Dining and food culture in Chicago

Stollen Memories: Dinkel’s Bakery Feeds the Christmas Spirit

Breakfast/Brunch, Coffee & Tea, German, Lakeview, Pastry, Sandwiches No Comments »

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset By Amber Gibson

My love affair with German bread began in 2007, when I spent a year studying abroad in Germany. Every little town seemed to have a baker on each corner, up before the sun kneading dough and baking bread. Countless frigid winter mornings, my only incentive to get out of bed in the morning was the smell of breakfast brötchen (bread rolls) wafting through my window from the bakery across the street.

The culture of fresh-baked bread and the multitude of hearty loaves studded with nuts and seeds, or a sharp pumpernickel or rye spoiled me terribly. Sliced bread from the grocery store? Oh, the horror! It was in Bickenbach, a small village outside Darmstadt, where I was first introduced to good German stollen—less cloying, more buttery and much tastier than fruitcake. Here in Chicago, many bakeries offer their take on the sweet bread, but none quite captures my taste buds and brings back my memories of the pleasantly plump surrogate oma baker in Bickenbach feeding me extra sweets to fatten me up like the stollen at Dinkel’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Pancake Pioneer: Reinvention According to Leah Wilcox and her Babycakes Food Truck

Breakfast/Brunch, Food Trucks No Comments »

Leah Wilcox thought pancakes were boring, so she decided to make them more interesting. Pancakes with red wine, salted caramel, strawberry margarita, birthday cake, white-chocolate macadamia… Wilcox realized the floppy, flat breakfast food had potential, and launched Babycakes, a pancake food truck.

Every morning, Wilcox rises and goes to the Kitchen Chicago shared commercial kitchen on the West Side. She maps out her menu ideas the day before, choosing about six varieties from dozens of options that rotate daily. Since she began a food-truck business with her pancakes in March, she has come up with nearly eighty recipes.

Wilcox never had a particular fascination with flapjacks; in fact, her idea sprang from how boring she found them. “I don’t really like regular old-fashioned pancakes that much, which is part of the reason I started playing around with the recipe to make it something new and different. I am excited about doing something with pancakes that has never been done before. Plain buttermilk pancakes to me are just a little bit boring and way too filling. Since my pancakes are relatively small, about three inches in diameter, and a stack of three in each, you can get the delicious flavor without going into carb overload, and you can try a couple of them without feeling too stuffed,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Green Eggs and Mugs

Breakfast/Brunch, News etc., River North No Comments »

The love affair with the space between breakfast and lunch will no longer be Sunday-only for Chicagoans starting this summer thanks to director of operations Ryan Marks’ new restaurant, Brunch, an environmentally friendly establishment. Brunch aims to balance a welcoming atmosphere with modern amenities geared toward earth-loving urban patrons. Marks expects Brunch to be green-certified with its energy-efficient appliances and locally sourced commodities. Under the guidance of chef Daniel Tibbetts, the menu will offer organically produced Midwestern eggs, cheeses and meats. The restaurant’s amenities will include flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, a fully stocked newsstand, shoeshine station, express counter for to-go orders, and private dining areas for anything from a corporate meeting to a baby shower.

Further merging tree-hugger mentality with fast-paced urban lifestyle is Brunch’s “Reusable Coffee Mug Program.” Marks describes the program as a “win, win…win,” meaning that donating an unwanted or unused coffee mug aids the sustainable credo of the establishment, the variety of mugs creates a quirky and unique quality for the Brunch experience, and mugs with business logos are free advertisements constantly rotated and viewed by Chicagoans enjoying a hot beverage. Mugs can be dropped off at Brunch’s location at 343 West Erie, between Sedgwick and Orleans, and they’ll start cracking eggs for the public this June. (Tiana Olewnick)

Season’s Dumplings: Triple Crown brightens up the dim sum

Breakfast/Brunch, Chinatown, Chinese No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

This year I broke down and finally asked what Jesus would do. It happened at the 3pm Christmas Eve mass in the back of Old St. Pat’s church in the West Loop. Somewhere during the Gospel pageant, when a tiny Mary wrested plastic baby Jesus from his makeshift manger and hoisted him by his head like Michael Jordan palming a basketball, my mind started to wander.

It traveled beyond the pastel-painted Celtic-style columns of the church and settled into the Near South Side, amidst the steam and neon down at the corner of Wentworth and Cermak in Chinatown. There, I wondered, given the fifty or so places to score Chinese food, where might Big J eat Christmas Eve dinner?

This might seem odd, but while Jesus is the reason for the season, we also know he was a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews love to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. Plus, one really could use divine intervention on this matter, for there are so many factors to consider. Read the rest of this entry »

On Fowl and Filipino Breakfast: Uncle Mike’s is a place of pleasant contradictions

Breakfast/Brunch, Filipino, Ukrainian Village, West Town No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

There are a half-dozen penguins gathered on a high ledge. It’s not clear how they got there or what their purpose is. They could be suicidal, biding their last minutes while peering gingerly over the edge, contemplating the hot bath of ginger-chicken porridge or the searing splash that awaits in a duo of over-easy eggs perfumed with sesame oil below.

Then again, cantilevered above their tiny ceramic bodies towers a gigantic burnished saxophone, the kind you find in a secondhand store, though, not the kind with raspberry berets. When’s the last time anyone’s seen a raspberry beret in a secondhand store? No such thing likely exists. It’s just a cheap juxtaposition of bad detail that Prince thinks makes his story sound authentic. The song “Raspberry Beret” is full of such things: “My boss was Mr. McGee” and “We went riding down by old man Johnson’s farm.” McGee might as well be Mr. Magoo and Johnson, Old McDonald, as fake as they surely are.

But, nonetheless, this is a beater of a sax, so old it could have been with John Coltrane on those late nights in a broken-down old New York hotel at 3am after a gig when, juiced from performing, he’d play for hours alone in his room to calm his nerves. Hotel patrons would complain. The manager would yell. And Coltrane would remove the reed from his mouthpiece, work the fingerings on his sax and continue to blow silent scales until he fell asleep.

Maybe those penguins were ready to bop, to blow Coltrane’s “Lazy Bird,” no doubt. Who knows? Such are the charming quirks of the Ukie village diner Uncle Mike’s Place. Joining the penguins: a tin ceiling, plenty of exposed brick and a wall of flowery keystone ceramic tile, the type your grandmother has embedded above her bathtub in her all-pink bathroom, last rehabbed in 1973. There’s also plenty of Hopperesque stainless trim, though very little chipped Formica. The tables here are topped with a lacquered woven rattan thatch that channels the Boston Celtics’ parquet palace. Read the rest of this entry »

Staxed : A new Little Italy breakfast spot puts out the hits

Breakfast/Brunch, Little Italy 2 Comments »

Peach French toast

By Michael Nagrant

On December 8, 1967 at the Memphis recording studios of Stax Records, Otis Redding didn’t have a lyric written for the last verse of his newest song, so he improvised and whistled a few bars, planning to return to the studio again to finish. Two days later he died in a plane crash outside of Madison, Wisconsin, his body recovered from Lake Monona. Redding’s partner and lyricist, Steve Cropper, went to the studio right after the crash, finished up the recording, preserved the whistling as an outro and launched Redding’s biggest hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” on Stax record’s Volt label.

In 1965, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where three years later Dr. Martin Luther King would be shot, Wilson Pickett and Cropper wrote a little ditty called “In the Midnight Hour.” They also recorded it at the Memphis studios of Stax, releasing the album on Atlantic Records.

Just as suburban kids found Chess Records’ Chuck Berry through the Beatles in the sixties or Muddy Waters in the seventies via the idolatry of the Rolling Stones and thievery of Led Zeppelin, I’d discovered Stax greatest soul men growing up in the eighties through white culture. 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 »

Kickin’ out the Jams: Taking breakfast to new heights

Breakfast/Brunch, Wicker Park No Comments »

jamtoastBy Michael Nagrant

I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the moment Heavy D, aka Dwight Errington Myers, the rotund rapper who brought us the fine jingle “Now That We Found Love,” jumped the shark. It wasn’t when he portrayed the half-wit migrant worker Peaches alongside Tobey Maguire in the “Cider House Rules,” though that was close. It was much earlier in 1991, when he appeared on Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album rapping on the song “Jam.” Consider the heart of his rhyme on that ditty: “Mingle Mingle Jingle. In The Jungle. Bum Rushed The Door. 3 And 4’s In A Bundle.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Heavy also dances in the video alongside Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith, aka Kriss Kross, originators of the backwards-clothes-wearing movement and prepubescent crooners of “Jump,” the #75 rated song on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the Nineties.” Oddly, Kriss Kross never actually sing on “Jam.” They just hobble around in their ill-fitting reversed baseball jerseys and flash baby gang signs throughout the video. Did the King of Pop mercilessly cut their vocal part? Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, 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.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

A Benediction: No matter the dry truth, Eggs Benedict still pleases

Breakfast/Brunch No Comments »

chow3By Michael Nagrant

They say you always remember your first. And were we talking about a kiss, I remember sitting on a recessed bench filled with orange life jackets on the second level of the Boblo Island ferry leaning towards my sixth grade “girlfriend” Monica. I remember the stench of rotting sea life from the Detroit River and the paprika scent of Better Made BBQ potato chips mingling with the floral waft of Giorgio perfume from her neck (though I suspect it was the Parfums de Coeur Designer Imposters knock-off—after all what 12-year-old can afford the real thing?) as we hesitantly merged our lips. Were we talking about sex, I remember that too, but kissing and telling is one thing, getting laid and doing so is quite another.

What I’m really talking about here is my first Eggs Benedict, the legendary English muffin raft conveying tasty castaways of salty pork and jiggly poached eggs awash in waves of silky hollandaise. And of that, I do not remember my first. Read the rest of this entry »