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Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy is the restaurant and bar critic for Time Out Chicago. She likes (real) dive bars and bread with every meal.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @edible_words.

Articles (16)

The best soups in Chicago

The best soups in Chicago

When the weather outside turns unbearably cold, there’s no better way to warm the belly—or the soul—than with a comforting cup of soup. Chicago’s restaurants offer a diverse range of options, including lemony avgolemono, steaming bowls of pho and plain old fashioned chicken noodle soup. These flavorful broths are made with TLC and come loaded with fresh seafood, grilled steak, huge matzo balls and much more. And you’ll find them all over the city, from Uptown to Chinatown. So whether you’re feeling under the weather or just want to heat your body up, check out our guide to the best soups in Chicago. RECOMMENDED: Discover the best ramen in Chicago

Destination-worthy restaurants where women run the show

Destination-worthy restaurants where women run the show

Initially, I called on the women behind these seven extraordinary restaurants a little sheepishly. Do we really need one more tokenizing roundup of “badass” female restaurant owners and chefs, when many elbowed their way to the table with the sole aim of being judged on their abilities, without asterisks or qualifiers? But as the conversations unfolded, I forgot about that and instead basked in the weight of their achievements—sometimes because or in spite of their gender, though just as often not. I saw the intentional and unforeseen ways being women—and mothers—informs running a business and impacts workplace culture. I absorbed the parallel journeys of Chicanas like Dominica Rice-Cisneros and Black women like Mashama Bailey to internalize the significance of their culinary heritages in an industry that long prized Eurocentric haute cuisine. As Monteverde executive chef-owner Sarah Grueneberg mused: “For so long, [co-owner] Meg [Sahs] and I weren’t really shouting about being a women-run restaurant—we were fighting that ‘cute’ stigma and wanted to just be considered real business leaders and restaurateurs. But I’m so proud. I wouldn't be the same chef if I was male—how I cook and how I think about the history and heart of a dish.” Many of these women arrived on the shoulders of women mentors before them, be they Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters or Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of London’s legendary River Cafe or the matriarchs of their home kitchens. Seeing someone like the

One of Chicago’s best pastry chefs is making THC-laced edibles inspired by her favorite desserts

One of Chicago’s best pastry chefs is making THC-laced edibles inspired by her favorite desserts

Before recreational weed was legalized in Chicago earlier this year, the only edibles we could get our hands on were dodgy pot brownies and stale rice krispies treats with an unsavory, hempy aftertaste. While the rest of us muddled through off-market treats, award-winning Chicago pastry chef Mindy Segal was concocting a line of edibles that would raise the bar. In partnership with local cannabis company Cresco Labs, her dream manifested into Mindy’s Chef Led Artisanal Edibles, a line of THC-infused gummies, hard sweets, chocolates and fruit chews. Rather than invent in a sterile laboratory stocked with flavor extracts, Segal invited the Cresco team to her storied Bucktown restaurant, Mindy’s HotChocolate, where they sat around the time-worn communal table and embarked on a Willy Wonka-style tasting of her favorite desserts, from kiwi-tinged key-lime cheesecake and chocolate-peanut butter brittle to macerated melon sorbet. Eventually, 20 flavors dwindled to six, which the group workshopped into their final gummy forms, featuring a flavorless cannabis distillate and low (5mg) and micro (2mg) doses of THC and CBD—meaning you don’t have to divvy them into 12 pieces, or pop one and pray. “I wanted Cresco to really understand where each flavor comes from, how it began and how my flavor journey happens,” Segal says. “I’m so, so proud of what we created.” Seated at the same table where it all began, I too took the flavor journey through the beloved desserts that inspired these one-of

How Garrett Popcorn became an indisputable Chicago institution

How Garrett Popcorn became an indisputable Chicago institution

The unmistakable aroma of toasty, buttered caramel hits your nostrils on certain Chicago streets—rounding the corner at Ontario and Michigan in Streeterville or emerging from the Blue Line station at Jackson and Dearborn in the Loop. Most locals can promptly identify the intoxicating scent as CaramelCrisp, the flagship flavor of Garrett Popcorn Shops, the beloved confectionary chain that opened in Chicago 70 years ago. Today Garrett is a bonafide popcorn empire, with locations in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Korea, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Malaysia. But to most Chicagoans, the brand is still intrinsically local—the sort of delicacy we proudly tout to out-of-towners. “We make it the exact same way,” says director of consumer engagement Megan Chody, who, with CEO and husband Lance Chody, bought the brand from the Garrett family 13 years ago. “Nothing has changed, and it will not change.” Whenever she’s in one of the brand’s 48 shops, Chody greets customers as they walk through the door, whether they’re from Toronto, Macedonia, Tokyo, Madrid or the Chicago suburbs. As soon as I leave the Michigan Avenue flagship store that day, she’ll host a delegation from China. “What made you come in today?” she asks a man from Charlotte, North Carolina. “This is my first time in Chicago,” he replies. “I was told I had to come here.” Sweet beginnings Garrett opened in the Loop in 1949, but the recipe that launched the brand was born in Milwaukee—the result of a family

The 50 best dishes and drinks in Chicago in 2018

The 50 best dishes and drinks in Chicago in 2018

We’re officially stuffed. Throughout 2018, we sampled our way through some of Chicago’s best restaurants—both newcomers and mainstays—to hunt down knockout dishes and drinks that left us feeling inspired. We ended up with a collection of menu items that is as diverse as the city itself, from lobster dumplings and vegetarian sushi to a surprisingly awesome apple martini and a stack of lemon-blueberry pancakes. Better yet: Most of the dishes and drinks on this year's list ring up under $15. Check out the amazing morsels and tipples that top this year's list and plan your upcoming dining adventures accordingly.

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Desserts

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Desserts

Call us gluttonous, but we'd never pass on dessert. There's something special about capping off a scrumptious meal with a sweet treat—even when we're nearing food-coma territory. Chicago's best pastry chefs whipped up pies, cakes, brownies and tarts that delighted our senses in 2017. But these are a few of the most decadent bites we got our hands (and mouths) on this year. RECOMMENDED: 100 best dishes and drinks 2017

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Entrees

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Entrees

This year, Chicago chefs showed off their skills through a slew of diverse dishes. From January to December, we noshed on pizza, noodles, tamales, tacos and so much more. Along the way, we found some truly spectacular entrees that wowed us. Take a look at the plates that kept us coming back for more in 2017.  RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Appetizers and sides

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Appetizers and sides

We'd argue that appetizers and sides are crucial elements of the quintessential Chicago meal. Ordering small allows diners to order more—something we'll always support. This year, we loved that chefs played around with their deep fryers, creating oil-dappled green tomatoes, massive onion rings and the best fried pickles we've ever had. Don't worry—we tossed in a few healthy-ish options, too. Take a look at the top sides and apps we tasted this year. RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

Chef's Table: AJ Walker

Chef's Table: AJ Walker

AJ Walker, the former sous chef of the Publican, moved down the street last year to hone his butchery craft as chef de cuisine of sister butcher shop/café Publican Quality Meats. When he’s not behind the butcher block, you’ll often find him outside with a daiquiri or (after a particularly long shift) a shot and a beer. We checked in with him to find out his top picks for eating al fresco, spots for new and classic Chicago dining, plus a few tips on what to grill this summer. Favorite patio spots: When Walker is off the clock, you’re likely to find him at Costa Rican BYOB favorite Irazú in Bucktown. Other favorite al fresco picks include Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Logan Square for fried fish and fowl and outdoor ping-pong; Matchbox in West Town for the margarita with powdered-sugar rim; and La Sirena Clandestina for Latin American eats and stiff drinks.  Trying something new: Walker suggests hitting up Pub Royale for inspiring bar food done at a high level. In the mood for old-school: Shaw’s Crab House, River North. “It hasn’t changed in 30 years,” Walker says. The chef loves the restaurant’s stalwart dishes, from massive seafood towers and classic Caesar salad to king crab legs with a side of creamed spinach and hash browns. Grilling tips: Walker’s current favorite grilling cuts are beef flap steak and pork coppa, which both benefit from hot, fast cooking, he says. “Flap steak is good as is—salt, pepper and maybe porcini powder to add a little depth,” while a pork coppa chop

Chef's Table: Iliana Regan

Chef's Table: Iliana Regan

When the chef-owner of Michelin- starred Elizabeth, Bunny, the Micro Bakery and the in-progress Kitsune, a casual Japanese spot in Lincoln Square goes out, it’s often to an old favorite. “On a day off, I'm usually with my partner and we visit a restaurant we haven't been to before,” she says. “We try to think of ones that have been around awhile rather than hitting all the new places. One of our last date nights in the city was at Boka, and it was great.” Most of the time, she slurps down bowls of her mom’s weekly batches of homemade soup, like miso, mushroom and tofu. But for her other favorite picks, check out the other places the star restaurateur and Midwest forager extraordinaire likes, including hot dogs from Home Depot. In Andersonville: You’ll find her at Anteprima for the octopus salad appetizer or fresh pasta; the mostly vegetarian Kopi A Travelers Cafe for breakfast; and Sabor a Cafe for empanadas. Outside the 'hood: She goes to Strings Ramen for ramen and rice tea bowls; the food court at King Spa & Sauna for authentic Korean; Lazo’s Tacos in Bucktown for tacos; Au Cheval for a burger; Katsu in West Rogers Park for sushi; and, yes, Home Depot for hot dogs. Favorite old school, classic Chicago spot: “I love Lou Malnati’s—great deep dish,” she says. “Sausage and giardiniera is my favorite.” Favorite newer restaurant: MFK “for the ceviche or fish collar,” she says. For a pick-me-up: “I drink coffee in the morning and tea in the evening,” says Regan. “In the eveni

New Year's Day brunches and hangover cures

New Year's Day brunches and hangover cures

We all strive to begin a brand-new year in a positive way, but unfortunately, hungover is often the first thing many of us feel on January 1. If you find yourself suffering from the aftereffects of bidding 2015 farewell, drag yourself out of those pajamas (or maybe stay in them, no judgment here) for one of these 10 deep-fried, sauce-smothered, detoxing, caffeinated or hair-of-the-dog hangover cures, with Bloody Marys, eggs benedict and more. You can worry about those New Year’s resolutions on January 2. RECOMMENDED: New Year's Eve Chicago

Chef's Table: Rick Bayless

Chef's Table: Rick Bayless

With his Cruz Blanca brewpub set to open in the West Loop next spring, chef Rick Bayless continues to show us why he’s one of the city’s hardest-working chefs. When he’s not brewing cervezas, helming one of his Mexican restaurant concepts, including Frontera Grill, Xoco and Topolobampo, teaching Mexican cooking on TV or appearing at one of countless events each year around the country, his favorite place to be is his home kitchen. “I don’t get out as much as people probably think I do,” he says. “I love to cook at home. Nearly every Sunday, I visit the Wicker Park Farmers Market and bring back ingredients for brunch.” When he does dine out, he often craves Asian cuisine, but he also knows where to get his fill of the city’s best authentic Mexican. Check out his Pilsen pick for mouthwatering carnitas, along with his favorite time-honored and new Chicago eateries—and where he stands on tequila versus its smokier cousin mezcal. Authentic Mexican: Don Pedro Carnitas in Pilsen for “real-deal” carnitas. “They are just so amazingly, unapologetically juicy and crispy,” he says. “Wrap the carnitas in a fresh tortilla, spoon a little salsa on there, and you can see why I get so excited.” New restaurant: Momotaro in the West Loop, which is “doing some amazing things with Japanese cuisine;” and Parachute in Avondale, for “turning people on to the wonders of Korean food,” he says.  Longtime Chicago haunt: Margie’s Candies for homemade ice cream “because it’s just so quaint and charming.”

Listings and reviews (55)

Bokeh

Bokeh

3 out of 5 stars

“Did it just get darker in here?” asked my date as we squinted at our menus in contemplation of our second round of drinks at Bokeh, a moody new cocktail den in Albany Park. It was entirely possible, as we seemed a few blown-out votives away from total darkness. Aside from the pesky matter of deciphering the menu (“Does that actually say cabbage simple syrup?”), we appreciated the flickering, low light of this sexy bar that fills a void for laid-back late-night watering holes near Kedzie and Lawrence. Named for a Japanese term that describes the quality of the blurry parts of a photograph, Bokeh is the debut solo venture of former professional photographer and hospitality vet Rick Weber. An understated photography theme permeates the bar’s design and 10 signature cocktails, with kitschy names like Lens Flare, Crop Factor and Aperture. Weber’s professional background may also explain why each cocktail (dreamed up with help from lead bartender Noah Kort) drinks like seeing something familiar from a brand-new angle. The namesake Bokeh elevates Fernet-Branca to a starring role in a minty, frothy suppressor sour with lemon and lime juices. Perhaps my favorite sipper, the Focal Length, pairs vegetal mezcal with tart and jammy cherry liqueur, a wine-based aperitif and grapefruit juice; a splash of cava lightens the load, lending the drink a lovely fuzzy texture. Two regulars posted up at the bar lamented the imminent phaseout of the Depth of Field, a surprisingly good cabbagey gimle

Gaijin

Gaijin

4 out of 5 stars

When I was 26 years old, I indulged in a life-changing bowl of bucatini carbonara made by chef Todd Stein at now-shuttered Cibo Matto in the Wit hotel. Ever since then, I’ve labored obsessively in my home kitchen to recreate the perfect alchemy of fat, salt, chew and heat. After a decade of tinkering, I now claim a derivative sliver of this Roman classic, though I’m not even 1 percent Italian. Questions of ownership and origin become more profound when someone opens a business aiming to profit off of said recipes—a thought that lingered in my mind when I dined at Gaijin, the new Japanese-inspired West Loop restaurant from white chef-owner Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro and bygone Perennial Virant). The focus at this bustling newcomer is okonomiyaki—savory Japanese pancakes crammed full of meat and vegetables and strewn with flavorful sauces. Virant’s wife fell in love with this Osaka-born comfort food while living in Japan as a student, and the chef has spent the past 25 years perfecting home-cooked iterations through his seasonal Midwestern lens. Virant playfully acknowledges that his take is at best that of an enamored outsider—the name Gaijin means “foreigner” in Japanese. “The deeper sentiment is that we’re doing something that’s a super-popular comfort dish in Japan—a place where people really have a reverence for their food and culture,” Virant told me. “Out of respect for them, we’re trying to do it as best we can.” Gaijin slings two expert versions of okonomiyaki that top o

Outside Voices

Outside Voices

4 out of 5 stars

For a long time, the neighborhood joint and wine bar felt like opposing ideals. By definition, the corner bar—with its cheap draughts and worn-in look—is built on approachability, while wine bars historically seemed to ooze with pretense, reserved for those fluent in vino classification tables. Thanks to inviting spots like Rootstock, Income Tax and Red & White, Chicago’s wine scene has grown more inclusive for those of us who don’t know much about the stuff beyond the fact that we like drinking it. New Logan Square watering hole Outside Voices takes that mission a step further, blurring the lines between the neighborhood tavern and a proper wine bar. This delightful storefront is sandwiched between two other beloved spots from the same owners—gin-focused cocktail den Scofflaw and sporty pub the Moonlighter. Like its siblings, vino-centric Outside Voices leans pricier than your everyday pub, but the vibe is unmistakably no fuss. Led by beverage manager Davis Sayer, the bar mostly eschews the pretense that often comes with wine—and not just because the staff has an affinity for flannel button-downs and playing Heart on vinyl. You feel it within 15 seconds of sidling up to the bar to peruse the menu. Rather than putting the onus on the drinker to decide on a style (Whites from France? Cabernets?), the daily-changing menu of whites, reds, rosés and orange, and bubbles focuses on individual flavors and textures in each of the 20-odd available wines. Bartenders take a similar tact

Tzuco

Tzuco

5 out of 5 stars

Beyond the whole eating-for-survival thing, what endears so many of us to food on a deeper level is its ability to tell a story. In Tzuco’s quenching ceviche verde, for example, you can almost taste pure, cold Pacific Ocean in pearlescent slivers of hamachi, which are paired with three expressions of cactus, a plant that thrives in the most unforgiving locales. The prickly flora is served cured, iced and juiced with mint, lime and a whisper of serrano chile. Together, the elements sing of Mexico’s varied bounty. Each bite I savored at Tzuco seemed to smack of deeper meaning, sparking curiosity about the storied place that inspired this restaurant and its name, along with its famed chef/owner who has roared back into Chicago’s dining scene following an 18-month hiatus. Chef Carlos Gaytán hails from Huitzuco, a town in southwestern Mexico aptly named for the Nahuatl word “huixochin,” meaning plants with abundant thorns. When he was 20 years old, he came to the U.S. on a borrowed passport and worked his way up from dishwasher and cook to eventual chef/owner of Mexique, his French-infused Mexican restaurant that helped make him the first Mexican-born chef to receive a Michelin star. Vowing he’d be back again one day, Gaytán closed the award-winning destination in 2018 and left town to open a restaurant in Playa del Carmen. He made his triumphant return late last year with three eateries that showcase the breadth of Mexican gastronomy. Commanding the entire southwest corner of Sup

Papa Cenar

Papa Cenar

3 out of 5 stars

Spanish restaurants are having a moment in Chicago, with the openings of Barcelona-style Boqueria, Galician-Portuguese Porto and famed chef José Andrés’s forthcoming Jaleo all bringing tastes of the Iberian Peninsula to the Third Coast. Papa Cenar, the newish Logan Square tapas joint that overtook bygone Twain, is not a Spanish restaurant per se, as a waiter dutifully corrected me on a recent visit. Restaurateur Branko Palikuca (the Dawson) takes inspiration from the whole of the Mediterranean, resulting in a varied menu that wants to be something for everyone. The results are promising but at times muddled. Walking to our seats on a recent Thursday night, the vastness of the space (an auto-body shop in a past life) felt disquietingly amplified with just a handful of diners inside. As we contemplated the menu, our waiter deposited toasted bread with bracing, freshly grated tomato for smearing, which we washed down with a round of food-loving cocktails. My date’s classic Gin & Tonic quenched with a bright, herbaceous edge thanks to housemade tonic. I sipped the restaurant’s elegant take on the sherry-based Bamboo cocktail, which subbed cocchi americano for vermouth, imparting bittersweet citrus notes on the amontillado sherry’s woody profile. It went down pleasingly with the farmer squash pisto, a compendium of roasted winter gourds accented with pumpkin seeds, goat cheese and pickled peppers on a velvety bed of puréed squash. A tidy row of earthy, rich albóndigas (beef, pork

Butterdough

Butterdough

4 out of 5 stars

Dough, butter, dough, butter: The meticulous technique known as lamination folds together even layers of chilled butter and dough to achieve perfectly flaky croissants and breakfast pastries. At McKinley Park bakery Butterdough, these disciplined efforts result in pastries that are as delicious as they are visually stunning. The symmetrical spiral of pain au chocolat crackles beneath your teeth to reveal a dark chocolate core. A crown-shaped kouign-amann sports burnished, sugar-coated edges that hide a tender, buttery center. What’s lovelier still is Butterdough’s traditional European- and Mexican-inspired baked delights result from the labor of self-taught brothers and co-owners Lalo and Uva Leon. They debuted their bakery and coffee shop this summer after spending more than two years honing their craft and selling wholesale and at farmers’ markets. The inconspicuous storefront sits just north of 35th Street, on a boulevardy stretch of Western Avenue, where trucks whiz by in a shudder of exhaust and wind. Inside, the gray-washed space with squat, lacquered-wood stools features colorful acrylic paintings by South Side artist Erick Alvarez. But my eyes almost instantly trained on the display case heaped with the day’s baked bounty. Butterdough’s savory offerings comprise several breakfast and lunch sandwiches, sautéed dishes and a salad. In the breakfast sandwich, hard-scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon and melty cheddar osmose into springy, mildly tangy multigrain bread. I dabbe

Perilla

Perilla

4 out of 5 stars

How do you evolve a beloved cuisine without dispatching the tried-and-true traditions worth keeping? The answer may live at the bottom of Perilla’s brussels sprouts, which hit my palate with so many textures and levels of umami that I had to reexamine the vegetable I’d largely written off. Laced with anchovy paste, nutty brown butter, Parmesan and crunchy garlic chips, each bite was a delicious collision of a chef’s Midwestern training and his first-generation Korean-American upbringing. At this genial River West eatery, chef-partner Andrew Lim (The Bristol, City Rock) and partner-GM Tom Oh (Lettuce Entertain You) affably nudge us toward the cheffier side of Korean barbecue. Leading the pack is succulent LA galbi, a thin chain of short ribs cut crosswise, popularized by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles, which you cook yourself on inset table grills. There’s also marbled wagyu strip and tender Berkshire pork belly, plus appetizers like the delicate wagyu tartare with Korean pear, mustard seeds and pine nuts—framed with perilla (shiso) leaves. This being my date’s first-ever Korean barbecue experience, we stuck mostly to tradition. Tangy kimchi pancakes were at once crunchy and chewy, and fried pork dumplings’ bubbly-edged wrappers teemed with juicy pork. Steamed egg, a traditional custard banchan, erupted from its earthenware cauldron like a souffle made of sunshine—the eggs’ richness deepened with salinic beef dashi and a drizzle of sesame oil. Oh returned with the LA galbi,

Wherewithall

Wherewithall

5 out of 5 stars

Chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim are no strangers to chaos. Parents to three young kids and now two always-packed Avondale restaurants, the real-life couple seemingly thrives on fumes. It’s fitting, then, that the muse for their latest opening is unpredictability itself. At Wherewithall, their followup to award-winning Parachute, Clark and Kim serve a set four-course menu for $65. The catch? The lineup changes every night—a breathless trust exercise in which everyone, from cooks to servers to purveyors, assembles the very best of that day’s bounty and makes it shine. “It’s cooking on a whim,” says Clark. “Every day is an experimentation, but the No. 1 factor is seasonality.” Before the official first course arrived, a parade of bite-sized morsels was deposited at our table: fried cubes of za’atar-dusted local grits in summery saffron-tomato sauce followed by a pair of singed Chinese broccoli stems dunked in a cool cloud of Pleasant Ridge cream. My date and I chased the nibbles with an icy, lemon-tinged absinthe frappe and a classically bittersweet Americano. The tasting menu began in earnest with a shallow dish of soft, butter-cooked baby potatoes submerged in crème fraîche flecked with celery, which tasted like posh sour cream and onion chips. A three-bite cut of roasted monkfish draped in thin lemon slices was plated in a glossy, ink-black pool of dried kalamata olives blitzed in olive oil, alongside a dollop of whipped eggplant—a synthesis of pure Mediterranean umami. Va

Tortello

Tortello

Chicago is in the throes of a pasta revolution. Though the lure of bottomless bowls at bargain-basement prices will always hold a special place in our hearts, restaurants like Daisies, Osteria Langhe and Monteverde have converted us to delicate, handmade noodles so special that we don’t mind paying a premium for smaller portion sizes.  Tortello, a new fast-casual pastificio in Wicker Park, is the latest to join the ranks of these next-gen Italian-American greats. Where this restaurant falls short for me is in creating a relaxed, comfortable environment in which to fully appreciate those hefty price tags. Then again, the crush of diners on a recent Monday night suggests I might be alone. Husband-and-wife owners Dario Monni (an Italian expat) and Jill Gray (a Chicago native) were serious enough about creating a haven for premium pasta that they recruited master sfoglina Lilla Simone to train the staff on two recipes: one comprising imported Italian flour and water (for shapes like bucatini and lumache), the other with the addition of Wisconsin-raised eggs (for filled varieties and tagliatelle). Under the watchful eye of executive chef Duncan Biddulph (Lula Cafe, Rootstock), simple, well-seasoned sauces bring each dish to life. The sunny shop draws in passerbys thanks to its picturesque front window, which frames one of two sfoglini studiously kneading and shaping noodles. On a recent Monday night, I arrived minutes before the commuter rush descended. The bright, white-tiled spa

Carol’s Pub

Carol’s Pub

4 out of 5 stars

The last time I went to Carol’s Pub—before it closed in 2016 due to tax debt—was a Friday night in the dead of winter. The place was packed from wall to wall, and I drank Old Style and whiskey shots while shouting to my dates over warbling honky-tonk covers of Johnny Cash and Sara Evans by the bar’s legendary house band, Diamondback. I awoke the next morning in a haze, with old-bar smell on my hair and the bottom of my purse sticky from the floor. When I heard last year that Ed Warm (a partner at Joe’s on Weed Street and Bub City) was resurrecting this 45-year-old Uptown fixture, my first instinct was to proclaim the second death knell of another beloved watering hole.  But if corner bars are indeed a dying breed in Chicago, what’s the protocol for fixing one up while keeping its soul intact? I’d argue Warm comes damn close. “It was tough. There was a lot of work to do and I'm very conscious that this is one of the last—if not the last—honky tonk left,” he told me. “We had some people saying we ruined it by fixing it up. My answer to them is if we didn't fix it up to code, it would be condos by now.” Warm added a new sound system and took out a few seats along the west wall, replacing them with a sound booth. Carol’s also sports a brand-new bar and draught line, a modern jukebox and refurbished bathrooms. Crews rebuilt a crumbling wall and added bay windows that swing open to Clark Street, which were flung wide when I arrived with a friend on a late-summer evening. The old wi

Café Cancale

Café Cancale

4 out of 5 stars

I’ve only been to France once, when I spent a few days in Paris in 2015. All it took was a single apéritif at a café in the historic Marais district for me to fall in love with the French approach to everyday dining—the inviting storefronts, the tin-print ceilings smudged with decades of cigarette smoke and the honest cooking served on no-frills plates. This intoxicatingly egalitarian vibe is immortalized in framed old photographs near the entrance of Café Cancale and homaged through its nautical-lite decor and deliciously simple cooking. Perched at the elegant zinc bar awaiting my date, I envisioned Cancale similarly aging into what it’s supposed to be, even as it sits on the fast-corporatizing intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen Avenues. This Wicker Park eatery lived several lives before assuming its inviting current form. Most recently it was One Off Hospitality’s Publican Anker, a moody pub that served a lengthy beer list and a fantastic burger from chef de cuisine AJ Walker. Anker called it quits earlier this year, but Walker stayed on and seems right at home cooking pricey, unfettered French fare starring expertly cooked seafood.  A jewel-like quenelle of trout tartare with buttery brioche toast arrived first. Its succulent, coral flesh—lightly redolent of horseradish and cucumber—was a blissful study in subtlety, washed down with Mirth in the Afternoon, an understated sparkling wine cocktail mixed with absinthe, anise-flavored liqueur, lemon and fruity Pineau de

Cabra

Cabra

3 out of 5 stars

I can almost feel myself aging when I launch into stories about how certain Chicago neighborhoods used to be: the low-slung three flats of Nelson Algren’s pre-bro Wicker Park and the looming meatpacking vestiges of the West Loop, where the scent of animal carcasses was heavy on the air. In the case of the West Loop, the displacement affected more workers than residents—as developers descended, buying out wholesalers and leveling their warehouses to make way for luxury hotels, eateries and glassy apartment and office buildings. There’s plenty to like in the new West Loop. Take the Hoxton hotel, a stylish London import with 182 rooms, a coworking space and a powerhouse food and beverage program: Stephanie Izard’s Peruvian-inspired Cabra; Chris Pandel’s lovely all-day Mediterranean eatery, Cira; and Lazy Bird, the sultry subterranean cocktail bar pouring excellent vintage cocktails from Lee Zaremba. Situated 12 floors above the hotel’s inviting, mid-century modern lobby, Cabra’s sprawling, partially enclosed digs unfurl before a backdrop of sweeping city views. The space is outfitted with high- and low-top tables, cozy couches and poolside loungers—all accented by climbing plants, tasteful wicker and colorful tile. Unfortunately, the pool comes at the price of glass drinkware, though a more refined vessel couldn’t have helped my date’s diluted Malambo #5, a lemongrass and aged rum tonic with a muted whisper of passionfruit purée. Nor could it have added the acidity I longed for

News (3)

Two Chinatown food startups spring to life on social media in the shadow of COVID-19

Two Chinatown food startups spring to life on social media in the shadow of COVID-19

If you ask Henry Cai, the chef behind takeout startup @3LittlePigsChi, to divulge how he prepares his char siu-style Chinese barbecue pork, he smiles and hesitates—visibly conflicted between safeguarding a treasured recipe and disappointing you. Cai’s barbecue pork is succulent and satisfyingly toothsome, glossed in sticky-sweet sauce with tang and warming depth. He learned how to make it from his dad, an immigrant from Guangzhou, in Southern China, and chef turned jeweler who in turn learned from a Chinese si fu (master). “Chinese cooks my dad’s age (he’s 68) are really protective of recipes; my mom doesn’t even know how he makes it,” Cai tells me. With that he relents, just a little. “Traditionally, Chinese pork is more dry. I add more sauce, because that’s how I like it, and that’s how Americans eat barbecue.” Cai was scouting locations to open a Chinese barbecue restaurant around his native Bridgeport when COVID-19 ground those plans to a halt. Not long before, he’d started posting pictures on Instagram of his scratch-made dishes under the @3LittlePigsChi moniker. “My friends were like, ‘Lemme get an order—I’ll pay for it,’” he says. “Some friends, without permission, started telling people, ‘My buddy is doing this.’ Then suddenly, random people started messaging me for orders.” Thanks to ever-sleuthing food writer Titus Pullo, I became one of those random people, DMing a stranger for a pound of lacquered pork nubs and 10 juicy pork potstickers with thick, chewy wrappers

A pint-sized beer exhibit at the Field Museum explores Chicago’s thirsty origins

A pint-sized beer exhibit at the Field Museum explores Chicago’s thirsty origins

In 1855 Levi Boone, the anti-immigrant, pro-temperance mayor of a nascent Chicago, tried to leverage his power against a growing German population by going after their right to drink. He ordered police to enforce an old law requiring taverns to be closed on Sundays, a move that would disproportionately impact immigrants, who worked Monday through Saturday and (surprise) liked to throw back a few steins on their sole day off. He also jacked up liquor license fees from $50 per year to $300 a quarter, threatening to drive the city’s mostly German- and Irish-owned saloons out of business. Hundreds of tavern owners defied the law by remaining open on Sunday and were arrested. The day of their scheduled mass trial, some 1,000 protestors marched downtown, prompting Boone to call in militia reinforcements. A fight broke out between protestors and police, leaving one German man dead. A disgraced Boone was forced to release the prisoners and lower liquor license fees, and his weakened party didn’t run for re-election in 1856. Thanks in part to German voter turnout, a statewide prohibition referendum failed, leaving citizens to enjoy a drink as they pleased and helping a marginalized group claim a place in the growing, diversifying city. From this earliest instance of civil unrest known as the 1855 Lager Beer Riot, which laid the groundwork for Chicago’s rough-and-tumble politics, to the 19th century brewery-induced building boom that would establish the city as an architectural powerho

Doors Open Dishes pairs Chicago chefs with special-needs individuals to craft inspired bites

Doors Open Dishes pairs Chicago chefs with special-needs individuals to craft inspired bites

Chicago food writer Nicole Schnitzler has watched her brother Daniel make his favorite meal dozens of times. He fills the same pink Tupperware bowl with frozen corn, peas and carrots from the bag, adds a flurry of Kraft Parmesan cheese, then digs in while it’s still frosty. Daniel, who’s 42, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. “All his life, Daniel—like myself— has loved and embraced food, even though in many ways we have really different tastes,” says Schnitzler. “One day, I’m in the kitchen watching him make this, and it dawns on me: I bet a chef could make a dish inspired by this that I’d find really delicious.” Motivated by the state’s budget impasse, which threatened the main funding source for the residential and training programs Daniel counts on, Schnitzler founded Doors Open Dishes. The organization partners with Chicago chefs to create menu items inspired by the comfort foods of people with disabilities, donating part of the proceeds to an organization that supports the featured individual. DOD kicks off this month at Cindy’s, inside the Chicago Athletic Association, where executive chef Christian Ragano showcases crispy chicken milanesa with Texas caviar (barbecued beans with still-crunchy corn, fresh peas and carrots), local sweet-corn pudding and smoked ramp vinaigrette, inspired by Daniel. Cindy's executive chef Christian Ragano, Photograph: Jason Little “Daniel’s fantastic—so bubbly and very decisive about what he likes to eat,” says Ragano. “He loves fr

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