Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Negroni slushy and pimento toast, Parson’s Chicken & Fish

Negroni slushy with letherbee gin, luxando bitter, sweet vermouth, and citron

Negroni slushy with letherbee gin, luxardo bitter, sweet vermouth, and citron

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: This novel Negroni slushy has appeared in basically every Chicago summer/cocktail/patio/drinking article since Parson’s Chicken and Fish opened in mid-May, even called “the coolest Negroni in the world.” The fanfare is justified, though: it’s an excellent Negroni in a fun format, avoiding the watery or overly sweet fate that befalls most frozen beverages. With locally made Letherbee gin and citrusy Luxardo bitter, it’s mellow, refreshing, and just bitter enough.

Toast with pimento cheese, charred radishes, and pea shoots

Toast with pimento cheese, charred radishes, and pea shoots

Snack-wise, I was torn between the shrimp and pimento toast, and though I still plan to try the seafood variety next time, I was more than satisfied with pimento. My Midwestern upbringing didn’t involve a lot of pimento cheese, but especially as Southern-influenced cuisine becomes more popular in Chicago, I’ve now tasted several knock-out versions (including Zingerman’s, my favorite to have at home) and am starting to understand its following. At Parson’s, the pimento spread is smooth (no coarse shreds) and ultra-cheesy atop buttery toast. The sourness and acidity from pickle relish and charred radishes beautifully round out each bite, punctuated by the pea shoots. I also appreciated the portion of three moderate slices, enough to share easily.

Of course, I liked the fried chicken, too – though I found it to be best on its own, without any of the housemade sauces – and the mezcal margarita gave the slushy a serious run for its money. Check out more photos below of the food and atmosphere.

Menu and a margarita, another standout cocktail with el buho mescal, torres orange brandy, orange & lime juice, maguey sweet sap, and a sour patch rim

Menu and a margarita, another standout cocktail with el buho mescal, torres orange brandy, orange & lime juice, maguey sweet sap, and a sour patch rim

The interior bar at Parson's, with the negroni slushy machine in the center

The interior bar at Parson’s, with the negroni slushy machine in the center

The namesake fried chicken

The namesake fried chicken

Funnel cake with honey, brown butter, and green peppercorn brittle

Funnel cake with honey, brown butter, and green peppercorn brittle

Striped umbrellas & picnic tables on the spacious patio

Striped umbrellas & picnic tables on the spacious patio (prepare to wait on weekends)

The details: Parson’s Chicken and Fish, 2952 W Armitage Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Southern pizza and rosé, Reno

Southern pizza with

Southern pizza with Edward’s ham, kimchi, spinach, mozzarella, and fried garlic

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: It’s high time I blogged about Reno, where I’ve been a frequent customer since they opened in the neighborhood last November. I could wax poetic about the glory (and daily temptation) of grabbing a wood-fired bagel and a large cup of Stumptown coffee on my way to the train in the morning, but this week marked my first time dining in for dinner. My friend opted for pasta, but I had to skip over that section because there were just too many appealing pizzas. I had to go with the Southern, a Korean-Italian collision with southern ham thrown in. The sour kimchi, salty ham, gooey mozzarella, crispy spinach, and some serious garlic: it all worked, but still didn’t weigh down the blistered thin crust.

Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with rosé, but since it’s ubiquitous in articles about springtime beverages, I’d been on the lookout for an opportunity to try a glass. This particular wine was ultra-refreshing, a blend of merlot and cabernets sauvignon and franc with juicy berry flavors. Rosé is also typically known as a food-friendly wine, and it proved to pair well with the punchy pizza toppings.

2012 rosé

Haut-Sarthes 2012 Rosé (Bordeaux)

The details: Reno, 2607 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Maple pancakes from Jam and shrimp & grits from Carriage House

Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, sugar, citrus, Jam

Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, Indian sugar brûlée & citrus rind conserve, Jam

Shrimp, grits, gravy & tasso, Carriage House

Shrimp, grits, hunter gravy & tasso, Carriage House

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I had two excellent brunch dishes this week, and they were different enough – apart from their color scheme, apparently – that it was too difficult to choose a favorite. On the sweeter side, these citrusy pancakes from Jam were like a light lemon crème brûlée with a maple foundation from the cake itself. The toasty sugar and candied rind added great crunch…and don’t even get me started on the bacon-sausage I ordered on the side (that’s right: sausage made from bacon). I think I liked these even better than the decadent chocolate ones I featured from last year – and I also promise that Jam has more than just pancakes!

On the savory side, these shrimp and grits from Carriage House, which I first visited during Restaurant Week, were just the classic I was hoping for. The head-on shrimp were nicely cooked, the grits were creamy, and the gravy didn’t skimp on smoky, meaty flavor. I was also satisfied with the portion size, especially since we couldn’t pass up a little skillet cornbread on the side (I still can’t figure out their secret, but it is delicious).

I fight the sweet vs. savory battle on every brunch menu. Savory usually wins, so I’m glad that in this case, I can call it a tie.

The details: Jam, 3057 W Logan Blvd., Chicago; Carriage House, 1700 W Division St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #30: Bagel sandwich, Nightwood

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Bagel sandwich

Bagel sandwich

Why it’s a Best Bite: OK, I know this is my second bagel-related post this week, sorry. I just didn’t realize that you could consistently crave a dish you’ve only had once, but this bagel sandwich kept calling to me all year until I finally had it again right before heading home for the holidays. This is one of the very few items that Nightwood keeps on its seasonal brunch menu every Sunday, which I support wholeheartedly. Really, this sandwich has everything. It’s anchored by smoked trout cream cheese, mustardy slaw, and greens, then topped with the thick bacon and over-easy egg that breakfast dreams are made of. The three round tots and ketchup on the side are a satisfying bonus between bites of sandwich.

The details: Nightwood, 2119 S Halsted St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #26: Pumpkin french toast, Lula Cafe

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Pumpkin french toast

Pumpkin french toast

Why it’s a Best Bite: I feel very fortunate that Lula is the closest restaurant to my apartment, and that I have enjoyed so many wonderful dishes there in the past year. I chose to highlight this french toast because it exemplifies what I can always expect from brunch (or any other meal) there: the season’s best sustainable ingredients prepared with consistent, exacting technique. The brioche took on more of a bread pudding consistency, crunchy on top and custard-soaked inside, which made the chantilly cream on top all the more decadent. With cranberry jam for acidity, pumpkin seed granola for crunch, and of course, the bed of sweet pumpkin underneath the toast, this dish screamed fall in the best way.

The details: Lula Cafe, 2537 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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