Dining and food culture in Chicago

Comfort Me: Nicole Pederson of Found 

Comfort Me, Evanston, Recipes 1 Comment »
Nicole Pederson

Nicole Pederson/Galdones photography

By David Hammond

We started the “Comfort Me” series in hopes of locating what might be the universal constants of comfort food, the characteristics shared by all consumables that we feel give us comfort. As we’ve talked to Chicago chefs, however, it became clear that, predictably, personal life experiences have a lot to do with our individual definitions of comfort foods, and comfort foods clearly vary by ethnicity.

Nonetheless, there are some recurring themes in comfort food. It seems, for many Westerners, comfort food is frequently characterized by high-fat/high-carb creations that are not aggressively spiced and are easy to eat: they’re soft, yield to an effortless bite, and don’t seem to require a lot of chewing. That’s certainly true for the primary comfort food of Nicole Pederson of Found (1631 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, foundkitchen.com).

“My comfort foods,” Pederson confesses, “are kind of strange. It’s not like I had a meal that was all comfort food. It was little things, like lefse, which is a thin, potato pancake thing. Norwegian. You eat it like a tortilla, except you put butter on it. We’re Norwegian, so we put butter on everything. We even eat raw butter. Lefse is like a big round circular pancake that you cook on a kind of crepe griddle. It’s made from potato and flour, almost like a gnocchi batter. You roll it out really thin with a textured rolling pin, and then you griddle it on both sides. It lasts a long time in the refrigerator, and then you eat it with butter, alongside dinner. As a snack, you can eat lefse with sugar…but my grandpa said only Swedes eat lefse with sugar.”

Our comfort foods seem, many times, to be linked to specific experiences we’ve had growing up. For Erick Williams of County Barbeque (1352 West Taylor), his comfort food memories revolve around sitting alone in the kitchen after high-school football practice eating his mom’s stew. For Mary Nguyen Aregoni of Saigon Sisters (multiple locations), she remembers eating pho, traditional Vietnamese soup, with her dad and other family members in Laos after they left their homeland following the Vietnam War. For Pederson, many of her comfort foods are linked to cooking and eating experiences with her grandparents. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Must Love Dogs

Evanston, Hot Dogs/Sausages No Comments »

With a menu that reads like a state fair—deep-fried pickle chips, country-fried bacon, chili cheese fries and, of course, their famous Dippin’ Dogs—it’s no wonder Evanston’s Wiener and Still Champion (802 Dempster) is the place to be this Saturday for National Corndog Day. “Last year was crazy,” says owner Gus Paschalis. “We probably sold 500 Dippin’ Dogs in one day.” Paschalis, who took ownership of the restaurant in 2005, spent the first part of his ownership messing with the batter for their Dippin’ Dogs, trying to get it just right. “It took me about ten different tinkerings to come up with the batter,” says Paschalis. “It’s got that real, authentic state-fair taste.” Wiener and Still Champion also has an extensive listing of dipping sauces for their dogs. Paschalis says, “We have twelve regular sauces on hand. And we also do a sauce a week.” This gives the restaurant about fifty-two different sauces by the end of the year, and the most popular ones are kept on the menu. Paschalis and company will offer discounts all day this Saturday for National Corndog Day, including their Dippin’ Dogs for $1.25. (Peter Cavanaugh)

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 »

Stairway to (Hamburger) Heaven: Edzo’s brings a seventies show to Evanston

Burgers, Evanston 4 Comments »

kdk_1598By Michael Nagrant

If you lived on the north side of Chicago in the early eighties you might have seen a gleaming brick red Crown Victoria rolling down Dempster Avenue blasting Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” If you pulled up next to that bitchin’ ride and glanced in the back seat, you probably would have seen a young Eddie Lakin slunk down in the maroon leather bench seat slurping on a milkshake.

Lakin’s father, the car’s owner, grew up in Albany Park with the Skokie hotdog barons who opened legendary spots like Herm’s and Poochies, and many weekends, he’d take his son to visit his friends’ restaurants. It was there, chowing down on burgers and Polishes, that the seeds for his forthcoming Evanston burger shack Edzo’s were planted.

Lakin is probably the most overqualified owner of a burger and hot dog joint since Hot Doug Sohn walked out of Kendall College and bestowed duck fat French fries upon the world. A political science graduate of the University of Illinois, Lakin worked as a record store clerk after college, but realized there was no future in it, and enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC). He says, “You come up with an idea in the morning, do the prep, plate it, and send it out to the customer all in the same day. There’s an immediacy to cooking that’s really gratifying.” Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Things—The Remix: A breakdown of some recent finds

Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Little Italy, Trends & Essays No Comments »

Philly Steak

By Michael Nagrant

Oprah’s weak. She only shares her favorite things once a year. I, on the other hand, am back with another edition of my favorite, food, wine and restaurant dishes. These goodies were sampled in the last few months, but I haven’t written about them because they didn’t work in the context of a full-blown column. Enjoy.

Philly Steak – Grandaddy’s Subs, 2343 West Taylor, (312)243-4200
They say you can’t replicate a regional delicacy like the Philly cheese steak outside of Philly because of the local bread. That might be true, but when you start with your own good local bread, like Gonnella, you’re already halfway there. Grandaddy’s, an old stalwart in the middle of the Tri-Taylor neighborhood, starts with their French-style roll featuring a cracklin’ crust and an airy crumb, toasts it, and fills it with griddle-charred chopped steak, roasted paper-thin green peppers, caramelized onions and a couple of slices of oozy provolone (yeah, we know, Cheez Whiz is the Philly custom). Call it what you want, but it’s one of the better steak sandwiches in town. Read the rest of this entry »

Indie Coffeehouse Guide

Andersonville, Breakfast/Brunch, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Coffee & Tea, Evanston, Guides & Lists, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Loop, Near South Side, Pilsen, Ravenswood, River West, Rogers Park, South Loop, Ukrainian Village, West Loop, Wicker Park No Comments »

Sit down, relax and have a cup of coffee.

The coffeehouse has become a center in the contemporary city, serving as a meeting place, a “home office” and a study hall for the community. And the best serve as counterpoint to the prevailing corporate culture: shaggy, friendly and, rather than studies in the science of turning tables as quickly as possible, welcoming enclaves where lingering is virtually encouraged. Chicago has a wealth of great coffeehouses, and with due respect to the chains, it’s the independent, locally owned and operated institutions that give the city its caffeinated flavor. Treasure them and support them, though, for many are fragile endeavors. And as we learned this year when Filter gave way at one of the liveliest spots in Wicker Park, it’s not necessarily Starbucks that threatens their existence. Apparently, it’s the inexplicable need for a bank branch on every corner.

We’ve put together this selective indie coffeehouse guide as a service to those of us who value their existence, and as a service to the spirit they inculcate. Read the rest of this entry »

411 Seven Days in Chicago: Vegetarian Wildcats?

Evanston, News etc., Vegetarian No Comments »

There are various reasons for going vegetarian—animal cruelty, a healthier diet, impressing the attractive left-wing brunette in your poli-sci class—and apparently Northwestern University is doing a damn good job helping make the transition into a meat-free world. Peta2, a youth-based Web site apart of the animal rights’ activist group PETA, recently nominated Northwestern in its annual “most vegetarian-friendly colleges” list. “Northwestern actually has an amazing menu available,” says Ryan Huiling, spokesperson for Peta2. “Vegetarian riblets, vegan pancakes, vegetarian chicken pitas. These are all very delicious dishes that people can enjoy whether they are vegan or not.” Huiling cites a recent survey from Aramark, a food-services company, that says one in four college students consider vegan options important as evidence that at least students are starting to care about animals. “There has never been a better time to be a vegetarian,” he says. You can vote for the Northwestern Wildcats at peta2.com.