The Spanish Square’s got some of the real stuff

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Amontillado sherry and tuna-stuffed pepper
Amontillado sherry, marcona almonds and tuna-stuffed pepper at The Spanish Square

Spain is divided into several regions and each one has a multitude of cultural and culinary icons, from bullfights and seafood paella in Madrid to various Freixenet wineries and jamon-with-everything around Barcelona. The Spanish Square tapas bar and restaurant and retail shop at 1358 W. Belmont brings genuine recipes to Chicago and lovely hand-painted pottery, as well as a wide array of regional specialties in jars, cans and boxes, including a selection of wonderful Spanish olives and olive oils. The space is light with clean lines and comfortable seating at tables and at the bar. The menu reflects authentic Spanish tastes, and the restaurant features special prices on paella every Wednesday.

Spanish Square goodies for sale
Spanish Square goodies for sale
Freixenet makes great cava
Freixenet makes great cava

 

 

 

 

 

I remember the taste of the marcona almonds – warm and freshly roasted and lightly dusted with salt – on the flight back from Barcelona recently. The Spanish Square has them for sale in containers. And, though they did offer several sherries (the owner’s a big fan) and a couple of Spanish cavas, I was sorry I couldn’t order a glass of any of Freixenet’s lovely cavas or other wines. Hopefully one day soon, the retaurant will remedy that situation. Meanwhile you can pick some up at your local beverage store.

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5 cool brunch places in Chicago

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English: Both the largest and the meatiest blo...
English: Both the largest and the meatiest bloody mary I’ve ever had. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicagoans take their brunch very seriously, so it’s no surprise that one of the city’s prolific hospitality firms, Four Corners Tavern Group, is behind some of the most playful and delectable offerings. Their brunch menus offer creative fare and superior service in relaxed, yet lively surroundings. From music to munchies, you’re bound to find something to love in one of these neighborhood concepts.

 

Benchmark (1510 N Wells) in Old Town retracts the patio roof when the weather’s right. Their brunch goes for $35 per person with a $15 unlimited mimosa package (served Saturdays 10am to 2pm) features all-you-can-eat food stations like a carving station, plates of smoked brisket, the famed Doughnut Vault tower, a seafood tower, a sinfully-sweet waffle bar; and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar

Hurry on out to Gaslight Bar & Grille’s (2450 N Clark) rustic beer garden with communal tables. Only until September 30 they’ve got brunch specials on offer the first Saturday and Sunday of each month (11 am to 2pm) and include Chicken & Waffles with organic honey, Nueske’s bacon and fresh fruit ($10), Biscuit Sliders with scrambled egg, cheese and a side of tater tots ($9), a Mimosa package ($10); Bloody Marys ($8); and Trop Bombs ($5).

WestEnd (1326 W Madison) puts out brunch in an expansive sports bar atmosphere. Feast on $10 brunch specials like Chorizo Sloppy Joe with Texas toast, poached egg, cilantro, avocado and a side of house chips and French Toast Sticks served with whipped cream, powdered sugar, bourbon pale syrup and Fireball-infused crème anglaise. Build-your-own Moscow Mule Bar ($10); unlimited mimosa package ($15); and cheeky beverages such as the insta-worthy Cupcake Shot ($5) out on one of the two dog-friendly sidewalk cafes or inside the new, enhanced game room.

Fremont (15 W Illinois).  Think Vegas with this version of Sin City’s legendary over-the-top buffet ($35 per person with a $15 unlimited mimosa package). The distinct social dining experience can take you well into the night if you so desre. DJs spin top hits throughout the bi-level, sleek and chic space with retractable roof. Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10am, reservations recommended. The unlimited assortment includes carving station, Doughnut Vault tower, omelet station, seafood tower, waffle bar with extravagant accoutrements, and a DIY Bloody Mary bar with fun surprises,

Weekend brunch at SteakBar
Weekend brunch at SteakBar

SteakBar (1500 N Wells). This dining-to-nightlife hotspot, introduced brunch service every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3pm. Elevated breakfast options include:

  • Steak & Eggs with succulent skirt steak, roasted tomato and sunny side up eggs ($20)
  • Scramble made from farm eggs, crème fraiche, avocado and chives, served aside Texas toast ($11)
  • Avocado Toast, a popular choice with crushed avocado, cherry tomatoes and radish atop toasted multigrain ($11).
  • Unlimited mimosa package ($15) is also available with purchase of a dish.
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Chicago meets Mullan Road Cellars at Swift and Sons

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Dennis Cakebread for Mullan Road Cellars
Dennis Cakebread for Mullan Road Cellars

It’s unusual to find a winemaker – someone whose name is already associated with a justly famous brand – setting out to create another completely different brand. But Dennis Cakebread, long associated with his namesake wine brand Cakebread Cellars, came to Chicago recently to introduce and promote his new wine brand, Mullan Road Cellars out of the Columbia Valley, WA area.

Dennis undertook to showcase his new products at hot new restaurant location, Swift and Sons, 1000 W. Fulton Market in West Loop. This Boka Group affiliate undertook to open for lunch – they don’t usually – to help Dennis Cakebread showcase his new wines along with a few from Cakebread. Dennis takes a warm and folksy approach to touting his products; it was a pleasure hearing his stories about the winemaking life.
The Cakebread Chardonnay a 2014, a 4-star beauty, went perfectly with the butter-poached king crab leg set off with a dribble of miso sauce and a slice of preserved lemon.
Then came a couple of slices of roast chicken – gorgeously succulent and tender – with succotash and bacon lardons, served with an extraordinarily lovely Pinot Noir from Cakebread. We give a rare 5-star rating to this Two Creeks Pinot Noir 2014. The wine is available retail at around $40 and, for the times you choose to spend that much for a bottle of wine, this would be a great one to invest in.
Mullan Road Cellars red blends 2012 and 2013
Mullan Road Cellars red blends 2012 and 2013

Next, a narrow but thick slice of medium-rare, firm-textured rib roast came out accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms in a bordelaise sauce. For this course Dennis presented two Mullan Road Cellars reds blends, from 2012 and 2013. Their typical  blend is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  The 2012 was delightful; Wine Spectator gives it 90. The 2013 tasted somewhat tart at first, but smoothed out after it breathed for a while. It’s certainly a wine worth watching. Both vintages are on the market at a retail price of around $45, give or take.

Those who stayed to sample the Blackbottom Pudding dessert – multiple layers of black cocoa crumble, baked dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate pudding and white chocolate sorbet – raved about it afterwards. From the description, that dessert alone sounds like enough incentive for another trip to Swift & Sons.
Mullan Road Cellars’ biggest distribution for export so far is in Canada, with the Caribean second in line, then Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Look for more from this brand. And Swift and Sons did a stellar job with the pairings to create a memorable occasion.
Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area
Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area

P.S. Might want to try the bar, too. Cold Storage, attached to the Swift and Sons’ space, offers appetizers, entrees, and a nice-looking seafood station along with a full bar.

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Hassle-free August holidays with Grillo Sicilian white

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Crisp white Grillo is perfect for picnics
Crisp white Grillo is perfect for picnics

August is the beginning of the end of summer, but it’s still a month full of holidays.  One of them is Single Working Women’s Week (this year July 31 to August 6). This holiday gives single working women a chance to get together and officially celebrate their unique contributions to the world. And what better way to do that than a picnic! August is also National Picnic Month – dedicated to the joys of coming together with friends and family. Everybody loves a picnic, but it sure can be a lot of work. Try something new this year by hosting a picnic potluck. It’s a great way to cut down on prep work and save money while spending time with friends.  Here’s a suggested task list:

  • Someone bring the wine
  • Someone bring the cheese-cracker-salumi plate
  • Someone bring fresh fruit or a seasonal vegetable/salad
  • Someone bring the main dish
  • Someone bring the blankets and music
  • Someone bring extra wine

You will not go wrong for your summer picnics by choosing a crisp Sicilian white wine. Grillo, for example, which is blended with the Catarratto grape that’s native to Sicily makes the perfect addition to your spread for under $20. Its unique flavor pairs with any cheese or summer fruit. Read all about Grillo and other lovely WinesofSicily.com.

Elegant for dinner, great for Chicago rooftops
Elegant for dinner, great for Chicago rooftops
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Rosebud Prime now serving breakfast

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Rosebud Prime serves breakfast on the patio
Rosebud Prime serves breakfast on the patio

Tucked into two floors of a beautiful building at 1 S. Dearborn, Rosebud Prime‘s entrance is set off from the street and sidewalk by an elegant patio and a sculpted garden of lovely trees. Charming red umbrellas and crisp white tablecloths look dramatic and inviting – even from across the street – and strongly suggest you’ll be treated royally when you pull up a chair outside. The many small trees give the patio a sense of privacy that’s amazing in the middle of downtown Chicago. Inside the restaurant, it’s all warm wood and comfortable elegance.

Known as a power lunch location, Rosebud Prime is famous for its steaks and seafood specialties. And now they’re making it even easier to spend time with them; they recently introduced a menu of delightful breakfast items. Many are unique to Chef Anthony Reyes, including items like oatmeal brulee served with cream and dried fruits, vanilla crunch French toast made with his mother’s secret ingredient, crabcake Benedict, a yogurt-granola parfait made with super-creamy Greek yogurt from the hands of a friend-of-the-owner’s-family, and more. Chef shows his passion in Rosebud Prime’s lunch and dinner menus, and the new breakfast menu is no exception. Of course, you can also simply enjoy a fresh croissant or bagel and freshly brewed coffee if you like a smaller morning meal.

Powermongers, here’s a classy new place to have breakfast meetings. And come, all ye ordinary citizens, too. and find yourself comfortable and catered to in this prime location restaurant. Caution: If you’re looking for nouvelle cuisine, fuhgeddaboutit. These are Italian people putting good food on the table, and they do it with gusto.

The restaurant provided a meal to facilitate this review. Opinions are strictly those of the writer.
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Examiner.com shuts down after 8 years – but never fear

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After eight years, Examiner.com, one of the biggest online citizen journalist websites with 47 million unique visitors each month, has shut down operations.

Whatever else happens, links from hundreds of thousands of articles and photographs will be broken. Thousands of Twitter feeds will suddenly look like bomb-ravaged fields – littered with empty craters (photos) and dead bodies (links). [Update: 7/26/16 Instead of leaving thousands of dead links in all social media platforms, Examiner.com has chosen instead to insert links to its own new entertainment portal. It’s probably legal, but it’s a shabby thing to embarrass your long-term, loyal contributors by making their links no longer go where they were meant to.]

So if you were a subscriber to our blog columns on Examiner.com, fear not. Now you can re-subscribe to that content at ChicagoRestaurantExaminer.com or ChicagoLadyBoomerExaminer.com.

In case you’d like to re-link to one or more of the pieces of content you found there, we’re working diligently to get all the articles from those two columns re-published on the new sites.

Contact us via the form below if you have questions or would like to be notified when a specific post is uploaded to the new sites. Thanks for reading!

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Southport news – free summer art festival and fall restaurant opening

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This July 16-17 from 10am-5pm, more than 75 of the city’s most diverse artists will show off their creations at the Southport Art Festival. You’ll see works in oil, acrylic, watercolor, jewelry, sculpture, photography, glass and mixed media. from photographers and abstract painters to live art demonstrations and booth chats with the artists. New this year the festival will be FREE to attend. That’s right free!

Beautiful art at Southport Art Festival like this ring by Devin Johnson
Beautiful art at Southport Art Festival like this ring by Devin Johnson
From  live music performances by to tasty treats from restaurants in the Southport Corridor area will be serving up summer favorites. and interactive art-filled experiences. The Southport Art Festival creates a creative spirit into Chicago’s fun, funky and hip Southport Corridor.
Beyond the head-turning tunes and palate-pleasing cuisine, festival-goers will have the opportunity to corral their creativity by contributing to a freestanding graffiti wall. Children can also enjoy  the youth art tent where they will be able to make clay masterpieces, color art themed coloring pages to take home. There will also be a kids carnival taking place at the festival as well, where kids can go on rides and play carnival games.

Come September, you can check out Tuco & Blondie, a Mexican spot with an American flair in Lakeview (3358 N Southport Ave). It’s 4 Star Restaurant Group‘s tenth Chicago restaurant.

“If you’re hungry, chow down. If you’re thirsty, drink up. We’ll have room for all,” said 4 Star Restaurant Group partner Josh Rutherford.  “From a walk up indoor patio for grub with a view to a lively outdoor back patio scene, it’s bound to be a good time!”
It’s big, with 3,000 square feet inside and 3,000 outside, but the 250-seat Tuco & Blondie is meant to be arelaxed place where families or groups of friends can linger and laugh over drinks and a meal cooked in Chef Stein’s scratch kitchen.  Like the movie that inspired the name – Clint Eastwood’s landmark film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Editor’s note: Do NOT watch the edited-for-television version of this movie; get only the uncut original) – Tuco & Blondie aspires to be an original classic.
Inside, exposed brick walls, an inviting bar and pops of color throughout welcome guests  Outside, the bodega features a brick fireplace,an engaging courtyard and other fun aspects that will keep patrons coming back.

Planned menu highlights range from signature fajitas to what Chef Stein swears will be the “best chicken salad you will ever eat (to be named later)!”  Hand-crafted cocktails inspired by The Good, The Bad and the Ugly…

“The Man with No Name,” “Angel Eyes,” and the “One-Armed Bounty Hunter.” And then there’ll be an extensive margarita menu featuring choices like the Cadillac (top shelf) and the classic strawberry, frozen or on the rocks.

Scope out the location while you’re at the festival and mark your calendar to watch for the opening.
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Chicago summer duo – Square Roots Festival and LEYE opens Ēma

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at the chalkboard teaching at the in Chicago, ...
Old Town School of Folk Music. {| cellpadding=”2″ class=”toccolours vcard layouttemplate” style=”width: 100%; direction: ltr;” ! style=”width:15%; vertical-align:middle; text-align:right; background-color:#ccf; border:none;” | Camera location | style=”border:none;” | Latitude, Longitude | style=”border:none;” | This and other images at their locations on: Google Maps – Google Earth – OpenStreetMap – Proximityrama | style=”border:none; font-size:80%;” | (Info) |} (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Square Roots Festival 2016 opens on Lincoln Ave. between Montrose and Wilson this year with two outdoor stages, two indoor stages, and over 50 acts, compliments of  The Old Town School of Folk Music and the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.  Hang out at this Lincoln Square tradition and check out the unique vendors, delicious local food, and more than 30 craft beers. July 8 (5-10pm), 9 (12 to 11pm) & 10 (12 to 9pm).

There’s no official charge but donations are suggested ($10 for adults, $5 for seniors/kids, $20 for families). For more info, visit www.squareroots.org.

Ēma, just opened in the Hyatt Place at 74 W. Illinois, is a new gem in the crown of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Serving Mediterranean small plates – lamb, beef, lots of vegetables – meant for sharing, it’s open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 4:00pm to 10:00pm and Fridayand Saturday from 4:00pm to 11:00pm, with lunch coming soon. Rotisserie Ēma will open in July 2016 with lunch and dinner service Monday through Friday from 11:00am to 7:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 4:00pm. Check out the menu here.
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