Dining and food culture in Chicago

Dining Destinations: Nashville

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Hot Chicken at Hattie B's/Photo: David Hammond

Hot Chicken at Hattie B’s/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Nashville, the Music City, is a high-value long-weekend destination for Chicagoans in search of good things to listen to, eat and drink. Nashville is about an eight-hour drive, a somewhat longer/way-less-expensive Megabus ride, or a direct flight from Chicago (about $120/round trip). The paradigmatic Nashville meal is “meat and threes”: meat with three sides, like mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and beans. There are, however, three other native Nashvillian comestibles that have achieved national recognition.

Hot Chicken: Perhaps Nashville’s most renowned menu item, among both locals and tourists, is the Hot Chicken. This sandwich of the fried fowl and hot sauce is enhanced (as are so many Nashville celebrities) by a hard-to-disprove legend. Hot Chicken’s origin story goes a little something like this: a wife, weary of her husband’s philandering ways, prepares vindictive vittles for him after he drifts home from god-knows-where. For this punitive repast, she fries up chicken and serves it, dripping with incendiary cayenne-based sauce, on white bread. Thing is, the s.o.b. enjoys it! He loves it so much, in fact, that he and his brothers start a restaurant to serve it. Read the rest of this entry »

Dining Destinations: Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

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Gary Henschel of Henschel's Indian Museum and Trout Farm/Photo: David Hammond

Gary Henschel of Henschel’s Indian Museum and Trout Farm/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Elkhart Lake’s spring-fed water, held sacred for centuries by indigenous peoples, is so clean that when it’s tested every year, inspectors dramatize its purity by ceremoniously sipping a cup of untreated lake water.

We didn’t take that taste test, but we ate at three worthy restos in Elkhart Lake (a two-and-a-half hour drive from Chicago), all a short stroll from the three main lakefront hotels: The Osthoff (osthoff.com), Victorian Village (vicvill.com) and Siebkens Resort (siebkens.com). Read the rest of this entry »

Dining Destinations: Ann Arbor

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Photo: David Hammond

Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

At some point in the not-too-distant past, while many of us Chicagoans were not paying attention, Ann Arbor, Michigan, became a major Midwestern dining destination. Why is Ann Arbor now such a center for culinary goodness?

Well, for one, Michigan is a state of smaller farms—ninety-five percent of Michigan agriculture is produced on family farms—so there’s a lot of excellent produce for consumers and restaurants to put on their tables.

Moreover, Ann Arbor has become an attractive retirement location for many University of Michigan alumni who are returning to their college town, buying condos… and looking for good places to eat.

Another driving reason for Ann Arbor’s ascendance to culinary glory is, indisputably, Zingerman’s Deli, long regarded as THE place in Ann Arbor to shop for high-quality food and drink. Recently expanded to make room for a bigger kitchen, this legendary deli is, indeed, a rich resource for take-away foods as well as beautifully curated charcuterie, cheese, fresh bread and shelf-stable goods like honey and olive oil. Read the rest of this entry »

Chef’s Surprise: Tabor Hill brings refinement to an unsophisticated menu

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By Michael Nagrant

“Drink Wine. Laugh Often. Live Long.” That’s what the shingle outside of the entrance to Tabor Hill Winery in bucolic Buchanan, Michigan says. And, I suppose if I were one of those middle-aged Chicago antique-hunters whose wealthy husbands bought a farm in nearby Three Oaks to clear brush on the weekends like an ex-president, I might think that was cute. Hell, I’d probably go out and buy some crochet tools and needle me up a sampler of that mantra for my own kitchen.

But I am not. That sign and the faux ski lodge-like décor featuring knotty woods, rustic stone and tables set with blue glass goblets is baiting my inner Holden Caulfield. Even worse, I’m responsible for this schmaltz. I needed a halfway point to meet my in-laws, who live in mid-Michigan, for Sunday dinner. Food writer that I am mixed with the omnipresent Michael Pollan-induced guilt trip coursing through me, I couldn’t just settle for a rendezvous at the I-94 Long John Silver’s followed by a Coke and a beef jerky chaser from the gas station on the way home. I had to find me some good eats. And so here I am, glass of oxidized Michigan Pinot Noir in hand. Read the rest of this entry »

Journey to the Journeyman: Fine food found in Fennville

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chow2By Michael Nagrant

Living in a city with more than 6,000 restaurants, why would you ever drive 150 miles to eat in a city with a population of 1,500? For me, it’s a kind of a Hillary Clinton-type thing. She was right, it does take a village to raise a child. Unfortunately for my wife and I, parents of a 16-month-old boy who believes soil is a basic food group, we left the village back in our home state of Michigan when we moved to Chicago. So when we need a break from the exhaustive process of keeping our son’s mouth free of dirt and other things you find on the average floor, we gotta go to the village.

It turns out Fennville, a one-Subway-franchise town surrounded by farmland and located two hours from Chicago and about six miles from the nearest freeway, is the perfect halfway point between Lansing, home of my in-laws, and our West Loop loft. Luckily for us, it’s also home to one of Michigan’s best restaurants, the Journeyman, our drop-off point for junior’s sleepovers, aka parental-sanity breaks, with the grandparents. Read the rest of this entry »

A Pie Worth the Drive: Looking north for inspiration

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Buddy's pizza

Buddy's pizza

By Michael Nagrant

There are at least a thousand pizza parlors in Chicago, but only about ten spots that people constantly war over as the best. There’s the soft thin-crust of Pat’s (2679 North Lincoln—sausage laden of course) and Vito and Nick’s (8433 South Pulaski), the hard cracker thin-crust of Candlelite (7452 North Western—don’t miss the garlic fries either), the Sicilian style bakery pies of Pequod’s (2207 North Clybourn) and Burt’s Place (8541 North Ferris, Morton Grove), the only real deep-dish that’s not a gut bomb, Pizano’s (61 East Madison—butter crust preferred) and the Neapolitan blistered crusts of Spacca Napoli (1769 West Sunnyside). I’ll even throw in the organic-ingredient-topped dough of Crust (2056 West Division), the Chicago original Uno’s (29 East Ohio—too thick) and the New York/Neapolitan Hybrid Coalfire (1321 West Grand—too much soot on the bottom for my taste) into the mix. Read the rest of this entry »