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

Search This Blog