Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: The Hop Mess waffles & deviled eggs, Rhyme or Reason

The Hop Mess waffles, Rhyme or Reason

The Hop Mess with Revolution Sun Crusher wheat ale-infused waffles, brown sugar-candied bacon, Sun Crusher-infused maple syrup, and fresh berries

While I was sad to see the Wicker Park location of Jerry’s close last year (the endless sandwich menu overwhelmed in a delightful way), I was happy to try out its replacement. Rhyme or Reason is a gastropub that draws inspiration from retro ’70s themes, and its sprawling front patio was especially inviting on a sunny Saturday morning.

I decided to try The Hop Mess, brand new to the menu as a month-long collaboration with Revolution Brewing. Both the waffle batter and the maple syrup were (very) heavily infused with Revolution Brewing’s Sun Crusher, a new seasonal wheat ale that was already a favorite of mine from earlier in the summer. Together with blueberries, candied bacon, and whipped cream, the hoppy malted waffles really worked (especially with a cup of coffee for balance).

Deviled eggs with espresso-bacon jam, Rhyme or Reason

Deviled eggs with espresso-bacon jam

My friend and I also snacked on these deviled eggs before entrees arrived. A sticky smear of espresso-bacon jam on top of each creamy egg set the sweet-and-savory brunch tone. And while the patio was great, I’d easily return in cooler weather to challenge someone to a game of giant Connect Four in the lounge area next to the colorful bar.

Colorful bar, Rhyme or Reason

Colorful bar with hand-shaped light fixtures

The details: Rhyme or Reason, 1938 W. Division St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Mango lassi, gobi manchurian, and India hot chicken, Pub Royale

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Mango lassi, Pub Royale

Mango lassi with mango, yoghurt, rum, honey, and bitters

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Pub Royale represents one of the most original restaurant concepts to hit Chicago lately: British-Indian pub fare. I’d heard about the rum-spiked mango lassi from more than one source, and that alone made it a perfectly summery place to dine with my cousins on a recent weeknight. The frosty, creamy lassi was cocktail and dessert in one, with complexity from the tangy yogurt and bitters. I loved snacking on the gobi manchurian – the fried cauliflower tossed in sweet and spicy sauce rivaled the version at Rangoli (my longstanding favorite), and cashews added nice crunch.

Gobi manchurian, Pub Royale

Gobi manchurian with crispy cauliflower, sweet & spicy manchurian sauce, sesame, and cashew

India hot chicken, Pub Royale

India hot chicken with crazy pickles and chewy naan

The India hot chicken was fusion at its best: an Indian-spiced, nearly tandoori-hued version of traditionally Southern fried chicken. The chewy naan bread underneath soaked up all the spices, so it was just as delicious on its own as it was with the chicken. Other dishes not to miss: the buttered paneer (so flavorful that I even dipped fries in the leftover sauce) and a towering, multi-layered British sundae dubbed the Knickerbocker Glory.

Knickerbocker Glory sundae. Pub Royale

Knickerbocker Glory sundae with Oberweis ice cream, banana, strawberry, chocolate, and many more layers

The details: Pub Royale, 2049 W. Division St., Chicago.

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Chicago, Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at The Bedford

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

The Bedford Dinner

Burrata & squash, The Bedford

Burrata & squash with apple butter, pumpkin seed granola, and basil

Best Bite: If there’s burrata on a menu, there’s a very good chance I’ll order it, but the way The Bedford paired the ultra-creamy cheese with squash was especially unique. A swipe of apple butter and crumbles of pumpkin seed granola made it almost like a sweet-leaning breakfast dish, and crispy basil added balance. I actually doubled up on squash with my main course, and am glad I did, because the nutty, cheesy, brown butter-soaked agnolotti was the height of comfort.

Roasted squash agnolotti, The Bedford

Roasted squash agnolotti with brown butter, cipollini onions, pecorino, and pistachio

Other notes: The other pasta option was also exceptional. A more toothsome noodle matched the hearty ragu, which smartly combined fennel and mint with the lamb. And the atmosphere is certainly worth noting: the restaurant is a converted bank vault, so it was fun to take in all the dramatic details.

Lamb ragu, The Bedford

Lamb ragu with paccheri pasta, fennel pollen, pecorino, and torn mint

The details: The Bedford, 1612 W. Division St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #21: Red chile enchiladas, Dove’s Luncheonette

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Red chile enchiladas, Dove's Luncheonette

Corn tortillas and roasted chicken thighs with guajillo-ancho chile sauce, queso oaxaca, queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and pickled serrano chiles

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: I usually don’t visit restaurants in their first week open, but I suspected that Dove’s – adjacent to Big Star – would already be excelling at its retro-Mexican-diner concept. These soulful enchiladas were all the confirmation I needed. The guajillo-ancho chile sauce that smothered the tortilla-wrapped chicken thighs was deep and smoky, with contrast from the pickled chiles, cilantro, and two styles of cheese on top.

The details: Dove’s Luncheonette, 1546 N. Damen Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #18: Portobello & avocado tempura, Oiistar

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Portobello & avocado tempura, Oiistar

Portobello & avocado tempura with parsley, parmesan, and shiso pesto mayo

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: I’m a bit of an avocado fanatic, so when I saw this tempura appetizer on Oiistar’s menu, I knew I had to make a return trip to try it. The umami in the portobello worked well with the creaminess of the avocado, and the pesto shiso mayo made a bright dipping sauce – that is, once I found it under the heavy dusting of parmesan and parsley.

View another Best Bite from Oiistar.

The details: Oiistar, 1385 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #4: Banana biscoff pocket and coffee, Stan’s Donuts

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Banana biscoff pocket and Intelligentsia coffee, Stan's Donuts

Banana biscoff pocket and Intelligentsia coffee

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: I thought Chicago had already hit its donut peak, but the idea of stuffing one with biscoff spread (also known as cookie butter or speculoos) proved that Stan’s had reached a new level of genius. Adding in hefty banana slices, two kinds of glaze, and a cup of Intelligentsia coffee on the side made it fried pastry perfection.

The details: Stan’s Donuts, 1560 N. Damen Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #3: Paratha tacos, En Hakkore

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Paratha tacos, En Hakkore

Paratha tacos with spicy pork, kimchi, onion, mushroom, cilantro, lettuce, pickled radish, and En Hakkore sauce

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: Blending flavors of Korean and Indian cuisine, these tacos were fusion at its finest. The pan-fried flatbread served as a pleasantly flaky vehicle for the spicy, crunchy filling. They were easily the best non-traditional tacos I’ve had in Chicago.

View another Best Bite from En Hakkore.

The details: En Hakkore, 1840 N Damen Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Musclemen ramen, Oiistar

Musclemen ramen with mussels, onion, chili pepper, scallion, and bonito miso

Musclemen ramen with mussels, onion, chili pepper, scallion, and bonito miso

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: When a ramen craving struck me on a snowy afternoon, I popped over to Oiistar, a relatively new Wicker Park spot I’d been eyeing. Bypassing all the tempting varieties of bao, and even the avocado tempura – next time! – I zeroed in on a mussel-centric ramen. Besides at least a dozen plump mussels, the giant bowl also contained an umami-rich seafood broth with chewy noodles, two kinds of onion, and tons of garlic. Moderately spicy chiles also upped the soup’s warmth factor. Happily rotating between slurps of noodles, mussels, and broth, I settled in with a book and soaked up the sounds of the restaurant’s catchy R&B playlist.

The details: Oiistar, 1385 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Everything wings, stuffed cabbage, and ice cold noodles, Mott St.

Everything wings glazed with soy, jaggery and dried chilis, tossed with sesame, poppy seed, fried shallots, and served with tzatziki

Everything wings glazed with soy, jaggery and dried chilis, tossed with sesame, poppy seed, fried shallots, and served with tzatziki

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Mott St. is the second venture from Chef Edward Kim and his team, whose first restaurant, Ruxbin, earned a nod from Bon Appétit as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country (I had a killer clambake there two years ago). When I heard that Mott St. would have more of a night market vibe, I was definitely in – and our meal delivered, one dish after another in a parade of intriguing, unexpected flavors. The everything wings had drawn comparison to the huge, sticky ones at Pok Pok, which I tasted in February, but I found them to be entirely different. These chicken wings seriously tasted like an everything bagel (hence the name), with a slightly sweet glaze and generous dusting of sesame and poppy seeds, plus subtle heat from the chilis. The bagel comparison drew even stronger when you added the creamy, dill-heavy tzatziki dipping sauce. As with most good wings: messy to eat, but worth it.

The theme continued with the stuffed cabbage, which surprisingly recalled comforting lasagna from the very first bite – just lasagna that was layered with zingy kimchi, crispy rice, and pork instead of ricotta and red sauce. The flavors married especially well in this dish, everything extra-seasoned by the kimchi broth at the bottom. And as our server enthusiastically promised, the ice cold noodles made a lovely palate cleanser after the rest of the savory dishes. Between the chilly temperature and mellow flavors, it was an incredibly clean dish, with the tender beef and quail egg adding just enough richness.

Napa kimchi cabbage rolls stuffed with pork butt and sticky rice, pan-seared and boiled in kimchi broth

Napa kimchi cabbage rolls stuffed with pork butt and sticky rice, pan-seared and boiled in kimchi broth

Ice cold noodles, with buckwheat noodles, beef brisket, and turnip top kimchi broth

Ice cold noodles, with buckwheat noodles, beef brisket, and turnip top kimchi broth

The details: Mott St., 1401 N Ashland Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Dulce de leche licuado & taco al pastor, Big Star

Dulce de leche licuado (milkshake) and taco al pastor, with marinated, spit-roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, grilled onion, and cilantro

Dulce de leche licuado and taco al pastor, with marinated, spit-roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, grilled onion, and cilantro

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: On this stiflingly hot July week, it seemed fitting to write about somewhere that’s become a Chicago summer staple: Big Star. More specifically, its patio, with now-famous yellow chairs that people are willing to wait hours to sit in. I went on a weekday evening for the first time in a while, and thankfully was early enough to avoid waiting. I knew I’d get a taco al pastor, my favorite in the city, with caramelized pineapple, juicy pork, and tons of cilantro. But I also thought I’d try something new to quench my thirst on such a hot day, and went for the dulce de leche licuado. It’s listed on the menu as a “milkshake”; it’s really more of a Mexican smoothie, with little pieces of ice rather than the smooth texture of ice cream. But for those of us who crave the sweet-and-salty combination, this drink really hits the spot. There’s lots of salt to balance out the caramel, and it actually worked well with the taco’s pineapple too. Yes, you can also beat the heat with their excellent margaritas (now available in draft pitchers) and micheladas, but it was fun to mix it up with something sweeter.

The details: Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave., Chicago.

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