Sunday, March 31, 2013

Carriage House

Location: 1700 W Division
Cost: About $40 per person

My friend Sophia wanted to get together for another one of our Tuesday night dinners. The reason we go out on Tuesday nights is because she works pretty much every other night of the week. Given that her schedule seems worse than mine, I usually let her guide where we go. She decided on Carriage House. The concept of small plate southern food seemed somewhat wrong to me, but I'll go pretty much anywhere with fried chicken on the menu. Marissa tagged along for good measure too.

Logistics
Carriage House is right on the corner of Division and Paulina (right between my sister's old apartment and my yarn store). The interior has a cool look with many little tables and counters throughout, not to mention some of Stu Pearl's favorite communal tables. The kitchen is relatively exposed too which feeds the vibrant feel. I'd heard the wait can build up, but on a Tuesday night we didn't have any issues. I would avoid driving over there too because parking is a real pain.

Our waiter helped decipher the small plate menu well. The big issue was that all of our small plate items showed up at the same time. It made for some cold eating and an appetizer and entree course that melded together. I thought it was too pricey too. Most small plates were in the low teens. That's a reasonable amount for small plate restaurants, but when I get southern food, my expectations are usually set on lower prices and hefty portions.

The Food
We got started with the Skillet Cornbread, the Mushroom Truffle and Eggs, the Fried Chicken Thigh, and the Carolina Gold Rice Balls (which, like I was saying, all came out together). The cornbread had a sweetness and uniform texture. The whipped butter and jam on top smoothed things over real nicely too. The mushroom, truffle, and egg dish was my favorite of the meal. The baked grits and oyster shrooms made for a killer combo. The fried chicken thigh was disappointing. The skin wasn't as crispy as I'd hoped, and the acidity from the pickle topping just didn't pair well. They had a few homemade hot sauces that none of us could get on board with. The rice balls didn't win anyone over either. The pimento cheese rang through but the texture of the fried rice ball was off putting.


 The Mushroom Truffle and Egg

 The Skillet Cornbread

 The Fried Chicken Thigh

The Carolina Gold Rice Balls

Our second course, dessert, included the Beignets and the Pistachio Sundae. The beignets were a little dense but soaked up the chocolate sauce on the side well. The sundae had plenty of nuts and caramel sauce.


The Sundae

The Beignets

Overall
I don't think I was able to overcome my issues with having small plate southern food. I was hoping for bigger portions and stronger flavors. Given that it was small plate anyways, I was hoping for reasonable coursing. Still, the cornbread and mushroom, truffle, and egg dish were really something. I might be on an island with this opinion, but the fried chicken wasn't anything special. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Carriage House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wildberry Cafe

Location: 1783 N Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville
Cost:  About $12 per person

As many of you know, I've logged plenty of time as a suburban breakfast waiter. It wasn't that long ago that I donned the polo and apron of Egg Harbor. Accordingly, I don't love going back and getting my cheeks pinched by the slightly older waitresses that still view me as this little high school kid. My parents wanted to grab a bite with my cousin Natalie the other weekend for a bit of a birthday celebration / brunch. Given the aforementioned restrictions and that we had recently gone to Walker Brothers, Wildberry Cafe seemed like a logical choice.

Note: They have a location on Randolph in the Loop, but this post really only speaks to the one in Libertyville.

Logistics
In standard fashion, Wildberry Cafe has a large seating area that is constantly full on the weekends. The waiting area is packed full of families with crying babies, but at least they have free coffee. It was freezing cold out, and the crowd was so large we almost had to wait outside (which would've been just awful). That being said, the turnaround is relatively quick, and even with the crowd, we were sat within a half hour.

Our waiter put up with my dad's corny jokes and they bevy of substitutions that came with our order (I felt his pain). The food came out really quickly (hence the fast turnaround on tables). The cost is what you'd expect with most main dishes just under $10.

The Food 
Our order was very standard. My cousin went for a Lox Omelet of sorts, my mom got the Eggs Florentine, my dad got the French Toast with a side of Bacon, and I got the Southern Chicken Salad. The eggs are touted to be farm fresh and all, but I can seldom tell the difference. I did notice the broken hollandaise sauce though. The omelet was light and fluffy, and they didn't let the lox get all dried out. The french toast was soft with plenty of cinnamon, but I thought the bacon was overcooked. My chicken salad was a bust. The fried chicken had a coating that separated from the meat too easily. The pecans were a nice sweet touch, but otherwise all it did was make me miss the fried chicken salad that they used to have at the Buffalo Grove Village Tavern. They did do a nice job with the crispy, grated hash browns though.

The Side of Bacon

 The Eggs Florentine

 The Lox Omelet

 The French Toast

The Southern Chicken Salad

Overall
There's no question that it's not worth the trek from downtown to go eat at Wildberry Cafe (but then again, they have a spot on Randolph). The whole meal felt very average besides my salad that I was disappointed with. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Balena

Location: 1633 N Halsted
Cost: About $50 per person

It's funny to think back to when small plates were a rare thing to come by. You used to pick up this diverse looking menu of interesting dishes at low prices and think, let's get a bunch of everything. Now you can hardly go somewhere without the waiter asking you if you need an explanation on how to order. I remember thinking that Quartino was this wildly inventive place for serving little bits of risotto at a time, but now the thrill is gone. Diatribe aside, I had some more small plate Italian food with my parents the other night at Balena.

Logistics
Balena moved in where Landmark used to be on Halsted across from the Steppenwolf Theater. So it's basically right around the corner from my apartment. The restaurant itself is huge, but you'll still need a reservation most nights. The place is bustling, but we got this rather quiet table in the back. If you need to drive, parking isn't that tough, but the red line and plenty of buses go right by there.

Our waiter was helpful with the menu, but we had to ask for things like water refills and clean silverware on multiple occasions. The bus boys were impressive though, stacking up more plates at a time than the guy at El Toro. Cost wise, it's what you'd expect. Most small plates of pasta and 12'' pizzas run around $16 while the protein based dishes are in the low 20's.

The Food
Our first course included the Kale Caesar Salad, the Focaccia Bread, and the Cheese Platter. The caesar had the rough texture of kale with a heavy load of sardines (big points with the Pearl family). It was lightly dressed and well put together. The focaccia bread was mostly an extra surface for the cheese platter, but on it's own it was crusty with a soft center and heavy on the herbs. The cheese platter was a cheese platter. I'm never sure how much credit to give a place for arranging cheese.

The Assorted Cheeses

 The Kale Caesar Salad

 The Herb Focaccia Bread

After that, we got the Hen Egg Tajarin with Sage and Brown Butter and the Spicy Sausage Pizza. The pasta was very "yolky" and rich despite the buttery sauce. It was light and had an intriguingly chewy texture. The pizza had a snap to the crust and a decent burn. The sausage packed some heat too. The sauce had a mild sweetness that brought everything together nicely.

The Hen Egg Tajarin

 The Sausage and Red Onion Pizza

For dessert we went with the Affogato and the Pistachio Gelati. The affogato was a plate of chocolate espresso and donuts. The donuts were piping hot, soft as could be, and doused in sugar. When we dipped it in the chocolate espresso mixture they soaked up every last drop. The gelati had a pleasant orange syrup and marshmallows stuffed with pistachios. As most desserts go with my family, we weren't hungry when they got there, but they didn't last for more than five minutes.

 The Affogato

 The Pistachio Gelati

Overall
Don't take my disenfranchisement with small plate food as a slight to Balena. Each plate was interesting and well executed. With the pizza, pasta, and dessert options, I don't think you can go wrong. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Balena on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fleming's

Location: 25 E Ohio
Deal: $37.95 for Lobster Tail, 6oz Filet, Side, and Starter from now through April 7th

Fleming's is probably well known to many of you. They've got many locations including one right in the middle of River North. I was lucky enough to be asked to try out a special they're currently running on their Filet and Lobster Tail. The gist of the deal is that you get a 6oz filet, a lobster tail, soup/salad, and a side for $38. The special is off menu, and you'll need to ask for it specificaly. Without surprise, the service was spot on and the food was delicious. My steak was a perfectly prepared medium rare with a peppery coating. I went with the wedge salad to start which was hefty on the blue cheese, gorgonzola, and bacon. Jeremy went for the french onion soup which a normal adult male would be able to eat, but he got all tied up in how stringy the cheese was. The meal was plenty as it stood, but they wanted to roll us out and brought out a side of the lobster mac n' cheese. It was heavy on the lobster and very creamy.

The Filet and Lobster Tail

 The Wedge Salad

 The Lobster Mac N' Cheese

It's hard to imagine going to a place like Fleming's and coming away at less than $40 per person. If you think about what a typical restaurant week deal offers you, you could argue this is even better than that. Considering you get all this food it seems like a great chance to check it out. Enjoy.


Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Floriole

Location: 1220 W Webster
Cost: About $10 per person

My good friends Josh and Lonnie got engaged a few weeks ago, and it seemed impossible to get some time in with them. I felt like there was this critical window in which I needed to look at the ring, tell Lonnie congrats, and give Josh a pat on the back or I would suddenly disappear from the sphere of acceptable friendship. The problem was that they were booked with plans. I was able to get them to join me for brunch before heading back to the suburbs to celebrate with their families .Since I'm on their way and all, we hit up a spot in Lincoln Park. I'm often drawn into places by the smell they emit, and accordingly we decided to check out Floriole.

Logistics
Unlike many bakeries with their small seating area and display case of goodies, Floriole is relatively huge. They've got two floors of seating and a beautiful woody interior. They've still got the display case with plenty of daily product. We went at midday on Saturday without having to elbow our way for a croissant and a table.

Even with the counter, you can mostly place your order, take a number, and get your food brought out. It took kind of a long time for our sandwiches, but we bought a croissant to tide us over. The cost is totally reasonable with pastries around $4 and sandwiches around $10.

The Food
So we split this croissant that was delicious and embarrassing  By that, I mean that it was so flaky that it ended up all over me.

The Chocolate Croissant

From there, Josh got the B.A.D (bacon, arugula, and dates), Lonnie ordered the Grilled Cheese, and I got the Ham and Cheese Quiche. Across the board the bread products were impressive. The B.A.D. had a little bit of everything with the sweet dates, savory bacon, and peppery arugula. The grilled cheese had just the right ooziness. The quiche held together nicely (not like the one at Local Root). It was just the right balance of eggs and cheese.

The B.A.D.

 The Grilled Cheese with Arugula

 The Ham and Cheese Quiche

Overall
You don't always have to make some huge production out of brunch, and Floriole is the perfect example of that. Go for a quick sandwich, quiche, or coffee and a pastry. If it's a carb then you just can't go wrong there. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Floriole Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Uncommon Ground

Location: 3800 N Clark
Cost: About $25 per person

This post is Part 2/2 of my Lakeview night out with Dr. and Mrs. Dave Jahangir and my friend Renee. After splitting a bunch of beers, chips, fries, a burger, and a gyro at Indie Burger, we took a medium length trek up the road. Now it might be hard to believe, but I'm on a huge delay with these posts. This meal took place in late January, but because I like to space out my posts over three days, this is just how it worked out. It might be in the 40's right now, but it was freezing cold that night. Nonetheless, we walked, and when we finally made it to Uncommon Ground, we'd re-worked up an appetite.

Logistics
Uncommon Ground is a pretty big space on Clark with a whole variety of seating options. You can pull up to the bar or right by the fireplace, but the table they'd reserved for us was against the windows (which could've been better insulated). Dave and I did the right thing and sat in the cooler seats. The reservation came in very handy by the way, and I suggest you make one. In somewhat reverse fashion, we ordered a bunch of appetizers and smaller entrees for our meal which all ran around $10-$15.

The Food
We started with the Fried Avocado Taco, the Pumpkin Ravioli, and the Seasonal Pizza. The fried avocado in the taco was interesting, but I was hoping for more of a crunch. I was worried since avocados can be plenty bland, but the spicy chipotle aioli took care of that. The tortilla was really dry though. The ravioli was sweet had some hazelnuts for textural variability. The sage butter cream sauce was a bit excessive, bordering on soup vs. sauce. The seasonal pizza had chicken sausage, red peppers, spinach, and cheddar. The crust was very soggy under the weight of the ingredients, but the cheese had this pungent unctuous flavor.

The Pumpkin Ravioli

 The Seasonal Pizza

 The Fried Avocado Taco

For dessert we had the Bread Pudding. It had blueberries and a goat cheese gelato. The flavors were new and different for me, but the body of the bread pudding was a little tough. Still, we wolfed it down and practically licked the plate.

The Bread Pudding

Overall
Uncommon Ground has the fresh, local vibe going for it, and it's definitely vegetarian friendly (great for Renee). I liked but wasn't in like with all of my dishes. I'd go back to try more meaty options. For now, I"m giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Uncommon Ground on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Indie Burger

Location: 1034 W Belmont
Cost: About $10 per person

When I wrote about Bar Pastoral, my good friend Renee pointed out that I was basically eating in her backyard without letting her know. I couldn't tell if she was unhappy or just trying to lay some guilt on me (by the way, if she knew the kind of guilt I get from my mom on a regular basis, she wouldn't even try). Serendipitously, another Lakeview resident / friend, Dr. Dave suggested that I come get a bite with him and Kayleen at one of his new favorite places, Indie Burger. Between Indie Burger's vegetarian options, Renee's fondness for Kayleen, and my general distaste for being the lone third wheel, this was the perfect meal for the four of us.

Logistics
Indie Burger is a simple setup off Belmont, just west of the red line. They've got the whole order at the counter and put your number at your table thing going on. We rolled in on a Friday night at 7 and had no trouble getting four seats. I wouldn't try and drive to those parts, but you can probably track down a street spot if you need to. The room is decked out in recycled wood, which feeds into the local theme.

The service isn't really a factor since all they do is bring you your food. It took a while to get the food though. I know this because I was able to make my way through plenty of a beer before getting my meal. Oh, it's BYOB too. Dave brought a variety pack with plenty of solid choices. The cost is reasonable with burgers running around $7 and fries at $3. I've always disliked ordering fries separately from my burger, but $10 for the two doesn't seem too bad.

The Food
This meal was actually part one of two. We went to Indie Burger with the intention of getting food at Uncommon Ground afterward (because we couldn't decide on one place [this will be the next post]). Thus, our order was somewhat light. We split the Indie Burger and the Vegan Gyro. The burger was griddled with a delicate crisp. The bun was flaky but not substantial enough. The cheese was melted but not oily. The onions were nice and soggy, and who doesn't like some mysterious secret sauce? The gyro was made out of seitan and the tzatziki was good and creamy. I'm not the biggest seitan guy, but the vegetarian in the crew was a fan. Our sides were the sweet potato chips and the regular french fries. Both were crispy but not at a loss for flavor secondary to the deep frying process.

The Burger and Beers

 The Indie Burger Close Up

The Vegan Gyro

Overall
Indie Burger is one of many new places popping up with griddle burgers. I dig the BYOB option and the locally sourced ingredients which gives a slight edge over a few other similar places. The burger fell apart on me a little bit, but the fries were spot on. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Indie Burger on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Local Root Cafe

Location: 601 N McClurg Ct.
Cost: About $15 per person

KVG and I had a final exam for our rotation in the intensive care unit (ICU). There was a multiple choice test at 7AM followed by individual skills exams throughout the day. We happened to draw the shortest of many straws, making us wait until the 3:30 and 4PM time slots. It was freezing cold out that day, and I wasn't about to trek back to Lincoln Park between tests. We both headed to Arif's place to warm up, make him get out of bed, and go to brunch with us. Despite our enthusiasm, we could only muster up enough strength to brave the five degree weather around the corner. That's how we ended up at The Local Root Cafe.

Logistics
Local Root filled in for the empty spot left by what was Tutto Pronto next to that BYOB mani/pedi place and the Starbucks. The space is open and welcoming with a ton of space for a decent weekend brunch crowd, but given that we were there on a Friday morning all we had to compete with were the cafe bums nursing a big coffee mugs in the corner.

It's easy to provide quick service when no one else is eating in the restaurant. The whole restaurant from the name to menu screams local sourced ingredients. Given that, the cost is totally reasonable. Most dishes are in the $10 range which is what you pay pretty much anywhere for brunch in the city.

The Food
They've got a decent amount of specialty drink options, but KVG had just finished making tea before we went to brunch. Arif went for the Biscuits and Gravy, KVG got the Ham and Cheese Quiche, and I got the Mushroom Quiche. The biscuits were coated in gravy and topped with ground lamb. The meat was tasty and the biscuits were somewhat light and fluffy. Still, I couldn't help but notice the plate looked like vomit when it came out. Both quiches had near perfect crusts. They made a flaky mess with each bite and were not short on the butter. The filling was problematic with both. It was loose and runny. The sauce on top was broken when it came out. It was salty and not the least bit creamy. As far as the potatoes went, they were like bland and soft. Interestingly, they came with a side of local, organic ketchup (which was also runny and bland). I'd give it a break, but Heinz makes an organic ketchup that doesn't taste like red water.

The Biscuits and Gravy

 The Mushroom Quiche

Overall
Between the lamb sausage on the biscuits and gravy and the crust on the quiche there were some flashes of genius on our plates, but I couldn't get past the overarching flaws in each dish. I appreciate the local sourcing and reasonable pricing of ingredients, but I'm not heading back anytime soon. I'm giving Local Root 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Local Root Chicago on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Top 10 Sandwiches in Chicago

I've been getting heckled by some of my readers to mix it up a bit. I get that the same four sections and my lack of writing prowess can get somewhat mundane. The other day, my buddy McNamara suggested I start making some lists. More specifically he suggested I make a list of places for people to go on Valentine's Day. Given that I spent V-day in a bar with my roommates and neighbors, I didn't think it was really my place (but I think there's something in the list idea). So what do I know more about than romance?... jokes about my Jewish identity.

Passover comes early this year which means that you only have the first few weeks in March to get in as much chametz (bread products) as possible. So the inaugural (possibly monthly) list will be my Top 10 Favorite Sandwiches in Chicago (excluding burgers):

10. Sultan's Market

The Falafel Sandwich

9. Conte di Savoia

The Frank

8. Jake Melnick's

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

7. The Bourgeois Pig

The Walden

6. Al's #1 Italian Beef
Specifically the location on Taylor St.

The Italian Beef Sandwich

5. The Birchwood Kitchen

The Gruyere and Salami Sandwich

4. 11 City Diner 

The Woody Allen

3. Capt'n Nemo's

The Seafarer

2. The Brown Sack

The Meatball Sub

1. Manny's Delicatessen

The Corned Beef on Rye