Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2013

Guides & Lists, The Big Heat 3 Comments »
Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Many things come to mind when contemplating Chicago’s culinary and cocktail culture: farm-to-table, molecular gastronomy, why Charlie Trotter hung it up, and so on. But what struck us when working on this year’s Big Heat list, which, as is our tradition, is more focused this year on the behind-the-scenes business of food and drink than its artistry on the plate and in the glass, is the power of collaboration. Perhaps inspired by Rich Melman’s pioneering partnership model of organizing the restaurant business, this town’s now full of groups launching one great new place after another. Keeping track of who’s opening what-where-when has become a sport in and of itself. And beyond those formal business partnerships is the spirit of community that pervades the entire thing, with chefs and sommeliers and mixologists and butchers all teaming up on a regular basis, not always to make money, but always to make great flavors. And our palates swoon appreciatively. (Brian Hieggelke)

Big Heat was written by Amber Gibson, Brian Hieggelke, Matt Kirouac, Sara Tenenbaum and Walter Burns
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Local Feasting: Prep Your Holiday Meals with Green City Market Finds

Farmer's Markets, Organics, Produce No Comments »

Prairie Fruits Cheeses

This past Saturday morning I made a startling discovery. I took a walk to the Green City Market, which, happily, does not close up shop with summer. Jack Frost may be putting a chill in the air, but I can still load up on farmer’s market staples like arugula, funky black kale, broccoli sprouts and “Angel Food” goat cheese to satisfy the restless Anthony Bourdain within.

And the spread, I must say, is pretty jaw dropping. Vendors display their wares (many with samples) outside near the south entrance, and inside the South Gallery on the second floor. I tasted enough crisp apple butters, creamy cheese spreads and sweet honey to make my head spin with recipe ideas. I discussed the joys of cheese-making with farmhands and contemplated gift ideas amongst the jam jars. Read the rest of this entry »

Fresher Than Ever: Green City Market gets a makeover and a new director

Lincoln Park, Organics, Produce No Comments »

Photo: Jessica Graves, Feeding the City

By Giovanni Wrobel

It’s hard to keep from smiling at the Green City Market, where every Wednesday and Saturday it feels as though the South Pond section of Lincoln Park is transformed into a French market on the dairy plains, as guitar strings and children’s laughter echo, and the fire-engine red backdrop of the Farm in the Zoo flashes through the trees. Shoppers and samplers exude energy and gush over the sweet and savory flavors of locally grown produce done right.

The yearlong farmers market in Lincoln Park is not a novel phenomenon, but with a newly landscaped location and Dana Benigno’s fresh face in the director’s chair, GCM presents much promise to grow within its community of committed shoppers and diligent farmers. Read the rest of this entry »

Really Slow Food: Wintertime, and the living’s easy at the Green City Market

Lincoln Park, Produce No Comments »

Lincoln Park is unruffled this Saturday morning as a gentle snowfall adds another layer of white to the city surface. A handful of weekend runners and dog walkers scamper in all directions, while a steady flow of locavores head toward the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for the Green City Market (GCM). The only consistent year-round farmers’ market in Chicago, GCM has built up a community not only for its customers but also for its farmers.

GCM’s Outdoor Market, held spring through fall at the south end of Lincoln Park, can get pretty wild. Sixty vendors, thousands of patrons, limited produce and six hours of business twice a week make for a hectic day at the office for these farmers. “It’s awesome when it’s nice and we’re outside. It’s fun but it’s way more work,” says Adam Hausman of Seedling Farms. There are just over a dozen vendors alongside Seedling Farms on the second floor of the museum. If the farm representatives aren’t talking product to market goers, they’re casually perusing the scene themselves to see what the competition is offering. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Things: Street Food Edition

Fast Food/Street Food, News etc. 1 Comment »

Taco Koreano

By Michael Nagrant

On June 9, the Chicago City Council was expected to introduce an ordinance for the legalization of food trucks. The ordinance got delayed, because Alderman Scott Waguespack needed more time to create a comprehensive bill. No matter, thanks to the work of a few diligent local chefs, including Matt Maroni (chef/owner of the recently opened Gaztro-Wagon), and Phillip Foss of Lockwood, the time of legit roving eats is almost upon us.

I’ve generally been quiet on the subject, but make no mistake, I’m a big proponent. One of the things I’ve been concerned about over the years covering the food beat is the enormous cost and sacrifice it takes to run a restaurant. There are far more talented chefs in the city of Chicago than smart, patient investors willing to endure the ups and downs of a fickle business built on razor-thin margins.

I believe one of the primary reasons we’ve ascended as a food city over this last decade is due to the availability of reasonable rents (as opposed to NYC), thus allowing chefs to take chances, experiment and build a business without burning all their operating capital on lease agreements. 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 »

French Kiss: Savoring the Parisian pleasures of the West Loop’s new market

French, News etc., Produce, West Loop No Comments »

saigonmenuBy Michael Nagrant

I’m trying to imagine Mayor Daley making out with a supermodel. Thankfully I’m not really spending much time thinking about his sputtering sweating visage as much as imagining what kind of daddy issues a supermodel would really need to make that happen.

Though I’m sure he dreams of dripping Italian-beef gravy on Carla Bruni’s naked body, Daley is no Nicolas Sarkozy. However, he did finally realize a bit of the French dream when he allocated eight million of his secret-slush-fund, err, I mean tax-increment-financing dollars, to open Chicago’s burgeoning French Market in the west part of the Ogilvie Transportation Center on December 3.

Finally, clout we can believe in. Well, sort of. Though the market’s six weeks old, for most of the last month, many of the stands weren’t at full operation, and some had yet to open. You’d think Daley would be hoisting a glass of Old Style in celebration, but as of last week Frietkoten’s beer taps were still empty since they haven’t received their liquor license. (They must have donated too much to aldermanic thorns in Daley’s side like Bob Fioretti, Brendan Reilly and Scott Waguespack.)

On my first few visits the whole thing felt a little half-baked, like I imagine the whole idea of this thing went down in the first place: I see Mayor Daley on some European tour getting shuttled around in a private double-decker bus by the East End equivalent of the Chevy Chase character in “European Vacation” saying “Oy, ‘ere’s Big Ben, Parliament.” Eventually the whole trip ends up in Paris at the Marché d’Aligre with pan au chocolat dripping from Daley’s craw and him saying, “We gotta get us one of dem markets back in Chicawgo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense on Common Culinary Misconceptions

Trends & Essays 2 Comments »

By Michael Nagrantsushi000036

According to biographer Craig Nelson, in the last few weeks of his life, everything Thomas Paine ate triggered episodes of vomiting. In response, he allegedly gave food up entirely until he died. Maybe that’s the real story? We think maybe Paine just witnessed the bad behaviors and fibs of colonial celebrity chefs and restaurateurs and couldn’t take it anymore.

We know the feeling. As their modern counterparts have grown in stature and the PR machines have heated up, so has the mythology of dining out. Since the truth shall set you free, we bring a little common sense to bear on some common culinary-related misconceptions.

Untruth #1: High-end chefs only drink Miller High Life and eat burgers at Kuma’s Corner on their days off. 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 »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Food

Guides & Lists, Trends & Essays No Comments »

Top 5 New Higher-End Restaurants
L20
Mercat a la Planxa
Publican
C-House
Mado
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Casual Concepts or Storefronts
Cafecito Read the rest of this entry »