Archive for category Restaurants
Whenever someone says the word jam, I hear Carol Channing singing “Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday. But never, ever jam today.” (Remember? It was from that awful 1980s TV version of Alice in Wonderland. Carol played the White Witch. YouTube it. See? You bastards never believe a word I say.)
Now that I put that ear worm in your head, we can talk about brunch. More specifically, brunch at Jam. It used to be in a teeny, tiny space on Damen Avenue south of Armitage. Jam has the dubious distinction of being the first restaurant that we took Mr. Moo. He was like 4… as in 4 days old. (Nothing comes between me and brunch. Not even sleeplessness, a newborn, or post-natal blob belly.)
Now, Jam is in a teeny, tiny space in Logan Square. Because as we all know, that’s where the cool kids are hanging out these days. OK, the space isn’t that tiny. But, it does have a raised area so wear nice shoes and longer skirts unless you want to be judged. It’s all modern and gray inside with pops of lime green. So, if any of that scares you… well, get over it… it’s just that good.
Also, I apologize again to all of the diners sitting near our table when we were there recently. My son still doesn’t understand that throwing objects at strangers is wrong (and mortally embarrassing for his parents).
What We Ate
Mr. Moo inhaled the French toast sticks off of the kiddie menu (yeah, they’re hip AND have four items for children). I had a bite and I’m sorry that they were just for kids because, man, they are good. Crusty and kind of deep fried yum. But not weird and squishy on the inside. Oh, and real syrup which always makes me happy.
I had the eggs Benedict (because what else would I get? I love them so). The eggs were perfectly done and gooey on top of itty bitty English muffins and brown sugar bacon sausage. Yeah, I said bacon sausage. And, I’ll also say fabulous. Bacon sausage: It’s as if you read my husband’s mind and put eggs on top of it. My dish was a bit on the small side so I also had the scone of the day (and I got lucky because it was mocha).
Paul had braised antelope… on a polenta cake. (See? I told you all the cool kids hang out in Logan Square eating cool stuff like antelope with sides of red Russian kale.) It looked ridiculously good. I was plenty pissed when Paul refused to share.
What We Drank
I had a spicy bloody Mary which was served with a smoked mussel as part of the garnish. They do the cocktail right… not too heavy on the vodka, not overly crazy with the spices. Paul had a beermosa. It’s beer and OJ. (Hipsters. What can you do?) Mr. Moo had the freshly pressed green apple juice.
Just go. It’s good.
Location: 3057 W. Logan Bvld. Street parking is generally free if you can find it.
Paul and I recently went to another wine bar with locally-sourced, seasonal food in a slightly hip neighborhood. Oh, did I mention the small plates? Are you asleep yet? I know, I know, you can’t throw a stick in Chicago without hitting one of these places—good food, good wine list, good atmosphere, prices that look good until you get the bill and realize you’ve consumed 12 plates of food for a table of two.
BUT, hang in there with me. There ARE places in Chicago that are worth the shi (as in shi-shi… but not so shi-shi that I can’t be seen there… so just one shi). How can you, as a regular eater, discern which restaurant is worthy and which is just another faux small plate fiasco? Well, it helps that you’re reading my blog. That makes you pretty smart on your game. Also, when a restaurant gets a nod from practically every food writer in town, you should probably give it at least one try.
Vera is such a restaurant. In fact, I’m not going out on a limb to recommend it. Everyone else has already beat me to it. Located just off the Morgan Pink/Green line stop (and I mean just off… like half a block), it is squarely in… well, what’s that neighborhood… hmmm… the area that used to be the Warehouse District but is now the restaurant/club district or that huge zone called “West Loop.” (Seriously, Garfield Park could be called west of the Loop. And, it probably is these days.)
But, I digress: I’m guessing by your face that the Morgan stop is unfamiliar to you. As Paul said when we arrived, “It’s so new. This elevator doesn’t even smell like urine yet.” Ah, Chicago living.
What We Ate
Vera is Spanish cuisine, but definitely not tapas… even though I just said it was small plates. It’s good Spanish food. Think beef tongue pincho or duck paella with chorizo and chestnuts. That kind of good. Paul really loved the figs with bacon (Are we the least bit surprised? I said the word bacon.) We had a ton of dishes…all pretty fantastic.
When my sister went, she really fell in love with bread plate. (Which is a bit surprising because she typically does not feast on carbs.) It comes with a bean puree.
Next time I go, I want to sit at the meat bar. OK, they call it the Otro Bar (the Other Bar) but when we went it looked like the people were only eating cured meats. So, I’ll call it the meat bar. It looked very hipster to sit there. I can only dream that one day I will be as cool.
What We Drank
Wine. Lots and lots of wine. They also have a very nice bar area (bar, bar along the window, and a small runner along the wall) for sitting and waiting or eating.
The staff is also very pleasant. I mean, really just friendly and happy (at least the night we went). It’s one of those places that will make you feel comfortable.
Location: 1023 W. Lake St. I thought that they didn’t do reservations, but their web site says to give them a call. So maybe they’ve had a change of heart.
I’m always on the hunt for the perfect brunch. Right now, my criteria are:
- Fabulous food (always a must)
- Short wait
- Tons of carbs (see above… my kid is a carb loader)
- Not super expensive
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I can now add Stax Café to the list for brunching. The place has a ton of configurable tables, so if you go early on brunching days, the wait isn’t going to kill you. (They open at 7 a.m. for those of you who breakfast rather than brunch. Silly, sad early morning people. You make me sigh in exhaustion.) The floors are wood (read kid-friendly). Paul thought that the décor wasn’t much to talk about, but I appreciate loads of sunny windows and easy access to the tables without having my butt in another diner’s face.
As far as the food.. .well, it’s called Stax presumably because of the stacks and stacks of pancakes and crepes offered up on the menu. They also have eggs and lunch items as well. Oh, not to be missed are the fresh squeezed juices from the juice bar.
And, for cheap eats, they have a dish called the Starving Student—two eggs, two slices of bacon, and toast for less than $8.50. Can’t beat that with a stick (or stack… see what I did there?)
What We Ate
I had the parma prosciutto eggs Benedict. It’s two poached eggs sitting on top of polenta cakes with prosciutto, hollandaise, and parmesan cheese. Paul had some sort of meat mess. Quite frankly, I wasn’t paying attention to what he was eating. I was pretty consumed with my amazing plate. (Oh, how I love a savory breakfast.)
After conferring with the waitress, Mr. Moo had an order of plain pancakes. I briefly considered the banana cakes but the bananas are baked in and I had fear of the little due having a fit to find fruit inside his pancake. (They also have chocolate and peanut butter pancakes that I’d like to give a whirl one day.)
What We Drank
This is a non alcohol brunch place (another reason the bill is reasonable). So, coffee (Intelligentsia, thank you very much) and juices all around.
Location: 1401 W. Taylor. Street parking is pretty easy. They’re only open until 3 or 3:30 depending upon the day so no late night brekkies for you!
Paul and I very rarely get to go out on actual dinner dates anymore. I could blame it on having a toddler, but we have plenty of babysitting options. I could also blame it on lack of restaurants, but I live in Chicago so you know that would be a lie. It’s pretty much because I’m exhausted and the idea of planning a date night, much less executing one really stresses me out.
Then, I go on vacation… to my parents’ house… and Mr. Moo’s maternal grandparents rarely get to see him. When they do, they tend to carry him around like a giant, wiggly, man purse and give you the cold stink eye anytime you want to make him walk anywhere. Just so I wouldn’t have to witness the spoiling, I finally said, “Have him for a night. Paul and I are going to dinner.”
While my parents took Mr. Moo for ice cream and God knows what other wonderful treats that mean Mommy and Daddy never let him have, Paul and I headed for White Lake, Michigan to the Root Restaurant. The reviews (both online and in print) were glowing.
So, we make the 45 minute drive out there—over the freeway, through winding roads, around lakes and forests. (And, now is the time when I say, “Jeez, White Lake sure has gotten built up since I was there last… oh, about 20 years ago.” Then I feel like an old person remembering when this was all dinky cottages and crazy farms.) Anyway, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting a restaurant in a strip mall between the Kmart and the JCPenny. But there you have it.
We walked in, and it felt a bit disjointed. There’s outdoor seating in front (abutting the parking lot) and tile floors with modern wood everywhere else inside. A bar with crazy bright lights runs along the back, and they have a few flat panel TV screens. Like an organic California-esque sports bar stuck in suburbia.
And, then we ate. Oh my word. I forgot about the interior decor and the strip mall location and the long drive.
What We Ate
Both Paul and I ordered off of the tasting menu. In my humble opinion, if you’re only going to go once, go with this option. For the $40 house option, you get a first course (three choices), second course (four choices), intermezzo, entree (four choices), and dessert (a ton of choices). If you want to go with the vegan option, it will run you $29. And, you can still get the vegan entree option with the house tasting option. It’s just ridiculous.
The menu changes seasonally, so I’m not going to delve into every dish we ordered. Some of the highlights for both of us included:
- Pan fried crab cakes: They came with avocado mousse and mango poblano salsa. A complete surprise explosion of Mexican and Southern flavors.
- Watermelon and arugula salad: Crisp and refreshing with a traditional balsamic syrup. There were nuts that gave it a nice textural change from the usual.
- Half chicken: Served with a mountain of seasonal vegetables. An amazingly large plate that after the other courses was just enough food to almost put you over the top.
- Root Campfire Cup: The most heavenly dessert I’ve ever had the pleasure of staring down. Dark chocolate pudding cake with toasted marshmallow and homemade graham cracker. Not your Mama’s s’mores.
What We Drank
Before ordering food, we each had a cocktail. I went with the Real Housewife of White Lake (trust me, it was tough to order). But it was so yummy: vodka, Cointreau, raspberry syrup, lemonade, and cucumber. I could sit poolside and drink those all afternoon (and I don’t even like sitting poolside!) Paul had something with gin that made me want to gag a bit.
Now, here is the second best part about Root. If you order off of the tasting menu, you can do a wine (additional $15) or beer (additional $9) pairing. These are not wimpy pours either. I did wine and Paul did beer. Our waitress was incredibly knowledgeable about each glass that came to the table. The pairings were pretty spot on with each course (and yes, there was a glass for the dessert course as well). The beers are all local Michigan craft beers. The wine list (thankfully) is a mix of Michigan and traditional wine regions. Now, don’t get your undies in a bunch, Michigan wineries… but seriously, it’s going to be a long day before you can rival the likes of Italy, France, or Napa.
Then, we had espressos and sat for a while since we had a 45 minute drive home. (I completely forgot about that aspect of going out in Michigan. I so wouldn’t have ordered that first cocktail if I had known the pours were going to be that healthy.)
If you can get over the location and decor, the food is amazing. I’m not really sure about prices for dinner in the Detroit suburbs, but for my money, it’s an amazing deal.
Location: 340 Town Center Blvd, White Lake, MI. Parking is obviously free. They’re also open for lunch. I will definitely be back.
Chicago has a problem with its Irish pubs. An over abundance of wood paneling and Guinness posters for the decor. The menus tend to be heavy on fish and chips and that oh so traditional Irish dish—nachos and/or potato skins. I think we’ve all been there. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s been done.
Lady Gregory’s is not your “typical” Irish bar. There is wood, but it’s on the floor and the bar. One corner that has wood shelves contains books. The menu is a bit more high brow than the traditional pub, and the beverage book is a freaking book. They have more than 300 whiskeys available and probably close to 50 bottled beers. (They also have a large selection of beers on draft as well as a number of decent wines.)
I was there with a large party (sadly a going away party), so I’ll stick to what I ordered.
What I Ate
Hard Cider Steamed Mussels: The mussels are served with a toasted baguette on the side. I found that they were sitting in a soup bowl of sauce. Literally, a bowl of sauce. The cider had lemon, garlic, and tarragon. A lot of tarragon. Interesting, but off-putting. I don’t think I’d order them again.
Hearts of Palm Salad: A ridiculously sized platter with hearts of palm, avocado, and grape tomatoes. This was drizzled with a honey vinaigrette and balsamic reduction. Seriously, a load of hearts of palm and avocado. I had to share. It was that large.
Side of Sweet Potato Fries: Served with a maple syrup dip. Yum! Their fries are served in paper cones, so not just hanging out on the plate. This makes them easy to pass along the table if you’re with a large group.
Although I didn’t order it, I would like to add that they offer a side called Minted Mushy Peas. If peas are your thing, you might want to give them a whirl (hint, hint, husband of me).
What I Drank
I had a few glasses of wine over the course of the night. Rather large pours. Not ridiculous, but just large. As I mentioned, if you like to read a long list of whiskeys, this is your place.
They serve brunch and offer two specialty menus—gluten-free and children’s.
Location: 5260 N. Clark. So, the heart of Andersonville where parking is tricky but do-able.
Earlier this summer, Paul and I went to St. Louis with Mr. Moo. I wrote about lunching with a toddler while on vacation, and now I’m finally getting around to writing about dinner. I think that I’ve been trying to scour the memory from my brain, but, alas, it will not budge.
I had dreams of grandeur… eating at lovely establishments, while my son (clean and well-behaved) nibbled on escargot. Yeah, let’s wake up.
When we drove in on Saturday afternoon, traffic was so horrible that we ended up at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in our hotel lobby. My son, half-crazed with a five hour car ride and half-dazed from hunger decided to take up playing the spoons by banging them into each other and any other clang-able surface. Needless to say, he has to work on his rhythm. As for the nibbling on something extremely age inappropriate? He ate two fries from a $9 side that I ordered specifically because I thought he would eat it all and three mouthfuls of his father’s sweet potato casserole.
After that adventure, I was a bit gun shy to take him anywhere else at all. But, we had to eat. So, we compromised with a few family friendly (especially at an early hour) places.
Nope, I didn’t just randomly start typing letters on that subhead up there. Apparently, St. Louis has a very large Bosnian population, and Grbic is one of the dining establishments that cater to the neighborhood. We went early on a Sunday, and the owner and his family were eating in the dining room. (Or, at least, I assumed that it was the owner and his family… If not, they really shouldn’t let 10 year old girls run back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room.) Obviously, good for little ones.
I had a veal jager schnitzel (you can get a chicken variety as well). It was served on top of homemade spaetzle with a white wine mushroom sauce. Paul really wanted the mixed plate which is just a pile of different grilled meats and vegetables. The waiter said that he should try the valdostana—layers of spaetzle, grilled beef, and a cream sauce topped with mozzarella cheese and baked until crusty on top.
Mr. Moo had a half a loaf of bread, an order of fried polenta, and half a bowl of goulash soup. He wasn’t a fan of the soup, but he really liked my spaetzle. As you can see, this is hearty fare… not something to be entered into lightly. Paul had a Bosnian beer in a bottle and I had a glass of wine. Always the teetotaler, Mr. Moo had milk.
Location: 4071 Keokuk Street, St. Louis. All I can say is thank the heavens for GPS because it’s on a very odd angle street in a residential area where you apparently can’t turn the correct way down any streets. There is free parking in the back.
Schlafly Tap Room
It’s been mentioned before, but it bears repeating: Paul likes beer. I say he likes fancy beer, but he says he just likes beer that doesn’t taste like crap. So, when in St. Louis, we did not go to any large beer making facility and take a tour… even if there was free beer at the end. Because Paul said he would rather drink piss. And, I believe him.
Fortunately for beer snobs everywhere, St. Louis is also home to the Schlafly Beer Company. They’re a locally owned, independent brewery with two brewery-restaurants. Some of the beer they brew is only available on tap, but others come in bottles.
We went to the Schlafly Tap Room (as opposed to the Schlafly Bottleworks). The Monday night we were there, the room was filled with the typical after work crowd as well as a few other families so again, no worries about the toddler. For my appetizer, I ordered the Bavarian style pretzels. They are ginormous sticks with a white cheddar sauce. Mr. Moo and I absolutely loved them (and the next day, all they took was a quick zap in the microwave to make them soft and lovely again.) Paul had the poutine. He was unimpressed. But, he’s also a poutine snob. (I might have to admit that he’s a bit of a snob on a lot of things.)
For the main course, I was thinking about the Cuban sandwich, but the waitress said they were known for their fish and chips (called fish and fries on the menu). Um, yeah, they should be known for them. Served with the fries on the bottom and the Hefeweizen battered cod on top, they were amazing. Good fish, not overly fried. Very nice.
Paul ordered this:
It’s called the Plate of Swine. That’s a grilled chop, stout broiled brat, beer battered bacon, sauerkraut (which I think has some pork product in it), mashed potatoes, and gravy. Surprisingly, Paul said the bacon was the least exciting thing about his meal. The entire thing totally killed him. He was waddling to the car. I have rarely seen a man so stuffed.
I seem to think that Mr. Moo had a grilled cheese sandwich, but I can’t be certain.
Paul had a few beers and must have liked them because he bought a few to bring home—one of which was a growler size. I had a glass of wine. If I ever go back, I think I’d want to try the mussels with the Cuban. And, maybe go with someone who wasn’t eating his weight in pig.
Location: 2100 Locust Street, St. Louis. Free parking next to the building.
I like to eat out. (I don’t think this should come as much of a surprise to anyone.) Yes, I like to cook, but I like to eat out more. I really like to travel. And, I really, really like to eat out while traveling.
There was a time (I call it BC… before child) when I traveled and ate out quite frequently. Now, some may disagree with my next statement, but those people are crazy nutters and you shouldn’t listen to them: International travel and fine dining do not mix with a toddler. I don’t know this from experience, because I am not insane, but I have a feeling that after a long flight, the last thing I would want to do is go to a four star establishment with a cranky baby.
So, when I got my annual travel itch, instead of looking across oceans, I settled for something a bit closer to home. Yuppers, we went to St. Louis. But, I can still eat out in the Gateway to the West, can’t I? A few things were against me on that score:
- I was in St. Louis. No offense to the lovely people of this fine American city. But, you’re not exactly known for street loads of amazing restaurants.
- The better restaurants in St. Louis are a bit old school, apparently. We went on a long weekend (late Saturday to Tuesday afternoon) and most of the restaurants that I wanted to give a whirl were closed on Monday AND Sunday. I get being closed Monday… that’s traditional. But, Sunday? Come on, people!
- This was a family trip, so Mr. Moo was definitely in tow.
But, even with our dire circumstances, we managed to not starve. Here are a few thoughts for lunch… we’ll talk about dinner later.
The menu at Fitz’s is pretty burger heavy with a decent selection of children’s choices. Your general all-American type of restaurant. The food isn’t anything to rave about. (I had the fish tacos… eh. Paul went with the Kobe burger special… again, eh.)
Why would I recommend it? The soda. They bottle Fitz’s Root Beer and eight other soda flavors on the premises. So, you sit down, order, and then you can take the kiddos over to watch the soda being bottled. Obviously, it is also on tap (and for sale in bottles on your way out). And, that is pretty darn good. I had the cream soda and Paul got the root beer. Of course, they serve about 25 varieties of giant floats and shakes made with the same amazing soda flavors. (Pretty much dying to try the Strawberry Pop.)
Location: 6605 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis, MO. Not such a far drive from the St. Louis Zoo.
Dewey’s Pizza is a chain, but a pretty localized Midwestern chain. As in, they have locations in Ohio and St. Louis. One of which is near the Magic House Children’s Museum in Kirkwood… hence the reason we stopped in for a bite.
Now, I know I should have looked harder to find a pizzeria that made traditional St. Louis-style pizza. But, coming from Chicago with its “world” famous Chicago-style pizza, St. Louis-style barely registered on my radar as a must-have. I mean, it’s a thin crust with an overly processed white cheese on top (otherwise known as Provel cheese… look it up… it just doesn’t even sound good). I’ll stick to the deep dish, thanks.
But, back to Dewey’s: It’s pretty good for a thin crust. We had a Green Lantern (red sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, goat cheese, artichokes, and pesto). I thought that there was a bit too much goat cheese, but Paul disagreed (almost vehemently, I might add). We also split a strawberry macadamia nut salad which came with bleu cheese and a raspberry poppy seed vinaigrette. Again, your basic non-iceberg lettuce salad.
They have a bar, but our waiter apparently didn’t want us to drink anything alcoholic as he came to our table asking, “Can I get you an iced tea or pop?” Um, yeah, I guess. Thanks.
Location: 124 N. Kirkwood Rd, Kirkwood, MO. But, in addition to several locations in the St. Louis area, they can be found in Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, and Columbus (all of which are cities in Ohio for the geographically challenged among you).
That’s it for me and lunch in St. Louis. We also went to Grant’s Farm on whim and ended up there at lunch time. Rather than starve, we ate at the “beer garden.” (I use that term loosely as the entire thing is run by the Busch family of that sort of beer fame. Although I do not drink beer, Paul would kill me if I called it a true beer garden.) Anyway, between the piped in oompah band music, sweltering heat, and prepackaged iceberg lettuce salad sans prepackaged dressing, that afternoon ended up being perhaps the worst lunch experience I’ve had of late.
I swear, we got a bit more exciting for dinner… but just a bit.