This week’s Best Bite: Chicken & andouille gumbo and Best in Show cocktail, Analogue

Chicken and andouille gumbo, Analogue
Gumbo with Gunthorp chicken, house andouille, and potato salad

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Analogue, a fairly new addition to my neighborhood, has introduced me to a combination I never knew my life was missing until now: craft cocktails paired with authentic Cajun food (in other words, just one more reason to love living in Logan Square). On the cocktail side, the Best in Show had the citrusy tang and foamy egg white crown of a Pisco sour, plus a heavy dose of cinnamon. It had sweetness and complexity that made it exciting to drink – although that probably was to be expected from the Violet Hour veterans who are behind the drinks here. Meanwhile, the standout dish was a Cajun classic: gumbo with tender chicken, house-made andouille sausage, okra, and a small dollop of potato salad, which I later learned was the result of German influence on Creole traditions. The moderate heat and blackened, smoky base notes in the meaty broth were what really kept me going back for more spoonfuls.

Best in Show cocktail, Analogue
Best in Show cocktail with Encanto Grand & Noble Pisco, cream sherry, lime, cinnamon syrup, and egg white

The details: Analogue, 2523 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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This week’s Best Bite: Peanut butter & jelly brioche sticky bun, A10

Peanut butter and jelly brioche sticky bun
Peanut butter and jelly brioche sticky bun

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: We technically visited Hyde Park newcomer A10 during Restaurant Week, but since we didn’t go for the three-course menu, I wanted to save this for a separate (albeit delayed) post. This pastry capped off a rich, seafood-heavy Sunday brunch. Besides its sheer beauty in the afternoon sun, the sticky bun was a knockout in flavor, its swirl of peanut butter brioche dough covered in bright elderberry syrup and powdered sugar. The dough was on the lighter, crispier side, which made it feel even more like a high-end peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s safe to say that whenever I return to A10 for dinner, I’ll definitely be ordering dessert.

The details: A10, 1462 E. 53rd St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week 2014: Ada Street

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2014, held January 24–February 6. Check out the 2013 recap, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Dinner at Ada Street

Spicy Moroccan carrot salad with Greek yogurt, ginger, lime, and grilled scallions, inspired by Alice Waters
Spicy Moroccan carrot salad with Greek yogurt, ginger, lime, and grilled scallions, inspired by Alice Waters

Best Bite: Executive chef Zoë Schor designed Ada Street’s Restaurant Week menu around a unique theme: each option for the three courses paid tribute to a different female chef. As impressed as I was with all the concepts, I was the most wowed by a seemingly simple carrot salad based on an Alice Waters recipe. The flash-blanched carrot slices and grilled scallions were fresh and aromatic, with a cool yogurt sauce that tempered the pleasant heat from chiles and spices. Everyone at our table agreed they couldn’t get enough. See full menu.

Scrumpets with crispy fried lamb shoulder and minted malt vinegar, inspired by April Bloomfield
Scrumpets with crispy fried lamb shoulder and minted malt vinegar, inspired by April Bloomfield

Other notes: I also loved the crispy lamb scrumpets, the only dish that’s also offered on Ada Street’s regular menu. For entrees, the smoked carrot puree that accompanied the pork loin was a brilliant addition, and the classic bouillabaisse did Julia Child justice, down to the last briny, saffron-scented drop. Don’t be swayed by the off-the-beaten-path location: finding this cozy, dimly lit hideaway is totally worth it.

Bouillabaisse with Bangs Island mussels, manila clams, gulf shrimp, cobia, saffron-infused broth, and toasted baguette, inspired by Julia Child
Bouillabaisse with Bangs Island mussels, manila clams, gulf shrimp, cobia, saffron-infused broth, and toasted baguette, inspired by Julia Child

The details: Ada Street, 1664 N. Ada St., Chicago.

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This week’s Best Bite: Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake, baked egg & more from brunch, Avec

Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake with apple-rosemary compote and whipped cream
Wood-fired Dutch baby pancake with apple-rosemary compote and whipped cream

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: After a decade of being dinner-only, Avec launched brunch service last summer – an announcement that made the Chicago food world collectively squeal with delight. While I’ve already blogged about Avec’s legendary stuffed dates, which we ordered almost reflexively, the other stellar brunch plates merited a post of their own. The day’s special was the wood-fired pancake, a velvety stunner cooked in a cast-iron pan and topped with fragrant apple-rosemary compote and mounds of whipped cream. Its Dutch Baby–style texture was unbelievable. Meanwhile, the baked egg dish showed off Avec’s Mediterranean leanings. Its sauce was layered with surprising flavors: chickpeas, roasted peppers of all kinds, and salty feta, all begging to be sopped up with the bread on the side.

Baked egg with roasted peppers, chickpeas, guanciale, feta, and breadcrumbs
Baked egg with roasted peppers, chickpeas, guanciale, feta, and breadcrumbs
Marinated butcher's steak with squash polenta, charred radicchio, pepita pesto, and a fried egg
Marinated butcher’s steak with squash polenta, charred radicchio, pepita pesto, and a fried egg

Another favorite was the butcher’s steak, probably the most beautiful steak-and-eggs in history. The fried egg was perfect, and the steak, ultra-tender from the marinade, shone even brighter with bold accompaniments of charred radicchio, squash polenta, pesto, parsley, and crunchy pepitas. As hard as it was to see this meal come to a close, the indulgence of the stuffed dates at the beginning was evenly matched by the petite nutter butter squares at its conclusion. Don’t miss these: the peanut butter-chocolate base, subtle feuilletine crunch, smooth ganache, and a sprinkling of sea salt made it the ultimate last bite.

Nutter butters as a final bite
Nutter butters as a final bite

The details: Avec, 615 W Randolph St., Chicago.

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2013 Best Bite #29: Fried chicken and sides, Honey Butter Fried Chicken

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Honey butter fried chicken with sides
4-piece fried chicken with sides of pimento mac ‘n’ cheese, whipped sweet potatoes with balsamic marshmallow, and creamed corn with Thai green curry

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.

The details: Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 3361 N. Elston Ave., Chicago.

2013 Best Bite #27: Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow pumpkin stout, DryHop Brewers

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow pumpkin stout
Starry Night in Sleepy Hollow pumpkin stout

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.

The details: DryHop Brewers, 3155 N. Broadway, Chicago.

2013 Best Bite #26: Bacon parfait, County Barbeque

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Bacon parfait with pork
Bacon parfait with pulled pork and onion, grits, bacon, and chives

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.

The details: County Barbeque, 1352 W. Taylor St., Chicago.

2013 Best Bite #9: Soft-boiled egg biscuit sandwich, endgrain

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Soft-boiled egg biscuit sandwich with shaved vegetables, whipped herb butter, black garlic vinaigrette, chips, and pickles
Soft-boiled egg biscuit sandwich with shaved vegetables, whipped herb butter, black garlic vinaigrette, chips, and pickles

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Opened earlier this year, endgrain is masterminded by Enoch Simpson, who spent time at Girl & the Goat and whose bacon-butterscotch doughnuts are still a menu mainstay at Nightwood. Food & Wine counted his biscuits among the best in the U.S., and called this particular sandwich “ethereal.” I would have to agree – it was a dreamy (and pretty!) intermingling of soft-boiled egg, crunchy shaved vegetables, and buttery biscuit. The aromatic duo of herb butter and garlic vinaigrette made the veggies pop even more.

The details: endgrain, 1851 W Addison St, Chicago.

2013 Best Bite #7: Hush puppies and shrimp toast, Parson’s Chicken and Fish

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Hush puppies with ham hock, cream cheese, scallion, and harissa aioli; and shrimp toast with shrimp salad, creme fraiche, butter lettuce, and avocado
Hush puppies with ham hock, cream cheese, scallion, and harissa aioli; and shrimp toast with shrimp salad, creme fraiche, butter lettuce, and avocado

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: It seems like half of Chicago spent their summer lounging on the patio at Parson’s Chicken and Fish, sipping a negroni slushy under the shade of striped umbrellas. While its namesake proteins certainly don’t disappoint, I wanted to spotlight two appetizers that I would go back for again and again: the hush puppies and the shrimp toast. The shrimp salad screamed fresh, with a subtle drizzle of creme fraiche and avocado atop butter lettuce and golden Texas toast. And dunking those perfectly fried, ham hock-and-scallion-studded cornmeal balls into a spicy harissa aioli was nothing short of bar snack heaven.

View another Best Bite from Parson’s.

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

2013 Best Bite #1: Choco Taco sundae, Little Goat Diner

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Choco Taco sundae
Choco Taco sundae with sour cream ice cream, quick hardening chocolate sauce, goat’s milk caramel, candied pepitas, whipped cream, and chocolate-sauce-dipped tortilla chips

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: This sundae was the perfect way to cap off the evening after a wine-and-painting event (and yes, our still-wet paintings sat next to us in the booth, much to the amusement of our server). Sure, it captured all the nostalgic flavors and textures of a childhood Choco Taco treat, but – in typical Stephanie Izard fashion – was also impressively sophisticated. The subtle tang of sour cream gelato together with luscious goat’s milk caramel and chocolate presented in two crunchy ways made it the most satisfying sundae I ate all year.

View a past Best Bite from Little Goat Diner: Fat Elvis waffles.

The details: Little Goat Diner, 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago.