Archive for the category “Eat It!”

Fish Bar

fishbarchicago.com

fishbarchicago.com

WHAT: Fish Bar
WHERE: 2956 N. Sheffield Ave.

OUR RATING: Chance It!

David Morton and Michael Kornick, heads of the DMK Restaurant Group (including Ada Street, MK, DMK Burger Bar and the soon-to-open County Barbecue), bring Chicagoans Fish Bar, a casual seafood joint serving sustainable (buzzword) seafood goods along with cocktails in mason jars.

fishbarchicago.com

fishbarchicago.com

With the feel of a seaside fish joint that you’d perhaps find on the south-east coast, Lakeview’s Fish Bar is brimming with briny character that seems at once authentic and tongue-in-cheek. We recommend you try and snap up some of the outdoor seating, as its beautiful in the summer to eat fish en terraza, even if the nearby hospital sometimes makes this a noisy experience.

Adam: When I’m reviewing places, I try to shy away from the specials for two reasons: 1. they might not be available when you go there, and therefore you are left in a bemused state as to what to order, and 2. specials are secretly a way for chefs to get rid of surplus ingredients that don’t necessarily fit the bill. That being said, I was drawn to try Fish Bar’s special the day I went, reeling in a tasty lake trout for good measure.

But, for starters, starters. Our waitress was kind enough to provide us with a complimentary dish of crispy lemon, onion and jalapeno that has to be one of the oddest vegetable medleys to have passed my lips. Very interesting (the most adventurous part being the lemons), I would highly recommend it for the flavor, but be warned that it won’t fill you up.

My lake trout was nicely put together and steamed to a seething flakiness that made it clear that Fish Bar was truly a fish restaurant. Accompanied by greens and a delicious acidic sauce, I was truly sated after this, and would venture to say that it was a medium, rather than small plate.

Alicia: While Po’Boys and Maine Lobster rolls seem to be the most popular menu items, I instead tried Fish Bar’s seafood gumbo paired with their Octopus a la Plancha. The gumbo was slightly thick with the perfect level of spice with a healthy dose of blue crab and andouille sausage. I could have done with a bit more crab, but all in all this was a very filling and delicious start to my meal.

And now for the main event, the Octopus A La Plancha with grilled octopus, preserved lemon, fried caper, chili flakes and parsley. To be perfectly frank, the star of this dish, the octopus, wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. It wasn’t too chewy, but it was just a little dry and uneventful, and while the dressing for the dish proved light and with a nice bite, the seafood itself was just one-noted. And really, fried capers just don’t do capers justice, so I could have done without all of that extra oil and frying. Ultimately, however, I was pleased enough with the dish, and while I wouldn’t order it again, I’m glad to have given it a try.

Final Thoughts: Be warned that while Fish Bar advertises as a fully fledged restaurant, it is really a small plates affair, as the server will tell you when sitting down. We do take issue with this – such information should be made apparent to customers before dining and we consider it rather cheeky to only let your diners know of something of such import upon sitting. Let’s be clear – if you’re small plates, you’re small plates. Ultimately, the plates were relatively medium-sized, so all in all perhaps a bit overpriced. While reservations are for parties of three or four only and most media says that the place is packed out, we managed to comfortably sit five at an outside table with ease. Overall, definitely a yummy and unique take on seafood…for Chicago.

Maxwell Street Depot

WHAT: Maxwell Street Depot
WHERE: 411 W. 31st St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Maxwell Street Depot, or just Depot for short, has been doing a brisk business for many years, trading in burgers, hot dogs and fries that are fantastically traditional and yet as low priced as you can get. Located in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, Depot is a regular joint for UChicago students with a car and the closer IIT, doling out heaped portions of onions atop steaming meat patties that will fill the hungriest of late night, last minute crammers.

Adam: Depot has to be considered a Chicago staple: if you’re visiting and have a car it’s a must-do (as long as you don’t mind eating in your car – there are no seats). After pulling into its parking lot and trundling up to the long service window facing the street, you have a choice of the essentials: burgers, hot dogs, polishes and fries. Onions are absolutely requisite on all dishes – beautifully soft and with a slight bite, I’ve never had onions akin to this elsewhere, so the trip is worth it just to sample this deliciously intoxicating sensory experience.

What is little know is that Depot is a part of Maxwell Street Polish, of the Pilsen neighborhood, and yet I’ve never ordered a Polish here ever. I automatically gravitate towards the double cheeseburger, for a measly $4.50. For that paltry price you get your burger with a ½ pound of meat, cheese, a pile of onions, mustard, and a sizable bag of fries. And this isn’t fast food style rubbish: you’re getting a piece of Chicago history.

Alicia: $2.25. ¼ Hamburger with grilled onions and a bag of delicious freshly fried fries with a soft center and a crunchy outside. This is the best and cheapest burger deal in Chicago, and it never fails, and I will forever be thankful to my Bridgeport native college buddy for introducing this place to me. Interestingly, apparently the original Maxwell Street Depot (once actually located on Maxwell Street) was dismantled and moved piece by piece to preserve the original structure two miles away. They mean business.

The burger is juicy, the bun soft and a perfect ratio to the thick patty of meat, and the mustard and sweet grilled onions cut through it all with an amazing bite. The key is just to order the works (sans cheese for me), but this won’t come with ketchup. Don’t even mention ketchup, or the cooks will get testy. If you want the ketchup, there’s plenty of bottles outside the window, along with containers of salt, and let’s just say I get REAL messy with the both of them for both my burger and fries. It’s my sinful, salty, oily indulgence, and it’s the only way to go.

Final Thoughts: Remember: fries come with everything for no extra cost, so no need to order additional packets unless you’re starving. So strap in, sit back, motor on and try some of the best authentic Chicago cuisine imaginable.

Volo

WHAT: Volo
WHERE: 2008 W. Roscoe St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

This wine bar in Roscoe Village has a casual elegance that makes it the perfect place to enjoy a glass or two, indulge in small plates (which aren’t really that small) and relax in the cool embrace of your own personal cabana, complete with wispy gauze curtains and dazzling strings of lights that trail into your peripheral vision. With an extensive wine list and eclectic food menu, Volo is set to become the staple for date-nights throughout the city.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Adam: When first laying eyes on Volo, you might not think much. The front is like all the other wine bars you’ve ever seen, with a small selection of seating on the pavement. Inside, a secluded and dark atmosphere exudes, but it is the back patio that really makes this place special. Your feet patter across the red-brick floor to your desired seat, whether it be a black-iron table, or one of the specially upholstered cabanas. Lanterns dangle from the ceiling, casting a warm glow, while vines creep up the walls.

(Bubbly and White Wine Flights)

(Bubbly and White Wine Flights)

Volo is, first and foremost, a wine bar, and it would have been criminal not to have tried some of their almost endless varieties on offer. For a diverse and leisurely experience, try out one of their wine flights. I chose the Oregon Whites Flight, partly because the options seemed interesting, and also because Oregon is an up-and-coming wine region, worthy of our appreciation and scrutiny. I started off with the 2010 Brooks Riesling from Willamette Valley, OR. Technically, of course, Riesling should derive from the Rhinelands, but the Oregon type still maintained some of the original character, if not also being rather tart for a Riesling. Next, I sampled the 2012 Anne Amie Müller-Thurgau of Yamhill-Carlton, OR. A relative recent variety of white grape, it was bred for the first time in 1882 by Hermann Müller of Thurgau, Switzerland. Again, we have the German connection, although this wine shines brighter than the Riesling, with peach, melon and minerals creating a crisp, strong wine. Finally, I sipped away at the 2011 Four Graces Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, OR. A Burgundian formulation originally, the pinot gris has a fragrant, slightly sweet incarnation here, along with a honeyed finish that is divine as the Graces themselves. Highly recommended alone, or in the trio.

Veal Bone Marrow

Veal Bone Marrow

As for food, the selection is sumptuous. Small plates are not small, and will easily feed two people. Choosing one of their signature dishes, the marrow bones and toast, of roast veal bones served with medium flake sea salt and thyme dashed toasts, I was presented with a mountainous plate of at least 6 bones, each of which had beautifully succulent marrow within. Like a hunter-gather of yore, I relished in the juicy softness of the marrow, so dutifully spread upon the toasts and seasoned with just a hint of salt. One of the best plates I’ve tasted in a long time.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Alicia: Volo’s back patio is the perfect date-night spot, or even a girl’s night out, where one can sit back and relax with good wine and food and talk the night away while bathed in the ambience of a magical secret garden. To fit with the elegance of my surroundings I chose Volo’s bubbly flight. I started with the NV Adami, Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco from Veneto Italy. With scents of apple and peach and with notes of white flower, this Prosecco had a strangely crisp and savory mouthfeel that while initially refreshing, left a somewhat muddled afternote. I continued the flight with the NV Camille Braun, Cremant d’Alsace, France, which was extremely fruity and crisp, and yet delicate all the same. Unsurprisingly, my favorite of the night was the NV Terres Dorees, FRV 100, from Beaujolais, France. This bubbly had a lovely rosy color and was complete with red berry melange, orange oil, a touch of soil and a zesty mousse.

Trio of Cheeses

Trio of Cheeses

To complement my flight I ordered a trio of their artisanal farmhouse cheeses, which lovingly came with a large basket of toasts for $12. I added on a plate of their sweet honey, candied nuts and date jam for $5 and was not disappointed, with portions of everything being quite generous, and really–with how rich every component is–a little goes a long way.

Cheese Plate Accoutrements

Cheese Plate Accoutrements

I started my cheese plate by playing it safe with a montchevre garlic and herb from wisconsin, a lovely goat’s milk cheese from Wisconsin that was mild and creamy with delicious roasted garlic, rosemary & thyme, perhaps my favorite of the night. I had my hopes up for their lamb chopper from California, a mild sheep’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre that was buttery in color and flavor with a long finish, but ultimately it was pretty run of the mill. The most unique cheese was the epoisses de Bourgogne, France, a pungent, unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese washed with brandy. The brandy was subtle and yet added an amazing bite that cut the pungent quality of the cheese quite nicely.

(volorestaurant.com)

(volorestaurant.com)

Final Thoughts: This is one of Chicago’s places to be, but if you plan on going you should plan on the long haul: meals here are very European and you might find yourself there for a lengthy period of time. Because of the longer meals and the popularity of the outdoor seating, we suggest you reserve in advance and eat a little earlier to beat the dinner crowd. And hey, they have happy hour oysters and pork belly skewers every weekday night from 5-7 anyways, so this is the perfect early-evening extravaganza to delight all of your senses.

Irazú

WHAT: Irazú
WHERE: 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 24Named after the mighty Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica, this lively, spirited and eclectic restaurant allows you to enjoy the unique cuisine from this little sampled country in Central America. Flavourful, mild and lots of fruits and vegetables clearly mark these dishes out as deriving from the lush rainforests of that country, which houses an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, while being only 0.25% of the Earth’s landmass.

With a colourful and light-filled interior and exciting buzz, you’ll be just itching to try to many rare delicacies that come at phenomenally reasonable prices.

Picture 26Adam: Locked between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures, with a good dose of Spanish colonialism mixed in, Costa Rica (literally Rich Coast) is most certainly true to its name when it comes to food and Irazú provides all the bounty that this nation has to offer. Brought straight to your table and served casually, steaming plates of traditional foods whirl in, with all the colour and verve of this canopied country.

Casado with tilapia

The menu is vast, offering breakfast items, appetizers, vegetarian options, tacos, empanadas, burritos, sandwiches and even shakes. The forefront of the menu, however, are the Costa Rican dinners. Being in the mood to try the most authentic dish on the menu, I opted for the Casado, a traditional full-plate meal.

Casado with steak

Choosing from steak, chicken or tilapia, you can really appreciate the full force of this diverse cuisine through this dish. I went with steak and was not disappointed. A heaping portion served with black beans, sweet plantains, a cabbage salad, rice and an over easy egg to top it all off, the portion was very large and I felt truly stuffed when finished. I actually had my meal upgraded to include gallo pinto instead of rice, a mixture of rice and beans which is exclusive to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Watch out though: they won’t tell you this upgrade costs a buck when they offer it, although it’s worth all one hundred cents.

Potato Tacos

Alicia: One of the many things I love about Irazú is how vegetarian friendly they are. Some of the guests we went out to dinner with ordered the restaurant’s famed potato tacos: crispy corn tortillas filled with mashed potatoes (flauta-esque) and served with guacamole and mole sauce. The dish was gigantic, and also served with yellow rice, beans, deliciously cooked sweet plantains and a cabbage salad. Beware: the mole is not vegetarian, but it’s possibly one of the most delicious moles I have had in the city.

Avena Shake

What I wanted to try more than anything was Irazú’s Avena (Oatmeal) shake made with milk, which was the most deliciously complex consistency with beautiful hints of cinnamon. It was sweet and savory and an entire meal in itself, so I’m glad I only ordered a salad to go with it. They have a ton of other interesting shake flavors, including Pinolillo (Corn Meal) and Tamarindo. Definitely an adventure for the tastebuds!

Palmito Salad

Oh, and by salad, I don’t mean just any ordinary salad. I ordered a large (and boy was it large) Palmito Salad: Heart of palm steaks on a bed of cabbage slaw, tossed with beets, avocado, tomato, radishes, cilantro, splashed with vinegar, lime and olive oil. The salad was perfectly dressed and the dish in its entirety was a refreshing and adventurous journey. The vinegar and lime cut through the hearty heart of palm steaks and the slaw provided a fun crunch with every bite. I would order this dish again in a minute, but it’s imperative you go with someone else so you can steal a few of their delicious sweet plantains.

Picture 25Final Thoughts: In a meal that’s like a rainforest on a plate, without any of the more slippery animals, Irazú immerses you in the warm embrace of the jungle. Excellent portion sizes at good prices, this BYOB (no corkage fee!) is a particular Chicago experience you can’t miss.

D.S. Tequila Company

WHAT: D.S. Tequila Company
WHERE: 3352 N. Halsted St.

OUR RATING: Skip It!

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Tacos. Tequila. Outdoor patio. This all sounds quite dandy, especially when D.S. Tequila Company serves up half-priced food on Mondays and All-you-can-eat tacos on Thursdays for ten bucks. But don’t let the specials fool you – this Lakeview taco/burger/tequila joint is not so special.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Adam: I understand, I’m spoiled. I like my food hot and good, my drinks cold and interesting and my ambiance beautiful and intoxicating. I’ve been to taco joints all over the city, and whereas Bullhead Cantina and Antique Taco stand out as highlights, D.S. Tequila Company might as well start with a different set of letters. Unfathomably small portions, and a taste that’s not much to write home about, you can certainly boycott this place to your heart’s content.

Chicken Fajita Taco and Coffee Steak Taco

Chicken Fajita Taco and Coffee Steak Taco

I started out with a chicken fajita taco. Simple is best, right? In this case, completely wrong. This grilled chicken was as dry as a bone, accompanied by a smattering of refried beans and queso fresco that was almost undetectable. I slathered on hot sauce because I would rather have my mouth burning like the Savannah than consigned to the dry depths of Death Valley. Next, sampling the steak taco with trepidation, I was slightly surprised. This taco is decent, but that may have more to do with the coffee spice rub than the steak. And at $3.89 for one measly sample size, you might as well go to a more upscale place and enjoy yourself a little.

Jalapeno Slaw & Elote Corn Hash

Jalapeno Slaw & Elote Corn Hash

As for sides, they are wildly disappointing. Jalapeno Slaw sounds really great, but when the mayonnaise overpowers even the slightest hint of jalapeno, I wonder why I am going to a Mexican restaurant at all, and not just buying slaw and dumping giardiniera on it at home. Trust me, the homemade recipe would be hotter.

Tangibly dreadful fare at shockingly inflated prices, D.S. Tequila needs to move over for more reputable competitors. Seriously, it’s like they’re trying to cheat you here.

Tequila Shrimp Taco & Grilled Fish Taco

Tequila Shrimp Taco & Grilled Fish Taco

Alicia: Being big into seafood, I was super excited to try some fish and shrimp tacos here. D.S. Tequila’s grilled fish taco served me alright, with jalapeno cole slaw and spicy aioli. There was plenty of sauce and a good amount of bite, but the mayonnaise in the coleslaw kind of drowned out the rest of the taco. Actually, coleslaw was most of the taco, with a frighteningly-small serving of grilled fish hidden somewhere in there.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

With these lukewarm feelings I then attempted the tequila shrimp taco with red cabbage, pineapple salsa and spicy aioli. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this taco was basically three pieces of shrimp in a corn tortilla with some raw red cabbage. Pineapple salsa? Spicy aioli? Pretty non-existent, and really just some diced pineapple. Tequila? Yeah…not sure that was in there either.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Ultimately, I found each of these tacos pretty underwhelming, with little to no love given to the food inside the tortillas, let alone the dry and boring tortillas themselves. I was even more disappointed with elote corn hash. The name sounds fun, but really I was just served a bowl of corn and some type of light cream with some crumbled queso fresco. It tasted like cream corn, but even less flavorful. It was pretty horrific, and gives elote a bad name.

(dstequila.com)

(dstequila.com)

Final Thoughts: If we hadn’t been lucky enough to get in on this food on a Monday (i.e. we paid half-price), I think we would have been in an uproar to pay full price for what we got. With mediocre food, sub-par service, and a forgettable ambience, D.S. Tequila Company is definitely a place you can skip over if you want some good Mexican food. Sure, the outdoor patio is alright when the weather is nice, but a park bench will do you just as good.

Chicago French Market

WHAT: Chicago French Market
WHERE: 131 N. Clinton St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

This huge, indoor, year round marketplace beneath the train terminal next to the Ogilvie Transportation Center has just celebrated its third anniversary. Thirty one different vendors offer a variety of delicious fare, from meats, to cheese, to wines, to flowers, the list is endless. With real markets being so few and far between in the city, a visit to the French Market will be an eye-opening day of fun.

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

Alicia: Supporting local farmers and artisans, the Chicago French Market brings the European-inspired marketplace to Chicago, allowing year-round, permanent access to some of the freshest goods in the city. Your obvious first stop should be City Fresh Market, selling anything from fresh produce to meats, to cheese and other grocery items. After you’ve shopped for the necessities, it’s the boutiques you must hit up next, and everything is eye/nose candy. And you’ll get hungry, trust me.

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

If you’re in the mood for food and a little France, take a gander at Le Cafe du Marche, specializing in French-inspired sandwiches. And then there’s Frietkoten Belgian Fries & Beer, with fries, fries, fries galore. Here you can experience Amsterdam’s traditional Frietkoten ‘fry shack’ with a paper cone filled to the brim with hand cut Belgian fries, along with your choice of sauce from a selection of 20 different sauces each day. Finally, you can get in on the latest Lillie’s Q barbeque craze without having to travel to their Bucktown location.

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

But what really gets my mouth watering is not the savory options at CFM, but rather the desserts. Pastries, doughnuts, fresh baked bread…what’s not to love? You can grab authentic European pastries from Delightful Pastries or Vanille Patisserie, with choices including macarons, tarts, fine chocolates, and even fresh pierogies. Or get your American doughnut on at Beavers Coffee + Donuts, whose food truck is often seen exploring the city emitting the most fantastic smells of fried dough. And just wait – in May, famed chef Stephanie Izard will be bringing a satellite location of Little Goat Bread to the market, which will be sure to provide you with your carb fix.

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

Adam: Artisan foods, fine wines and a big open space to enjoy it all in? Well, that’s the Chicago French Market for you! Strangely, multi-vendor markets aren’t really a feature of US life as in many other countries. Obviously, the Middle East is replete with such examples of communal selling, and even the larger town next to my village in England has a monthly farmers’ market, with intermittent French markets from the produces of our sister town in Normandy. Yet, America has only recently been blessed with this phenomenon, allowing you to savour the smells of cooking and preparation, while samples flow freely, assailing the taste-buds with delicious contrasts.

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

Standing out as one of the most interesting venues is Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, along the west wall. With artisan cheese, bread and wine, quality wines are often given freely in tastings, while their available cheeses are diverse and well-rounded. Another highlight is Saigon Sisters, adding a little Asian to the mix, and they are known for their banh mi. Of course, the French connection sings through here also, Saigon being the colonial name for modern Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (then French Indochina).

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

(frenchmarketchicago.com)

And then there are the small vendors, producing lots of unique sweet treats, spices, soups and other goodies that can be enjoyed in the food court or at home. Delicious, simple and good, make sure you at least get a baguette, some wine and a lump of cheese, while filling up on all the samples you can.

Final Thoughts: Chicago French Market is fun, free and full of life. Excitingly, tomorrow (Saturday, April 27th) marks the 3rd Annual Pastoral Artisan Producers Fest from 11am – 3pm. Featuring over 80 vendors and numerous samples, it’s a great way of getting acquainted with the market and trying some really special delights.

Angela’s Burrito Style

WHAT: Angela’s Burrito Style
WHERE: 2556 N. Clark St.

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Cheap, giant burritos offered late at night in Lincoln Park. Their menu includes some relatively unique sounding burritos, including the California Burrito with fries hidden inside a flour tortilla. With burritos starting at a mere $4, and with hours going until 5am on the weekends, this place seems to be paradise. But maybe just a hungry drunk’s.

Adam: Burritos are the world’s earliest takeout food. When the Spanish arrived in the New World, they saw markets bustling with activity, as Aztecs accompanied their shopping with the purchase of a burrito or two. Due to its storied history, anyone who doesn’t appreciate these little gems is a little out of touch. Angela’s provides a solid burrito, but it’s honestly nothing special when compare to other takeout places (think Pepe’s).

abs4I ordered the Grande Chicken Burrito, fully stocked with all the requisite ingredients, it was large, but was heavier on lettuce (a little wilted) than chicken and sauce. I needed to add a lot of hot sauce to this one, which suggests their certainly catering to less fiery tastes than mine.

For health reasons, a bean burrito might be more suggested, being high in protein and low in saturated fat. If it’s black bean, you get the added benefits of fibre and phytochemicals. But, chicken is just as good for those who don’t mind so much about such things. An OK burrito at a cheap price.

Alicia: This place is teeny tiny so the only real way to order is to order to go, but you might be able to snap up a seat if you really want to. What I really wanted to do on my visit to Angela’s however, was to get my food and plop on the couch at home and be the biggest couch potato you’ve ever seen.

I ordered a junior vegetarian burrito at a mere $4, and when I finally received the foil-wrapped burrito I thought I had just won the lottery. The burrito was gigantic, fresh, warm, and I spent mere pennies to get it. And when I opened the wrapping my stomach growled and I was ready to dive right into a succulent flour tortilla burrito with all the trimmings. Except…there weren’t many.

The vegetarian burrito came with your typical lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and beans. Despite the sour cream and the cheese, the burrito was dry as a bone, and the old dry tomatoes and stale lettuce screamed for some loving. So I added their green tomatillo sauce, which helped balance out the dryness a bit, but really anything would, so this sauce wasn’t really anything special. It needed avocado, or guacamole, or really just some fresh produce would have been lovely. It was filling, but that’s about all I got out of it.

Final Thoughts: Don’t get us wrong. Angela’s has a lot going for it. If you’re on the northside late at night and have the post-drinking munchies and not a lot of cash in your wallet, you will be perfectly happy here. But if you’re sober and want a darn good burrito for dinner, this is not the place to get one.

Ribs ‘n’ Bibs

WHAT: Ribs ‘n’ Bibs
WHERE: 5300 S. Dorchester Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

(chicagoreader.com)

(chicagoreader.com)

When you see smoke billowing out of the chimney at the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue on the South Side, that’s when you know this barbeque shanty of a shack is in business. But not just any barbeque. The specialty is hickory-smoked ribs dipped in their special sauce, but if ribs aren’t your thing there’s plenty of other barbeque-smothered protein on offer here, including chicken and their downright sassy burgers.

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

Adam: Ah, the old Ribs ‘n’ Bibs. I must take a moment to thank those intrepid dormitory-mates who led me out on my first foray to this late night BBQ joint, almost 5 years ago now, that combines all the spicy goodness of the open fire with the home feel of the ranch (as well as super reasonable prices). The options seem endless, but there are some standards that you can’t miss that make for the best Hyde Park experience.

If burgers are your game, your only choice should be the Texas burger. A 1/2 lb. with fries, a small pot of coleslaw, and a whole lot of character, you’ve got to make sure that you ask for the BBQ sauce “on top” for the full effect. The slab of meat is huge, although it’s sometimes customary to order both a Bronco and a Texas burger, for the big of appetite.

If you’re still hungry after this monster meal, a side of onion rings, which are crispy and well cooked, goes down well. If burgers aren’t really your thing, try the Frontier Fish, basically the same as the burger, other than with tartar sauce instead of the BBQ variety. Craving beef? The BBQ Beef Dinner is a bit like getting the Texas burger, except on each side of the bun is a mound of shredded, beefy, BBQ infused deliciousness.

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

What about their ribs, you say? Well, I honestly don’t know of anyone who’s had them, as the other offerings are so good. But if you have the money to spare (up to $17.95), get them and let me know what you think. I also hear great things about the gunslinger – a sausage sandwich with fries, but alas, I have not sampled it.

And don’t be surprised if you have to endure some meat sweats to get through this lot – it’s standard procedure.

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

Alicia: Admittedly, I am not an aficionado of Ribs ‘n’ Bibs cuisine like Adam here, but I do enjoy some good barbeque, and I commend RnB for their long lasting establishment in Hyde Park since the mid 60’s, originally opened (and still owned) by the Schoenberg family. The space is super small with limited sidewalk seating outside, so if you visit during a cold spell, your only real option is to either order takeout or get some delivered. Considering the fact they are open quite late, this is a great late-night munchies option.

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

Everything is old-Western shanty style here, from the Saloon-font on the outside to the itsy-bitsy lobby inside where you stand in line and wait to order next to a stack of wooden logs just waiting their turn to enter the smoker behind the counter. But its character has a Chicago feel to it, with pictures covering the wall of local celebrities and politicians, including, of course, Barack Obama, who seems to have his image pasted in most of the local haunts in HP.

Perhaps I’ve had a better burger than my usual Bronco Burger charbroiled hamburger. And perhaps I could do without their slaw. But their tangy sweet-and-spicy barbeque sauce that smothers most of their menu items will do me just fine when I’m in the area and craving some barbeque.

Final Thoughts: If you’re just being introduced to the wonders of barbeque, Ribs ‘n’ Bibs is a great place to start. If you’re at U of C, you’re insane not to have tried this yet. If you’re further afield, we think it’s worth the trip. So enjoy a concert at Mandel Hall and grab a Texas burger on your return. Clash of cultures? Only you decide!

Cafe 53

WHAT: Cafe 53
WHERE: 1369 E. 53rd St.

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Cafe 53, sometimes known as ‘The Gelato Cafe’ by locals, is one of a small handful of off-campus cafes near The University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Along with free wi-fi and long hours, Cafe 53 offers your typical coffees and espressos along with a wide variety of pastries, cakes, savory pies and sandwiches, but uniquely also happens to offer gelato.

Alicia: For a small cafe, the variety of drinks on hand is quite varied, offering light, dark, flavored and decaf roasts, an espresso with their signature espresso beans, and a plethora of cappuccinos, lattes and teas. You can also request a card that rewards you with a free drink every tenth visit, so if you need a place to give you that necessary dose of caffeine while you study late, this is a pretty good choice for your wallet.

The atmosphere offered by Cafe 53 is generally workable, with a few comfortable tables and even a patio out back. It doesn’t get too loud in here, and sometimes can provide that perfect amount of sun. While decorated, the ambiance of the cafe is relatively ambiguous, so while the gelato on offer might sound intimate, I probably wouldn’t go on a coffee date here. Yet one could easily settle down with a cup of Joe and get through quite a few pages of Marx.

Adam: I remember a few years back when a gelato craze was somewhat sweeping Chicago, and you could find a good cafe serving the stuff in just about every neighborhood. Gelato itself is age-old, coming from the Latin gelatus or frozen and probably invented through the mixing of Alpine snow with fruit juices for the richer ancient Romans (although there is little direct evidence to suggest this). Unfortunately for the gelato-istas, the craze seemed to die down, to be replaced with frozen yogurt, an obviously healthier alternative.

Cafe 53 was one of the last cafes established before this wane, and this has surely affected their business. Also in Hyde Park is Istria Cafe, also providing gelato, although Istria is of older pedigree. Upon tasting their gelato (there are many varieties such as caramel, pistachio and stracciatella) I was convinced that they had the basic method figured out, but the soul was lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the gelato is good, but it’s not fantastic, and Istria provides similar types and quality. It’s also just not as good as some gelato I’ve had outside the city, and that annoys me because it’s simply not that hard to make. They also have a sorbet collection that seems rather good, but then again, sorbet is rather hard to get wrong.

I remain unconvinced of Cafe 53’s core concept: while the coffee and atmosphere seem fine, it’s main selling point, the gelato, is clearly not up to snuff. Go ahead and give it a try, but I’m not promising anything.

Final Thoughts: Cafe 53 isn’t trying that hard to keep your business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally patronize it. Good for coffee and a chat, but try not to spend too much on the gelato.

Vinci

WHAT: Vinci (Italian)
WHERE: 1732 N. Halsted St.

OUR RATING: Do It! (Especially after theatre)

Providing a formal atmosphere with friendly, family service, and solid Italian cuisine, Vinci, located in Lincoln Park, would seem to have everything going for it. Definitely positioned to cater to the theatre crowd generated by Steppenwolf and the Royal George, Vinci’s prices are inflated for the demographic it serves, but its food tends to be quite excellent. One must order wisely, and we have this sagely advice just for you.

Adam: Vinci’s selection is quite vast. Excellent for people with varied tastes, but are perhaps not too adventurous, groups are welcome here and can sit at the long, community-oriented tables that are excellent for conversation and camaraderie. To start, I suggest you sit back with a Vinci Caprese Salad, made special by the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, not generally present in other local varieties of this dish. Actually rather filling it is slathered in balsamic and tastes divine.

Then, why not tuck into a lovely margherita pizza. With an emphasis on sauce rather than cheese, you can feel a little better about yourself afterwards, as well as satisfied that you’ve tried something quite simple and authentic. Of course, the preponderance of sauce also means that this pizza might not be to everyone’s taste, being more soft than crispy, but I wouldn’t let that deter you.

An Italian meal must be finished in Italian style: with panna cotta and Italian cookies. The panna cotta comes with a dried cherry balsamic sauce and sugared almonds, but seems too small to truly recommend itself, although the amount given is quite enjoyable. The cookies on the other hand are a treat, and go perfectly with the Italian dark coffee, in which they should be dipped for full effectiveness. In all, I crafted a decent meal at Vinci, but it didn’t come without its own surprises.

Alicia: Vinci is elegantly casual dining at it’s best, and super welcoming despite its high status in the Chicago restaurant scene. One of the things that impresses me the most about this place is the wide variety of atmospheric experiences you can have. You can enjoy a glass of wine at their bar, sit near the windows enjoying a fresh salad as you look outside, have a conversation with friends at their booths, or even go back into the cavernous wine room for a more intimate culinary adventure.

What Vinci also does well is balance your typical Italian ingredients of cheese, tomato and cream. To celebrate these ingredients I started with a sampling of their risotto of the day, which happened to be a spinach, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and walnut risotto, which was insanely rich and creamy with a savory saltiness from the chopped nuts and gorgonzola. I’m glad I just sampled this though, because this dish is beyond rich and heavy, and eating this dish in its entirety would be quite the undertaking.

To transition from cheese to more cheese I tried a piece of their 3 meat pizza with sausage, crispy prosciutto, applewood smoked bacon, fontina, tomato sauce and red onions. This was one of the most delicious pieces of pizza I’ve had in awhile, with the hierarchy focusing on the sweet and spicy tomato sauce and the thinly sliced onions, and then perfectly complimented with a healthy (but not too-healthy) dose of salty pork in three distinct and flavorful variations. Then, finally, came spots of fontina, which were lovingly placed instead of completely overwhelming everything else.

But perhaps the focal point of the evening was one of their staple dishes: the rigatoni. Perfect al dente rigatoni basked in tomato cream sauce that victoriously coated, rather than soaked, the tender pasta. But that’s not all. Parmigiano cheese, broccoli di rabe and herby Italian sausage changed things up a bit with every mouthful I took, and the variety of textures made for an adventure.

One visit I have taken to Vinci was actually a work holiday lunch, so when a large table of us ordered the tiramisu, we were flabbergasted when a GIANT sheet of tiramisu was brought to us, along with a few handfuls of berries that cut the heaviness of the tiramisu, but which failed to trick us into thinking we weren’t eating the most sinful thing in the world. The espresso and rum soaked ladyfingers provided the perfect cakey texture to balance a mascarpone and zabaione cream. Oh, and there was chocolate sauce too, just to top everything off.

Final Thoughts: Vinci seems like a great place to take the folks, out-of-town friends and long-lost acquaintances, as it combines the comfort of familiar food with fine stylings. Have fun, get some wine to start, and you’ll be well on to the via Italiana.

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