Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stax Cafe

Location: 1401 W Taylor
Cost: About $15 per person

My friend Amanda moved out to Arlington Heights last year because she was fed up with her commute. Not that I'm the best at staying in touch with people, but since then, our communication has obviously worsened. She was the bigger man the other weekend and decided to drive downtown to hang out. We went for a run along lake shore since it was nice out (and so I could make her feel bad about leaving all of her cool city dwelling friends). After that we went out for some brunch. I wanted to go to Nightwood really badly, and since Amanda had a car, I made her schlep me down there. Of course, we went on a Saturday when they only have brunch on Sunday's. I really made quite an eel out of myself (points to those that catch the reference). So we scrambled around for awhile and tried to go to Sweet Maple Cafe, but their line was out the door. Around the corner from there was a breakfast place that seemed reasonably busy, and that's how we ended up at Stax Cafe.

There's nothing special to the setup at Stax Cafe. It's basically one large room with a lofted kitchen. Impressively, the wait never seemed to build to more than 20 minutes. We sat right by the kitchen, allowing us to see what everyone down below was eating. The cost is reasonable with most entrees right around $10 or less. The portions were large, which is great and all, but it's not like you can take anything with eggs home and expect good leftovers.

The Food
Amanda ordered the Spiro Omelet (spinach and feta) and switched out the toast with some Oatmeal Pancakes. The dish came with house potatoes mixed in with peppers and onions. The omelet was cooked appropriately, but there was way too much spinach. The pancakes had a subtle sweetness and good texture. I went with the Chicken Chilaquiles. The tortillas were heavily coated in a salsa verde that was way too oily and a little hard on the acid. My eggs were runny but possibly a bit underdone. 

 The Spiro

 The Oatmeal Pancakes

The Green Chile Chilaquiles

After our roundabout adventure trying to find a brunch spot, Stax Cafe served an excellent and convenient purpose. That aside, Amanda was equivocal with her breakfast, and I took some issues with my dish. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Stax Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Frog N Snail

Location: 3124 N Broadway
Cost: Normally around $40 per person

Written by Marc Kovarsky:

I can always appreciate a good deal, and this time it was not in the form of a Groupon.  A few weekends ago I was walking through Lakeview when the restaurant Frog N Snail caught my eye. After doing some digging, I stumbled across their Facebook page, which mentioned an Unlimited Mussels deal on Thursday nights- for $20 they offer all you can eat Mussels, Fries, and a Shlitz. It didn’t take much more convincing to give it a try.

Frog N Snail is a pretty restaurant nestled right on Broadway and Briar. We had no issues making a reservation although the restaurant was respectably full when we arrived. There was no need to look at the menu since we both knew we were going with the special.

The fries were extremely flavorful covered in an array of seasonings. No ketchup was necessary (or offered). The mussels came in a big bowl and were steamed with a butter and white wine sauce. After finishing our first bowl there was plenty of broth at the bottom to dip the bread or fries. We also ended up eating it like soup since it was still warm. We each ordered a second bowl and it was just as full as the first. I appreciated the fact that this was truly unlimited and they were happy to bring out the second portion. While two bowls each were enough for us our waitress recalled a recent guest who managed to eat six bowls.

The Mussels

 The Fries

This is definitely a deal worth checking out since they were some of the best mussels I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a new dinner spot next Thursday and enjoy fresh mussels check out Frog N Snail.
Frog n Snail on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 21, 2013

Andy's Thai Kitchen

Location: 946 W Wellington
Cost: About $20 per person

I've written many times about my issues with Thai food in Chicago. It mostly boils down to the acceptance of mediocrity. Everyone comes to tell me that they have the best place, but it's usually just average. My favorites thus far have been Pho's Hot and Spicy and Sticky Rice. Now Jenny's favorite food is pad see ew. She eats it way too much, but who am I to judge. So the other night we went out with her friends Lindsay and Brian to one of their favorite spots, Andy's Thai Kitchen.

ATK is right under the Wellington brown line stop. Accordingly, the occasional loud blur rings in from overhead. The restaurant is pretty small, but we didn't have to wait all that long for a table. It's BYOB without a corkage fee and the menu is very reasonably priced (entrees around $9).

The Food
We got the ball rolling with the Pan Fried Vegetable Gyoza. The sear on the wonton was even and the tangy brown sauce had a little kick. From there, both Jenny and Lindsay went with the Chicken Pad See Ew, Brian got the Green Curry Omelet, and I got the Panang Curry with Beef. The pad see ew noodles kept a nice texture without too much oil. The chicken was well seasoned without being overcooked. As far as my panang curry, the sweetness and spiciness of the dish were well balanced. The beef was a bit too chewy, but the peppers and tomatoes were properly cooked. The dish was simple and layered.

 The Vegetable Gyoza

 The Chicken Pad See Ew

 The Panang Curry with Beef

The Green Curry Omelet

There are lots of reasons to like ATK. The menu plays well to the americanized and the authentic. Plus, I'll give them points over Sticky Rice for not assuming that the gringo wanted to order the Pad Thai. The curry had depth, and everyone else was happy with their dishes. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Andy's Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fat Willy's Rib Shack

Location: 2416 W Schubert
Cost: About $25 per person

I'm not sure what it is lately, but I've been craving BBQ like crazy. After a long shift at the hospital, I coaxed Jeremy into driving me up North to get some ribs. I'd heard about this place, Rubs, but it was a bit more of a drive than we were up for. Instead we decided to hit up Fat Willy's in Logan Square. We ended up punching the wrong address into the navigation and taking longer than it would've to drive to Rubs, but lets just say the adventure helped us work up an appetite.

Fat Willy's is hidden around the corner from the bowling alley and the movie theater on Western. The restaurant has this somewhat enclosed patio out front, and once you walk through it there's a rather eclectic variety of seating and decor inside. The waiter was quite the bro and gave us some solid suggestions. As far as cost, I'd say it was intermediate for BBQ. To give you an idea, a slab of ribs dinner ran around $25.

The Food
It was pretty late by the time JR and I got to the restaurant, and we were in no mood for messing around with apps. We dove straight into the main course. Jeremy got the Hot Links, and I got the Baby Back Ribs. The links had a nice smoke to them, but if anything the casing was too firm.The ribs made me work to get the meat off the bone. The smoke ring was hard to assess with the sauce load on the ribs, but the sauce packed a sweet and spicy kick. For sides, we went with the Mac n' Cheese, the Baked Beans, the Mashed Potatoes, and the French Fries. The mac had a good caramelization across the top and plenty of creamy cheese filling. I was hoping the beans would've been sweeter and maybe a bit less grainy.

The Hot Links

 The Mac n' Cheese

 The Mashed Potatoes

 The Baked Beans

The Baby Back Ribs

In a city known for such blasphemy as boiling their ribs and relying entirely on sauce, Fat Willy's sets itself apart. The flavors are complex, and the meat is well prepped. I was plus minus on the sides, but left the meal happy. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Fat Willy's Rib Shack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Location: 354 W Hubbard
Cost: About $25 per person

Note: This post is written by long time contributor and friend, Marc Kovarsky. In general, I'd say he is too forgiving to restaurants, but for what he lacks in criticism of food he demands in service and atmosphere. Enjoy.

It has been a while since I last contributed, and I’m glad to be back here on JEC. I’m a big fan of the Gilt Bar Group of restaurants- Au Cheval, Maude’s Liquor Bar, and Bavettes. The newest member to join the family is Dillman’s, which was first described to me as a deli. If so, it is the fanciest deli I’ve ever been to. While I had already been for lunch I was excited to go back for dinner and dig a little deeper into their menu.

The meal was off to a good start when I noticed they had Table Wine for $16 a bottle. I can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wine (usually get it at Trader Joes) so I was excited that they had a reasonably priced bottle. We were hungry and decided to share a bunch of selections from all over the menu. We put our entire order in at once and told our server to course it however she felt appropriate. We decided on the Caesar Salad, Turkey Club, Short Rib, Latkes, and Sweet Pickles.
The Caesar salad had an interesting twist because they substituted croutons with potato chips. The dressing had a strong dill taste to it, but worked well with the salad. The potato chip crunch was interesting and I enjoyed it since I had never seen that before. The latkes and sweet pickles were a perfect side. The latkes are thin and crispy, and came with the perfect sides of apple sauce and sour cream. The Turkey Club was spot on. I had gotten this on my previous lunch visit and knew I had to get it again. The salami, turkey, swiss, and avocado work well together. Unlike other delis I’ve been to, this sandwich was not overflowing with meat. It was thinly layered, but still felt hearty. The Short Rib was presently well with pieces of rye bread and a large bone marrow side. We weren’t adventurous enough to try the marrow, but the short rib had a ton of flavor. The thick glaze was delicious and the horseradish on the side was a nice touch.

We had heard great things about their desserts so we went with the carrot cake. I thought it was good, but would definitely prefer Hub 51’s Carrot Cake over Dillman’s. 

It was an enjoyable meal. My only concern is the lack of identity. Is it a deli or is it a bistro? I couldn’t tell. We can call it Deli Fusion for now. Either way, the food was good and it is definitely worth checking out. I would probably return for lunch over dinner, or even bring my laptop and get some work done with their cafĂ© off to the side. The pricing is reasonable and the ambiance is stylish. Dillman’s is a part of a good family so you’ll probably enjoy anything you order. 

Dillman's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Doughnut Vault

Location: 401 N Franklin
Cost: About $2-$3 per doughnut

When it comes to trends with food I feel like Chicago is behind some other major cities. For that matter, when these trends come to Chicago, I'm probably a good deal behind everyone else. I'm pretty happy that people are cooling off on the whole cupcake thing. I was happy to see some pie shops spring up, but I was hoping for more. Food trucks are cool and all, but they'd be better if the city would let them be (but that argument's been had over and over again).

So lets talk doughnuts. All these places have sprung up to make the tray that your coworker brings in from Dunkin look like a bunch of sugary crap. One of the more popular spots is The Doughnut Vault. They're open five days a week from 8AM (9:30AM on Saturdays) until they sell out, which is not long after. The issue is that I'm always at work long before they open. Luckily, one day in clinic a whole bunch of patients cancelled in a row, thus giving us (Kyle, my diligent medical student, and myself) enough time to hustle over a check this hot spot out.

The Doughnut Vault is on the Western border of River North. The whole place amounts to a tiny doorway, an old register, and a little serving counter. A line forms outside a few minutes before opening and can really build thereafter. You can buy a doughnut or two for yourself, but it seems like the majority of the business is done by the box. Each doughnut is around $3 or less, and they're on the larger side. You can also get coffee, but the menu doesn't go much further than that.

Of note, it's cash only.

The Food
The menu has a few standards, but the glazed flavors seem to rotate on a weekly basis. We tried the Buttermilk Old Fashioned, the Vanilla Glazed, and the Mocha Glazed. The old fashioned had a nice density to each bite with a flaky, sugary exterior. It went perfectly with my cup of coffee that morning. The glazed doughnuts were huge. They were really fluffy on the inside, and the flavors weren't overpowering. I gave my nod to the mocha, but both were excellent options.

The Buttermilk Old Fashioned

 The Mocha Glazed

The Vanilla Glazed

The Doughnut Vault has ruined most other doughnuts for me. No longer will I be able to enjoy my Spunky Dunkers when I head back home. I doubt I'll be able to get back for some time because I don't have the luxury of coming into work after 8AM, but for all you fortunate souls out there, I suggest you check it out. I'm giving them 5 out of 5 Pearls.

The Doughnut Vault on Urbanspoon