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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, January 26

Gapers Block

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Restaurant Fri Aug 23 2013

Farm-to-Table Elegance @ 676

It took about two seconds of perusing 676 Restaurant & Bar's menu before I took them up on their offer to dine there. I'm a sucker for places with a farm-to-table ethos and 676 has a convincing one. In May, Detroit native Joshua Hasho returned from the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey to take the reigns of Executive Chef at 676 and has continued to build up the restaurant's relationship with local farms, where as much as 80% of their purchased food comes from. Their herbs, edible flowers, and strawberries are grown in the restaurant's own rooftop garden.

rsz_chefsgarden.JPGThe location, on the fourth floor of the Omni Hotel on Michigan Ave., far above the Cheesecake Factory and Chile's and all those pizza places, makes 676 a nice spot for a meal downtown. The full, east-facing windows overlook Michigan (I had a prime view of the Apple Store), which the restaurant wisely let do the brunt of the lighting, creating a soft ambiance in the restaurant. The downtown bustle, plus the activity in the open kitchen served as focal points, the primary "decor" so-to-speak, since no one would pay much attention to any fine art with so much movement going on. "Date night" spot, yes, but the elegance in the dark woods and chrome-colored upholstery make it the sort of place you'd take your parents, visitors, or a group of friends for a nice meal (nice, read more pricey than a typical weeknight bite).

The menu's odd ingredient pairings also piqued my interest: brussels sprout flatbread; veggie meatballs, squash noodles, romesco, and basil. I knew full well that whatever image I sketched of, say, squash noodles would barely outline what appeared on my plate. Faced with all these options, I couldn't decide what to actually order. So I did what anyone else would do: asked someone to pick for me. Ditto for the drinks, where my companion and I asked for wine pairings with our three courses, plus coffee with dessert.

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Christina Brandon / Comments (3)

Restaurant Mon Aug 19 2013

Absinthe-Inspired Dinner at the Savoy

rsz_dsc_0052.jpgAbsinthe is the Sweeney Todd of liquors: complex, misunderstood, and seductively dangerous. Distilled from three primary ingredients (anise, fennel, and wormwood), this green-fairy drink was maligned by the temperance movement and other liquor competitors as a psychoactive drug containing a dangerous substance called thujone. By the time scientists disproved such shenanigans, most countries (including the US) had banned it. But thanks to a little something called human perseverance, absinthe quickly made its way back onto the shelves of bars across the world. In fact, one of the largest collection of absinthe in the United States resides within a discreet restaurant in Chicago's hipster Wicker Park neighborhood: the Savoy.

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Judy Wu

Restaurant Fri Jan 20 2012

Lillie's Q Shakes it Up with Mexican Tribute Pop-Up Dinner

The smokin' and savory BBQ joint Lillie Q's will be handing over the kitchen to sous chef Jose Landa for an evening of tasty Mexican fare Tuesday, January 24th.

"This dinner is a way of me saying thanks and honoring not only Jose and the other Mexican and Hispanic members of my current staff at Lillie's Q, but for every one of them I've worked with throughout my career," said Chef Charlie McKenna, the veteran, award-winning BBQ mastermind behind Lillie's Q.

"Even with my background in fine dining, BBQ, and Southern food, my favorite cuisine is Mexican food....Jose cooked us a preview of the menu we're offering for the pop-up dinner last month, and we were all pretty blown away by the food and flavors."

Landa has whipped up a delightfully varied six course menu, composed solely of traditional Mexican treats inspired by family recipes from his childhood. Guests may also choose to partake in a selection of beer pairings from new, Latin craft brewery 5 Rabbit. The cost is $45 per person. An additional $20 gets you four courses worth of beer. 5 Rabbit will exclusively release their new brew, Superstition, "a strong blonde ale that's made with hibiscus, ginger, Illinois honey, Thai palm sugar, and chamomile", at the dinner, making the extra $20 a steal to say the least.

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Alexa DeTogne

One Good Meal Thu Jan 27 2011

Pre-Tomato Italy

Naples Onion Sauce

Italian food changed dramatically after the introduction of the tomato. In many cases, it is hard for historians and anthropologists to know what Italians ate before there were tomatoes. However, Italians traveled so much and for so long that their cuisine was heavily influenced by a wide variety of cultures.

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Cinnamon Cooper

One Good Meal Wed Jan 19 2011

The Call of Pork Skin

Assembled ingredients for Cotechinata

I love deep-fried pork skin. Whether you call them cracklins because they still have a touch of meat attached, or whether you call them pork rinds because they don't, I love them. The pork rinds at The Publican are something I have to order every time we go.

About a year ago I was wandering the meat counter at my local grocery store and I saw a package of "Belly Skin." I picked it up, asked the butcher what it was for, and in his broken English he told me it was pork skin with fat attached. The 3 pound package cost about $1, so I figured I'd find something to do with it. I took it home, did some research, and decided that I would marinate it in beer, cut it into small pieces, and deep-fry them. Well, not only did it almost result in my Fry-Daddy overflowing due to the excess beer in the pieces, but they were bitter. Horrible, awful. Not at all what I wanted. So I gritted my teeth and pitched the entire package.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (5)

One Good Meal Mon May 17 2010


From the time I was 17 years old until a few weeks ago, I was mildly allergic to bananas. I didn't have the full throat-closing, rash-developing reaction that comes with a full-blown allergy. But I would have more than a timid bite of banana and I would spend some quality "alone time" in the bathroom. It was unpleasant enough to make me avoid banana anything, although I gave in occasionally to a piece of banana bread, which seemed to offer no ill effects--but it made me nervous enough of the possible reaction that I was still more careful than I probably needed to be.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (3)

Column Wed May 05 2010

Chickpeas in a Pod

Fresh Chickpeas

I've written before about how I love garbanzo beans (or chickpeas). I still love them. So imagine my delight when I went to a local market on Devon that I hadn't been to before and found some fresh garbanzo beans. I of course had to grab a pound of them and rush home to see what glorious things I could do with them--especially when fresh, as they are a great source of fiber and protein. Chickpeas are a bright spring green color, and inside each papery husk is one or two brain-shaped beans. They're quite attractive, so I decided to find a way to prepare them to let them be the visual (and taste) star of a dish.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (2)

Column Tue Feb 23 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs: Comfort Food for the Masses

I love to cook. And I have a bit of a tendency to be a control freak when I watch other people cook. This is a new thing for me and seems to have come on slowly. However, when I'm at home and my mom is cooking, I tend to keep a tight lip on the cooking advice.

Or so I thought.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (1)

Column Tue Feb 09 2010

Enjoy a Roll in the Kitchen on Valentine's Day

Finished Egg Rolls

Valentine's Day tends to bring overpriced flowers, stale candy, cheesy stuffed toys, and a rushed dinner at a restaurant. I love a good romantic gesture, but so many of the things that are pushed as "appropriate" just ring hollow. I've written here for years about how I encourage everyone to stop eating out on Valentine's Day--and I'll reiterate my reasons.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (2)

One Good Meal Thu Jan 28 2010

Super Food

In my last column, I wrote about how cooking at home could help you save money, eat healthier, and make you a better cook. And while I firmly believe that to be true, I have to admit that occasionally, I'm going to make things that taste good but aren't necessarily healthy. With the Super Bowl coming up in a few weeks, there are going to be a lot of parties where comfort food and deep-fried snacks are going to reign supreme.

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Cinnamon Cooper

Column Mon Jan 11 2010

Cook Your New Resolutions

Roasted lamb shanks

Braised Lamb Shanks with Chard

Ah, New Year. Hangovers abound, gym membership purchases and attendance are up, lists of resolutions are long and well-intentioned, mine included. And after talking to a few people I know that several folks have mentioned that they want to cook more at home, learn to cook better, and they want to save money. And since part of my list of resolutions is to write more columns about cooking for this site that I love and miss, I figured if I could help other people keep their resolutions while keeping mine, then it would be a win-win.

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Cinnamon Cooper

One Good Meal Sat Jan 02 2010

Paradise Serves Korean Food

spicy fish soupSeeking refuge from winter and holiday frenzy, I recently found paradise in Albany Park. Paradise is the name of both a Korean-run no-frills bath house and a sushi restaurant on the 2900 block of Montrose Avenue. A simple, clean meal of gomae (Japanese spinach salad) and nigiri seemed like the perfect way to cap a blissful afternoon of lounging in hot and cold pools, a sauna and steam room.

It turns out that the spa and restaurant have different owners, but in addition to sushi, the latter also boasts a selection of Korean dishes. I kept with my plan of mackerel and octopus nigiri, which were fine but unremarkable. Both vegetable and seafood udon proved little better than the instant udon I can buy at Asian markets around town.

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Sharon Bautista / Comments (2)

One Good Meal Sat Jan 02 2010

One Rustic Meal, On Loan from London

Chicago is a city known for its food, not Old Masters. But until the end of this month, the Art Institute of Chicago is playing host to one very special 400-year-old meal made from oil...paint, that is. Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus (1601) is on loan from The National Gallery of London. The painting depicts the biblical moment when two of Jesus' followers realize that their dinner guest is none other than the recently-resurrected Christ.

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Sharon Bautista

Column Mon Oct 12 2009

Not-So-Basic Tomato Sauce

I've had a very, very packed full summer. It wasn't full of the leisurely iced adult beverages sipped slowly under stars, or the long, lazy Saturdays at the beach that I had imagined, but it was definitely an adventure. I've spent the last five months working on a cookbook. And it isn't quite finished, but it is close enough to completion that I'll talk a little about it.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (2)

Column Fri Jun 19 2009

Mad for Mofongo

I have no qualms saying how much I love to eat pork products. I do. I think pigs are delicious animals. But, even I have my limits as to how much pig fat I will eat in one sitting.

For example, I was recently trying to figure out what the quintessential dish was for a number of cuisines. And I looked up Puerto Rican food and Mofongo seemed to win. I began to compare recipes and noticed that they all involved the same basic things. Cutting green plantains into chunks, deep frying it in lots of pig fat until the starchy fruit soaked up the pork fat, and then blending or mashing that with garlic, salt, and other spices, along with pork rinds. This mash was then formed into balls or patties and used as the starchy base for a number of different types of dishes.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (3)

Column Wed May 20 2009

Flywheel Green Vegetable Curry

Several months ago I was lucky enough to attend a preview of Beer! from the Neo-Futurists at Metropolitan Brewing. Not only did we get to see a hilarious performance that involved a puppet named Puke, learn the basics of the brewing process, but we also got to sample some of the tasty beer that was made on site. And it was tasty. Flywheel Bright Lager was my favorite and I anxiously awaited the beer to be sold in bottles so I could buy it and try it in my home.

As I was milling around and meeting some of the other beer-loving attendees, I got to meet one young man who found out that I occasionally write this column and he provided me with a challenge which I whole-heartedly took up. "I would love a green curry vegetable dish that used beer." I instantly began sniffing my Flywheel and imagining it mixed with flavors like ginger and lemongrass and coconut milk and I was pretty sure I had a winner. The slight bitterness from the hops concerned me but I figured there was only one way to find out.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (4)

Column Mon Apr 20 2009

Fennel Alchemy

I really like the alchemy that can happen when you take just a couple of ingredients, mix them together, and cook them until they all turn into one harmonized thing. Sometimes this happens when some sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil are drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. But we're still in the winter dearth of produce, so that dish will have to wait for a few months.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (3)

Column Sun Mar 29 2009

Recession Busting: Creamy Cauliflower and Potato Sauce

I'm not sure whether I should blame the ugliness of this winter, the lack of time I've had due to work and other commitments, people, or The Recession, but I've not felt like cooking lately. I've cooked, I've eaten, but I've not been inspired. Arrival of a fresh cooking magazine would typically inspire at least a stolen hour of time thinking about how I could do things better, but lately they've sat unread. I wander the grocery store and try to figure out what to cook that takes little effort.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (1)

Column Wed Feb 11 2009

Down Home Mac-n-Cheese

I don't know about you, but I've been craving some crazy amounts of comfort food. Its the time of year where I just get a little whiny and sluggish. And making dishes that are creamy and starchy have been making me feel better.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (3)

Column Thu Jan 15 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

If you read last week's feature about tamale-making and made it to the bottom of the column, you saw my instructions for cooking chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks) with dried peppers. Last week I showed you how to take that chicken and shred the meat for turning into tamale filling. Which means that if you actually did that you'd end up with a couple of quarts of smoky, spicy, and dark red chicken broth.

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Cinnamon Cooper / Comments (1)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

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