "Break Fuel" menu, a selection of wings, fried mushrooms, mini burgers and deep-fried egg rolls, or Stogies, filled with Buffalo chicken or Philly cheesesteak. It's a little surprising that all of the new menu items are fried (even the banana in the Kahlua banana-split-shot), except for the burgers, but in a slight nod to the ever-growing population of health-conscious diners, the kitchen has created a lighter batter for the chicken tenders and zucchini planks. To lure Michigan Avenue office workers, museumgoers and other sightseers, a sidewalk patio will open later in the spring; and if the weather still refuses to warm up come June, the view inside includes 22 new flat screen TVs.
TOC reports that the second outpost of Logan Square's Lula Cafe will be named Nightwood. The restaurant will start with dinner and late night service only, with plans to also open for brunch down the road. Nightwood will open mid-May at 2119 South Halsted.
Bad news for Lula's neighborhood friend Chundy's, which according to a post at LTH Forum, has closed its doors after being in business less than a year. Chundy's occupied the space formerly inhabited by Golden Rise Bakery.
Plans are afoot for a Roundy's supermarket to be opened near Ravenswood and Lawrence in a parking lot (owned by a nearby Sears store) that is currently west of Metra tracks there. The space could be further developed for more retail and a condomimium project. The Milwaukee-based chain is also planning to open stores in the Old Town, Bronzeville, Lakeshore East and River West areas.
Knowing just how hard it is for some people working in the Loop to make it up to encased meats emporium Hot Doug's, Nico Westlund, a nationally ranked bike messenger, and his friend Gary Michaels have launched Hot Doug Drop, a service that lets you email or fax in your order and have it delivered to one of two "drop" locations in lobbies of the Mercantile Exchange, 20 S. Wacker Dr., and Chicago Board of Trade, 140 W. Van Buren St., at 11:30am and 1:30pm. The service was launched a couple weeks ago for the benefit of friends who worked at the trading centers. "I used to deliver Bari Foods, and saw how much the people at the BOT appreciated having Bari in the middle of the day," Westlund said. "The idea of having Hot Doug's at a boardroom meeting is so appealing." The service was expanded beyond friends at the end of last week, and its Facebook page already has 170 fans.
Hot Doug Drop is unaffiliated with the restaurant, and charges $1 per dog for delivery. Hot Doug's owner Doug Sohn is not pleased.
If you like cheese the way I like cheese, you don't mind traveling some distance for it. And if the end of that sojourn is one of the least likely places to buy cheese you could imagine, so much the better.
The Great American Cheese Collection warehouse is exactly this place. Tucked in a tiny meat-packing enclave near 47th and Talman, and marked only by a small green chalkboard promising "Cheese" with an arrow toward the door, this chilly garage space is a dairy lover's oasis.
On the heels of the hubbub over Intelligentsia's move to Clover-brewed coffee, Asado Coffee Co. opened quietly on Irving Park Road just west of Southport Avenue. The shop is also brewing coffee by the cup to order, but the method is more old school: Kevin, the owner and barista, pours hot water through a cone filter filled with coffee grounds roasted in house. The resulting 8-ounce cup is some of the best I've ever tasted - strong, but smooth, with no hint of burnt beans.
On my first visit, I had a cup of Ugandan coffee, with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. The second time I stopped in, Kevin was brewing Sumatran beans, which I liked even more for their deep, spicy, dark-chocolate and roasted nut flavors.
A cup is $2, and fresh-roasted whole beans go for $7 per half-pound. You can feel good about purchasing both because Kevin gets his beans from two direct trade groups who have relationships with the coffee farmers and pay fair wages.
I, for one, feel good knowing that my neighbors and I now have two great, new(ish) coffee shops -- Asado and Urban Cafe -- within a couple blocks of what used to be a dingy stretch of Irving Park Road.
Perhaps in time for the warm weather that's due any day now, another Korean frozen yogurt shop is rolling into town. Red Mango, which has set up shop in Evanston and Naperville, has a cheery HELP WANTED sign covering a storefront window on Clark Street, just above Diversey--probably at the exact latitude in the city's grid system as YoBerri, a few short blocks away on Halsted Street. Last year, after the suburban locations opened, both Time Out Chicago and Chicago magazine named Red Mango the best probiotic frozen treat. Now we have to wait and see which will arrive first: the "fresh" and "bright" frozen yogurt or the fresh and bright spring we're waiting for.
Forkable, a Chicago food blog, recently posted about her adoration for Chicago Food Corp., a local Korean market. Her photos are vibrant and her top ten list of Asian ingredients has me reconsidering my weekend plans.
Lakeview candy store Candyality, which is on a mission to associate each customer's candy choice with his or her personality, thus creating a candyality, is holding a Jelly Belly Trunk Show on Saturday, April 4th . There won't be Jelly-embellished frocks and totes to fight over, but Candy lovers will get to sample Jelly Belly flavors, and decide whether Very Cherry is the new black or if Jalapeno really is hot. The Jelly Belly Mobile will roll into town, as will Mr. Jelly Belly himself. No word on whether Earwax and the other edgy, flavor-forward beans will make an appearance.
The trunk show is from 11am to 4pm; Candyality is at 3425 N Southport Avenue.
For all the brahs out there looking for a sizzling gift for their lady friends, Isabella Fine Lingerie in Lincoln Park is hosting its first Beers, Brats and Bras shopping event on Sunday from 11am to 5pm. The shop's web site notes that many a fine woman in town has purchased a bra from Isabella already, so they just might have a dossier on your lady's sizes and styles. If not, the store has some expert fitters on hand who can narrow down anyone's size or style, particularly if a guy happens to have a photo (shot from the waist up) of his intended lingerie recipient. Guys too busy on Sunday can still shop for bras with brew in hand during Isabella's extended hours, next Thrusday and Friday from 5 to 8pm.
Isabella Fine Lingerie is at 840 W Armitage Avenue (773-281-2352).
If your business if feeling the pinch during this recession, catering firm Big Delicious Planet has a deal for you. Starting Monday and running through March 20, you can get a tasty, nutritious lunch for just $13 per person plus tax (minimum of 12 people; delivery extra).
I've had a couple of these lunches at Coudal Partners's offices (Big Delicious Planet is run by Heidi Moorman Coudal), and they've been consistently great -- the barbecue options in particular. Contact Heidi or Christen at 312-455-1019 or
firstname.lastname@example.org by noon the day prior.
Starbucks announced today that it's closing 300 more stores and laying off 6,000 workers. No word yet on which Chicago stores are closing, if any, but we'll keep you posted. Follow local blog Starbucks Gossip for employee reactions and more news.
We've also learned that local chain Intelligentsia has changed the type of chocolate it's using in its mochas and hot chocolate, and the new stuff is not vegan. There has been no official announcement, but baristas have been telling customers as they order as a precaution. Vegans, consider yourself warned!
I got a jump on the rest of the city on Thursday, when Gapers Block hosted a "staff-tivity" at the brewery in Ravenswood. We got to sample two of Metropolitan Brewing's delicious beers, the Dynamo Copper Lager and Flywheel Bright Lager, while noshing on sandwiches and fries complements of Hopleaf. I loved the Dynamo, a beautifully balanced beer with a crisp finish -- very drinkable. The Flywheel is a bit sweeter up front, but still has a smooth, dry finish befitting a German lager.
Entertainment was on point: to help celebrate Metropolitan's kick-off, the Neo-Futurists are using the brewery as a stage for the aptly-named "Beer," running Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between Jan. 31 and March 7. We got a sneak peek at the show, which tells the story of 10-year-old Boon, who passes out drunk after drinking his stepfather's crappy beer, and awakens to find himself and his puppet buddy, Puke, in a mysterious brewery. To get home, they must learn how to brew delicious beer. It's a great idea -- the Wizard of Oz meets Willy Wonka, for beer-lovers -- made that much better by staging it at a real brewery.
So, to recap, here's an idea for a fun night out next Thursday: check out "Beer," and then go drink some (of Metropolitan's) at one of the lucky bars featuring Chicago's newest brew.
I've always been on the fence about the pronunciation of pecan. The pie seems to be "peee-con," but the cookies seem to be "peee-can" (sandies). Ben & Jerry's, however, has taken a stance, and is proudly proclaiming "YES PECAN!" For the month of January, butter pecan ice cream will be called "Yes Pecan," and for every scoop sold in scoop shops this month (or, for the next nine days), B&J will donate the proceeds to the Common Cause Education Fund. You can use the handy scoop-shop locator to find those amber waves of buttery ice cream near you.
This is a bit of an old news by now, but I'll post it anyway: sometime in late December, my husband and I went to dinner at Uncommon Ground on Devon. We checked our bulky down jackets, and when the hostess handed me the coat tag, it was weird. It was a credit-card sized thing with cute design on it, in brown-and-baby-blue color scheme. It didn't look like a coat tag at all. In fact, it had a name of a restaurant on the back, with a little description. And that restaurant wasn't Uncommon Ground. Why would they use a gift card for a completely different restaurant as a coat tag? We puzzled over it during our hearty dinner (Millman burger for me, bacon-wrapped meatloaf for hubby). Are they owned by the same people? Are the two restaurants teaming up to beef up marketing (pretty clever, indeed)? When we left, we were still pretty mystified.
As it turned out, the "coat tag" was a piece out of à la card, a deck of 52 cards, each dedicated to an independent, chef-driven restaurant in Chicago. You buy the whole deck for $30, and each card is redeemable as a $10 gift certificate at the restaurant it describes. Uncommon Ground is one of them, of course, and among the impressive assortment are Hot Chocolate, Hot Doug's, Spacca Napoli, Naha and Smoque, covering a pretty wide range of cuisines, neighborhoods and prices.
It's a formidable task to conquer all 52 restaurants in a year (the deck expires on December 31), but even if I can't go through all of them, it seems like a fun excuse to try out restaurants that we've been meaning to go to forever and never have. Or, as Mike Sula at Food Chain points out, you can hand out individual cards to "friends and minions."
An inside source tells us that Orange on Harrison, which announced it was closing back in September and then never did, really will be closing after Sunday's brunch service. The owners plan to open a new Orange outpost near Fullerton and Clark in March.
After filing for bankruptcy, cookie manufacturer Maurice Lenell will be permanently closing its Norridge (4474 N. Harlem) and (temporarily) shutting down its online store on Tuesday, so get in there and stock up on pinwheels while the getting's good. And before the building becomes a motherfuc*ing Costco.
Baby, it's cold outside -- but that doesn't mean we must suffer. River North spot mk warms up customers with free hot toddies every time the temperature dips below 20 degrees. I'd say tonight qualifies.
Here's the recipe:
1½ oz. whiskey
1 oz. honey
1/3 oz. lemon
3 oz. African amber tea
Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Then add whiskey and lemon juice. Boil water and add the tea bag to make hot tea. Pour the steaming tea into the glass and stir.
Time Out uncovers a very twisted tale surrounding the surprise closure of Mantou Noodle Bar. It seems the owners of the restaurant have been subleasing the space but not paying their rent. Chef Rick Spiros had a crazy profit deal that was basically unworkable, and the owners changed the locks and hired a lawyer.
I am a big fan of Flourish Bakery Cafe, the year and a half old bakery located on Bryn Mawr underneath the red line el tracks. It's the closest bakery to me that sells real, good, crusty bread. Its bright, candy-colored interior is cheery and warm, and the cupcakes and sandwiches are perfectly good, if a little on the pricey side. Usually, I go just for the bread, though. I buy a big loaf and live off it for a few days, knowing that fresh bread is best eaten quickly.
Logan Square's Golden Rise Bakery, which abruptly closed earlier this year, has reopened as Chundy's, a restaurant that is still affiliated with the former tenant. The menu is varied, with an interesting specials list--items such as chicken Biryani, vegetable beef curry and Mauritian chicken stew join standard menu items like basil chicken salad sandwiches, and chef salads. Their website is frequently updated with charming commentary. Chundy's is located at 2957 W. Diversey, and is open Tuesday-Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 8am-9pm.
The Jockey Club, a longtime D.C.-area restaurant that was once a favorite of Bogart, Sinatra and Jackie Kennedy, has been resurrected just in time for the new presidential administration, and they're hoping their Camelot-era charms will attract a certain Chicago-based power couple, as "Both Barack and Michelle are hip, urban dwellers who enjoy good food and good wine."
Looking for a good holiday cookie recipe? Check out the Chicago Tribune for winning recipes from the paper's annual Holiday Cookie Contest.
But what if you can't bake - or just don't feel like it this year? Chicago's bakeries can be your secret weapon for holiday parties. I surveyed friends and co-workers, asking them to tell me their favorite cookie in Chicago. Here are their picks:
Earlier this year, Wicker Park's Sweet Thang bakery lost its lease and had to close its doors, Chef Bernard Runo promised to reopen in a new location. And indeed it did, at 2142 W. Roscoe Ave. in Roscoe Village.
Unfortunately, the new Sweet Thang is nothing like the old one. Runo appears not to be involved, as the new location apparently doesn't bake its own cakes and pastries, and prominently features a Chocolate Shoppe ice cream counter.
Wait, does that sound familiar? Oh yes, sounds exactly like the offerings of the late Sweet Occasions chain. And in fact, the new Sweet Thang is in fact a reincarnation of Sweet Occasions, which abruptly closed over the summer in what was later revealed to be a scandal involving unpaid employees, extravagant spending and more. In the comments on a post about the store closures on Edgewater Crime Blotter, a former employee made passing mention of one of Sweet Occasions' owners, Andy Singer, "concentrating on the purchase (with what money, I don't know) and opening of Sweet Thang in Roscoe Village." Reviews in Yelp -- which have been almost universally negative since the new location opened -- seem to confirm it.
Unfortunately, history appears to be repeating. Paychecks began bouncing, and after being confronted on the matter, Singer has closed Sweet Thang.
The employees aren't taking it lying down, however. They have teamed up with the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues to stage a protest and press conference on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 3pm in front of the store, demanding payment (full press release follows after the jump). Maybe they can get some money for all the unpaid Sweet Occasions employees, too.
The Thanksgiving 365 sandwich with turkey, brie, and cranberry-horseradish chutney at Hannah's Bretzel called my name at lunch yesterday. It's delicious - and seasonal, if turkey has a season.
It got me wondering what other local spots offer the early bird. A quick Google-search revealed a few:
According to Metromix, Jerry's (with West Loop and Wicker Park locations) will have a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich on the menu from Nov. 24 to 26, with herb-roasted turkey, mushroom and roasted apple stuffing, turkey gravy, basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, cranberry sauce and Cholula hot sauce on your choice of bread.
The Pilgrim is a regular on the menu at Uncle Sammy's in Lincoln Park. It's got turkey, raisin herb stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayo.
The Goddess and Grocer offers the Turkey Twist year-round, which certainly qualifies as Thanksgiving-esque, with its turkey breast, cranberry mayonnaise and caramelized onions. From Nov. 24 to 30, they're also offering the Thanksgiving Sandwich, with roasted turkey, stuffing, lettuce, tomato and cranberry sauce on whole wheat.
Old Town Oil occupies a sparse storefront along a busy section of Wells Avenue that my mother claims was "quite wild" back in the day. They specialize in 100% extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars. A lone employee greeted us at the door and asked, "Would you like to try some oil?"
I made my way down the line of olive oils in the center of the store, savoring the rich flavors of blood orange, basil, and porcini varieties. I then began to work my way around the perimeter, sampling the outstanding balsamic vinegars in flavors like, red apple, oregano, and pomegranate.
The excursion had been prompted by running out of olive oil the evening before, but I didn't have the heart to purchase any of their exquisite oils to simply cook with (nor could I stomach the price for such a use). Instead, I bought my favorite of the vinegars, a 12-year Fig Balsamic Vinegar (375 ml for $16.95).
The vinegar makes an outstanding salad dressing, but is equally delicious drizzled over fresh fruit or cheese. Each bottle is filled and sealed to order and would make an excellent gift for a Thanksgiving host or your favorite holiday cook.
President-Elect Obama and his wife Michelle hit up the Mag Mile's Spiaggia Saturday night. For those of us who can't afford such high-end dining, Obama also digs Austin soul food purveyor MacArthur's, where the average tab is around $10. So which restaurant is catering his inaugural ball?
Can chocolate and art create hope and generate inspiration? That was the unlikely question posed on the young artists who participated in the Create Chocolate, Create Hope contest. Held by ethel's Chocolate Lounge, the contest asked the participants 1) to create a graphic design to appear on the surface of ethel's limited edition chocolate collection and 2) to write an essay on the possibility of chocolate and art creating hope.
Last Thursday, four winners of the contest--Emily Poniatowski, Kate Riley, Miguel Delgado and Dennise Isidoro--were at ethel's location at 871 W. Armitage to present their designs to all gathered--family, friends, and the media (which is what I fall under). All four of the winners are aspiring artists--either in school or working on their own. As such, they were visibly excited to see their own designs neatly printed on little square pieces of chocolate, as an employee of ethel's marched around the room with a tray of chocolates with winning designs.
It is just my luck that an excellent new bar moves into Logan Square just when I move out. Though, if the brains behind the Whistler had it their way, the establishment might have opened months ago.
In Chicago, the build-out of a business needs to be complete before the city will begin inspections and issue business, tavern, or alcohol licenses. After such an enormous personal investment, I can't imagine the horror of being denied such permits. A misguided Logan Square resident convinced dozens upon dozens of neighbors to sign a petition to block the bar, claiming it would be an unsavory addition to the neighborhood.
Thanks to some legal representation and lots of door-knocking, the owners (who also happen to be Logan Square residents) convinced the community to give them the go-ahead. After just a few weeks, business is going well. The low-lights, blue hues, church pews, and wood bar create a stylish watering hole. The space is small, but the outdoor patio can increase capacity in more forgiving weather. The bar doubles as a no-cover music venue for live music (Sunday - Wednesday) and DJs (Thursday - Saturday).
The cocktail menu changes seasonally. When I visited we sampled the Rosemary Gin & Tonic, Hibiscus Sour, and Sazerac. All were delicious and offered at the very reasonable price of $8. The bottled beer menu includes selections from craft breweries like Bell's and Great Lakes and -- perhaps best of all -- they also stock $2 Pabst cans.
2421 N Milwaukee Ave
(between Fullerton Ave & Richmond St)
A second Sonic America's Drive-In location is set to open in Algonquin, or, as I like to call it, Schaumburg 2: Retail Boogaloo. The new location will open in late November along the bustling retail corridor of Randall Road. Sonic has plans to open more locations around Chicago, including Vernon Hills and Lake Zurich, with as many as a dozen in the next few years.
I was quite surprised to see this second location, as I was just at the Aurora store on Saturday after a road trip. I've made the trek a few times now and have been pleasantly surprised by the food. Yes, it's fast food, but it's good, and they have tater tots.
Earlier this month, Potbelly Sandwich Worksintroduceda new sandwich, it's first in five years, a Clubby club sandwich with 30% more meat (turkey, ham and bacon). Now, Jimmy Johns is rolling out a new sandwich as well, it's first new sandwich in more than four years. The creation, the #17 Ultimate Porker, features freshly-sliced applewood smoked ham and bacon, plus lettuce, tomato and mayo on bread baked in house. According to Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, the shops don't "rely on gimmicks, promotions and new menu additions to fool people into coming in and buying our sandwiches." But the time was right for a new addition, "another option for people like me who like the taste of ham and bacon together and want it served freaky fresh and freaky fast," said Jimmy John via press release.
The sandwich chain wants its customers to help come up with a slogan for the Ultimate Porker. The company says: Jimmy is running a campaign, and the Ultimate Porker is his running mate, representing change for the people. From now until October 24, sandwich (and pork) lovers across the nation can submit a campaign slogan for Jimmy and Porker on their road to sub-premacy at sofastyoullfreak.com. The top ten slogans will then be posted on the web site and voted on. The writer of the winning slogan will get a fully catered Election Day party. So, vote early, vote often, and do so with a sandwich in your hand.
I made my annual trip to Poplar Grove, a little town east of Rockford, to visit Edwards Apple Orchard, a combination of a country store, fruit orchard, pumpkin patch and pie diner that is now rolled into what I feared would happen: huge crowds dotted with strollers, minivans and Packers sweatshirts. Edwards is the kind of place that looks cut out of a movie, with its colorful flowerbeds, homespun signage and red barn. I've been coming here for many years, when as a student at a nearby college, I would drive the half-hour to Edwards for a quick Friday afternoon reprieve from campus life. While my visit to Edwards this past weekend was full of overwhelming foot traffic, I still recommend it as a great day trip for city dwellers. Why? The donuts and the pie.
Ah, the pie. A double-crusted, cinnamon-dusted work of art. Edwards sells individual slices only, with three topping options: a la mode, as-is, or with a melted slice of cheddar cheese. All three are solid options, although I had a difficult time adjusting to the idea of putting cheese on apple pie, as I had never seen it done before. Edwards caught some bad luck earlier this year, when a tornado destroyed many of its buildings; everything has been rebuilt to be bigger and better. The cider cellar, with its milk jug seats and gingham tablecloths, was now large enough to accommodate more visitors, but the constant line out the door was telling about how successful the food at Edwards is, especially if you like donuts.
Edwards makes sugar-dusted, apple cider cake donuts that made an imaginary tear slide down my cheek, not for the moment I bit into it, but for tolerating the lesser donuts I've been forced to eat in the past. Adding to the appeal of the warm, light donuts was its lack of availability--if you were looking to take some home with you, you were given a number and told you couldn't buy more than 6. Six? Would that get me to the Illinois Tollway? I passed on the opportunity, as sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
Chef Mark Seaman of Marked for Dessert will lecture on the history of French pastry this Saturday (10am-noon) at Kendall College; the event is sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Chicago (admission is $5, $3 for students and free for CHC members; RSVP required). If you're even more interested in pastry, Seaman will be hosting a second event at his store on Thursday the 16th to further wax poetic on pastry, make crepes, serve up some of his creations and talk about the pastry tour of France that he will be leading next spring (admission is $75).
Half Acre Beer received the new tanks and other brewing equipment at its new brewery at 4257 N. Lincoln Ave. in North Center this morning.
The equipment was purchased from Ska Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado, and shipped here on four trailer trucks. The fermenters looked a bit like space capsules on the flatbed when I arrived at the brewery to watch the unload for a little while.
Oak Brook based McDonald's planned roll out of the new premium coffee cafes has hit a big snag, the current economic crisis. Bank of America was the primary lender to franchisers and has apparently reached its limits in regards to loans for the new cafes, rumored to cost 100K per location. McDonald's had planned to open 14,000 of the new cafes by April of 2009 but it seems that the rollout will be pushed further into the summer.
Ethel's Chocolates is offering a limited edition box of tea infused chocolates. The warm combination of silky chocolate with spicy teas creates a decadent seasonal treat. The box includes: Earl Grey, Citrus, Spiced Chai, Sweet Rose, Jasmine, and Tropical Green. The Earl Grey flavor was the favorite in our house. A box of 24 retails for $32. At over a buck a chocolate, the collection is a bit pricey, but the flavors will be a fun change of pace for chocolate lovers.
Among the recipients of this year's group of MacArthur Foundation Fellows/Genius Grant recipients is Will Allen, the proprietor of Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based produce and meat seller whose crops are raised by inner-city teenagers. A huge number of Chicago restaurants are customers of Growing Power (A Mano, May Street Market, Bleeding Heart Bakery, Vie). Although Allen's wallet is pretty full today with his $500,000 prize, all local Whole Foods stores will be donating 5% of tomorrow's purchases to Growing Power.
It looks like there's a new store opening in the space that was Sunflower Market on Clybourn (1910 N. Clybourn, to be exact). It's called Urban Fresh, by Jewel--a smaller-scale grocery score that will offer ready-made meals, produce, organic foods and other convenience items with a healthy spin. Earlier this week the New York Times had an article about similar markets opening up around the country, all coming from larger chains like Safeway and Wal-Mart; even Whole Foods is planning cozier stores for harried shoppers.
European chain Aldi is also planning to open new (and smaller-than-average) stores in the Chicago area, and similarly, instead of dozens of brands of bread or cereal, Aldi mostly sells only one, often their own brand, making shopping easy and less expensive.
One of Food Network's newer (and, if you ask me, more likeable) stars, giggly Cleveland-based chef Michael Symon, will be at The Counter, the new "build-your-own-burger" joint on Diversey, next Thursday, Sept. 18, from noon to 6 p.m.
The first Chicago outpost of the chain opened this Monday at 666 W. Diversey Pkwy. Symon's visit is more than a well-timed PR gimmick: Proceeds from the location's sales on Sept. 18 will benefit the Big Shoulders Fund, an organization that helps support Catholic schools in some of Chicago's low-income neighborhoods.
In case you haven't heard, The Counter claims diners can choose from 312,120 possible burger combinations, by selecting among a variety of proteins (Angus beef, chicken, turkey, veggie and seafood), 10 cheeses, 28 toppings, 18 sauces and three types of buns.
Symon has a penchant for pork. Might I suggest he order a beef burger on a classic hamburger bun, topped with Black Forest ham, honey-cured bacon, horseradish cheddar, and apricot sauce?
I just got a sample of Froose, a new beverage for kids that aims to be a whole food rather than a sugary liquid. The little juice boxes were created by a mom who grew concerned about the way her son was eating less yet gaining weight. Once she figured out that it was the sugars in the juice killing her son's appetite and filling him with empty calories, she teamed up with some scientists to find a way to make a fruity beverage with whole grains.
Today is the grand opening of Counter Burger, a create-your-own burger joint (part of a California-based chain) on Diversey Parkway in Lincoln Park. Diners get to choose their protein (beef, turkey, chicken and veggie patties), then pile on toppings, cheese, sauce and a bun--or for carbophobes, no bun. Company lore says these choices add up to 312,120+ different options. And, unlike lots of other casual-dining chains, Counter Burger has a full bar.
Of course, plenty of burger options (beef, chicken, turkey, veggie and fish, even) have been on offer just down the street at Dukes. This friendly, loungey space shouldn't be overlooked; the burgers are actually a few dollars cheaper at Dukes. But only Counter Burger has been mentioned on Oprah.
Counter Burger, 666 W. Diversey Pkwy
Dukes, 2616 N. Clark St.
Here in Chicago, local salad spot Dream Salad is planning to offer free salads from 11 am to 2 pm on Friday, August 22, if Phelps wins eight gold medals (which will top Mark Spitz's record of seven)--and if customers show up with a business card. Dream Salad owner Rich Levy is a former high-school swimmer, and he's excited that Phelps has reenergized the sport. (Dream Salad is part of the Salad Spinners chain, but the offer is only valid at 200 E. Randolph Street.)
Free pizzas would be more in line with Phelps's 12,000-calorie a day diet. The guy eats at least a pound of pizza a day, but not a lot of salad. Any pizza purveyors out there willing to sweeten the pot?
As I stared at my menu Sunday morning while sitting at a table at Lula Cafe, I looked around the restaurant to see if anyone was eating the specials I was interested in ordering. Having debated the merits of a sweet versus savory breakfast, my friend and I decided to split a sweet item to complement the eggs we had both ordered. An item on the special menu jumped out to us: the arborio rice porridge with chevre, peaches, anise hyssop anglaise and candied pistachios. But the woman sitting at the table next to me had ordered the porridge, and it was just sitting there untouched as she ate a pecan roll sitting between her and her brunch date. "Was it bad?" I thought. "She should totally send it back if it's that bad." Because let's be real--I've eaten great meals and not-so-great meals at Lula (and hope that luck doesn't extend to their forthcoming second location in Pilsen).
A waiter came along at the end of their meal and removed the porridge, fully intact, still decorated with a few peach slices, and on a one-way trip to the garbage can. I thought about my mother's instructions to eat food even if it tasted like coal because of starving babies in Biafra. "Come on," I thought to myself. "At least take a few bites, you bought it."
A few minutes later, our own bowl of porridge arrived. A slight river of green liquid (anise?) traversed the heap of white, creamy rice. The first bite confirmed that the woman who rejected the dish earlier was an utter fool. The creaminess of the chevre and creme anglaise, coupled with the sweet crunch of the arborio rice and the candied pistachio, was an unexpected treat and a reason to hope this dish is on the menu again. Our eggs seemed bland and uninspired next to this great dish.
Susan Maddox, chef at Le Titi de Paris along with her husband Michael, is teaching cooking classes this summer and fall, some of them for would-be chefs as young as 8. The classes are being held at the restaurant in Arlington Heights (1015 West Dundee Rd., 847-506-0222). The lineup for kids for the fall includes a class on knife skills (very important for young hands) on Sept. 7th, and Spooky Treats on Oct. 5th.
Lessons on knife skills are also being offered for adults, on Sept. 7th and 14th. Learn to make bistro favorites, such as coq au vin and mussels Provencal, on Oct. 12th, or bread-making on Nov. 2nd and 9th.
The classes are two-hours long, and are followed by a three-course lunch, all for $45. Call the restaurant to reserve space.
In these lean times, I like to brew my own coffee at home to save some change. However, the process can be trickier in the summer when what I really want is iced coffee. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way:
First, the guys at Intelligentsia's Randolph Street location tell me that my brewing method is perfect: I just make a pot of coffee like I always do, nice and strong. They recommend avoiding darker roasts, which don't taste as good on ice.
Once the coffee is ready, I pour a big glass and stick it in the freezer. By the time I'm finished showering, the coffee isn't exactly cold, but it's not piping hot, either. I fill my thermos with ice cubes made from coffee leftover from the previous day, and then pour in my chilled coffee and a spot of half and half.
Lately, I've been sweetening the brew with a homemade almond simple syrup. I bring one-third of a cup of water and one-third of a cup of sugar to a boil, then let it simmer for just a couple of minutes until the sugar dissolves completely. I take the pot off the heat and stir in a bit of almond flavoring to taste.
Incidentally, Intelligentsia's new summer drink, GG's Horchata -- rice milk, espresso, simple syrup and a dash of cinnamon -- is a refreshing change of pace on days when I don't feel like firing up my pot at home.
Chefs looking for a place to hone their recipes before opening their own restaurant, catering company or gourmet business have had basically two options: cook at home (or in their current employer's kitchen if they're lucky) or rent space and time in Kitchen Chicago, the shared use kitchen in Ravenswood where such folks as Vella Cafe and Hoosier Mama Pies got their start.
Now there's a third option: Now We're Cookin'. Tucked onto a side street northwest of downtown Evanston, Now We're Cookin' not only has commercial-grade kitchen space available for as little as a four-hour shift, but also a demonstration/event studio where you could either host a class or tape your application for "The Next Food Network Star."
Sirène has a beautiful deep emerald hue. The aroma boasts a very pungent anise, with some citrus and pine notes. The highly herbal flavor is spicy and well-balanced. It tastes delicious neat, but is also refreshing in the traditional "La Louche" style. Mix 3 parts very cold distilled water with 1 part absinthe (or alternatively, add 3 ice cubes to your absinthe for a slow transformation). The absinthe will mellow slightly, allowing you to better taste the myriad herbal flavors. It will also take on a beautiful opalescence as it clouds.
You won't experience any of the purported psychoactive effects, but at 60% ABV you could easily get quite drunk.
Tonight I made a trip to Kuma's Corner and decided to actually sit out the 45 minute wait, unlike the last time I visited. While studying the menu, I saw that this month's special is "The Chicago City Council," a burger topped with seared foie gras, peaches with sauternes compote, and carmelized onions. I bet it rules. The burger ain't cheap, at $24; Kuma's will donate 10% of its proceeds to MADD , and also writes on their menu board that "[if you want to know why this burger's so expensive], find out when you vote, you filthy hippie." Huh? More highlights of the special burger's description on the menu board include a conditional shout-out to Ted Nugent and an instruction to direct any complaints to the Burning Man website. My meal was great (the fries a little overseasoned), but the next time I want a head-scratching read, I'll pore over the labels on Dr. Bronner's soap. All-One!
A prominent sign behind the counter at Joseph's Finest Meats reads, "It's Nice to Be Important, But It's More Important to Be Nice." As soon as our number was called, we could tell that Ben Camarda, the shop's owner, lives by those words.
My sister, Jenny, husband, Brian, and I made the trek from Lakeview to the family-run butcher shop at 7101 Addison St. in Portage Park on Saturday. It was actually Brian's second visit in three days; this Thursday, he took the bus west and came back telling tales of whole cows, prime beef, and astonishing prices. Jen and I had to see for ourselves (plus, we had more meat to purchase for Brian's birthday weekend, also known as Meat Festival 2008.)
Through June 3 (yep, that's Tuesday), Whole Foods is selling mussels for just $3 a pound. Hubby and I bought two pounds for dinner tonight (sounds like a lot, but the shells add up to a lot of waste), and prepared them using the Barefoot Contessa's recipe, featuring white wine, shallots and saffron. Killer. So good that we may go back tomorrow while the gettin's good. Bonus: total cooking time, from prep to serve, is about 40 minutes, and cleanup is super easy since everything cooks in one pot. Be sure to grab a baguette to soak up the broth.
A new upscale bar/grill monster will be popping up soon in Logan Square, next to Taqueria Moran at the corner of Milwaukee and California, right off the Blue Line California station. Logan Bar and Grill will be opening sometime this month, and will be run by the same folks who operate Wicker Park's Northside. From what I can see as a passerby, the Logan square bar will look almost exactly the same as Northside, with a huge outside patio and high, wooden-beamed ceilings. Logan Bar will have some competition from the TIF-supportedRevolution Brewery, which plans to open a few blocks away by the end of next year.
Well, not quite. However, to mark National Hamburger Day on Wednesday, May 28, Patty Burger is holding a Burger Exchange: bring in any burger from any other burger joint, and receive a Patty Burger single with cheese, a regular order of fries and a regular drink. They'll be taking your trade-ins from 11am to 3pm.
Lest you doubt the sincerity of the offer, check out this quote from the press release:
“No one should have to celebrate this special day with a bad burger,” said Patty Burger owner Gregg Majewski. “Give me your tired, your poor, your underweight, overcooked, neglected patties. Bring me your soggy buns, wilted lettuce, under-ripe tomatoes and other tasteless toppings."
If you live too far from the Green City Market, why not let the market come to you? Irv & Shelley's Fresh Picks delivery will bring a box full of fresh, seasonal and (mostly) locally grown vegetables to your door once a week or once every two weeks (or on any random Thursday, if you want to order just once to see if you like it.) I received a bimonthly subscription as a birthday gift, and recently I found on my doorstop a box full of this pile of green things pictured above: ramps, scallions, asparagus, spinach, sunchokes and sorrel. My favorite part is getting things I would never have chosen on my own (sorrel?) and figuring out what to do with them. Check out the website to find out if delivery is available in your neighborhood, and never feel bad about missing the farmer's market again.
Let's say you've got a 401K to rollover, your favorite aunt died or you just blackmailed a public official. However it happened, now you're sitting on a pile of money with no place to spend it. Don't lament! You can spend your bankroll on swords, gaucho outfits and huge, huge piles of meat. That's right: you can buy a Texas de Brazil franchise. Just be careful with those swords unless you really want to put the "scar" in churrascaria.
I'm pretty sure that hell is a restaurant of extremely light portions. Small plates. Tiny bundles of food. Hell must be a tapas and cupcake place.
While I try to stay away from such eats, it looks like I may have to break with tradition. Another source of my nightmares will be opening this month in the Gold Coast--More, a cupcake boutique at Delaware and State, will feature cupcake recipes created by pastrysmith Gale Gand. The menu features savory (blue cheese and port, corn with bacon and maple) and of course, sweet (pink grapefruit, creme brulee) cupcakes. While the doors haven't opened yet, the reputation of Gand alone will make this place an accessible success to those of us who could only afford Tru if we sold a major organ. Also, Gand's down with wheat, which you know means she knows how to bake.
Ada's is a familiar lunch spot for many East Loop cube-dwellers, who stop in for decidedly straightforward and affordable takes on diner classics, such as matzo ball soup and the turkey club. Worker bees in the know hit up the joint's 14 Karat Lounge (14 S. Wabash) after hours, to get all that Ada's menu has to offer, plus some of that sweet, sweet nectar.
On a recent visit, I wanted my nectar extra sweet, so I ordered a mai tai. Paired with my usual veggie omelette from Ada's menu, it made for a grown-up twist on a.m. OJ and eggs. The ability to order breakfast for dinner with a tropical drink cocktail isn't all the 14 Karat Lounge has going for it. An unpretentious crowd, baskets of buttery popcorn on every table, and perhaps the most enthusiastic, hardest-working bartender in the Loop give the place a special lustre. My only suggestion is that they turn down the music a couple of notches to make the lounge a less deafening option for friends who want to catch up after work over a drink.
If your mother is as finicky about her wine as Miles, the main character of the classic wine lovers' flick Sideways, have no fear. Local wine shop and wine school Just Grapes may have the perfect gift just in time for Mother's Day: the Crushpad Fusebox. The Fusebox wine blending kit brings a professional-level wine making experience to the home. Fusebox combines entertainment, education and great wine in a 15-pound box containing everything necessary for a group of four to have fun while discovering how some of the world's greatest wines are blended.
North Shore Distillery will be releasing their newest product to stores this week -- Sirène Absinthe Verte. Sirène is produced using the traditional ingredients of anise, fennel and grand wormwood, as well as a special blend of herbs and spices.
The distillers recommend drinking Sirène the traditional way; with a 3:1 ratio of water to spirit. They have also put together cocktail recipes on their website for further experimentation.
There aren't too many diners that I know of that serve as eclectic a menu (PDF) as Glenn's Diner (1820 W. Montrose). Technically, the restaurant is called Glenn's Diner and Seafood House, and they mean it: the place offers breakfast all day, a wide array of sandwiches and salads, homestyle diner dinners like spaghetti and meatballs, and — here's the kicker — more than 16 varieties of fresh fish that on any given day may include mahi mahi, salmon, Alaskan king crab legs, skatewing and shark.
On our recent visit, my husband Brian and I both ordered the $12.95 First Catch Special, available Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 6pm, and billed on the menu as a half-pound of fresh fish, small salad, cup of soup, roasted red potatoes, and fresh vegetable. We were allowed to select our fish from four or five different options. Brian went with swordfish, and I chose mahi mahi. Despite that his swordfish was slightly overcooked, overall we agreed we got a great deal. The "small" salad is actually quite large, and the "cup" of soup is served in a tall mug. The kitchen substituted potato pancakes for our roasted red potatoes without asking, but we didn't care because the pancakes were crusty on the outside, creamy on the inside, and incredibly flavorful. A large portion of roasted asparagus &mdah; Brian's favorite vegetable — rounded out the plate. There was so much food that I took about half of mine home and made a nice lunch out of it the next day. Needless to say, we had no room for dessert.
We plan to bring my family to Glenn's when they come to town, and Brian already knows what he's going to order: the shrimp po'boy. Me? I'm stuck between the Reuben sandwich and Mediterranean omelet, but either way I'm ordering a side of potato pancakes.
Throughout this season's Top Chef, Bleeding Heart Bakery will be creating a cupcake special each Thursday based on the winning flavor combinations of past episodes. At the end of the season, Bleeding Heart will hold a vote for the best "Top Chef Controversial Cupcake of the Week." Current flavor combinations include super spicy chocolate cake with ganache and a "bacon" rose and white chocolate with wasabi.
Starfruit opened in Wicker Park today and offered free samples of their new products. Starfruit is owned by Lifeway Foods, which is based in Morton Grove, IL. They offer frozen kefir in plain and pomegranate ($3 -$5), parfaits ($4 - $7) and smoothies ($4 - $7). The 24 topping options ($1 for the first and 50 cents for any additional) range from simple fruits to Vosges chocloate bacon bar bits and Milk & Honey granola. (The small frozen pomegranate with kiwi pictured above would cost you $4).
The shop is bright and colorful and they will offer both front and back outdoor seating in the coming weeks. I'm a fan of Lifeway's kefirs and the frozen pomegranate did not disappoint. It was subtly sweet with a nice texture that could almost make you believe you were eating a creamier dairy. The staff members were not particularly helpful, most notably when a confused middle-aged man inquired about the Brazilian gogi berry topping, but all in all this seems like a great establishment for the summer Wicker Park crowd.
My husband and I have lived in our new apartment for about a month, and we love it. But on weekends we've missed being within walking distance of both a good coffee shop and a bakery on par with our old haunt, Dinkel's on Lincoln. This morning, we searched Google Maps in desperation and finally unearthed a solution: a short bus ride down Irving Park Road to Sheridan satisfies both cravings with Emerald City Coffee and Artemio's Bakery.
The empty (and possibly ill-fated) restaurant space located at the base of the Damen Blue Line station (at 1560 N. Damen) that once housed Half and Half and Kaleidoscope is getting a new tenant. Skewerz (yes, with a "z"), which has a surfer-esqe, straw furniture-laden vibe, is opening soon, and a brochure posted in the window advertises its healthy offerings, all of which are served on a...skewer. Good luck!
Time Out Chicago announced the winners of their Eat Out Awards on Monday night, with the winners listed in this week's issue. Chefs Rick Bayless and Mindy Segal, and restaurants Sepia, Gibsons and Otom were some of the lucky award recipients. Congrats.
Thai Grocery, a tiny ethnic grocer at Broadway and Argyle, is closing its door at the end of April.
It's been in business since 1974, and the owner figures it's time for retirement back in his home country. So, if you're addicted to their fragrant Thong-Ek (small, flower-shaped sweets made of, egg yolk and coconut milk) or sweet-and-spicy curry puffs, you have only a month to grab it. (You could also get some of their sweets in the refrigerated case of the Thai Pastry, a nearby restaurant, which is where I first found the sweet-and-floral Thong-Ek.) I don't know where else in Chicago to get these authentic Thai sweets that I remember from my childhood in Bangkok, so it's quite sad to see them go.
Meanwhile, I know I'm going to be trying their to-go counter in the back of the store, although this, too, might add to my sadness should the food turn out to be as excellent as I've heard it to be. Thai Grocery is located at 5014 N. Broadway.
Chicago cookie producer Maurice Lenell might be in for doom. The building that houses the northside bakery and store was sold today to a developer who wants to build a Costco store on the site. The new owners won't take possession until May 2009, so there's no point in getting misty-eyed and buying 40,000 bags of Jelly Stars to last you into retirement, but there's cause for more worry: the Lenell business has filed for bankruptcy and is seeking to be sold or reorganized. Any takers?
Pie shop PIE is introducing a coffee service to go along with their pie, and they plan to celebrate with free cups of coffee (Julius Meinl) on Friday, the 14th, until 1 p.m. (After that, coffee will be only 99 cents until closing.) Much better than offering free pie. As Alec Baldwin once made clear on Saturday Night Live, when you give away your pie it makes you look cheap. PIE is at 615 N. State Street.
Tomorrow, March 10, is Founder's Day at Peet's Coffee & Tea. That means a half pound of free beans for every customer who buys a half pound. And, as others Peet's enthusiasts know, a free cup of coffee is always part of the deal when you buy beans (yup, every day of the year.) Alfred H. Peet, the founder of the company, died just this past September, almost 42 years after he opened his first shop in Berkeley, CA. Because it's a California company, there are only two outposts here in Chicagoland: the first, in the city, at 1000 W. North Avenue and the second, in Evanston, at 1622 Chicago Avenue. While not exactly a homegrown, local business, Peet's is, on the whole, more committed to quality and community service than some of those other chain coffee joints out there.
Beer lovers, brace yourselves: thanks to bad weather in Europe and a reduction in crops here in the States, there's a severe shortage of hops, one of the key ingredients in beer. As a result, prices have skyrocketed &mdash as much as 600 percent for rarer cultivars.
The increased costs are squeezing smaller brewers in particular. I recently spoke with Gabriel Magliaro of fledgling Half Acre Beer about the situation.
Andrew: I know your beer is contract brewed in Wisconsin; is this bill being passed on to you by the brewery, or are you purchasing ingredients directly?
Magliaro: "Yes, this bill is being passed on to us by the brewery, and we're lucky that we're contract brewed right now because they have long standing relationships and a bit more buying power than we would have on our own. We're having to buy our entire year's worth of hops now because we need to insure that we can continue to brew our beer without compromising quality. Our brewer is asking us to help them out because they can't afford to absorb this kind of spending and are forced to buy this way. We have been actively searching for hops to buy on our own with the hope of buying for our Over Ale (Half Acre's planned second offering]) and beating the price coming down from our brewer, but have been either unable to find the necessary variety of hop or completely blown out of the water when we have. The Saaz hop that we use for the lager was generally found for about $5 a pound. I was just quoted $30 a pound for hop that aims to mimic its qualities."
An all vegan fast food restaurant on the South Side (Mount Greenwood neighborhood) that's known for its vegan takes on gyros, Italian beef, buffalo wings, chili cheese fries and dogs, will soon open its much anticipated North Side location in Wicker Park, at 1300 N. Milwaukee. I rode my bicycle past Veggie Bite's soon-to-be second location yesterday morning, their name and logo prominently and repeatedly displayed in papered windows. (I had long wondered if they would take the iconic one-story building left by Burger King's departure ages ago, on the corner of Milwaukee and Honore, a block south of North and Damen.) Columbia College's Chronicle talks about the restaurant, the differing reactions to its original location, and how they're going for a mainstream eco-friendly appeal with their new Wicker Park address.
Meanwhile, Chicago-area Chicago Soydairy wants you to buy a slice of the vegan pizza that has their new vegan cheese, from the Whole Foods in Lake View at 3640 N. Halsted. Their main product, Temptation Vegan Ice Cream, seems to hold a solid reputation as the vegan ice cream served at several area restaurants, and according to Soydairy, the new cheese melts and tastes great.
The Reader reports that Lincoln Square fromagerie The Cheese Stands Alone will be closing its doors by the end of this weekend. Owner Matt Parker cites slow business as the culprit, but hopes to reopen the store in another location soon.
As many of you know finding good quality meets can be tough, especially when trying to avoid the pitfalls of "factory farming". I just recently placed my first order with Tom Arnold from Arnold's Farm. Tom makes delivers with some regularity to the Chicago area, if not in the city itself.
I'll let the website do most of the talking but I can safely say this is some of the best beef I've had in ages. Most of what I bought was grass finished beef and the taste was amazing. Slightly gamy with a deep crimson color and gorgeous marbling. I also purchased some whole chickens and various other cuts which I have yet to dig into, but just by the color I can tell the chicken is going to be delicious. The breast meat and skin are a nice dark tan/red, not the pasty white you normally find with mass production birds. Tom allows his chickens to follow the grazing rotation of the cows and therefor they only feed on bugs, grass and other critters as they are intended to.
So forget the jokers at Whole Foods and the Stupidmarket, and support a local farmer! We live in a great city, please use these resources we have available.
For Valentine's Day this year, my husband and I are developing a menu we can cook at home, based on foods we can purchase at independent, Chicago-owned stores. Though not all of our food will be grown or raised locally, we (heart) local businesses, and our menu shows it.
Mussels and seared Ahi tuna will come from Dirk's Fish. We'll stop at Dinkel's Bakery for a nice crusty bread to sop up the garlicky broth leftover from mussels. And the chocolate needed for dessert will come from none other than Vosges. I also noticed Intelligentsia is selling a Valentine's Day-themed coffee, Eros' Blend - a nice morning-after pick-me-up.
Soul Vegetarian, the much-loved south side vegan eatery, has opened a second restaurant in Evanston called Life Vegan (1601 Simpson Street, phone 847-869-6379). The new restaurant will serve dishes similar to Soul Vegetarian, but will also add a 6am breakfast service (except Saturdays) for those of you who are looking for your fill of the good stuff.
It's been little over a year since the acquisition of convenience store White Hen by 7-Eleven Inc and change has been afoot. I stopped in a re-branded White Hen sometime in the summer and was disappointed with the merger of the two stores; it was more like taking the soul and warmth out and leaving it with a cold, lifeless almost empty shell. I hoped this was only the beginning and the stores would start to liven up after time, but no. As more and more stores are going through "the change" the soul is being lost. Most of the employees I've talked to don't like the change, sighting the coldness as a major factor.
Not much is left from the old White Hen, maybe the coffee and some fresh sandwich selections, but for the most part the former Illinois based convenience store will fade into oblivion marked with strips of red, orange and green.
So, how's that New Year's resolution going? You know...the one where you decided to eat healthier? If your resolution needs a bit of encouragement, or if you're looking for a store that supports local merchants, check out this new West Town spot. Green Grocer Chicago, a grocery store featuring organic and locally produced foods, opened yesterday at 1402 W. Grand Ave. Green Grocer Chicago carries items from a variety of well-known Chicago brands, including:
I haven't been sleeping well lately, and at my house, that means we break out the late-night dairy. Cereal with milk, a mug of hot chocolate, or bowl of ice cream all seem to help pave the road to Sleepy Town.
Last night, I slept better than I have in weeks, and I credit not only the hot chocolate I drank an hour before bed time, but also the dream I had about judging an ice cream contest. In my dream, Twinkie ice cream with a hot fudge ribbon edged out hazelnut cookie ice cream laced with Nutella.
Either I'm yearning for my junk-food-tinged childhood or jonesing for the March 7 reopening of Scooter's, Chicago's favorite frozen custard (which, by the way, is hiring).
For some time the fast food giant has been upgrading their coffee offerings as well as spaces in most stores, but now its going to add full on coffee bars complete with baristas. The move will signals the direct competition between McDonald’s and the current coffee dominator Starbucks, who has been encroaching on the breakfast market with the addition of drive-thru windows and breakfast sandwiches.
McDonald’s expects to add $1 billion to annual sales with the addition to its 14,000 stores. This comes as a second blow to Starbucks; Dunkin Donuts' own move toward the espresso market has also been viewed as a threat.
My hubby and I did some holiday returns this weekend, and all of those overheated stores and long lines made us hungry. I had dinner plans with a friend, so I just wanted a snack. He hadn't eaten all day, so he wanted something more substantial. To further complicate matters, we were in Old Town, where few options exist besides overpriced bar food and really overpriced fine dining. That's why we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon Old Jerusalem.
I don't know why I've never noticed the place before; it's been a fixture since '76. No matter. I'm glad we found it this weekend. I ordered the combination vegetarian entree, knowing Brian would power down my leftovers. The platter had generous helpings of hummus, tebouleh, and Jerusalem salad; the most delicious and exquisitely smoky baba ganouj I've ever tasted; and three perfectly crispy, piping hot falafil. Brian ordered the shawirma sandwich. The beef and lamb shawirma was tender and, notably, not over seasoned. Plus, the pita was so stuffed with meat and the works that we marveled at how it maintained its structural integrity.
Service was polite and prompt. Despite my dinner plans, I decided it would be worth it to sample Old Jerusalem's sweets. The harisa, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made mainly of semolina, burst with flavor. Interestingly, the cake was soaked in a milk and honey syrup, as opposed to the more traditional citrus-spiked simple syrup. I like it Old Jerusalem-style, and I'll definitely make a return visit to try the kinafa, which features ricotta cheese, and the baklawa.
If you still haven't set a New Year's goal, here's one guaranteed to improve your homecooked meals in 2008: take 15 minutes to inventory your spice rack and toss out anything that's been sitting around since the ball dropped last New Year's Eve.
I know, I know, it's not easy to part with that jar of ground ginger you shelled out $8 for and used three times. But rest assured, you can replace your losses affordably by buying small amounts of spices from bulk bins when the recipe calls for them. Whole Foods has a good selection of spices that turnover fairly quickly, but if you want the real deal, I recommend becoming a regular at The Spice House on Wells in Chicago.
From cacao nibs and whole cloves of nutmeg to Hungarian paprika and a wonderful Chinese Five Spice Powder, The Spice House has the best. They also sell small, airtight jars for a couple of bucks that will lengthen the life of any leftover spices you may want to store. You'll want to check out this great little shop in person to avail yourself of all the free smells and samples, but those who can't make it to Old Town can order online.
After only a few short months, Cyberia Café has closed down. It saddens me that an independent coffee shop I recommended, or at least introduced, didn’t make it past the six month mark. The River North shop had a bit of bad luck early on. Someone broke in after hours and stole a large flat screen television as well as some other items — all caught on tape, but as far as I know, the suspect was never apprehended. The window he used to get in has been boarded up since, as the owners insurance wasn’t active at the time of the burglary.
The closure of a coffee shop so soon isn’t all that uncommon, I was once told by a café owner that most independent coffee shops don’t make it past the six month mark, but if and when they do, the chances are much better they will be around for a longer time.
A "boutique executive search firm" for non-profits has posted a director position for a three-year Fresh Taste Initiative in order to boost local agriculture and healthy eating. They're looking for someone who's lead projects for 15 years and wants to connect and collaborate with food producers, processors, distributors and consumers in order to get Chicagoland to grow 10% of its food locally.
If you're like me, you think that most German food is based on a dare. I'm really no hater of the culture; technically, I'm a little bit German--but I'm mostly Italian, which is why schnitzel never made its way to our family dinner table as a kid. As I've branched out my culinary tastes, I've still been unable to really enjoy German food--the breaded, heavily-sauced planks of meat, overcooked vegetables, spaetzle and gallons of other starchy delights have done little to stir my interest. I bravely endured the food of the Berghoff, let other people order for me at the Brauhaus, and made sure my water glass was always full so that I could wash down what I thought was a flavorless eating experience.
But as hunger makes a great sauce, as my mother once said, the cold weather combined with the food offerings at the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza (between Washington, Clark & Dearborn Streets) makes for a good lunch hour meal. Milwaukee restaurant Mader's has a booth with very good Reuben rolls, local bakery Dinkel's is selling stollen, and of course, many of the other booths are selling beer, which makes the second part of the workday more enjoyable. The Market also has a fair amount of onsite seating, despite the season. Christkindlmarket is open daily from 11am-8pm (11am-9pm on Friday and Saturday) until December 24, so make a stop before it ends.
One of the worst decisions I have ever made was to carry Carson's ribs with me on a plane. My older sister, a former Chicagoan who lived in the Boston suburbs, asked for them one Thanksgiving, and while I was happy to make the journey with meat in my suitcase, the badly packed ribs endured a cold, dry trip that erased their flavor and texture within hours. Tonight, as I went through the 12 catalogs that find their way to my mailbox each day, I came across something that made me rethink my next holiday gift to my sister. Tastes of Chicago, the brainchild of Lou Malnati's, is a nifty catalog that features Chicago-centric food, such as Malnati's pizza, Eli's cheesecake, and Garrett's popcorn, for mailing. It's not cheap, but the food will get there safely and properly. The pickings are very Chicago--not a vegetable in the lot--but it has a lot of neat gift ideas. If you want to give the motherload of all gifts, fork over (hee hee) $900.00 for a year's pass to the Taste of the Month Club, where you can get anything from a load of Vienna Beef, my beloved Carol's Cookies, or filet mignon from Wildfire for your monthly dining pleasure. Or guilt.
A second location of the Wrigleyville restaurant Uncommon Ground is set to open in early December at the corner of Glenwood and Devon in Rogers Park. The restaurant will still have their signature food and live music. A very nice part of this is that the restaurant plans to start a program next year that educates neighborhood school children about locally grown and home made food, and plan to take it a step further by building sustainable and organic garden on the restaurant's rooftop. And for the less eco-minded, the place has free parking. Everybody wins.
Eatzi's Easygoing Gourmet in Lakeview is shutting its doors for good in a week. Until then, they're offering 30% off on all that's left on their shelves and in their refrigerators, including wine and beer. They emptied out their warehouse today, so there should be a good selection of wine for the holidays on the shelves tomorrow. Elsewhere, the store is starting to look pretty bare, but you might be able to score some nice chocolates or cookies for holiday host gifts or to help add another layer of warmth for the winter.
Newcity Chicago's latest paper edition features a "selective indie coffeehouse guide," helpfully organized by neighborhood. The collection of reviews is fun to read. Did you know there's a coffeehouse in Ukrainian Village where you can take tango lessons several nights a week? Or that you can get a tamale, Viennese breakfast, or even sushi with your coffee at shops around town? Despite the loss of institutions like Filter in Wicker Park, it's nice to see that so many indies are still serving it up hot and quirky in Chicago.
The Web version of the Newcity's guide is more extensive -- though my one minor gripe is that I wish it linked to the coffeehouses' Web sites, when available, so readers could more easily check out the menu and hours of operation.
There are rumors that Chipotle is giving out free burritos on Halloween ... if you show up dressed as a burrito. There's nothing on the Chipotle web site to confirm, but those in the know at Chowhound say it's true. And that all you need to look like a Chipotle burrito is a bit of aluminum foil on your person.
Franchised coffee shops don't seem to be doing to well in Chicago, with the Coffee Beanery on Damen breaking ties and becoming the independent Bucktown Beanery and now the apparent closure of Saxbys Coffee. The Saxbys Coffee on the corner of Jefferson and Lake was seized by the Cook County Sheriff's Department recently and the location, as well as the local Saxbys Training Facility, is no longer listed on the Philadelphia based companies website. A Plano store is open and operating, but a second location in Chicago was to open on North Clark but never came to fruition. From what little information I was able to gather, the owners or manager of the Lake Street store may have had issues in regards to paying employees — as in not paying them. Saxbys has been billed as an alternative to the corporate giant Starbucks — a location of which is coincidentally across the street.
UPDATE 7/26/09: John Larson, former owner of Saxbys Coffee, contacted us and offered the following letter of explanation regarding this case:
I am John Larson, Founder of Saxbys Coffee. Many posts have appeared after this article was written and I wanted to take this opportunity, given to me by the Editor of Gapers Block, to set the record straight.
I started Saxbys Coffee in Windsor, Colorado in January 2004. The concept was simple; a coffee shop which would eventually rival Starbucks Coffee. At the time there were no other coffee shops which were expanding aggressively and as a result Starbucks began raising prices on their products often and offered less service (they actually stopped stirring the drinks). Saxbys Coffee was designed to give superior customer service at a price which was lower than Starbucks. I used my over $400,000 of my own money to grow this company (which I would never get back).
In order to challenge Starbucks we would have to franchise the business and grow through Area Developers (mini-franchisors of Saxbys Coffee). This was not in any way a get rich quick scheme as one post states on this page and was a legitimate business set up to catch up to Starbucks in half the time it took Starbucks. For the most part the first two and a half years were successful for everyone.
Due to personal family issues I stepped down as an Officer and Director of Saxbys Coffee in September 2006 and Nick Bayer was voted in as Sole Director and Sole Officer which effectively gave Nick Bayer total control over Saxbys Coffee. Nick Bayer went on a rampage and set out to cancel many Area Developer contracts and close down many franchises that Nick Bayer felt remained loyal to me.
Nick Bayer then, as Sole Director and Sole Officer of Saxbys Coffee, fraudulently sold all the assets of Saxbys Coffee (which totaled over $6,000,000) for a mere $5,000 down and $300,000 to be paid in three years to Saxbys Coffee Worldwide LLC which is a corporation formed by Joe Grasso just days before the fraudulent sale. Joe Grasso "rewarded" Nick for his part in this "sweet deal" by giving Nick a job as President of the "new" Saxbys Coffee along with bonuses and jobs for Nick Bayer's father, mother and best friends. They were all given back pay as an added incentive.
One of the first actions the new Saxbys Coffee did was to stop paying rents and employees at all Chicago locations in an apparent effort to embarrass me (I lived in Chicago and the new Saxbys Coffee was in Philadelphia). As a result all the landlords evicted Saxbys Coffee in the Chicago locations.
Nick then continued his "witch-hunt" for all the other Area Developers and franchisees he wanted closed and Nick succeeded in ruining many lives through financial devastation (including mine).
Please take the time to read everything that happened with Saxbys Coffee and you will find that everything "bad" happened AFTER I stepped down in September 2006. Also please take note that I have filed two lawsuits against Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC for the fraudulent sale. One case is in the Chicago Circuit Court in Illinois (filed in July 2007) and the other is in Philadelphia and was filed this year. I will provide court case numbers and witnesses to anyone who asks.
This ordeal has financially devastated me, my family, my friends, and several hard working and honest Area Developers and franchisees that put their trust in Saxbys Coffee. Stepping down and giving Nick Bayer control was my mistake and one which I will regret for the rest of my life.
The court cases will go on (justice is slow) but we (the shareholders of Saxbys Coffee, Inc.) will be victorious. As a side note, ne of the reasons the court in Chicago is taking so long is because Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC, refuse to pay their attorneys. As a result the attorneys fire Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC. As their clients and the judicial system allows several months for new lawyers to be acquired and get caught up to speed o the case. This has happened on three occasions already.
People like Nick Bayer and Joe Grasso should be sitting in jail with the other fraudulent executives who cheat honest people.
I am including my email address and cell phone number for anyone who wants or needs additional information. I am doing this because I have nothing to hide, I am not afraid of any slander lawsuits as I only tell the truth, and I have documents to back up everything I say. My cell number is 312-515-9272 and my email address is johnlarson[at]jetgroup7[dot]com. Feel free to contact me regarding anything in this case.
To the bloggers who post things when they don't know the facts, I have one simple question. Why don't you use your real first and last name when you recklessly slander someone with no regard for the tole it takes on their life? You don't because you're afraid of a slander lawsuit because what you say is not the truth. My hope is that the readers of this article take that into consideration when reading the mean spirited posts following this article.
During the Andersonville Dessert Crawl toward the end of September, I had a chance to get a glimpse of the Coffee Studio, a yet-to-open high-quality coffee shop in the northern fringe of Andersonville. In a word, the experience was stunning. The deep, narrow space that combines exposed brick walls and beautiful natural wood, was comfortably strewn with simple, clean furniture. A white, low-hanging ceiling in the middle gave the space an even stronger sense of depth and coherence. It was beautiful. (For the unfortunate who didn't make it to the Crawl, their blog has a few photos of the beautiful interior.) And the coffee they offered as a part of the Crawl was fantastic.
It was Intelligentsia's Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, which (shamefully) we'd never tried before. It seemed that the owner-baristas brought out the Ethiopian Y's (as we called the unpronounceable beans) incredible floral note to the fullest. That floral and citrusy first note was so pronounced that I at first thought my palate might have been off, because of all the sugar intake up to that point (remember, it was a dessert crawl), but that was how the amazing coffee really tasted. After having been accustomed to Metropolis' and Intelligentsia's good-quality coffee varieties, I honestly didn't think that I would be blown away again with coffee, but here I was, burbling my amazement rather redundantly to Miguel (one of the owner-baristas), who patiently shared with me his excitement with the coffee. They know what they're doing with their coffee, that's for sure.
According to them, the Coffee Studio hopes to open its doors to the public in a few weeks, when they get all the utilities hooked up, etc. Given the oh-I-could-sit-here-all-day-long interior and the extremely good coffee they brew, I'm finding it rather difficult to wait for the X day. Even more difficult, once the day comes, would be to not go there every day just to be in that space with a blank, euphoric stare.
The always-irresistible Pasticceria Natalina, a Sicilian bakery in Andersonville, is closed for vacation till the 15th. (The sign on the door says they're away for a family wedding in Italy--sounds like fun!) So, we'll have to hold off those after-dinner gelato strolls, and I bet it'll be even sweeter when they come back.
The flagship Ann Sather on Belmont is closing temporarily, as soon as next month. Alderman Tom Tunney has sold its building and has begun renovation on 909-913 W. Belmont, the building just east of the entrance to the Sather's parking lot (and former home of the alderman's service office).
So what's going into the old building? Well, upstairs has already being converted into the latest home to ComedySportz, and downstairs? Word is, Panera Bread. Sigh. The suburbanization of Chicago continues.
Incidentally, this isn't the first move for Ann Sather. The diner has been in at least a couple other spots along Belmont, including next door to the current location. Though it certainly looks like 929 W. Belmont has always been a Swedish diner, it was originally a funeral home -- and it's possibly haunted. Many Sather employees say they've heard footsteps and doors closing in the empty upstairs (where the embalming room once was) after hours.
Intelligentsia is raising the prices of their drinks. Like Starbucks , Intelligentsia is citing rising costs of milk, paper goods and other raw material for the price hike. The Chicago institution hasn’t raised prices in some time, and it is something they don’t take lightly; the increase is between five and nine cents, a mere drop in the coffee cup. The average retail price of a gallon of whole milk in August was $3.87, and depending on what report you’ve read, the price may go above four dollars in the fall.
Imagine you're vegetarian. Now imagine, you don't eat marshmallows. Typically, they contain gelatin to make them jell, and often gelatin is derived from animals. Now image that a friend hands you two 8.5 ounce boxes of mashmallows. They've vegan. And they're from Cincinnati. But the label says New York.
A friend and I were lunching at the Art Institute's gardens, when he handed me the boxes. He'd just returned from visiting our friend's new green general store in Cincinnati. Dan Korman recently left his job in Chicago advocating for bicycling to start Park + Vine in his beloved home town. The grand opening came June 1 with a packed store, both full of Dan's friends and with a man who came down from his apartment above the store to by shavers. Park + Vine also sells bamboo-cotton apparel, handbags, local artwork, cleaning supplies and vegan shoes. But they also sell Sweet & Sara Marshmallow Meltaways. And they're vegan, just like everything else in the store, whether it's labeled so or not. Veg News named these marshmallows Product of the Year in 2006, saying the "self-described 'dessert snob' Sara Sohn has reinvented the vegan marshmallow." They're fluffy and a bit chewy - as you'd expect a marshmallow to be - and they're packed with a full sweet flavor. Now, I'm off for some graham crackers and dark milk-free chocolate. Look for Park + Vine in the September 2007 issue of Veg News. And look for me with my face full of chocolate from s'mores.
The only way to start a birthday is with a special meal, which is why I hauled my cookies this morning up north to Andersonville to ring in a new year with friends at M. Henry. As usual, this place did not disappoint.
It's so addictive that some people refer to it as "Crackberry" and although it hopped from the west coast (in L.A., where it all began) to the east coast earlier this year, opening 3 locations in New York City, I don't see the frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry coming to Chicago any time soon. I could be wrong, though. Cupcakes hit the windy city hard after taking off in L.A. and New York, so anything is possible. In any case, we Chicagoans are not as likely as New Yorkers or Angelinos to break down the doors of a food establishment offering such "healthy" treats. There is a whole controversy brewing over what exactly is in the sweet substance Pinkberry hawks in 5 oz., 8 oz. and even 13 oz. tubs.
I first ate at a Cosi franchise more than five years ago in New York City. Like my fellow Drive Thru contributors, I was impressed by their piping hot flat bread, samples of which were free for the taking on a platter near the giant open stone oven. I returned sporadically to other NYC locations and then to the new location that opened in my hometown in Connecticut last summer. I've also made a few trips to the downtown Chicago locations, to several of the locations in the loop and to the one at Rush and Grand. I was really expecting not to be let down when I visited one of the newer stores in the city, at Clark and Webster. Sadly, I don't think I'll be going back.
On a recent trip to Oak Park, I found the Marion Street Cheese Market, tucked into a corner behind the vast construction site that is Marion Street right now. The shop is small but chock full of wine, fondue pots, gourmet condiments, and dairy products, of course. The staff was eager to help, offering samples and plentiful advice on putting together a cheese plate for a small dinner party. They even had an open bottle of wine on hand to sip while tasting the cheese.
According to Nations Restaurant News magazine, the McCormick Place convention center has awarded a consortium of Chicago-based businesses a 10-year, $300 million contract to provide food and catering services. Levy Restaurants and Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants Co. will each split a 45% share with the remaining 10% going to the minority-owned Airport Restaurant Management Inc. The consortium beat out the competing bids of firms from Philadelphia and Buffalo only a few months before the old contract (held exclusively by Levy Restaurants) was set to expire. The new contract goes into effect September 1st.
Say what you will about the snooze factor of this news, but as far as I'm concerned any move that eases Aramark's (the contender from Philly) ruthlessly efficient grip on America's palate is a good thing. These guys are the Donald Trump of lowest common denominator dining. If you've been underwhelmed by the grub in ballparks, hospitals or prisons, chances are you've had the privilege of chowing down on Aramark's uninspiring fare. Keeping this contract local is not only good for Chicago's economy, but good for Chicago's gastronomy. (Should I trademark that line?)
I was at the Millennium Park location of Intelligentsia recently when I learned about a horrible disaster that fell upon El Cuervo.
El Cuervo is Intelligentsia's original blend of two Guatemalan coffees: HueHuetenango and Fraijanes. "The Fraijanes contributes a rich bakers chocolate and cocoa sweetness that is complemented by the energetic ripe fruit acidity of the HueHue," says their site. Sounds fantastic, but there'll be no Cuervo for us this year.
According to a friendly barista whom I talked to, this year's crop of El Cuervo did arrive in a Louisiana port, but had been completely damaged by some sort of machine oil spilled all over it. The next year's crop is nearly a year away. While the Quetzal breakfast blend sounds like it has similar notes of chocolate and berries, I'm thinking of getting the El Cuervo t-shirt to show my support...
The new Strack and Van Til grocery store is open in the old Cub Foods space at 2627 N. Elston Ave! I took a quick swing through there today – it’s pretty nice! Its your average grocery store, but it sure is nice to see everything brand spankin’ new…I picked up a turkey roll-up sandwich for lunch – not bad for a pre-made grocery item under 5$ - loaded with turkey, and had a nice creamy dill sauce. They had sushi rollers hard at work in the seafood department (which looked nice), and I sampled a California roll, which was good, for supermarket sushi. The liquor department was depressingly empty, but I am sure they will have that up and running soon.
The first few warm weekend afternoons seem to reawaken ice cream cravings in almost everyone. Many people are lured into Windy City Sweets by the promise of ice cream, but it's the candy that keeps them lingering in the store. The selection is mind-boggling, with a wall lined with bins of loose candy that can be bought by the pound and shelves upon shelves of old favorites, like Fun Dip, Nerds, and Sixlets - essentially, your dentist's worst nightmare. There's even a small outdoor seating area where you can relax and watch the world go by on Broadway as you enjoy your teeth-rotting treats. There's nothing like sugar to make a spring afternoon that much, well, sweeter.
Julius Meinl, the Austrian coffee company whose only American outpost is located in Wrigleyville, has been stealthily infiltrating the city. Their jams and jellies are already prominently on display at The Chopping Block. Sweet Occasions, a cafe known for its ice cream and pastries, will begin serving Julius Meinl coffee at its two current locations (in Andersonville and on Damen under the brown line el stop) and at a third which is slated to open on Bryn Mawr in the near future. Meanwhile, according to Chicago Magazine's Dish newsletter, the Viennese company plans to open a second "kaffeehaus" in the old Block 44 space at 4365 N. Lincoln. Looks like the little "Meinl coffee boy" and his red fez are here to stay.
One of the hidden gems of the western suburbs is Caputo's Cheese Market. Behind the strip malls at North Avenue and 15th in Melrose Park, Caputo's occupies a converted warehouse that still looks a lot like a warehouse on the outside. Inside, however, you can find a refrigerated cheese room with all manner of imported cheeses at bulk prices -- the best deals are probably on the Italian stuff, but there's cheese from all over the place, with an excellent selection of cheeses from Eastern Europe. Best of all, they make their own fresh mozzarella and ricotta, and it's very affordable.
Besides the refrigerated cheese room, Caputo's also has a bakery with delicious fresh pizza, a deli counter with dozens of Italian and Eastern European selections, and great deals on imported pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, and (of course) Italian wine.
… but without enough time or confidence to do it, help can be had. The Chicago area now has a store-front DIY kitchen where busy cooks can prepare their own meals, and a seasoned cooking instructor ready to transform would-be chefs, their kitchens and their pantries into lean, mean cooking machines.
Dinner by Design, a food prep kitchen, has opened a local branch in Lakeview. They offer two types of service: You can swing by and pick up a frozen entrée and sides from their well stocked freezer, or you can schedule a time to come in and spend about two hours preparing enough meals to feed you and your friends or family for most of the month ahead. They also schedule parties. You can go with a group of friends, bring a bottle of wine and socialize as you assemble lasagna or bread fish fillets.
McDonald's, our local neighborhood fast food shack, is in the news again — aw hell, when is it not? In what will likely become a recurring series, here's a run-down of the latest coverage from the media and blogosphere:
• McDonald's is investing about Rs.30 million (that's rupies; about $680k) in upgrading delivery service in India. (Amazingly, about a billion people can call one toll-free phone number — 66-000-666 — to have fries and a shake delivered.)
When I was a kid, proper nutrition was an iceberg lettuce salad drowning in italian dressing, and spinach was something Popeye ate. The Kid's Table is trying right the wrongs of my parents' generation, offering classes for kids in nutrition, cooking, and food art. Classes for parents are also offered in topics such as making your own baby food, and how to raise healthy eaters.
I've eaten thousands of cookies in my day in search of the best. I've gone to the best bakeries, made doughy messes in my tiny kitchen, and looked high and low online for the best recipes (that pricey Neiman Marcus Cookie recipe wasn't worth the paper I printed it out on), only to be disappointed.
First of all, these bulky cookies are 4 inches across and 2 inches high, which means that you and your buddy (or you, on a bad day) can polish the thing off. The chocolate chip cookie is amazing, with its soft vanilla and butter flavor topped off with milk chocolate chips (and I actually don't like chocolate that much but make an exception for these). I'm also fond of the sugar and cinnamon swirl varieties, but the list of what Carol's make runs far longer.
Carol Goldman runs her baking business out of Highland Park, and you can find her cookies at a number of places in the suburbs and city (the website has a full list). These cookies run around $2.50 apiece, so while it will set you back a bit, it's worth it. Really, really worth it.
Sam's Wine and Spirits was quietly sold today to one of the family members and a group of outside investors. The store has been family owned and operated by the Rosen family since its humble beginnings on the Near North Side in the 1950s. Youngest brother, Brian Rosen, and his financial backers have purchased his brother Darryl's interest in the company and seem to be making changes rather quickly. Eight employees were let go this week, which continues a trend of many key staff members giving notice or receiving pink slips over the last three months. No word yet as to whether they intend to make changes to the business model or how the selection or service will be affected.
A recent AP article documenting the concept of tourism centered around food made me wonder where I can join out-of-towners who forego the museums and shopping for the eating. My search led me to Chicago Food Planet, which leads three-hour walking tours of several North-side restaurants and food shops. While the site won't reveal the specific stops on the tour, the vague descriptions (e.g. a "fudge specialty shop," a "Chicago-style pizzeria") were telling enough--a trip to Spring won't be on the menu, but if you have relatives or friends in town and want to avoid the common tourist destinations, this might be a good alternative.
This morning, Chicago Public Radio's 848 featured an interesting interview with David Greising, the chief business correspondent for the Tribune, on Kraft and Sara Lee, two of Chicagoland's biggest corporations.
Although Chicago foodies may be more likely to hit up a Mexican grocery store for ingredients to make chile con queso rather than using the "convenience product" Velveeta or bake a pie from scratch instead of parousing the frozen desserts section at Jewel for a prefab Sara Lee dessert, the future of these two companies is something worth speculating about.
The link to the "Monday Morning Business Update" is here.
In a memo, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz warns of “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience,” citing automatic espresso machines, bagged flavor-locked coffee and, what I find interesting, the cookie cutter design of stores and the loss of the soul of the past, the Starbucks on your corner will more than likely look just like the Starbucks in Evanston or Deluth. The automatic espresso machines takes away all the art of making an espresso, just push a button and the machine does all the work. With Starbucks' 13,100 company, joint-venture and licensed outlets worldwide, approximately 360 in the Chicago area, it’s not hard to see his point. In the last 10 years, Starbucks has grown from 1,100 stores to the staggering 13,100 with plans to open even more in the coming year. I am not a big fan of the big chain coffee shops; I prefer to visit independent shops in and around Chicago, of which I’ve only scratched the surface.
Chocolate is not hard to come by in Chicago. But like wine, coffee, and cheese, quality varies enormously. Unfortunately, if you want the good stuff, you've got to be willing to pay. I found that out the hard way at bon bon in Andersonville. The tiny store is warm and inviting, and the chocolates are displayed immaculately in a glowing glass case. Many of the pieces are dusted with sparkly "luster" powders, which further enhance the sheen of their smooth chocolate surfaces. These are really tiny works of art.
A friend of mine attended a demonstration cooking class at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart this past weekend. Because it was Chinese New Year, dim sum was on the menu. Chef Ariel Bagadiong prepared shrimp dumplings, sesame seed balls, vegetable gow dumplings, and BBQ pork buns for a hungry audience.
Both the Tribune and Sun Times reported last week that Wisconsin-based Roundy's is coming to Chicago. The chain will be opening the first of a hoped for 13 in the New City YMCA property near the shopping corridor at North and Clybourn. Another possible location is the Carson's building on State Street, in which there is talk about a "food emporium."
Roundy's CEO, Robert Mariano, is a Jefferson Park native and a former CEO of Dominick's. He lost his position when California-based Safeway took over the local grocery chain. He'd been with Dominick's for 27 years. Now he's back on the radar and told the Sun Times that opening Roundy's locations in some of the 14 Dominick's slated to close would "make a lot of sense."
I've never been to a Roundy's (or Pick 'n Save, Rainbow Foods, or Copp's - the other three names under which it operates), so I don't really know whether Chicagoans will welcome the new addition. What do you think? Can we expect more overpriced produce and boxes of cereal, or is Roundy's going to up the ante?
After the acquisition of Lombard-based White Hen by 7-Eleven Inc. last August, there was a bit of speculation as to whether the locale chain of convenience stores would retain the name. As you may have noticed in recent 7-Eleven commercials, White Hen is mentioned in a coffee promotion if only briefly — apparently Chicagoans prefer White Hen coffee to that of 7-Eleven. It appears now that franchise owners have been asked to sign a letter of intent to change to 7-Eleven or get out, and by out you are no longer a franchisee and you lose your store.
Yet another venerable Chicago-area brand bites the dust.
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