Monday, September 24, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back... By: Bethany

Bethany hails from Albany Park and enjoys softball, football, reading and dining out in her free time. Her favorite foods include anything Latin inspired and she loves eating out because it allows her to take a mini vacation to a different culture, so she can feed her love of experimenting with new cuisines. She thinks Check, Please! is a great resource for checking out the restaurants people are talking about before you actually go there.

My favorite go to restaurant is called Al Dente located on Irving Park near Pulaski. It is a little off the beaten path, but it is probably one of the best restaurants you will go to in Chicago. This restaurant is one where you will never get bored. The owner Javier Perez has worked in some of the highest rated restaurants in Chicago such as Spiaggia and Cibo Matta. As a result, the cuisine offered at Al Dente is a little eclectic. It is influenced by Italian, French, and Mexican cuisines, which lends itself to the adventurous diner. The food is also served with only the freshest ingredients and creates a truly upscale dining experience.

This combination of influences results in some of the most tantalizingly delicious meals I have ever had in a restaurant. My personal favorite dish is the Lobster Ravioli, which is a little surprising because I would never have ordered that dish at any other restaurant. I was able to take the risk because the servers at Al Dente are both extremely knowledgeable and exceedingly patient with their diners. I am the type of diner who has a million questions and always asks for the servers recommendations. The way the ravioli was described left my mouth watering. A few other dishes that are musts include the gazpacho, salmon, and lamb. In reality, there is very little on the menu that you would not enjoy.

Perhaps, my favorite aspect of dining at Al Dente is the ambiance and laid back atmosphere. The restaurant is also a BYOB. From the moment you walk in you will see that most diners bring in a bottle (or two.) It is a great place for a nice intimate date for 2 but it also attracts big groups, as I have seen groups of 10+ people dining there. The servers are very attentive as they immediately come over to greet each table and chill and/or open wine once you arrive. They always try to gauge what type of experience you are looking for in the restaurant. If the meal needs to be quick, you can inform the server and they will instantly accommodate; if you want it to be long and intimate they can accomplish that as well.

One of the aspects I appreciate most about Al Dente is that it really is not an excessively expensive restaurant. Most entrees are between $20-$30 and the appetizers are all between $10-$15. In fact, the first time I went to the restaurant I was surprised at how little the bill was in comparison to my experience. Al Dente really has few equals in terms of their amazing food and experience, so it keeps me coming back.

Al Dente
3939 W. Irving Park Road 
Chicago, IL 60616
(773) 942-7771

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back... By: Karolyn

Karolyn is a High School English Teacher who works and lives in the city of Chicago. She enjoys reading, writing, running, eating, travelling, and movie-going. Karolyn says if she had to choose her favorite foods, she'd go with spicy foods and comfort foods. She believes that going out to eat should be a celebration of food and is a great way to introduce yourself to a completely different culture.

(Taste of Peru was featured on Check, Please! in Season 6, but we loved Karolyn's passionate review so much, we decided to re-visit them. You can check out Taste of Peru on Check, Please! here.)

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is Taste of Peru. I have frequented this restaurant for the past two years. Though located in a strip mall of sorts on the far north side, there’s nothing strip-mall about this place. It’s not fancy, but one whiff of the spices and joy coming from inside and I was hooked. Having had the opportunity to visit Peru, I was introduced to the authentic dishes that so many Peruvian restaurants here have forgotten: strips of ceviche (none of that chopped-up-into-tiny-martini-glasses kind), real corn tamales, beef heart shish kebab (or, for the perhaps less adventurous, chicken), Cau-Cau (tripe stew), fried plantains, and my favorite: Aji de Gallina (a shredded chicken dish topped with a walnut cream sauce and hard-boiled egg with potatoes and rice). True comfort dish! Most beef and chicken dishes are served authentically, meaning with both rice and potatoes. Carbs are not to be dodged here!

The staff never rushes you, even if you are finished and there is a line out the door. If you have wine or beer left, you are welcome to stay and drink up. Since the friendly staff is of Peruvian background and seem to maintain close ties to their homeland, you may trust that they know authentic Peruvian food, and they are happy to help you choose from their vast menu of deliciousness the dish that suits your fancy or threshold for adventure.

The last time I was here, it was Peruvian Independence Day. There was celebratory Peruvian music in the background, and everyone--whether Peruvian or not--got into the celebration. The owner was handing out Pisco Sours. I had several Pisco Sours in Peru and never really enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed his. Talking with him, I was instructed that the next time I come in, I should bring my own Pisco and he would personally mix it up for me. He assured me that I would never turn down a real Pisco Sour, musing that I must have gone to the “bad” bars. Talk about genuine hospitality. I will be going back with a bottle of red wine…and a bottle of Pisco! While I normally don’t order dessert, that night I noted that they have Mazamorra Morada, i.e., purple corn pudding. In Peru, purple corn is also made into a wonderful juice drink. I decided to give the dessert a try. The presentation wasn’t the best—it just came in a water glass—but the sweetness brought me back to Cusco where I first had purple corn juice. The texture was almost like a rice pudding and it just burst with flavor. 

This, for me, is the sign of a true restaurant: one that awakens your taste buds, celebrates and embraces different cultures, and awakens memories.

Taste of Peru
6545 N. Clark St. 
Chicago, IL 60626 
(773) 381-4540

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Most Memorable Experience at a Restaurant... By: Patti

Patti is an administrative assistant that lives in Frankfort. She loves going out to Italian restaurants and says her favorite dish is the Baked Spinach Ravioli from Rocco's Little Italy. Patti says she knows her food as her friends are always asking her for restaurant recommendations on her train ride to work.

One of my most memorable recent dining experiences took place this past weekend at Eddie Merlot’s in Burr Ridge. Because my husband and I are no strangers to fine dining, we were recommended Eddie Merlot’s and decided to give it a try.

Immediately upon entering Merlot’s, one is visually astounded by the upscale contemporary décor - the lighting is colorful and festive, the stained glass pieces that hang from the ceiling are beautiful, the chairs at each table are “living room” stuffed chairs, which immediately makes you realize you will be comfortably seated in this sophisticated arena. Spacing of tables allows for easy movement around the restaurant and is conducive to privacy in conversation. Although your eyes are roaming to take in all the beautiful décor, the main attraction would have to be the floor-to-ceiling wine “cellar” encased in glass, which takes up the back wall of the restaurant. The “cellar” offers you a rare view of the large selection of the wines that Merlot’s has to offer.

You are escorted to your table by one of several hostesses and your wait staff magically appears within minutes. Our waiter, Jaime, gave a short overview of the steaks for which Merlot’s is known, and when asked, comfortably offered suggestions and comment on our selections. For appetizers, presentation of the calamari was most notable as it is served in an edible “bowl” made to look like an open clam/seashell. Upon our waiter’s recommendation, we also ordered the blue cheese potato chips which were flavorful and delicious, but not heavy. Merlot’s offers several salads, one being a wedge, however, what set Merlot’s apart, was the offer of a maple apple cider vinaigrette, which caused the taste buds to water.

For the steak lover, the bourbon marinated rib eye is a flavor explosion, while the bone-in rib eye with gorgonzola literally melted in the mouth. Sides are perfect for sharing, and the Eddie’s potatoes (diced potato with jalapeno in au gratin sauce) are a great enhancement to any entrée and something apart from the everyday baked potato.  The Brussels sprouts with cippollini onions and diced bacon would make a veggie eater out of anyone. They were a taste bonanza. Each course is brought to the table and served by wait staff and managers so that the entire table is served at one time.

Eddie Merlot’s is a fine dining experience geared for the diner who wants to savor and enjoy each course with the perfect down time in between. General manager Jeff Stoltman and his staff are devoted to making you feel pampered. Merlot’s is the perfect place for that special occasion, even if that special occasion is simply because it’s a Saturday!

Eddie Merlot's 
201 Bridewell Drive
Burr Ridge, Illinois 60527
(630) 468-2098

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Full Monti By: Steve

Steve lives in Highland Park and enjoys cooking, photography, skiing, and travel. He says that because his years of cooking, he truly appreciates going out to restaurants that do a great job with good ingredients, excellent preparation and attentive service.  “From great Chicago dogs to haut cuisine, we are lucky to live in a city that provides so much diversity and quality.”

My son and I have had a recent ongoing discussion about the Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I had a cheesesteak at one of the most highly rated stands in Philadelphia, and was very unimpressed.  I posted what I thought was wrong about the sandwich construction in my blog, and made the statement that I did not think there was a good example of the "true" Philly cheesesteak sandwich to be found.  About the Philly cheesesteak sandwich itself, I was definitely wrong.  There is a commercially available Philly cheesesteak sandwich that belongs in the realm of iconic sandwiches.  It is found here in Chicago, at Monti’s in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.  It deals with every problem that I had with the sandwich that I had in Philly, and the result is spectacular.

I talked with Jennifer Monti, who with her husband Jim, own Monti’s.  I explained the tastelessness of the sandwich I had in Philadelphia.  Jennifer thought that I might have had bread right out of the package, and it would have been too soft.  They tried to duplicate the Amoroso hoagie roll here with local bakeries, but were not able to reproduce the exact taste profile that they wanted.  They import the Amoroso rolls par-baked, and finish them in their pizza oven.  The result is greatly improved over the squishy roll I had in Philadelphia, as there is a nice crust bite to the outside, with a soft crumb inside.

The meat is Black Angus Ribeye, seasoned with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  It has a wonderful taste on its own, not too dry, but mixes well with the choice of either a domestic provolone (with a nice bite to it), or the house cheddar sauce (made with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and water).  Mushrooms are sautéed from fresh, as are the onions. The result is a truly excellent sandwich, one that would please a resident of the City of Brotherly Love as well as the residents of the City of Big Shoulders (or anywhere else for that matter).  Jennifer was so sure of her product that she stated if I didn’t like it, the sandwich was on her.  It was a very safe bet on her part!

I will have to return to Monti’s to try their other offerings:  grinders, pizzas, Italian water ices.  But, try the Cheesesteak, it made a believer out of me.

4757 N. Talman Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Samuel

Samuel is certified watercolor instructor, a prizewinng photographer, a published poet and an author. He describes himself as 78 years young. He is also a laughter yoga leader and a facilatator of a creative writers group at Mather's More Than a Cafe'.

I left home for Mather’s More Than a Café about 8:30 Friday morning. I arrived around 8:45. It was the day that Miss Chicago would be featured for, “The Friday Night Dinner Show.” I had been waiting to see and hear Marisa Buchheit, Miss Chicago.

Mather’s three Cafes are open for breakfast and lunch, (except the location located between Higgins Ave. and Neva Ave. which is open till 7:00PM on Fridays.) The Higgins location's cafe walls display patron’s art work. There are cherry wood shadow box glass covered dining tables which are filled with old time pictures, magazines, coins and stuff. There is a computer room, an exercise area, a recreation area, three washrooms, a couple of offices, and a kitchen.

For breakfast I had a healthy meal of oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar. The price was $1.65 with my M.A.D. 20% discount. All patrons that are 55 years old and older are eligible to purchase a Mather Advantage Discount plan. The cost is $55 a year. Being a senior, I watch my food intake and my money output; I want food that is of good quality, that is healthy for me, and that is reasonably priced. With the oatmeal I had a cup of coffee that cost $0.75 all day (a bottomless cup). I like a place where the coffee flows like water. Also at Mather’s, food is cooked in trans-fat free oils.

For lunch I had a bowl of Italian Wedding Soup. I would have liked a little bigger meat ball, but the taste was still divine. Then it was off to the computer to get my email. Later, I worked on a Sudoku puzzle.

The dinner show menu had Tilapia, which is my favorite sea food. I had the blackened Tilapia. It had a lemon pepper seasoning, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. It was yum, yum, yummy going down to the tummy.

The fish was severed with mixed vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, and a side choice. I chose a carrot salad, because I wanted to make sure my eyesight was at its best. For dessert, I had a small slice of wonderful tasting chocolate cake. The meal and show were well worth the money. Dinner and show cost me $20.00.

Marisa sang popular songs and operatic favorites. She sang songs from Carmen and from West Side Story. What a lovely young lady! Her voice enchanted me. I was lost in loveliness. Miss Buchhiet  asked if the audience had any questions. I learned she studied singing in Italy. I asked a question, “Can the men in the audience have your phone number?" Laughter filled the air. She gets high marks from me.

What a day I had. Marisa is a treat for my eyes. My big ears enjoyed every sound that came from her lips, while my palette was well satisfied. Ah, what a day that this 78 year old senior enjoyed. Marisa, I’m Yours- Body and Soul.

Mather's More Than a Cafe, is a not-for-profit organization that caters mainly to seniors, but all patrons are welcome. They have computer classes, exercise classes, trips, classes about health issues, line dancing- the list goes on. It is a great place at a great price. The Cafes are open at 8:00 am till 3:30/4:00 pm. The Higgins Cafe is open on Fridays till 7:00pm. The kitchens close a half hour before closing.

Mather's More Than a Cafe (Norwood Park)
7134 W. Higgins Avenue
Chicago, IL 60656
(773) 774-4804

Friday, June 15, 2012

Au Cheval By: Martha

Martha is a copywriter and freelance writer who enjoys reading, bicycling, and playing ping-pong. Her favorite kind of food is Mexican and she loves eating out as a way to embrace different cultures. She'll visit any restaurant with exceptional food- even if it's a hole in the wall. 

Au Cheval
800 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 929-4580

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Fern

Fern is a lawyer and CPA turned writer/reporter/blogger. A Manhattanite, originally from the great state of New Jersey, now living in beautiful Chicago with her husband, Fern believes Chicago has the best restaurants. Her hobbies include reading, eating and running.

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is... BadHappy

Three words: Gourmet Disco Fries. Three more words: I’ve been converted.

Once upon a time, at a diner in northern New Jersey, at 2AM, after a night of drinking, my friends ordered disco fries. (Note: “Disco fries” are defined on Urban Dictionary, the authority on these types of things, as “Cheese fries with gravy, generally served at diners in Northeast New Jersey.”) Anyway, I turned down the disco fries.  I said “I don’t like gravy.” That’s when the place fell silent.  The lights flickered.  And, everyone turned to stare at me.
Ok, not really.  But, I did say “I don’t like gravy.” That was back then, during my foolish youth.

Now, fast forward a few years (okay, a decade) and I’m a married lady living in Chicago.  My husband and I are invited to a new restaurant.  It’s called BadHappy. We like the name.  We like the logo.  We go.  Not usually how we pick restaurants but, of course, we also heard good things.

BadHappy, located at 939 N. Orleans St., is Chicago’s first and only poutine shop. Poutine?  That sounds like a dirty word. Well, according to Urban Dictionary, “poutine” is defined as “A Quebec (or French-Canadian) staple, a dish of homemade french fries topped with white cheddar cheese curds and beef gravy.”

Not only did I try it, as I’m a little more open-minded in my old age, and not only did I like it – Ferny likes it? – I loved it. 

BadHappy is run by chef Tom Kern, whose impressive culinary pedigree makes it no wonder all of the ingredients are fresh and fine.  The freshest.  The finest. These, my friends, are not your father’s Jersey diner’s disco fries.

Yes, these are gourmet disco fries.

Yes, I’ve been converted.  I like gravy.  And, I love poutine!

939 N Orleans St.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 890-2165

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Most Memorable Experience At A Restaurant... By: Kate

Kate is a writer who lives in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. She loves cooking, hosting dinner parties, wine tasting, yoga, and reading. She is a self-proclaimed "dinie" as opposed to a "foodie," as her favorite eating experiences let you "slow down and savor the meal" but also appreciate the time you're sharing with the people around you. Kate enjoys Check, Please! because the show always inspires her to walk out her door and go exploring for new places and awesome food.

Yes, I might have been a little bit snobby when I moved home to Chicago after six years in New York City. New York makes you prove that you’re cool enough, hot enough, smart enough, experienced enough, rich enough – before you can say you belong, before you can call that place home. And the food scene is a playground where New Yorkers show off just how enough they are – just how accomplished and just how at home they have all become in a city that can chew you up and spit you out, pretentiously.

Ironically, in the process of trying to make that city my home, I forgot what home really feels like for me. I love New York City, but Chicago is my home. I only needed two friends and one meal at Home Bistro to remember completely.

My husband and I walked up to the storefront BYOB on Halsted just a few minutes early and three weeks after the big move. Of course we let our friends choose this spot; admittedly I didn't have a clue about the new Chicago scene. And there they were - already comfortably seated in the front window table, their waves through the glass clearly broadcasting a “Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!” We were greeted by a beaming host who truly seemed to be happy to have us and seat us and welcome us to his bistro. There is a fixed price menu offered on Wednesday he explained; three courses to choose. No hurry, no worries.

We pulled the first bottle of wine out and the host was back to open it. I began to glance over the menu, an already hungry stomach defenselessly seduced by the aromas from the kitchen a mere 50 yards away. Sweetbreads, escargot, sardines, pheasant, rabbit, lamb. I kept looking. Bison, catfish, clams, pate. Suddenly I was less eager. These were not my staples, not even my delicacies. I needed a little help and some more wine to start.

With a confident humor and lots of passionate opinions, Tom, our waiter, took one glance at my scrunched up face and pulled up a chair to chat. So we poured him a glass of wine and he took us through the menu. I rarely let anyone order for me, not even my husband, but for some reason Tom seemed to know best. I happily agreed to his suggestions; each of us choosing different dishes to sample. “All smart and all delicious,” Tom promised with a wink.

And he was right. Every course, every dish, each bite.

We stayed for more than two hours - sharing stories, making plans, laughing and laughing. We polished off our plates, savored the remaining sips of our last bottle of wine and promised we would do this again soon - very soon.

I sat back in my chair, took a big comfortable breath and felt like I was home. I wanted to hug the cook a big thank you. It was so good to be home.

Home Bistro
3404 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 661-0299

Friday, May 11, 2012

Snackin' on Damen By: Miguel



Miguel is a professor and former Check, Please! alumni, serving as a guest on Season 11. He enjoys art, traveling, and staying healthy at the gym. Miguel loves dining out because he appreciates the diversity of Chicago restaurants, where you can find excellent food at any price point. 

Last summer, one of my close friends moved from Ukrainian Village to Ravenswood. As I was helping her move, I couldn’t help but notice all the amazing finger foods on offer stretching along Damen between Chicago and Montrose. Here’re a few of my highlights:

Bagel on Damen (1252 N. Damen) is a fairly new operation with another location in Ravenswood. I love the Sea Hog sandwich, stacked with nearly all of my favorite foods: lox, bacon, avocado, sliced onions, and generous chunks of cream cheese on an ‘everything’ bagel. Be prepared to wait in line if it’s a weekend!

Blue Line Lounge & Grill (1548 N. Damen) is one of my favorite haunts in Chicago. I think their sliders are second-to-none! They make their own ground beef patties and serve them with American cheese on a sweet-salty-chewy bun with a big pickle slice plopped on top. This is one of the coziest diners in Chicago during the winter months.

Black Rock Pub & Kitchen (3614 N. Damen) is your typical local bar in the North Center neighborhood. Besides having great pub food, Black Rock is known for the doughnut holes they sell at Chicago’s ubiquitous summer street festivals. The little dessert is buttery and sweet on the inside with a crunchy, salty exterior, liberally doused in powdered sugar (don’t inhale anywhere near them). If you can’t find them at the bar you’ll definitely find them at the Black Rock tent at Ribfest, which is North Center’s mainstay summer block party.

Fountainhead (1970 W. Montrose, corner of Damen) is a recent installment in Ravenswood admired by craft beer enthusiasts and artisanal foods admirers. Snacking is so popular there that it warrants its own section of the menu. My pick is the house-made caramel cashew popcorn – salty, sweet and aromatic. The restaurant is well known for the simply addictive monkey bread, prepared with gorgonzola and bacon with a generous side of milk gravy, which is the perfect accompaniment to any of the Fountainhead’s many exotic and delicious beers from around the world.

Bagel on Damen
1252 N. Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 772-2243

Blue Line Lounge & Grill
1548 N. Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 395-3700

Black Rock Pub & Kitchen 
3614 N. Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 348-4044

1970 W. Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 697-8204

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Noel

Noel is a professional dancer and dance studio owner from Lincoln Square. She loves Yoga, cooking, wine tasting and photography. She loves trying new foods and being in different atmospheres and she treats dining out as an escape from her typical every day routine because it gives her something to look forward to!

Some of my most memorable restaurant experiences are going to the places that I frequent often. The owners or waiters recognize us, and we are greeted warmly, hence the reason I keep coming back. 

A Greek restaurant in my neighborhood is the perfect example of this warm hospitality. Barba Yianni always serves up authentic and delicious Greek food. The owner has become so familiar with my husband and I that he remembers special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, and on such occasions, is always sure to have a tray of sangria or baklava sent over to our table. My favorite dish to order from Barba Yianni is the Filetto Kotas, which is chicken broiled in lemon juice and Greek seasoning. The chicken is so moist and flavorful. The side dish completes the meal. Consisting of a baked potato, peas and rice, while it sounds pretty standard, the red sauce that tops the vegetables is to die for. It’s rich and gives the vegetables a hearty flavor. I have gone so far as to just order a side of peas, just so I could have the red sauce. One of the best parts about ordering an entrée is the homemade soup that comes with your order. The egg lemon is amazing, but I don’t think anyone makes a better chicken noodle. It tastes like home. 

Nothing beats walking up to this place on a summer night, sitting outside and drinking a glass of Sangria before a perfect meal of Filetto Kotas, chicken noodle soup, and then topping it off with baklava. 


Barba Yianni
4761 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 878-6400

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Aaron

Aaron is an elementary school teacher who loves going to see bands play, reading, and watching sports. He enjoys dining out because it is time spent with friends and family without worry, and a reason to celebrate or try new things. Aaron's favorite kind of food is Chicago-style pizza from Burt's Pizza.

My aspirations of one day becoming a champion pitmaster came to an abrupt end with the first bite of the pulled pork sandwich from South Moon BBQ (Hinckley, Il.). There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how titillating this sandwich is. Subtly smoked and sauced with a deft hand, this behemoth might be the most memorable BBQ experience I’ve encountered in my 34 years*. A perfect ratio of fresh baked bun to pork to sauce, complimented perfectly by any of four sides makes for one hearty meal.

I honestly think the reason why new "country" restaurants are so good is because they know they have to be, and that there's no margin for error in what they do. Traditional/cultural/ethnic small town restaurants have to properly articulate and refine their craft to gain and maintain business, to make the diner’s drive and experience completely worthwhile and so those diners share their emprise with others. Decent city (Chicago and suburban) restaurants are a dime a dozen, and any given person will choose “this Thai to that Thai” because of personal preference, but it’s all fairly similar. Country ones don’t have that luxury; South Moon BBQ is no exception and the fare delivered takes nothing for granted. I suppose being directly between my home and work doesn't hurt their chances of my appreciation, but the food they are putting out is exceptional. The staff is polite and helpful, treating each customer like lifelong friends. The menu at South Moon is concise and to the point as well as being fairly priced.

The drawback at South Moon is more or less a backhanded compliment: I wish there was a real seating area instead of a few small tables. I’d definitely enjoy spending more time with “Pork Chop” and his family eating a delicious meal and shooting the breeze while admiring the kitschy wall décor (originally packaged action figures including: KISS, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones).

South Moon has a charm unlike many restaurants and transcendent BBQ, and that is why South Moon BBQ is a restaurant that keeps me coming back.

(*Save for Carson’s Ribs, because going there always marked a special event or Russell’s which is a nostalgic, familial past time.)

South Moon BBQ
146 E Lincoln Hwy
Hinckley, IL 60520
(815) 286-9227

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Patti

Patti is an administrative assistant that lives in Frankfort. She loves going out to Italian restaurants and says her favorite dish is the Baked Spinach Ravioli from Rocco's Little Italy. Patti says she knows her food as her friends are always asking her for restaurant recommendations on her train ride to work.

There are some foods at any given restaurant you frequent that are just addicting. Such are the chicken tenders appetizer at The Wild Rover in Frankfort.

We originally visited The Wild Rover some months ago because it was the new sports bar in Frankfort and minutes from our home. We were dubious of the "sports bar theme" but decided to give it a shot. On our first visit when asked if we wanted to try the "stuffed green pepper" soup, we were tempted to decline, but interest got the better of us. We were 'bowled' over (no pun intended) at how delicious this little bowl of homemade soup was from the kitchen of a sports bar. We moved on then to their burgers, all served on pretzel rolls - and again, we were pleasantly surprised. Enough so, that we went back to Wild Rover several more times during which we happened upon half-price-appetizer-night (Sunday). I decided to try the chicken tenders rather than a full meal and to say that we could not get enough of them is an understatement! These are not your typically pre-packaged chicken tenders, but in fact, the chef at The Wild Rover cuts the tenders from chicken breast per order, makes his own beer-battered coating which  is light, crispy and delicious. We chose their homemade BBQ sauce and ranch dressing for dipping and have since ordered this delectable treat on each visit. The 'veggie burger' offered consists of a portobello mushroom, grilled with roasted red peppers, spring greens and a garlic/mayo aioli served on a pretzel roll and would most assuredly satisfy any palate. It's juicy, messy and absolutely wonderful.

The Wild Rover is definitely a sports bar theme, but there are low tables, high tables or the bar for ease of dining as well as tables outside on the patio in nicer weather. They offer an array of beer choices among other bar drinks, and although the place is somewhat small by restaurant standards, it is open and airy. They offer nightly drink and food specials along with enticing tidbits such as the garlic parmesan burger, homemade soups, and the amazing appetizers on the menu.  The food that they serve here is good old fashioned pub grub that is affordable and unbelievable.

The Wild Rover is the perfect example of why NOT to skip a place called a sports bar. There is nothing fancy about the joint and that is why it is perfect for any weeknight simple meal or late night gorpy. It truly keeps us coming back.

The Wild Rover
20535 S La Grange Rd
Frankfort, IL 60423
(815) 277-5800

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Jen

Jen Panattoni is a business woman and marketing student from Oak Park. She enjoys dining out so she can get something she doesn't know how to cook and gets inspired to recreate dishes she's had. Also, she finds it relaxing to sit down for a meal she didn't have to prepare. She watches Check, Please! because she secretly wants Alpana Singh's job, not that it's so much of a secret anymore!

If you’ve read my other post, you already know that this girl is a big fan of pork products and finely crafted cocktails. One place that delivers on both of those promises is The Bristol in Bucktown. Owner/Chef Chris Pandel likes to know where his food comes from, and I appreciate that’s he’s done all the legwork in finding the freshest local farms to which he decides his daily menu. Additionally, Chef Pandel uses the “nose-to-tail” sustainable practice of butchering, meaning the entire animal is used. You can feel good about where you food comes from, all while enjoying an unforgettable meal. 

Before you get down to business of course, make sure to order yourself a handcrafted cocktail. I suggest a Manhattan, this comes with a real maraschino cherry, and not the neon red, candy colored ones of your youth either, that stuff’s for soda jerks and babies. Have fun clinking your perfectly squared ice while you peruse the chalkboard for what’s in season. 

It’s nice to bring friends to The Bristol, as the menu is suitable for sharing. There are small, medium and large plate options so you can customize your experience. I love the duck fat French fries and house catsup to start, but scotch olives with pork sausage are also delicious… you know, in case you’re on a diet…. Additionally, we like to order up a charcuterie board, because one can never get enough salted meats and Pâté; this also comes with a variety of house made pickles, which you can also add to the list of things I like. Moving onto medium plates, The Bristol is where I braved my first bone marrow experience. Since losing my marrow card, I actually seek it out as much as possible, but none finer than here, which comes with shallot jam-quite decadent. For the main entrée, my husband and I typically split the roasted half chicken which sits on a bed of spatzle, its simple chicken done to the best of its ability with perfectly seasoned, crunchy skin. 

If you have room for dessert, there is something special on the menu that is sure to make your inner child delight, house made Nutter butter cookies that come with a side of melted dipping chocolate. Prepare for complete silence at the table as you negotiate who gets the last one.

The Bristol
2152 N. Damen Ave
Chicago, IL. 60647
(773) 862-5555 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Most Memorable Experience At a Restaurant Was… Impossible to Pick By: Don

Don Anderson is a design engineer whom will do whatever it takes to eat a good meal. He likes watching auto races, cruising in his convertible, cooking, and eating out. He likes to call himself a 'Food Geek' and enjoys discovering new places so he can eat dishes he does not have the skill to make or ethnic foods he has never heard of. The food experience is what's important to him and it is even better when it's excellent food for the price. He watches Check, Please! because everyone in Chicago has 'A Guy' and the show brings people together to talk about their 'Guy' in the food business! 

My most memorable experience at a restaurant was… impossible to pick.  So here is a top 4, in no particular order.

My wife and I ate at Vie in Western Springs and one of the options for the salad was a bleu cheese dressing.  I love bleu cheese (although, truth be told, not much of a fan of what shows up as bleu cheese dressing at restaurants), so I decided to see how they do theirs. When my salad arrived, it appeared to be dressed with vinaigrette.  I mentioned it to the server, and they said that, in fact, this was the bleu cheese dressing.

I was dubious, but rolled with it.  What followed next was the most spectacular bleu cheese dressing I have ever had.  In fact, all other bleu cheese dressings pale in comparison.  It was as if each individual leaf of lettuce was covered in invisible bleu cheese frosting!  Such strong flavor, without being seen was, to me, amazing.

Pat Bruno (at the time the food critic of the Sun Times) mentioned that the best pizza you could find outside of Naples, Italy was in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  That sounds just like the kind of crazy thing I am up for. So on a trip to Green Bay, my wife and I stopped at Il Ritrovo to check this out.  Pat was not kidding.
I ordered a special that was tomato, prosciutto, mozzarella, mushrooms, and basil.  The pizza was constructed so that every single time I took a bite, I would get a different combination of the ingredients.  It was so memorable because each bite was delicious and different.

The first time I picked up rib tips from Honey One, they were still on the West Side and had no seating.  So I took them home, ate them at my kitchen table and growled while I ate them. Literally growled.

For the past few years on Christmas Day morning, I have spent the time with two of the most wonderful things in my life:  my wife and an Ann Sather cinnamon roll.

Vie Restaurant
4471 Lawn Avenue 
Western Springs, IL. 60558
(798) 246-2082

Il Ritrovo
515 South 8th Street 
Sheboygan, WI. 53081
(920) 803-7516 

Honey 1 BBQ
2241 North Western Avenue
Chicago, IL. 60643
(773) 227-5130

Ann Sather Restaurant
909 West Belmont 
Chicago, IL. 60657
(773) 348-2378 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Michael


Michael Wieland is a Property Manager from Oak Park. He enjoys a great burger and loves craft beers. When restaurants include beers in their menus that compliment their entrees, its a slam dunk for him! He loves trying new things and when it comes to strange dishes, he has learned from his sister to trust the chef. He likes watching Check, Please! to learn about new restaurants and appreciates Alpana's wine knowledge; especially when she pairs it with particular food he may not have considered.

There are few things in life that make me happier than a good burger and a beer.  The Bad Apple in Lincoln Square has both of these in abundance.  Their menu is fantastic, and they have something for everybody.  I have gone there with the guys, both late night and at lunchtime.  I have gone there with my wife and kids.  I’ve gotten carryout for my co-workers, who now request it every time we have a meeting after 5:00.  It’s high-quality food at reasonable prices in an atmosphere that is far from stuffy.

I try to choose a different burger each time I go (they have approximately 15 on their ever-evolving menu), but on my last two visits I found myself ordering the same burger; “El Chupacabra”.  The burger is topped with braised goat chili, avocado, goat’s milk cheddar and a garlic puree. It is a massive amount of flavor with just the right amount of spiciness.

The burgers come with great fries that can be kicked up with seasonings like curry, minced garlic, and chipotle.  My personal favorite is the Old Bay seasoning; great on seafood, even better on fries.    

Their draft beer list is impressive without being imposing.  For the uninitiated beer drinker, they have great descriptions under each beer so you know exactly what you’re getting. The wonderful bar staff will even allow you a little taste or two if you can’t decide.
They represent most, if not all of the local breweries, including Half Acre located across the street, but they also have rare, small batch beers that can be found in only a small number of bars/restaurants.

During my last visit, I was fortunate to try two beers by the Danish brewery Evil Twin. I enjoyed them so much that I have been searching for them all over town.
I guess I’ll just have to go back for more…

The Bad Apple 
4300 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL.60618
(773) 360- 8406 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Camela's Taqueria Keeps Me Coming Back and Back and Back... By: Brian

Brian Gersten is an Advertising Copywriter from Uptown. He enjoys dining out because everyone wants to experience something new and different and eating at restaurants is one of the simplest ways of doing so. He loves trying new cuisines or dishes and is willing to travel two hours to go out to eat. He likes focusing on the food and people in front of him and escape everyday stresses. He believes when dining with others, everyone should provide their undivided attention since it is a communal activity, although he's guilty using his phone.

Some restaurants are so utterly addicting that they make me reconsider the notion of ever cooking again. These places simply put my cooking to shame. Why go through the trouble of cooking an unsatisfying meal and then cleaning all the subsequently soiled pots, pans, and plates 3 times a day for 7 days a week?  There’s no joy in that.  Why not just pay others to do a much better job?  This is the inevitable thought process that I have whenever I eat at Carmela’s Taqueria.

Truthfully, one of the main reasons I frequently eat at Carmela’s Taqueria is that I live about 2.5 blocks away from the place. However distance is not the deciding factor for me when it comes to Carmela’s.  I only live 2 blocks away from Subway, yet paradoxically; I have never set food inside of it.  Carmela's, on the other hand, serves up some of the best Mexican food in Uptown.  It has come to a point where I have to stop by this inconspicuous taqueria at least once a week just to get my fix.  

Now, I must warn any fine dining purists that may be interested Carmela’s.  This place is probably not for you.  Carmela’s is quite literally a hole in the wall.  The restaurant only seats about 20 people at the most, the kitchen is the size of my bedroom closet, the building is a bit rundown, and the interior of Carmela’s is comparable to a gritty diner. Nevertheless, the food that they serve here is authentic, affordable, unpretentious, and unbelievable.

Essentially, this modest taqueria is just good old-fashioned street food, pure and simple.  I don't think there's anything on the menu that's over $5.  Patrons at Carmela’s basically have their choice of tacos, tortas, or burritos. There are 6 different choices of meat for each of the previous categories (marinated roast pork, skirt steak, chicken, Mexican sausage, ground beef, and tongue).  That’s everything.  That right there is the entire menu other than a few drinks and a couple of appetizers.

At Carmela’s they cook the Al Pastor meat on a traditional spit.  The Al Pastor (marinated roast pork) meat is so tender, succulent, and flavorful that it seems like it was brought here from another pork-loving planet.  They simply serve the Tacos Al Pastor on a warm corn tortilla, with fresh cilantro, chopped white onion, and a lime wedge.  Of course, they also provide a mild green salsa and a hotter red salsa, which are both excellent. 

Carmela’s is a prime example of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.  There’s nothing fancy about Carmela’s, and that’s why it’s so wonderful.  It’s simple and authentic Mexican food that leaves you wanting more, I certainly sleep well at night knowing that Carmela’s Taqueria is open everyday.  It is truly a savory savior.

Carmela's Taqueria 
1206 West Lawrence Ave.
Chicago, IL. 60640
(773) 275-5321 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back By: Jennifer

Jennifer works in Luxury Retail Sales and enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and fine dining. She likes ordering the tasting menu to be able to try all the offerings without missing anything. Jennifer would go as far as a six hour plane ride to go out to eat, but no more than that! Dining out is one of her favorite things because it can be one of the most intimate ways to get to know someone. However, bad food can ruin a date,  business meeting, or any other occasion. Check, Please! helps her experience new places in her new River North neighborhood!

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is Union Sushi in River North. The artfully crafted small bites, lunch Bento, and Japanese Barbeque prepared by Chef Chao and his team are unmatched when it comes to refined “Sushi + Barbeque”.
One of the hippest spots for food, drinks, decor, and even music Union Sushi truly make you feel like one of the ‘cool kids’. Whether you’re a seasoned sushi Samurai or a California roll connoisseur, there is something for everyone to fall in love with. Hands down, my favorite dish would be the Hokkaido roll (with a black rice option) or the most luxurious Oysters on a half shell (Presentation is almost everything).

Sometimes when I go and I’m not feeling like a huge sushi meal, I opt for a few shareable meat treats from the barbeque bar. With options like alligator, beef tongue, or succulent skewered pork shoulder; you could fill up on the barbeque aroma alone.
“What about the drinks" you say? Yes, of course! Union Sushi plays host to the most up-and-coming Happy Hour this side of the El tracks. With an extensive sake and spirit list, the creativity and imagination of the bartender at “Up Bar” on the mezzanine level or the sake pairings on the main level are what keeps me bringing my friends back.
This neighborhood Sushi +Barbeque spot harmoniously mixes all 5 senses with too many experiences to be had in just one visit!

Union Sushi

230 W Erie St

Chicago IL 60654
(312) 662-4888

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