Dining and food culture in Chicago

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 »