2016 Food Trend: Spiralized Veggies

April 13 2018 - 11:53 PM

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I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Diets and 30 day challenges all seem fruitless and flavorless. One trend that I was more than happy to take part in this January is spiralized veggies as a delicious stand-in for pasta.

If you haven’t yet jumped on the spiralized veggie bandwagon, you’re about to start noticing recipes popping all over Pinterest.

2015 Chicago Restaurant Week Preview

April 13 2018 - 11:53 PM

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Text

 

 

Baconfest 2016: Dessert Edition

April 13 2018 - 11:51 PM

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Baconfest 2016

Unless you’re a vegetarian, chances are you’ve heard of Chicago’s Annual Baconfest, which is held each year at the UIC Forum. I was lucky enough to attend last year, and was thrilled to induce myself into a bacon-coma once again this year.

While I absolutely loved ALL of the dishes – yes, seriously – my favorite bacon dishes always revolve around dessert. Something about that sweet and salty combination is just out-of-this-world amazing, you know? I always say that I don’t have a sweet tooth; I AM a sweet tooth.

Without further adieu, these were my favorite desserts from the 8th Annual Baconfest.

  1. Chocolate & Bacon Chess Pie Bites – Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits: My name is Rose and I’m Bang Bang Pie’s number one fan. Bang Bang can do no wrong in my book, if I’m being honest. These chocolate and bacon chess pie bites were amazing. I came across it after sampling nearly everything else at the event, but you better believe I made room for it. There’s ALWAYS room for Bang Bang Pie.Chocolate & Bacon Chess Pie Bite

  1. Bacon Concha – Cantina 1910: Have you ever had a concha? It’s a Mexican sweet bread that’s so incredibly delicious. I love buying them for my coworkers (or myself, really) at various Mexican bakeries around the city. I was thrilled to see Cantina 1910 create a bacon version of it. I only wish I could purchase these on a daily basis! Conchas are good normally; these were even better. I want one now.

  1. Chocolate Covered Jerk Candied Bacon – Jerk: These sound simple, right? They are! And they were totally amazing. My friend and I kept going back for more because they were so good. Of course, Jerk Jamaican Grill is an expert in preparing meat, so it’s not surprised that they nailed this dessert. I probably could have eaten about a dozen of these pieces of chocolate covered bacon.

  1. Oralgasm 666 – Kuma’s Corner: Leave it to Kuma’s Corner to come up with the raunchy bacon dessert name. Now, what was it exactly? Oh just a casual buttermilk bacon fat cheddar biscuit, spicy bacon date jam, candied bacon, bourbon bacon honey, and bacon threads. YUP. Need I say more?! While it doesn’t sound like a dessert, trust me when I say that it was. I seriously don’t think any dish was more bacon-y than this one. A+.

  1. Bacon Forest Sundae –Le Bouchon & La Sardine: The Bacon Forest Sundae was incredibly refreshing. It was one of the dishes that hit just the right combination of indulgent without being too much. I had never tried bacon-infused ice cream before but honestly, I’d buy an entire carton of it. Plus, this sundae looked exactly like a little forest with the green matcha on top! SO CUTE.

In summary: GO TO BACONFEST next year. It keeps getting better and better each year! Not sure how that’s possible, but it’s definitely true. I swore off bacon for a solid week after the event, but you better believe I’m ready for more immediately. Happy bacon eating to all!

Photos used with permission from Baconfest.

Black Forest Sundae

 

Libations

Too Much New Glarus

March 16 2018 - 11:39 AM

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Beer nerds are a weird bunch. They go to bottle shares. They trade beer. They wait in line for hours for IPA. Non-beer nerds– roll your eyes!

Even semi-beer nerds in Chicago are aware of New Glarus, a brewery just north of us and out of reach (distro). They have been long known for Spotted Cow. So much so that in 2009, a Manhattan bar was busted for selling it. Aside from the fervor over the cow (try Moon Man, it’s better… another story), they are also known for fruited sours. They traditionally have come in 750ml bottles and are screaming sweet: Serendipity, Raspberry Tart, Strawberry Rhubarb, etc. Ironically, Upland Brewing, our neighbors to the East make screaming sour beers… again, another story). The problem one has with a 750ml bottle (wine bottle) of sweet is that it becomes cloying by the time you’re halfway through it. The mead-nerds, a newer subset of beer nerd, will likely disagree but here we’re talking to SEMI-beer nerds. Safe to say, if you come back from Door County looking forward to enjoying a bottle of cherry wine, you’re not going to be disappointed by a couple big pints of Strawberry Rhubarb. It really does taste like the name. It might be a slog for the rest of us.

The point here is this. New Glarus has broken down the big bottle and started selling 4pks of 12oz bottles of the sweet stuff. It’s great! When you’re not staring down the prospect of 3 more glasses of it your perspective really changes. I’d make a diabetes joke too but I’ll save that for a write-up of Angry Chair Brewing… Instead I’ll leave you with a new rule: When it’s true that you can have too much of a good thing… It will be equally true that good things come in small packages.

Why You Can't Miss Giant

August 26 2016 - 9:00 AM

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There’s a tiny place next to Scofflaw at the corner of Kedzie and Armitage, and it’s making big waves. Giant may be small in size but it’s enormous in flavor, personality and charm. Chef Josh Vincent of Nightwood fame opened Giant earlier this summer, and its steadily picked up to the point where scoring a reservation is not for the faint of heart. Here’s why you should make your reservation now.

1. The Space

From the modern decor to the Shel Silverstein quote on the wall, this restaurant oozed a sort of welcoming sophistication. Even the plates wowed me.

2. The Drinks

I fell in love with the wine I ordered, a light, effervescent white that was the perfect summer night beverage. The wine list was extensive and cocktails entice.

3. The Service

I’ve found that I can be a bit particular about service at restaurants. It really does make or break the meal. Our waiter was friendly,  helpful and coursed out the meal perfectly, which is really a necessity at any small plates restaurant.

4. The Biscuits

I’ve had  my share of biscuits, from Bang Bang Pie to real deal New Orleans southern style. These were especially addictive and decadent, served with a melty jalapeno butter.

5. The Vegetables

Yes, I said it. The veggies here were out of this world. They reminded me of dishes I’ve tasted at Girl & the Goat, where the vegetables pack the most flavor and tend to steal the show. The charred broccoli left me wanting more, and the Thai chili sweet corn had plenty of sweet and spicy notes.

6. The Pasta

The chef makes up his own pasta shapes. Normal? Not exactly. Amazingly delicious? Definitely. I opted for the sortallini, a playful take on a tortellini, served with juicy cherry tomatoes. I’m already planning my next visit to try the other pastas.

7. The Dessert

If you aren’t too stuffed, make sure you opt for dessert at Giant. The crepe with hot fudge was a delicious surprise, warm and crispy at the edges. It was the perfect end to a truly perfect meal.

 

 

News & Features

Ugo's Logan Square reinvents casual Italian

June 28 2016 - 9:00 AM

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Logan Square has no shortage of amazing restaurants. It’s home to some of my favorites for brunch (Lula Cafe), drinks (Scofflaw), sweets (Bang Bang Pie) and now casual Italian. Full disclosure: Ugo’s reached out to bring me offering a free dinner. But my experience was pleasantly surprising for a restaurant I had never heard of.

Ugo’s opened back in October to fill a void in the area for a late-night spot for chefs that isn’t a greasy burrito chain. The full kitchen is open every night except Tuesday until 1:30 am. While the ambiance has a casual bar feel, the food is far from it.

Ugo's Mista SaladMenu items at Ugo’s are seasonal and local in the best way. While you can get the housemade foccacia any time of year (and don’t miss it), you won’t always be able to find a salad topped with strawberries, hazelnuts and a green goddess-like dressing, along with an addictive creamy cheese on the side. If you’re in the neighborhood for a late night bite, or just in the mood for some indulgence, Ugo’s also has a huge selection of cured meats and cheeses. I was even pleasantly surprised by my cocktail, a blood orange daiquiri with just the right balance of sweet and tart.

One of the most unique dishes we tried was the pappardelle with meaty maitake mushrooms and fresh parmesan, served over a mushroom broth and fresh pesto. Use that leftover focaccia to soak up the sauce. The pasta was tender and perfectly cooked, while the sauce exuded a ton of unexpected flavor. Yes, Osteria Langhe across the street has a much wider selection of pastas, yet Ugo’s gives that same Italian flair at a more reasonable price.

If you want to continue carb-loading, don’t miss out on Ugo’s pizzas. We opted for the kale, maitake and spicy pickled cherry pepper pizza. I’m always dousing my slices with giardinera or red pepper flakes, so the peppers were the perfect touch. This crust was wonderfully crispy, and the toppings provided the perfect balance of flavors.

TiramisuLast but certainly not least – don’t ever miss dessert at Ugo’s. While this course turned out to be a bit pricier than I anticipated compared to the rest of the menu, I understood why the minute our dishes arrived. Gelato is homemade, and the kitchen turns out a special flavor each day. We couldn’t get enough of the cappucino chip, which went perfectly with the deconstructed tiramisu. This was a totally different texture and presentation from your typical tiramisu, yet all the traditional flavors were there.

Not only is Ugo’s a great neighborhood spot, it’s one I would go to again. Wait staff was incredibly friendly and helpful as well as clearly passionate about the food they are serving – and it’s easy to see why.

Ugo’s Kitchen & Bar
www.ugoschicago.com
(773)-698-8984
2833 W. Armitage Ave.

 

Restaurants

Chicago's Best Hidden Patios

June 20 2016 - 10:09 PM

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In case you didn’t get the glaringly bring memo…summer is HERE! Patio weather is my absolute favorite. I have issues eating inside when I know I need to take advantage of the three months out of the year the Chicago breeze isn’t chilling me to the core.

Big Star is great and all if you want to wait 3 hours for your table. Since most places don’t take patio reservations, we’ve rounded up some of the best patio spots all around the city where you might actually be able to nab a spot.

1. Anteprima

Andersonville is full of gems off the beaten path, and Anteprima is one of the standouts. Last year on the 4th of July, I ventured away from the Navy Pier crowds and headed North to this delicious patio. While the patio isn’t great for a large group, it’s beautiful for a date night or intimate dinner. Every dish is fresh and flavorful, and tastes even better with a cold glass of wine.

2. RM Champagne

While this restaurant isn’t exactly a secret, the patio itself is literally hidden from the hustle of Restaurant Row. RM is a solid spot for a night out with girlfriends and some strong drinks. Order up a cheese platter and arm yourself with a Life is a Beach – vodka, cucumber, lemon, sage & cava.

3. El Nuevo Mexicano

I may be biased having lived just down the street from this place, but I can’t deny they make some solid Mexican food. They offer up tons of healthy options and vegetarian-friendly choices as well. The sizable patio is perfect for a group looking to enjoy a margarita and some enchiladas. The menu can be overwhelming but you honestly can’t go wrong.

4. m. Henry

Edgewater has no shortage of awesome brunch spots. In my opinion, m. Henry is more than a neighborhood spot; it’s a destination. It’s worth going to even if you can’t get a spot on the wonderful shaded patio. If you can, all the better to enjoy your blackberry bliss cakes or roasted veggie and goat cheese quiche. If you can’t stand the wait, grab a bakery item to-go.

5. Handlebar

This vegetarian mainstay is more than just that. They have plenty of menu items for any time of day. During brunch you won’t find a crowd, so it’s easy to enjoy the spacious back patio. Order up a breakfast  burrito an some tacos and you won’t be disappointed.

What are your favorite patio bars and restaurants?

Libations

Northdown Cafe and Taproom, Lions and Tigers and Beers

June 10 2016 - 12:53 PM

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If you love beer, and I know you do, I highly recommend – and by “highly recommend” I mean that I’d command it would it were I had such power – that you visit Notrhdown Cafe today for the 5th annual Lions and Tigers and Beers event, currently ongoing.  Every two hours Northdown is rolling out a new slate of kegs housing some rare, elite, and amazing beers.  Right now (as of 12:30 p.m. Central today) they are featuring winners such as Perennial Sump, pictured above, and Cantillion Kreik.  Later today they plan to put up Maine Lunch, a tightly hopped, palate-stripping IPA with a champagne-like effervescence, and also Firestone Walker Helldorado, barrel-aged Surly Darkness, and 2016 Parabola, plus rarities from some outstanding breweries such as Off Color, Three Floyds, Mikkeller, and others.  If that’s not enticing enough, another Cantillion is launching at 7 p.m. and, in addition, all day they’re pouring a Todd the Axeman firkin.  Perhaps the best part is that all of this beer insanity is for the purpose of supporting the Wildcat Sanctuary, whose mission is to provide a sanctuary for big cats and to eviscerate big-cat captivity.  There, indeed, is a reason for you to drink a rare 11%-er at ND today.

You can find the full list here; apologies about the print quality.

I’m bereft of Jedi mind tricks but advise you to get there.   May the beer be with you. Oh my!

– M. Sheppard

Northdown Cafe and Taproom

3244 N. Lincoln Ave.

Chicago

Libations

DryHop Brewers Anniversary Week

June 10 2016 - 1:51 AM

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What in the name of beer is going on here?   DryHop Brewers’ third-year anniversary party, that’s what.  It seems hard to believe but nearly three years have passed since DryHop, those makers of clean, pure, delicious beers, opened their Broadway Avenue doors in East Lakeview.  Since those nascent days, DryHop has not only raised its esteemed stature in the brewing community, it has expanded, opening a sister establishment, Corridor, which brings the Belgian-brewing love to Southport.  As the official anniversary date is this coming Monday, June 13, DryHop is celebrating with a series of events next week to show its appreciation for its loyal patrons and for soon-to-be converts.

Monday is when the party kicks off.   The brewery will be selling limited-run t-shirts referencing its fixture beer, Shark Meets Hipster, one of the cleanest, sturdiest beers you’ll ever try, a beer that had me at first sip.  Also that day, the DryHop Beer League will be open for up to 50 new members to join.  Please stop by the brewery or check the website for details.  That night DryHop ramps things up with the Barman’s Banquet.  I’ll be popping by after softball to get my fill of whatever’s for the offering.

Tuesday, all day, is the Lakeview Neighbors Appreciation Party.  If you live within the blocks surrounding the brewery, check your mail for a “thank you card”; bring it in to claim a free beer.  Now, folks, what’s a brewery anniversary party without a new brew?  On Wednesday, Destructo Comet, an American kettle sour with lychee, takes its opening bows.  Thursday marks the re-release of the 2-year-anniversary beer, Dandelion Disco Ball, a 7-percent oat pale ale.  Finally, Saturday closes out the festivities with a 3-year-anniversary brunch special.

Get on over to DryHop this week, folks, and help them celebrate 3-years of making awesome beer, serving terrific food, and proudly representing the Chicago brewing community.

–    M. Sheppard

DryHop Brewers

3155 N. Broadway Ave.

Chicago

Libations

Pinot Days 2016 Grand Festival at Navy Pier - April 16

April 14 2016 - 8:30 PM

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It’s back, oenophiles of Chicago and lovers of that delicate and delicious grape, Pinot Noir.  Yes, Pinot Days returns to Navy Pier for the 2016 Grand Festival this Saturday on the lakefront.  Whether you are a Pinot Noir aficionado, are someone new to the grape, or are just a general wine lover and seeker of great social gatherings, this event is for you.  It’s a great opportunity to taste up to 150 Pinots which originate from every important Oregon and California region, and many of the featured wines are otherwise unavailable in Illinois.

Having attended Pinot Days six times, I love the opportunity the event offers to sample higher-end Pinots. Most available vintages typically retail for $40 or more, and some even top $200 on restaurant wine lists.  Pinot Days is a fun schooling on some of the top Pinot expressions and, of course, is a chance to drink some amazing and delicious wine.  I encourage you to pay extra for the VIP tasting, particularly if you are, prior to the general public’s arrival, interested in meeting some of the winemakers and discussing the nuances of their bottlings as well as the vineyards’ methods of cultivation.  The event quickly becomes abuzz with activity post-2 PM, so if you are not opting for VIP access, certainly try to arrive a bit early for check-in.

Tickets are $75 for general admission (2 PM) and $125 for VIP (1 PM).  A list of participating exhibitors is here.  My advice is to seek out some of the smaller, up-and-coming producers; these wineries often display some of the event’s most surprising and rewarding vintages.  To identify such wineries in advance of the event try Googling names from the list.  Winery websites usually display the dates for available vintages; the newbies’ oldest releases will be more recent. Also, look for winery reviews and information on the vintners’ number of cases produced.   It’s these smaller wineries which are more likely to be event-only and are probably unavailable in Illinois.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking out old favorites either.  I’ll be paying homage to perennial one seeds (hey, we’re coming off the Tournament) such as J, Davis Family, Davis Bynum, Dutton-Goldfield, Papapietro Perry and others.  Expect Sea Smoke, from whom I happily receive a yearly allocation, to be mobbed.

Looking forward to seeing all of you on Saturday.

– M. Sheppard