Dining and food culture in Chicago

Chicago Pie-oneer: Paula Haney’s Hoosier Mama is Really Booking

Cookbooks, Pastry, Ukrainian Village No Comments »


By Matt Kirouac

There are few things as soul-soothing as pie, which explains the adoration for Hoosier Mama Pie Co., and the chief Hoosier behind it all, Paula Haney. From coffee shops to fine dining institutions, Haney has proven her pastry prestige, but what really set her apart from the dessert posse was her decision to break away from the trendy and return to her roots making pie. Now four years in with her first pie shop, fresh off the debut of her own pie cookbook, and on the verge of opening her second shop, Haney is a true pie-oneer in Chicago.

Pie was the first thing Haney learned how to make at home in the Hoosier State. They were the go-to dessert in her family, and by the age of eight, she was making apple pie with her mom. It was love at first bite. “It was amazing how good just the apples and the cinnamon and the sugar were together,” she recalls. Although her passion for pie was there from the get-go, the road to Hoosier Mama was a long one.

Haney studied journalism at Indiana University, but wound up working at a coffee shop in Bloomington called The Runcible Spoon. She dabbled at a couple other places in town getting a taste for the baking life before moving to Chicago and working at The Hilton on Michigan Avenue. Although separating eggs for hours on end was tedious, she chocks it up as good mental exercise and practice, preparing her for her pastry-assistant position at Trio under Della Gossett. She calls the kitchen intense yet supportive, fostering growth in her pastry skills. “I was making stuff I had never made before,” she says. It was here where she felt she really learned and grew during her three years as an assistant and three as pastry chef, curating elaborate dishes using candied seaweed tuiles and foie gras as part of twenty-course tasting menus.  Read the rest of this entry »

Confection Perfection: How Black Dog Gelato is elevating a classic

Ice Cream, Ukrainian Village No Comments »

By Giovanni Wrobel

Gelato is a culinary must for starry-eyed Americans with Euros to burn on trips to Italy and elsewhere in Europe. But can this velvety smooth Italian cousin to ice cream claim its rightful spot in our local pantheon of desserts, or is it destined to remain in il purgatorio as a filler choice in old-line Italian restaurants, served in freezer-burned fruit bowls with mint garnish?

One pastry chef and store may not suffice as oracle for such questions,  but Jessica Oloroso, an erudite artisan who owns and operates Black Dog Gelato, has done much in a short time to bring gelato the acclaim and patronage it deserves.

Oloroso started her own business as a supplier to local restaurants and coffee shops throughout Chicago. She left her position as pastry chef at Scylla, a Bucktown restaurant best known as the launching pad for “Top Chef”-winner Stephanie Izard, purchased ice cream machines, and set up shop in Kitchen Chicago, an artisan communal kitchen, where she began work on her techniques and unique recipes.

Oloroso echoes the drive of many start-up business owners: “I really didn’t want to have to work for anyone. I wanted to go off on my own. I honed my particular path, which is ice cream and gelato, using basic skills I picked up in school and then lots of trial and error in the kitchen. I did a lot of reading and research too.” Read the rest of this entry »

Toro Titan: Arami signals a new sushi master in town

Japanese, Sushi, Ukrainian Village No Comments »


By Michael Nagrant

The contemplation of the cut, the hand to the knife, the flaying of flesh—this is his profession. Stealthy like a ninja, discreet like a geisha, and eviscerating like a samurai—he will be, is, what the fillet requires. Watching toro ribbon beneath his blade, the word “rote” comes to mind. But, that’s wrong. Though repetition and study have yielded to mastery, he acts as though he has mastered nothing. Each slice is treated like his first.

He would be an apt recruit for a king’s court, the man who tests for poison. Though he mixed the soy sauce a minute ago before dabbing it on a triangle of fluke, he tastes it again before flavoring a second piece. You never know. Something could fall from the ceiling. The sauce might evaporate and get too salty. Each piece tastes like the one before it.

He walks from his station, leaving his forged steel knife behind. A man sitting at the bar says he collects knives and asks the chef’s assistant if he could see it. The assistant rejects the patron’s request. The man at the bar pleads. The assistant looks around and lifts the knife so the patron can get a closer look. He sets it down again.

The chef returns and appraises his station. A mask of violation creeps across his face. He whispers, “Who touched my knife?” The assistant bows in shame, but there is no reprisal. The chef waves him off, smiles at his customers and continues cutting.

This sushi chef is Mr. Miyagi, trapping flies with chopsticks. I can’t abide the silence. I ask him how he knew? “I always put my knife down in the same direction.” It’s not complicated, but it is not simple. Discipline rarely is. 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 »

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 »

Simmer Down at Mr. Brown’s Lounge: Jamaica comes to Ukrainian Village

Caribbean, Ukrainian Village No Comments »

albumBy Michael Nagrant

Can you really trust a Jamaican restaurant that serves German chocolate cake? Then again, maybe that’s not really a good standard as you can’t really judge a German restaurant by that caramel-pecan-topped slice of goodness either. For German chocolate cake was not born in Deutschland. Rather in 1852, an Englishman named Samuel German invented a chocolate bar for the Baker’s Chocolate Company which was eventually named “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate” in his honor. Someone made a cake with the stuff, and in 1957, an American submitted the recipe for the cake to a Dallas newspaper and thus it’s more American than apple pie, which is actually English.

One might turn to the decorative reggae LPs hanging on the wall at the new Ukrainian Village island-influenced retreat Mr. Brown’s Lounge for a measure of the place. But, by that standard, you might run away, for there are far too many Maxi Priest and Shabba Ranks album covers on this wall to take the restaurant seriously. Yes, I know you reveled in “Mr. Loverman” between spins of Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes,” but Shabba also has the dubious honor of guesting on the Eddie Murphy track “I Was a King.” Read the rest of this entry »

Slow Ride: Paula and Monica’s pizza conjures up sweet stoner memories

Pizza, Ukrainian Village No Comments »

beefpizzaBy Michael Nagrant

In my fourteenth year I had the good fortune of befriending a teenage entrepreneur and a crew of stoner pizza makers. The entrepreneur, my buddy Mike, was the proud owner of a lucrative paper route as well as a premier lawn-care business in Shelby Township, Michigan. Even before Mike could drive, he had a fleet of commercial walk-behinds and tractors, and a shiny trailer to haul them. He was generating mid-five figures while I was still begging my mom for quarters to secure Slurpees at 7-11.

I’d tried to get a paper route, but my father who’d been a Detroit News carrier and a Boy Scout declared that both endeavors had ruined his young life and insisted no son of his would ever join either organization. And for awhile I was sullen as my fellow second-grade homies rocked cool blue-and-gold Cub Scout caps. But, as fathers generally are, years later anyway, he was right. Without his steadfast boycott, I would surely be writing this article from a basement lair drooling over a growing collection of William Shatner memorabilia and animal porn. 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 »

Chewin’ on Chickpea: A fearless new Middle-Eastern spot

Palestinian, Ukrainian Village No Comments »

hummusBy Michael Nagrant

Judging by the cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” by Israeli-French singer Yael Naim playing over Palestinean café Chickpea’s sound system, the Arab-Israeli conflict doesn’t have much purchase here. That’s no surprise, though,as pretty much everything here is a touch askew.

The Genie coin-op pinball machine in the corner rigged for free play is possessed with a sticky right flipper and almost all of the songs that play while I eat are covers, including what seems like an impossibility: a more plaintive, cheesy version of John Waite’s “Missing You” than the original. Though, apparently Steve Perry is cheesy enough, because “Don’t Stop Believin’” is featured in all of its original arena-rock glory.

The walls are plastered with familiar iconic pop-cultural imagery: the American-flag-shrouded Rocky Balboa, the vengeful, badass, gun-toting Charles Bronson from “Death Wish,” the wily Clintonesque grin of Eddie Murphy from “A Distinguished Gentleman” and the Red-Sea-parting white Coca-Cola wave. These aren’t Hollywood lightbox reproductions, but Arabic language posters.

But just as American pop culture is interpreted through the Middle Eastern graphical prism, the food at Chickpea is sometimes inversely reinterpreted against the backdrop of the Elvis-and-“Speed Racer”-tinged, Western-influenced childhood of owner Jerry Suqi (Sugar, La Pomme Rouge). Read the rest of this entry »