Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hot Doug's

Location: 3324 N California
Cost: About $10 per person

As someone who has eaten at almost 300 restaurants in Chicago in less than 3 years, there are certain places that people are amazed to find out I haven't gotten around to. One of those places used to be Hot Doug's. A few weeks ago Jeremy took the day off from work and we drove over to the most popular place in the city to find encased meats.

Hot Doug's is a medium sized hot dog stand. They're only open from 10:30AM to 4PM. Because of the high demand and the short hours, the lines can get pretty out of hand. We got there around 11AM, hoping to dodge the crowd, but as we were brutally reminded, the teachers were on strike. Thankfully they left all of their signs at home because there might not have been enough room otherwise. So you wait in line, and soon after you order, it works out nicely that a table opens up.

The staff is very friendly, starting with Doug at the counter. He seemingly doesn't pay attention to the gigantic line as he schmoozes each customer while they order. Mostly though, he does a nice job of pacing the line to accommodate open seats while putting a really personal touch on the place. The cost is pretty reasonable. A regular dog is $2, most specialty sausages are around $8, and fries are $1.50.

The Food
We went for an early lunch, which meant that we skipped out on breakfast. By the time we got to order we were really hungry. Jeremy got the Cayenne and Cheddar Pork Sausage with Chipotle Dijonnaise and Habanero-Jack Cheese. If you like spice then this is how you should go. I got the Game of the Week which was boar sausage with sundried tomato mustard, crispy onions and brie cheese. It all went so well together. The creamy brie complimented the bite of the boar sausage while the crispy onions added even more textural complexity.

 The Boar Sausage

 The Cayenne and Cheddar Pork Sausage

On top of that, we both ordered a Chicago style dog and some cheese fries. I wanted to see how they did with normal dog, and it was a little better than average. Clearly you should use whatever room you have in your stomach for the specialty meats. I was a little bummed that we didn't go when they had the Duck Fat fries, but these were still pretty good. The cheese is that ballpark junk, but otherwise they were spot on.

The Chicago Style Hot Dog

 The Cheese Fries

Hot Doug's is the premier place to get a specialty sausage in town. You'll probably face a serious line, but it's easily worth the wait. More than that, Doug's has become a thing to do and a right of passage for those that love hot dogs and sausage. I can't wait to get back and try some other funky creations. I'm giving them the Pearl Necklace. 5 out of 5.

Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Peasantry

Location: 2723 N Clark
Cost: About $25 per person

Since I got back in town, I started making the rounds to catch up with my friends that I hadn't seen in a while. So a few weekends back I grabbed dinner with Sophia, Scottie, and Rachel. We originally toned down how adventurous of a restaurant to pick because we thought someone else would be joining us that was a more selective eater. When we picked The Peasantry, I was surprised to find out that we'd picked somewhere that was too out there. Thus, it was just the four of us.

The peasantry is a medium sized restaurant in Lincoln Park. They've got one main room up front and select seating in the back. There's some bar seating along the wall and some larger communal tables in the middle. They only take reservations if you have five or more in your party. There was a decent wait that built up, but we were just fine.

Our server was efficient and helpful with menu selections, but she hurt my feelings. I spilled a little of my beer at one point in the meal, and she offered to get me a bib. It wasn't as bad as the Chef at Public House asking me how I keep my girlish figure, so I let it slide. The cost is totally reasonable. The appetizers were sub $10 while a  large item like a flat bread or gyro runs around $12.

The Food
Per the recommendations of our waitress we started off with the Poutine. It had plenty of duck, bleu cheese, and smoked gravy over a bed of waffle fries. It was a little small for the four of us to share, but the entrees overcompensated for that.

The Poutine

Rachel got the Spicy Romesco Pasta, Scottie got the Tur-doggin, and Sophia and I split the Pickled Lamb Tongue Flat Bread and the Chicken and Corn Pancake Gyro. The pasta was cooked al dente with big chunks of asparagus throughout. Rachel liked it a lot which means that the spice must have been nicely balanced. I've had the tur-doggin over at the partner restaurant to Peasantry, Franks n' Dawgz. It's a great sausage on an even better bun. Our two dishes were pretty enjoyable. The lamb tongue had a smooth texture, and there was plenty of it over the large flat bread. The bread itself wasn't anything special, but the toppings took care of business. My favorite item was the gyro. It was really more of a plate of fried chicken over corn cakes, but either way it was delicious. The chicken was lightly fried and juicy. The cake was sweet with just the right consistency to soak up the chicken juices.

The Pickled Lamb Tongue Flat Bread

 The Spicy Romesco Pasta

 The Tur-Doggin

The Chicken and Corn Pancake Gyro

We also got the Brussel Sprout Salad and the Canellini Bean and Asparagus Salad for the table. The beans and asparagus were way better than the brussel sprouts that gave off a slightly burnt flavor.

The Canellini Bean and Asparagus Salad

 The Brussel Sprout Salad

Finally for dessert we got the Trail Mix Bar Ice Cream Sandwich. It was a pretty awful dish. We basically had to destroy it to get a bite. The ice cream was not smooth, and the trail mix bars were tough to chew.

The Trail Mix Bar Ice Cream Sandwich

Besides the dessert, we loved pretty much everything about our meal at The Peasantry. The poutine and the chicken "gyro" were my favorite dishes. They've got a nice selection of Midwest craft beers too. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

The Peasantry on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jim's Original

Location: 1250 S Union Ave
Cost: Less than $5 per person

A little while after I got back from NYC, my dad had some tickets to the Sox game he was trying to get off his hands. So Jeremy, the Professor, Scottie, and I took a little trip down south to watch them battle the Twins. Just a side note, it always amazes me how empty the games are, especially when they're in a playoff race. Either way, when we left the game we were looking for a place to grab a bite. Since it was on the way back North, we decided to stop at Jim's Original for some Polish sausages.

Jim's Original is a Chicago mainstay that's been around since the 1930s. It's a simple setup. You walk up to a window, place your order, and walk over to a counter built into the side of the building to eat. There's plenty of street parking around. The biggest logistic point is not to be confused by the stand right next door. Sometimes they build up a decent line, but you're probably better off waiting so that you don't get food that's been sitting around.

The guys working the stand are one of a kind. They give you the impression that there's a thin line between experienced flavor and health code violation. I forget exactly what the cost was, but for a sausage, fries, and a coke it was around $4.

The Food
They've got plenty of options to choose from. Jeremy almost went for the fish sandwich, but instead we all got the same order of a Polish Sausage and Fries. The sausages are grilled to a subtle char. They have a great snap and plenty of juiciness. They have this gigantic pile of grilled onions that they toss on top. Mine were soggy and oily. The bun was simple and soaked up everything real well. The fries were nothing special. They were a little mushy for my taste. The cheese on the side for the fries was the stereotypical ballpark nacho stuff.

The Polish Sausage

 A Close up on the Fries

Jim's Original is a piece of Chicago history. It's pretty convenient to hit up if you're going to or coming from a Sox game. The sausages are great, but everything else is the standard greasy stuff you'd expect from an average stand. I'm giving them 3.5 Pearls.

Jim's Original Hot Dog on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Public House

Location: 400 N State St.
Cost: Variable, but I'd ballpark it between $15 and $30 per person

I've only been to Public House a few times before, and it was always on the weekends to meet some friends for drinks. Actually, this one time when I went there, the Blackhawks were there, and I got to talk with Adam Burish while a line of women hounded Toews and Sharp. Either way, I always thought of Public House as a place with large crowds, plenty of TVs, and taps built into your table. Well, the other day, they reached out to me to check out some of their new menu items. So my friend Ronak aka 'Knuckles' and I headed a few blocks west after a busy day of studying at the library for a little feast.

Like I said in my intro, Public House has tons of TVs and plenty of good seating options to watch a game. There was even a big crew of guys having a fantasy football draft while we were eating. I don't think you'll need a reservation in the middle of the week unless there's a big sporting event. On the weekends the crowds get pretty large. There's minimal street parking in the area, so I'd suggest taking the red line.

Since we were coming in for a known review I wasn't surprised at how excellent our service was. Still, I took note that all around, people were very well attended to by the staff. In a place where small bar plates and empty beer glasses can become a nuisance, they did a good job of clearing tables. We did a sampling of the menu, but the costs normally run around $12 for an appetizer and $15 for an entree.

The Food
Thanks to the influence of my brother in law, Noam, my beer snobbishness has grown a bit recently. We use this app called Untappd which keeps track of all the beers you drink and gives you badges for being adventurous (it's become somewhat competitive). Anyways, they have a good selection at Public House. I got a Little Sumpin' Sumpin' while Knuckles went for the Marisol (a Goose Island beer limited to only a few locations).

So for our appetizers we got to try the Homemade Pretzel, the Bison Carpaccio, the Spanish Style Oyster Rockefeller, the Smoked Clam Chowder, and the Panzanella Salad. The pretzel was on the softer side and came with this thick beer and cheddar fondue. The carpaccio came very clean and simple with this wonderful savoriness. This was the first oyster for Knuckles, and she was a big fan. It came with a Manchego cheese topping that put a real interesting spin on things. The chowder was relatively traditional with tons of the money ingredients and not too many potatoes. The key was the addition of smoked bacon to add another layer of flavor. We also both really enjoyed the salad which was great for a hot summer evening. It was chock full of fresh ingredients including watermelon, tomatoes, english peas, and squash.

The Spanish Oysters Rockefeller

 The Homemade Pretzel

 The Panzanella

 The Smoked Clam Chowder

The Bison Carpaccio

After that we got to try out some of the mussels. The belgian white variety had this rich and creamy presentation. Part of me wanted to use a leftover shell to spoon up the sauce. The lemongrass ponzu variety had a spicy kimchi topping for those of you that are a bit more adventurous.

The Lemongrass Ponzu Mussels

 The Belgian White Mussels

For the main course Knuckles had the Seared Ahi Tuna, and I had a platter of the different BBQ options. The tuna came with these aromatic mushrooms and this well balanced mustard ale sauce. Each slice had a nice raw center as well. My platter included Smoked Chicken Wings, Kobe Beef Brisket, Pulled Pork, Ribs, and some Coleslaw. The wings had this really intriguing spice rub and a hearty juiciness to each bite. The brisket had a healthy fat marbling and went well with the variety of bbq sauces they had. The ribs made you work a little bit to get the meat (as they should), and the glaze gave a good edge to each bite. Finally, the pulled pork was delicious. It normally comes on a sandwich and soaked up the sauce like only a loose mop of pork strings should.

The Kobe Beef Brisket

 The Smoked Chicken Wings

 The Ribs

 The Seared Tuna

The Pulled Pork

For dessert we had the Makers Mark Ice Cream and this amazing Bananas Foster Waffle. The waffle had these sugar pearls mixed into that batter that made for a fluffy texture. The bananas went well with the ice cream too. This was one of the best desserts I've had all year.

The Makers Mark Ice Cream

 The Bananas Foster Waffle

Lot's of bars have been sprucing up their menus, but not all of them have as much to show as Public House. The variety of solid seafood options, salads, barbecue, and bar classics makes for a very versatile menu. Since this meal was on the house, there won't be a formal pearl rating, but I strongly suggest you check it out sometime soon.
Public House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pasta Palazzo

Location: 1966 N Halsted
Cost: About $15 per person

Right before I left for New York, my friend Amanda decided to leave Chicago as well... for the suburbs. Amanda and her sister Allison had just finished packing up most of her stuff, and they were looking to grab an easy bite in our hood. They suggested we check out Pasta Palazzo on the corner of Halsted and Armitage.

Pasta Palazzo has a real simple setup with a bunch of high top tables in a medium sized dining room. There wasn't much of a crowd in the middle of the week, but I've seen some small lines build up on the weekends. They don't take reservations even if you wanted to make them.

Our server was quick and got our order straight. We had to search around for water refills a few times which I thought was odd since the place was pretty empty. The prices were pretty cheap, but it all depends if you're able to make pasta for yourself at home. Most of the entrees were around $10.

The Food
We decided to split the Vegetariano Salad to get things moving. There was an abundance of grilled zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. The dressing was a bit oily for me, but in general the salad was a good deal. After that Amanda got the Healthy Chicken Penne, Allison got some other Penne dish with lots of ricotta cheese and pine nuts, and I got the Cavatelli in a Vodka Cream Sauce. I think mine was the only one with homemade pasta, and the texture was smooth. The sauce was too acidic. Allison's dish was really heavy on the ricotta but otherwise just fine. I did not enjoy the Healthy Chicken Penne. It was pretty bland, and the chicken was a bit dry.

The Vegetariano Salad

 The Healthy Chicken Penne

 The Penne with Ricotta

 The Homemade Cavatelli

I'm a stickler for paying for pasta dishes unless they're clearly something I can't make at home. This was not one of those cases. In general, Pasta Palazzo seems like a nice family restaurant or an efficiency option, but I wouldn't rush back. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Pasta Palazzo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NYC Post 6

I think this will be the most interesting of my NYC based posts. First I'll mention two small lunches I had. First was at this Mexican place called Aprovecho across the street from the hospital. I got some Chicken Mole dish that was alright, but not nearly as good as the one I had a few weeks ago at Las Pinatas (which sadly closed while I was out of town). Next was this Indian place on another corner near the hospital called Tawa. It wasn't anything special, but you get a ton of food for very little money. The Chicken Tikka Masala was more than passable, but the sauce was too creamy.

The first big place I'll get into is Flex Mussels. I'd been told by all of the fellows in my program to check it out, and when I got in touch with my friend Hallie, it was the first place she mentioned. We hit it up on a Wednesday night and thankfully had a reservation. We split an Arugula Salad to start, which was lightly dressed and had a strong kick. Then we split a bowl of the Italiano Mussels which had calamari and broth heavy in garlic and tomato. Besides being one of the messier meals I've had in a while, I was really impressed. The two dishes were plenty for the two of us, and the seafood was all very fresh.
Location: 174 E 82nd
Cost: About $25 per person

The Arugula Salad

 The Italiano Mussels

The next spot to mention is Eataly. I'd been trying to go for the whole month, and it wasn't until my last night in town that I got to go. My buddy Dave and I showed up at this behemoth of a marketplace with no clue what to do. They should really have some sign explaining how to go through this place. For those of you that don't know, it's basically a grocery store with mini-restaurants strewn throughout. The restaurants are split up like the different counters in a grocery store. We hit up the vegetable counter and tried some excellent Eggplant Parmesan. It's Dave's favorite dish in general, and he was more than pleased. Then we walked over to the carb station and tried out the Lasagna Bolognese. All of the noodles were made in house and the sauce was complex, creamy, and unctuous. After all of that we went to Birreria, the rooftop bar, and tried some of their in house brews. My favorite was the Wanda.
Location: 200 5th Avenue
Cost: Extremely Variable. I think we spent around $30 per person

The Eggplant Parmesan

 The Lasagna Bolognese

Finally, I couldn't complete a month in NYC without a trip to Shake Shack. Drake and I ran out to get some before I went off to the airport. Our orders were simple with a Shack Burger, Cheese Fries, and a Chocolate Milkshake. I don't see the obsession that people have with this place, but that's not to say that it's not good. The shake was too thin for my taste. The cheese fries had this thicker, grainy sauce that I really dug. The burger was fine, but I was a big fan of the bun. It seemed slightly undercooked, and it soaked up the shack sauce nicely. Nonetheless, I'm no more impressed with Shake Shack than I am with M Burger.
Location: 154 East 86th Street
Cost: About $15 per person

The Chocolate Shake

 The Shake Burger

The Cheese Fries
Aprovecho Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon Tawa on Urbanspoon Flex Mussels on Urbanspoon Eataly on Urbanspoon Birreria @ Eataly on Urbanspoon Shake Shack (UES) on Urbanspoon