Dining and food culture in Chicago

Shifting to Park: The Newest Trend in Food Trucking is a Storefront

Argentinian, Food Trucks, Lakeview, Pastry, Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »

Beavers Coffee & Donuts Drivers Side PicIf you want to get your fix of gourmet mini donuts from Beavers Coffee & Donuts, you normally look to their website or Twitter to find the food truck’s location and hours. But once Beavers opens its first storefront restaurant in the Chicago French Market in early January, you’ll know where and when to get your hot breakfast on demand.

Since the Beavers truck opened in December of last year, requests for its catering service—and for donuts after the truck’s weekday morning-through-lunch hours—grew so rapidly that co-owners Gabriel Wiesen and Jim Nuccio started planning an expansion this summer. “Logistically, it makes sense to have a storefront in conjunction with a food truck,” Wiesen says. “Being able to facilitate those requests was really hard without a store.”

Operating a food truck makes starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant a much easier task. For starters, the idea has already been tested: Food-truck owners know what sells, know who their customers are and, when scouting for locations, know where their customer-base lives. They already are making money, and they’ve built a brand that can attract investors. Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »

Meat Market: Folklore brings a taste of Tango to Division Street

Argentinian, Lakeview, Wicker Park No Comments »

folksignBy Michael Nagrant

Whenever friends came to town with the itch to throw down $50 for hunks of fire-licked glistening meat carved from glinting scimitars wielded by fake gauchos at spots like Fogo de Chao, Sal y Carvao or Brazzaz (the best of the three), I usually stopped at Sam’s for a couple bottles of Chilean or Argentine red and headed over to the popular BYOB Tango Sur in Lakeview instead.

Tango Sur doesn’t have the gigantor upscale all-you-can-eat salad bar larded with salumi, cheese, shellfish and all manner of stomach-filling carbohydrates cleverly designed to block you from actually eating much of the more expensive grilled meats. However, Brazzaz et al don’t have a swaddling awning-covered patio on the corner of Southport and Grace like Tango. There’s no soft Lake Michigan breeze, the beckoning blinking bulbs from the Music Box theatre marquee or the buzz of the Lakeview citizenry on any summery Friday night.

After a few hours, with Tango Sur’s steaks long simmering in their stomachs and with the only red wine left dotting the tablecloth or buzzing in their heads, next time they were in town, my friends begged to return. Read the rest of this entry »

Gaucho Style: Meyer’s Castle Rodizio brings the Argentinian spirit to life

Argentinian, Dyer, Indiana No Comments »
Photo: Eric Young Smith

Photo: Eric Young Smith

By Chris Chandler

Sergio Urquiza believes there is no finer-tasting meat in the world than the beef cooked by the gauchos of South America. These nomadic cow punchers, horsemen and fighters speared their meat on swords, turned them on a spit over a charcoal fire and brought them to the diners to choose their favorite cuts, slicing them on to their dishes.

There are several very popular chain Brazilian restaurants in downtown Chicago that feature this kind of cooking and serving—called Rodizio—advertising their “Churrascaria.” There is a very good Argentinean restaurant on Southport (Tango Sur) and a place popular with Argentines on Elston (Ñ), but my Argentinean friend Maria Sonduval brought me to Sergio’s Meyer’s Castle, in Dyer, Indiana.

When you take that thirty-minute drive, you will enter the grounds of the replica of a Scottish castle, and be driven to the restaurant on top of the highest hill in sight. Your reservation noted, you will be escorted to your table and presented with a choice of the very best of Argentine cuisine. Read the rest of this entry »