For the second year in a row, I’ve spent all December celebrating the rest of my favorite bites and sips from 2013. These are all dishes that I didn’t have a chance to cover as Best Bites when I originally enjoyed them. You can check out the full list of 30 below in chronological order.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: I’m ashamed that it took me this many years to make a trip to Hot Doug’s, the “Encased Meats Emporium and Sausage Superstore” that’s revered by hot dog devotees everywhere. Even though it took sprinting through heavy snow to catch a bus, I was delighted to find that this particular Saturday’s line didn’t even stretch past the outer door (it’s typically down the block). After thoroughly perusing the menu board, I went with an elk sausage special, along with the must-order duck-fat fries, which are only available on Friday and Saturday. The sausage was bursting with game and fruit flavors, with snap from the casing and sweetness from the mustard. Both toppings – mild Port Salut cheese and bits of country pâté – added richness and texture to every bite. Subtle duck flavor came through in the fries, and somehow made the meat taste even better. Owner Doug Sohn’s astounding warmth and friendliness completed the experience.
The details: Hot Doug’s, 3324 N. California Ave., Chicago.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Honey Butter Fried Chicken was another darling of the Chicago food scene this year, and I finally got to check it out on a recent weeknight. There’s no question that the signature dish lives up to the hype. You really do slather whipped honey butter all over buttermilk double-battered chicken – and then immediately wonder why you haven’t been eating fried chicken this way your whole life. All the sides I tried were exceptional, too: ultra-cheesy pimento mac ‘n’ cheese spirals, green curry-scented creamed corn, and sweet potatoes with puffy balsamic marshmallow, plus the adorable honeycomb corn muffins.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: When I was helping assemble a travel guide to Eataly earlier this month, it was all but impossible to decide what to taste as I surveyed the 63,000-square-foot Italian wonderland. Among my best decisions was bypassing the Nutella bar in favor of a cup of Lait Gelato, the only soft-serve gelato of its kind in North America. I opted to keep things simple with the sweet milk flavor, which was pleasantly light while still retaining the luscious, buttery finish I expected from gelato. It will now be an obligatory treat during all future Eataly adventures.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: On draft at one of Chicago’s most buzzed-about new craft breweries this year, this was my favorite pumpkin beer that I drank all fall – not to mention my favorite beer name. DryHop described the Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow as “brewed with 100 pounds of sugar pumpkins,” and I believe it, its round pumpkin flavor nicely augmented by pie spices from The Spice House. It was also an especially smooth stout, which was evidently due to the nitro pour (high nitrogen content means smaller bubbles for a creamier texture). It tasted even better paired with an outstanding wedge salad and a burger laden with aged cheddar and ancho chile-tomato jam.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: While the name of the dish might not sound all that appetizing, this all-savory bacon parfait packed a ton of flavor in a tiny package. Served in a shot glass, it was layered with pleasantly spicy pulled pork and sweet onion, followed by cheese grits, and finally chives and bacon. I took small spoonfuls, careful to sweep through each layer, to make the smoky sweetness last as long as possible. There’s a lot else to love at County, from the nostalgic corn pudding to the loud plaid exterior on Taylor Street, but this parfait stood out as the most creative BBQ presentation I’ve seen.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: When I’m on my way to work and want a coffee drink that’s a bit of an extra treat, I now have a go-to: the marshmallow latte at Big Shoulders, complete with a freshly torched marshmallow that I tend to slurp down as soon as it’s handed to me. Swirled with homemade vanilla bean syrup, this latte is just liquid cozy. And it’s an added bonus that the baristas are always exceedingly friendly, even if I’m still a little sleepy.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: These beignets capped off a wonderful fall vacation that took me to both Carolinas before I ended up in Savannah, Georgia. That morning, we were celebrating my very dear friend‘s birthday at Huey’s, a New Orleans–style spot with sweeping riverfront views. We began our brunch with these classic palm-sized pastries, and could probably have just stopped there. The dough was light and not greasy, enveloped in the obligatory blanket of powdered sugar, and the warm homemade praline sauce was so good that I was tempted to ask for several more containers’ worth to sneak through security a few hours later. (And Serious Eats was apparently on the same page: it covered these beignets the same week I visited.)
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: When Bang Bang debuted its expanded breakfast menu a few months ago, food media flocked to try the new offerings. Instead of just butters and jams, the dense beauties were now topped with meat, eggs, and other hearty sandwich fixings. This one impressed with thick-cut ham and grits underneath a picture-perfect, parsley-flecked egg, and I made use of all the pepper jam on the side to add in some sweet heat. As nicely as it was dressed, though, the biscuit itself still stole the show.
Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: The server talked me into ordering this sweetbreads special as a snack on an unseasonably warm fall evening, and it turned out to be an excellent decision. The richness of the crispy sweetbreads (which, to be clear, are pancreas or thymus glands) mellowed their bright accompaniments of bitter charred endive and salty capers. A swipe of pear mustard and pink peppercorns on top both added sweetness for balance. The dish was a nice sophisticated alternative to another fried appetizer – although, let’s face it, I’d also make a trip solely for Farmhouse’s incredible beer-battered cheese curds.
The details: Farmhouse, 228 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.