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