Dining and food culture in Chicago

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 »

North Side Dog Show: Franks ‘N’ Dawgs enters the gourmet sausage game

Hot Dogs/Sausages, Lincoln Park 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant

“Oy think she’s a little maw, shall we say, enhanced thair.”

It may not be the jovial wise-cracking of Hot Doug’s owner Doug Sohn, but Franks ‘N’ Dawgs owner, the Australian-born Alexander Brunacci, cracking here about a photo of Kim Kardashian, is doing fine with his own brand of cash-register-side smart-assery.

I hate to even bring up the whole Hot Doug’s thing, because I know everyone else will too. But, frankly (so punny, I know), it’s impossible not to. Franks ‘N’ Dawgs with their “5-Star Dining on a Bun” tagline and by virtue of its similarities to Doug’s, has the encased-meats emporium in its cross hairs.

But Franks ‘N’ Dawgs, more often than not, is not like Hot Doug’s. It’s not a pop-culture-kitsch-laden dining room filled with mustard-and-ketchup-colored bric-a-brac or sexually charged mustard-covered Britney Spears’ photos. It doesn’t serve duck-fat fries, and the Buzzcocks aren’t snarling in your ears. Franks ‘N’ Dawgs also makes some of its own sausages. Read the rest of this entry »

Valentine’s Day Restaurant Listings

Events, Guides & Lists, News etc. 1 Comment »

A look at some restaurant specials around town during the weekend of February 14.

Ai Japanese Restaurant
A four-course dinner for two gets you a bottle of Hana Awaka sake, beef tataki skewers, spicy miso king crab, soba crepes and tofu-wrapped tuna. Ai Japanese Restaurant, 358 W. Ontario, (312)335-9888. Feb. 12-14, 5pm-11:30pm. $88.

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to celebrate this Hallmark holiday, head to Berghoff’s where a four-course meal with options including seared salmon and grilled hanger steak and a handmade truffles will cost a mere $38. Berghoff, 17 W. Adams, (312)427-3170. Feb. 12-13, 4pm-10pm. $38.

Bin 36
Leo McCarey’s 1957 romantic drama “An Affair to Remember” will play while guests dine on a three course meal with wine pairings. Bin 36, 339 N. Dearborn, (312)755-9463. Feb. 14, 6:30pm-11pm. $48.

Money not an issue? Then head to Bonsoiree, where for $100-$130 you’ll get an eight-course menu featuring winter point oysters, asparagus soup, steamed abalone with fresh cherries and chocolate truffles. Bonsoiree, 2728 W. Armitage, (773)486-7511. Feb. 12-15, 5pm-10pm. $100-$130. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Food & Drink

Cookbooks, Guides & Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 New Fine Dining RestaurantsIMG_9074
Cibo Matto
Brown Trout
Kith and Kin
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Informal Restaurants
Café Senegal
Han 202
—Michael Nagrant 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 »

The Fearless Mr. Foss: Unlocking the man at Lockwood

Cuisine, etc., Hot Dogs/Sausages 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrantcover

Do you like pinball?

What do you mean?

You know, do you play it? Do you find it fun?

A minute or so passed without an answer from one of Chicago’s mega-celebrity chefs, as he faced a local food reporter while they stood near a pinball machine. The chef was usually so prepared that he’d given the same answers to many questions for almost twenty years with almost no variation in delivery or syllable. His ability to stay on message made even the disciplined Barack Obama look more like the drunken political godchild of Gerald Ford and Sarah Palin.

But that’s when the chef expected to be interviewed. The reporter had not given the chef a heads up that he’d stop by this particular photo shoot. And when he did, the chef was so befuddled he couldn’t even answer a simple question about an arcade game without calculating what the answer might say about him.

Sure, chefs are the new rock stars, but rarely have they acted like them. I chose to write about chefs and restaurants in no small part because I had no interest in profiling celebrities so doped up on fame that their paranoia and control made Kim Jong Il look asleep at the wheel. Read the rest of this entry »