It’s been just over a month since we moved from Des Moines to Chicago, although it seems longer, and we’ve had time to try just a fraction of the restaurants tempting us in our new neighborhood, Lincoln Park. Here’s my favorites to date:
Cedar Palace, on Armitage – offering the middle eastern food I couldn’t seem to find in Des Moines (although I did find it in Iowa City, thank you Oasis Cafe). Great hummus, falafel, shawarma, a middle eastern salad. Now all I need is take out hummus that is as good as Oasis’s. I’ve tried three duds from supermarkets here. (Kaufman’s deli in Skokie has good hummus, but not nearby…also excellent corned beef.)
Gemini – our neighborhood fancy pants place but no fancy attire required (just fancy prices and dishes). Great swordfish (my aunt’s find!), Caesar salad, ahi tuna tartare, flatbread.
All too well – strangely named but terrific sandwich shop on Armitage next door to Evette’s (and owned by the same folks) with excellent sandwiches. Evette’s offers an intriguing mashup of Mexican and Middle Eastern – pretty good too.
Green Tea – how we’ve missed Japanese food and here it is, right around the corner on Clark. We went for lunch and had a bento box special with chicken katsu, panko-dipped shrimp and maki and a cooked salmon and salmon skin (yum) rice bowl.
Chengdu Impressions – we’ve been here before. It’s a favorite of our kids’ who live in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood but we tried a new standout dish – braised pork belly with scallion pancake. To our surprise, the pancake didn’t arrive intact, as a wrapper for the pork. It came in crispy cooked slices added to the pork belly mixture. Yum.
Athenian on Webster, off of Halstead – This place is a throwback, open since 1972, cash only (they take gold coins!), no liquor license (but you can buy drinks next door.) The food and service aren’t that amazing BUT the chicken Kalamata is to die for, reminding us of the baked lemon chicken that was a specialty at Santorini, our favorite Greektown restaurant in Chicago which sadly closed.
Marge’s Still on Sedgwick – atmospheric Old Town bar with good pub grub, (“hand held food”) including a big juicy cheeseburger and a grilled turkey burger with feta, tzatziki, red onions on pita. The music was way too loud for me but after one beer it didn’t bother me as much.
Andy’s Thai Kitchen on Diversey – An old haunt and still the only place I’ve ordered and loved “pork neck” as well as basil pork belly.
Dom’s Market – true confession: we haven’t eaten there yet but wandering around was enough to sell me on going there as soon as possible. A new one is opening up nearer to us on Wells soon!
Brown Bag – easy nothing-fancy fast foodish but healthyish seafood chain, good in a pinch.
In the not-so-good category: Blue Door Cafe on Halstead. Lovely decor with an open air southern veranda feel but mediocre food.
We are still in Pandemic dining mode — eating outside — and Parsons Fried chicken completely fit the bill on a Saturday night in Chicago. We went to the new (l think) location in Andersonville early, around 6 pm and the place was still busy enough for a 45 minute wait but no problem. It was a lovely Summerish-fall night so we sat on benches on the huge patio and had some drinks before what turned out to be excellent very crispy and not greasy or undercooked fried chicken (hot wasn’t too hot and there was also not-hot). Excellent hush puppies too and apparently slushy alcohol drinks (which we didn’t know about at the time.) The place was also refreshingly affordable.
The birthday girl, Heather, wanted fresh oysters so we tried a fish house in the North Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview that turned out to be a keeper. Heather liked her oysters and everyone else liked their picks (lightly battered perch, a salad with Cajun-seasoned shrimp, my tuna tartare).
Then we walked along nearby Southport street which as forewarned has gotten more “bougie” (as in bourgeois or what was once called yuppie) than when I was there last, several years ago. Some pricey name store (bonobos, free people, Hanna Anderson) but also some small boutiques with reasonable (sale) prices.
From the story above: In downtown Chicago, the 15-vendor Revival Food Hall opened last year on the ground floor of a 110-year-old, 20-story office building designed by Daniel Burnham. The food hall’s developer, Craig Golden, is finishing a renovation of the property, now known as the National. He and the restaurateur Bruce Finkelman worked as partners on Revival, which features taco, seafood, poke bowl and other restaurants as well as a book and record shop.
“We wanted to bring in what we thought was the best food in the city,” said Mr. Golden, whose Blue Star Properties portfolio includes a number of restaurants and entertainment venues. “When people come downtown to work, the choices are limited.”
Uneventful drive from Des Moines to Chicago today on Interstate 80, which is the way I like it although it was strange to think that dirck was flying above me somewhere near on a flight to Chicago and then frankfort and Warsaw. The highlight of the drive was cheap gas at Sapp Brothers ($1.93 a gallon) just west of the bigger Peru exit where the gas was $2.24.
MAT, emma, Rocket and I had dinner at L.Woods in Lincoln woods, just west of the Edgewater neighborhood. The place looked like a real Wisconsin backwoods lodge with piney wood walls, rugged decor, outdoorsmen gear, dim lighting, leather but beyond the kitsch the food was good and yes, hearty. Excellent western style brisket, ribs and fried walleye. MAT liked table 133 (I think) in a less crowded rear room where it was easier to hear our conversation.
The weather got colder, as expected, but the wind didn’t pick up and this is Chicago in late December so can’t complain. We had excellent middle eastern food at a restaurant in Andersonville that recently opened up in the front of a bakery/market.retail I strongly recommend the shawafel sandwich, a mashup of chicken shawarma and falafel (you guessed it) in a wrap with bits of pickle. THe sampler plate with tabouli, hummus, babaganus, falafel was also tasty. The meat in the beef shawarma sandwich was reportedly tough. If I wasn’t taking a 7 hour bus ride back to DSM I would load up an all kinds of hard to find middle eastern goodies in the bakery/market.
near the middle eastern bakery
Next stop the art institute which is always a treat. I’ve never been in Chicago at Christmas and all the skyscrapers looked Big City Magical, all lit up with holiday lights. I bumped into my first cousin in the members lounge, which was an unexpected treat. We also got some excellent free coffee (my stepdaughter and her husband are members). Learned about the Bauhaus design movement in Germany,Europe, and Chicago at the Moholy-Nagy exhibit.
After a miserably gloomy, grey rainy Christmas Day, just seeing sunshine when we woke up today was refreshing. As an added bonus, it was also unseasonably warm, in the 50s and a perfect day to introduce Millie to the beach and lake — her first for both. HOllywood Beach was very quiet and lovely, perfect for a game of fetch.
DInner was at the new Andy’s Thai kitchen in emma and rockets neighborhood of Edgewater. it was as good as the original one, especially the pork neck and pork belly with basil.
Maybe this isn’t a new restaurant category – but lately I’ve noticed a lot of what I’d call, for lack of a better term, overpriced ($10 or thereabouts) gourmet sandwich shops popping up in cities large and small (say, Chicago and Des Moines.) They’re often started by ambitious big-name chefs who are experimenting with offering lighter, less expensive fare. And while the sandwiches cost less than the entrees you’d find in their full service restaurants, they’re still a lot more then you’d pay at your more everyday pedestrian sandwich shop. So it better be worth the price and in my experience, these overpriced sandwiches aren’t always. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim the sandwiches at Grahamwich – on State between Ohio and Ontario in Chicago, opened by celeb chef Graham Elliott – worth the price. The two I shared with my stepdaughter (who wanted me to try this place) were each something special: one-of-a-kind concoctions with delicious ingrediants. We had the roast beef with baby arugala, red onion, shoe string potatoes and grainy mustard on a pretzel roll; and the particularly impressive grilled shrimp with black beans, mango salsa, “blistered” corn, guacamole puree on a chipotle tortilla. Also had homemade chips – salt/vinegar and bacon/ranch. This is the second place I’ve been to recently offering a gourmet popcorn as a side dish.
This experience has wet my appetite for Graham Elliott’s other fancier Chicago restaurants, perhaps as intended.
Grahamwich, by the way, is part of a row of attractive old world shops (one is even called “haberdash”) and restaurants on this particular block including P.O.S.H. which has a nice selection of Paris-London-Chicago related kitchen and home goods including lots of pretty vintage-looking china, and Pop, a champagne bar. From the Grahamwich website, which is worth a visit, I see that the building is a Chicago landmark and on the national historic register, built in 1894 as an artist colony, wiht a ground level cast iron arcade. Other things to try at Grahamwich: grilled cheese, homemade sodas on tap, seasonal soft serve, truffled popcorn. okey doke.
Thought of recent dining adventures in NYC, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon, the other day when I read a NYTimes story about where top chefs go on the rare occasion when they don’t eat at their own restaurant. Chef Daniel Boulud goes to Barbuto for Chef Jonathan Waxman’s roasted chicken, which my brother also has discovered. I had a good meal there with my brother and his wife in 2011.
Also on the dining front, is Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn and Pok Pok Wing (see photo above of Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings) on the Lower East Side. My husband and I ate at the original Pok Pok in Portland in 2010. (The chef Andy Ricker was named the Northwest’s best by the James Beard Foundation in 2011 so I bet it’s even harder to get a reservation now.) I see from the NYTimes that the two NYC-based Pok Poks have since opened. (Alas, we didn’t have the chicken wings when we went to Pok Pok in Portland. They look incredible! But it was very good Thai food by a non-Thai guy, which was the gist of the Times story. It also mentioned Rick Bayless and Frontera Grill/Xoco et. al. in Chicago which I’ve been to many times over the years.)
I don’t know why we don’t have a ready list of tried-and-true favorite restaurants to go to in Chicago – we certainly go there often enough and have been to many places, some several times. Still I always seem to have trouble deciding where to go next, maybe because Chicago has so many options and they keep growing and my family members have various preferences and opinions about where to eat.
That said, here are some ideas I’ve read about recently in Chicago Magazine – in Evanston and in Chicago:
– Fraiche, 815 Noyes ST. Evanston – for brunch: ginger scone, french toast egg dishes, lemon kiss cookie.
– For Vietnamese banh mi sandwich (baguette with pork, veggies, mayo etc.) – Saigon Sisters, 547 W. Lake St. or French Market, 131 N.Clinton in the Loop.(Description of their food sounds best – although most expensive.)
Del Seol (for bulgogi – korean rib-eye sandwich) – 2568 N. Clark St.
Bar Le, 5014. N. Broadway – veggie avocado sandwich.
Bun Mi Express, 3409 N. Broadway (although wary of the description of sliced pork roll as “b0logna-like”)