Dining and food culture in Chicago

Chicago’s Classic Restaurants: Schaller’s Pump

American, Bridgeport, Chicago’s Classic Restaurants No Comments »
Photo: David Hammond

Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

During Prohibition, beer was allegedly pumped in from a brewery next door to Schaller’s Pump (3714 South Halsted), enabling barkeeps to reduce on-hand inventory (or “evidence, ” as it would have been called by law enforcement) and earn its name (“Pump”).

At the back of Schaller’s, there’s a peephole once used for vetting thirsty patriots engaged in heroic acts of civil disobedience against the tyrannical Volstead Act.

The bar, which opened in 1881, is across the street from 11th Ward Democratic Party headquarters. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Twin: The Ricobenes try their hand at finer dining with Gemellato Ristorante

Bridgeport, Italian, News etc. No Comments »

Under the shade of a crisscrossing concrete canopy, a sliver of 26th Street runs from South Canal Street to I-94 beneath the intersecting Dan Ryan and Stevenson Expressway overpasses. Here, in the far reaches of the Bridgeport, Chinatown and Armour Square neighborhoods, the Ricobene family has carved out their flavorful nerve center.

The Ricobene family has maintained a presence on the 200 block of West 26th since 1946, when Rosario and Antonia opened a walk-up vegetable stand that quickly grew into the big-eats Italian food destination that it is today. 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 »

Shawarma Police: This is what you get when you mess with tahini

Bridgeport, Middle Eastern, Ukrainian Village 3 Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

This is what you get (when you eat in the front seat of your car): a combined dry-cleaning and auto-interior-detailing bill that costs four times the price of the sandwich you just ate.

After the best-taco-al-pastor search of 2007, whereby I had to remove achiote paste stains from the front passenger-side carpet of my Ford Escape, the subsequent best-French-fry search, whereby my truck’s cabin wafted greasy McDonaldsesque potato fumes for a week, and then finally the best-pho quest, which ended up with me using a wet/dry vacuum to suck out star-anise-perfumed beef broth from the crevices of my center console, you think I woulda learned my lesson.

Of course, though my 3-year-old son just explored what almost all of the colors in the Crayola Fun Pack look like when you scribble them on the back of our white entry door, my wife claims she wants to give birth again.

Pain is somehow often synonymous with forgetfulness.

And so, the great shawarma search of 2010 commenced with me dripping spicy, rusty-orange harissa-infused tahini sauce all over my button-down, my jeans and the cracks in the leather on my gray bucket seats. For those wondering, tahini is not a good natural sesame-paste alternative to Armor All. Read the rest of this entry »

Coney Island Dreams: Dogged by memories, a quest ensues

Bridgeport, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Lakeview, Lincoln Square 5 Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

I cried watching Kid Rock on VH1 Storytellers the other day. It wasn’t a watershed, rather more of a single rolling tear. That a greasy-haired-beer-guzzling-tattooed-fedora-wearing-skuzzy-facially-haired-dude who used to cavort with a profane dwarf named Joe C and who by his own admission is “straight out the trailer” moved me, was a surprise. But, that’s hometown pride.

For decades, outsiders have been slagging on my dingy beacon on the river, Detroit. For almost as long, they never got it right. For every wolf cry about Detroit as flaking rust belt, there were still millions of blue-collar assembly liners rolling off their shifts in chrome-trimmed Cadillacs. For every crumbling rough-patinaed high rise, there was a shiny silver recently hoisted Red Wings Stanley Cup.

For every hellfire and ash-pile of a former building shown from a helicopter camera angle on Devil’s Night, or every reported carjacking or murder, there was a kid reveling, though shivering in his moonboots, on Woodward Avenue across from the old Vernor’s factory watching a Thanksgiving parade more glorious and real than that fairy-dusted televised production dream from Macy’s in New York.

Now, though, Detroit is truly busted. The Big 3 have cut to the bone and laid off too many. You hear of foreclosures in Chicago, but in Detroit you see them in crumbling realtor signs, creeping prairie grasses and cracked porches choked with weeds. Read the rest of this entry »

Dinner Dynasty: The surprisingly, unconventionally great Han 202

Bridgeport, New American, Pan-Asian 1 Comment »

hanawningBy Michael Nagrant

The Bridgeport blue-hair mafia is not happy. This gathering of neighborhood ladies bedecked in sweatsuits, tattoos and cut-off jeans who came in search of “an egg roll and some good fried rice” is expressing confusion over what a “tasting menu” is and disgust over Han 202 restaurant’s “extraordinarily expensive” $20 price tag (for five courses). After a bout of sighs and bickering, they decide to stay, but spend the next ten minutes having their waitress discuss the relative spice level of all fifteen entrée choices.

The thing is, who could blame them. Not only does Bridgeport not have a restaurant like this, but there’s nothing like it in all of Chicago. Eclectic (along with phenomenal and to die for) are probably the most overused expressions in all of food reviewing, and yet there’s no better word to describe Han 202. Chef Guan Chen and his wife Yan operate so idiosyncratically, they make the peculiar Schwa look like as professional as Charlie Trotters. 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 »

The Breakfast Issue Guide

Andersonville, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Hyde Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Little Italy, Loop, Lower West Side, Pilsen, River West, Roscoe Village, South Loop, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Bongo Room (South Loop)
1152 South Wabash, (312)291-0100
Breakfast is the redheaded stepchild of cuisine. No short-order Homaro Cantu or Grant Achatz has popped up to redefine breakfast. Bongo Room is one of the only restaurants re-inventing morning nosh. The cilantro-jalapeno tortilla filled with guacamole and fluffy eggs and topped with ancho chili cream is as fat as Popeye’s forearm. Haute Eggs Benedicts are replete with duck eggs, lump crab cakes and steak. The real stars though are the Butterfinger-like pancakes dripping with toffee butter, or the chocolate-tower French toast laced with mascarpone and covered with banana-flavored crème anglaise.

Bongo Room (Wicker Park)

1470 North Milwaukee, (773)489-0690
See Sidebar.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eaters Up! You can beat food at the old ballpark

Bridgeport, Fast Food/Street Food, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Lakeview No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Growing up a Detroiter, there was no mustard-only hotdog religion. The only encased-meat principle that was inviolable was that you got your chili-slathered Coneys at gritty Lafayette, and not the theme-park-like American when you were downtown. With no cultural taboo to hold me back, there were days I ate ketchup on my hotdogs.

June 10, 1983, my first Detroit Tigers game, was one of those days. They played the Cleveland Indians. Dave Rozema pitched for the Tigers and Chet Lemon (a former White Soxer), famous for robbing hitters of home runs with a Michael Jordanesque vertical jump and a sure glove, hit a home run of his own, and the Tigs won 7-1.

I remember the wide-eyed moment most kids probably have of emerging through a narrow tunnel and out to the verdant expanse of grass and an azure sea of plastic seats. I remember how juiced (not like Barry Bonds, but more like in the hopped-up Sunny Delight way) I was to see Sweet Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris and his “Magnum P.I.” ‘stache in the flesh.

Thrilled as I was, what I remember most was the hotdogs. Read the rest of this entry »

Super Bowls: Forget About the Bears

Archer Heights, Bridgeport, Burbank, Contemporary Comfort, Greektown, Lincoln Park, Uptown No Comments »
Chuck's chili

Chuck's chili

By Michael Nagrant

For most of us, this year’s Super Bowl will be a doleful reminder of last year’s Bears collapse in the big game. Sitting down to watch the Giants battle the Patriots will do nothing but stir up 2007’s carnival of failure featuring Lance Briggs’ pre-season hold-out and Lamborghini hijinks, Tank Johnson’s legal woes, Brian Urlacher’s baby-mama drama and press tantrums and Rex Grossman’s ability to make ‘ole neckbeard Kyle Orton look like a promising NFL quarterback. So, why don’t you just turn off those plasma and DLP screens, skip the big game and hit the road in search of something to soothe your soul? In an effort to provide succor and to keep you warm through this January chill, I’ve compiled a list of some of Chicago’s own super bowls of soup, chili and stew to aid your journey. Read the rest of this entry »