Dining and food culture in Chicago

On A Roll: Is M Burger the best fast-food hamburger in the city?

Burgers, Gold Coast 2 Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels going round and round. I really love to watch them roll. —John Lennon

It’s finally “watching the wheels” time here in Chicago. We’ve been granted a full string of sunny warm days, almost a full three months earlier than last year. Of course, this is the Midwest. It may snow yet, so grab it while you can.

I’d recommend some al fresco eats to enjoy the weather, but that would just be a critical disservice, for everyone knows, al fresco in the Windy city means choking on the curbside dust kicked up by street sweepers running as a function of still relatively inefficient aldermanic prerogative.

Better instead to head over and grab and go from M Burger, the new shake shack from Lettuce Entertain You, and spread out in some off-street plaza in the Loop.

I know. I’m sick of the burger thing too. Read the rest of this entry »

Stairway to (Hamburger) Heaven: Edzo’s brings a seventies show to Evanston

Burgers, Evanston 4 Comments »

kdk_1598By Michael Nagrant

If you lived on the north side of Chicago in the early eighties you might have seen a gleaming brick red Crown Victoria rolling down Dempster Avenue blasting Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” If you pulled up next to that bitchin’ ride and glanced in the back seat, you probably would have seen a young Eddie Lakin slunk down in the maroon leather bench seat slurping on a milkshake.

Lakin’s father, the car’s owner, grew up in Albany Park with the Skokie hotdog barons who opened legendary spots like Herm’s and Poochies, and many weekends, he’d take his son to visit his friends’ restaurants. It was there, chowing down on burgers and Polishes, that the seeds for his forthcoming Evanston burger shack Edzo’s were planted.

Lakin is probably the most overqualified owner of a burger and hot dog joint since Hot Doug Sohn walked out of Kendall College and bestowed duck fat French fries upon the world. A political science graduate of the University of Illinois, Lakin worked as a record store clerk after college, but realized there was no future in it, and enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC). He says, “You come up with an idea in the morning, do the prep, plate it, and send it out to the customer all in the same day. There’s an immediacy to cooking that’s really gratifying.” 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 »

Duck Soup

Cuisine, etc. No Comments »

9781416556688By Michael Nagrant

He might eat foie gras on occasion, but even if you’re an animal-rights advocate, there’s no question that Mark Caro is a great human being.  The Chicago Tribune scribe and author of the new book “The Foie Gras Wars” gave a reading at Borders in Lakeview last Thursday. He opened the affair with a duck joke told by his young daughter, which engendered a bout of crying from his other daughter who was a tad jealous of her sibling’s moment in the limelight.

As the father of a 2-year-old, I’m pretty sure I would be terrified and would be shuttling off my son in a similar moment.  Instead, Caro gallantly humored his daughters, and continued to allow their occasional involvement, while he entertained with rapturous story and smartly answered questions for over an hour. Read the rest of this entry »

Dipping in the L20: Is this Chicago’s best restaurant?

Lincoln Park, Seafood No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Pour my beer in a Solo cup and give me a spit-roasted pork taco and I’m a happy man. It’s not that I don’t appreciate luxury dining, but the balance between food and other details at the high end has increasingly tipped toward silly. Given the current climate, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone offers high colonics in lieu of a post-meal digestif.

Couple this kind of silliness with $4 gas prices, disappearing rice and wheat, increased prices on European wines, and top it all with $20-plus pizzas, and it’s enough to make a food lover grab a leg of prosciutto and a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano and head for a cave.
Read the rest of this entry »

TRU—The Next Generation: The chemistry of cuisine

Gold Coast, New American No Comments »

TruBy Michael Nagrant

A biochemistry major and an actor walk into a restaurant…

It may sound like a joke, but it actually describes the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Tim Graham, 31, chef de cuisine, and Chad Ellegood, wine director and sommelier, of TRU restaurant (676 North St. Clair). With Executive Chef Rick Tramonto splitting time on new restaurant projects and sommelier Scott Tyree departing for fine-wine retailer Hart Davis Hart, Graham and Ellegood were given the keys to the culinary kingdom last year. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2007: Food

Guides & Lists, Trends & Essays No Comments »

Top 5 Restaurant Openings

Aigre Doux
Old Town Brasserie
—Michael Nagrant Read the rest of this entry »

To Be Franc: What does it mean if French super-chefs come to Chicago?

Trends & Essays No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Like a geographic Rodney Dangerfield, the Midwest gets no respect. Whether it was the California stylings rooted in locally grown politically vetted food of Chez Panisse or the haute wizardy of Daniel Boulud in New York, for many years, America’s culinary consciousness, much like our artistic one, veered to the coasts.

Yet the Midwest, with its blue-collar denizens, immigrant culture and industrial engineering has a gritty ingenuity that required attention. In recent years, the Midwest has cinched up its rust belt and started deconstructing the roots of its rustic cuisine. At places like Avenues restaurant, pot roast and sauerkraut pierogies have given way to seared Kobe beef medallions and sauerkraut bubbles. The sweat of laborers that once powered the assembly lines now fuels our kitchens, and Chicago is the hub of America’s food renaissance.

The most recent validation of this idea is the fact that the greatest of the French chefs are about to invade. According to a recent Chicago Sun-Times article, Joel Robuchon, once dubbed the “chef of the century,” is planning to open a restaurant in Chicago at the end of next year, while Alain Ducasse, whose global restaurant empire has earned enough critics stars to form its own culinary constellation, dropped in to dine at Avenues amidst rumors of a potential new restaurant. Read the rest of this entry »