One of our favorite places in the city is The Patio at Cafe Brauer in Lincoln Park Zoo (2021 N. Stockton Drive). And they’re now featuring live music 5:30-7:30 every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Various artists and groups perform. If you’ve never been, put this on your summer bucket list for sure.
Recently we discovered the beautiful Cafe Brauer second-floor, indoor-outdoor covered rooftop party/event space in that same lovely brick building that houses The Patio. With twinkling party lights, luscious bites and colorful banners everywhere, Cafe Brauer’s party partners showed off their wares at a recent media event held in the party space on the roof. Some of the businesses you can engage on your own or as part of planning your Cafe Brauer party include:
love, sugar & grace – Beautiful bakery specialties for everyday and for all your social functions. Entertaining Company – Catering delicious passed hors d’oeuvres, buffet stations, seated entrees, and more. Kloeckner Floral – Gorgeous arrangements for holidays or any occasion. Blue Plate Catering – 85 unique Chicago venues, award-winning cuisine. Green certified. Frost Event Production: lighting, staging, video, audio and fabrics. Chicago Vintage Weddings – Create the perfect ambiance from their collection of vintage items. Or let them host your event in their intimate venue, CV Atelier. The Flower Firm – Perfect floral decorations for occasions from intimate gatherings to huge corporate events.
And in case you want to wander over to the Zoo before, during or after your party, look at this incredibly beautiful oasis you’ll find just inside the Zoo Gate. So many reasons to do your next party at Cafe Brauer!
Always wondered what it would be like to ride in a helicopter. Had the vague idea – probably from watching too many shoot-’em-up big-city crime and spy movies – that it would be a wild ride. Loud. Choppy. Rough. Maybe thrilling – if I wasn’t too scared.
Guess what? When you ride with the right people, the only adjective you need is thrilling. Chicago Helicopter Experience, 2420 S. Halsted, (#CHEtours) is proud and pleased, as one of the only privately owned helicopter heliports in any major US city, to offer anyone the chance to see and feel what it’s like. And I gotta tell ya, it’s a cool way to celebrate just about any occasion, from a romantic night for two, a quick air transfer to or from O’Hare or Midway Airports – you surely know the horror of gridlock on our highways – to a party for a gang of friends or workmates.
The friendly folks at CHE are passionate about what they do. We felt especially comfortable as we were taken through the strictly enforced safety routines that cover every aspect of each trip – including weighing and assigning seats to every passenger to ensure a perfect balance for a smooth ride. But the #CHEcrew also offers a slew of ways to make your experience fun. You can invite friends and loved ones to enjoy each others’ company in the spacious reception area, complete with coffee and cookies and games – like both a regular-size and a jumbo-size Jenga game, checkers and more. And if you’ve brought a crowd or it’s just plain a busy night – the helicopters hold up to six at a time – everybody has time to interact while awaiting their turn. If you want alcohol, drink it before you come, unless you let #CHEtours organize a catered party that includes it.
It might actually be loud riding in a helicopter, but with #CHEtours, you won’t notice it. Every rider puts on his/her own pair of Bose headphones that cancel noise and sport voice-activated mics that make it easy to talk to the pilot or fellow passengers. The views from the helicopter are just spectacular. Catching the sun at different angles on the beautiful buildings and landmarks of downtown Chicago and all down the north shore to Wrigley Field (unless there’s a game on) is an unforgettable experience. Imagine looking down the Chicago River in a corridor between Chicago’s gorgeous skyscrapers. We found most everybody was so entranced with the experience that there wasn’t a lot of talking outside the pilot’s FAQs on various high points.
The company is on the move. CHE’s founder and CEO, Trevor Heffernan, says he founded the company after deciding he was sick of the traffic jams constantly gumming up his trips to visit relatives near Wisconsin. Read more about what he went through to get his CHE business going in this nice article in the Chicago Tribune. They’re offering lots of exciting options for folks who want to go play golf, say, on a course within a 30-minute helicopter trip but don’t want to waste time driving there and back. They’re planning to ferry people, too, to an upcoming Goo Goo Dolls concert and to the city’s hugely popular Lollapalooza event.
So if you’ve ever dreamed about riding a helicopter – whether to escape the crazy traffic or to get a fabulously unique view of your city – you can do it in Chicago. Prices start around $150 per person for the 15-minute tour to Wrigley and with many optional add-on packages. People, what a great way to give yourself and/or clients or loved ones a truly memorable experience.
Not everybody consumers alcoholic beverages, but those who do may enjoy receiving something unusual on special occasions. Below are ideas for 8 beverages to consider giving for Father’s Day. Of course, if you don’t have a dad or a father figure to celebrate with, you can always consider giving them to yourself. Your friends will enjoy sharing!
Wines to consider
Luxurious Italian red wines. Brunello di Montalcino, in Tuscany, is the home of the some of the finest, most robust and complex red wines Italy has to offer, all made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. Almost any wine from here will make a meal special or an evening with a friend or two memorable. Be aware that the “Rosso” expressions of this wine are the younger versions. They are often extremely high quality yet generally cost a great deal less – up to 50% less – than the more mature wines. Here are a few we sampled at this year’s US visit by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello de Montalcino, held in the gracious spaces of The Drake Hotel:
Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2013. Made from clones of Sangiovese grapes grown on this 100% organic estate, this wine is generous and fruity as a result of a very dry, hot summer after a cold wet spring. Well balanced. Alc. 14.5%. Affordable for a Brunello at ~$50.
Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino 2013. A family farm run by Concetta and her husband, who lovingly tended the soil, living solely on its produce and bartering eggs, goat’s milk and fruit in exchange for what they could not produce. This wine is fresh with high acidity, deep, rich color, dark berry flavors, a hint of lemon rind, and a beautiful balance. Alc. 15%.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2012. The vines this year were stressed with a very dry, cool spring followed by a huge heat wave in August, when there was no rain and no water reserves. But the winemakers really made hay with this harvest. This wine has great depth, while it’s fruity and floral and has a broad mid-palette.
One of the Rosso versions we really liked: Il Paradiso di Frassina Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2016 (organic). Only 8000 bottles produced, this is a younger version of the 2012 Riserva and the DOCG 2013. May be hard to find in the U.S. Only ~$20 rather than the $48 and $78 prices of the more mature versions.
Port wine. Cockburn’s has been a hallowed name in the business of making fine port wines for 200 years and counting. To celebrate this two-century history of innovative vineyard practices, they’re labeling their bottles with a commemorative seal so they look extra cool. Consider Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port, a rich, lush, fruit-forward deep red port with aromas of red cherry and hints of plum and strawberry. On the palate it’s lightly sweet, well-rounded with luscious red berry flavors. Pair it with nutty or chocolate desserts and with strong cheeses. Good for six weeks after opening. 20% alc. $18.
Spirits to consider
Tinkerman’s Gin is the new signature line of gins made by A. Smith Bowman Distillery. They’re already known for Whisky Magazine’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Best Bourbons, and now they’re introducing Tinkerman’s in three expressions: Citrus Supreme, Sweet Spice and Curiously Bright & Complex. The new expressions are the result of Master Distiller Brian Prewitt’s “tinkering” with combinations of juniper and various varieties of herbs, flowers, spices, fruits and vegetables. Each one brings a special touch to your cocktails and yet they’re smooth enough to drink on their own. 46% alc (92 proof). $29.99
Till Vodka came visiting Chicago this spring at the dark, almost speakeasy-styled cave of the city’s newest champagne and caviar restaurant, Marchesa. Till Vodka is born in the heartland – The Midwest we Chicagoans know and love. It’s that place where folks take hard work and craftsmanship seriously. Made with the finest local ingredients, Till is an exceptional vodka with a crisp taste and smooth finish, The distillers craft Till with one thing in mind: to make you proud of your heritage. Use their store locator to find Chicago retail locations (hint: it’s sold at many Binny’s stores). .
GEORGE REMUS® Bourbon introduced several expressions of its “King of the Bootleggers” bourbon at that same Marchesa event. Bourbon is a favorite of many guys, and this line of spirits is sure to have a type that will appeal to most any bourbon lover. Memorable rye-infused bourbons that dad – or you – may want to come back to again and again.
The Dark, made by Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This delicious spirit matures in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European oak casks. The end result is a nicely balanced whisky loaded with flavors of dried fruits, cinnamon, toasted almonds, cedar wood, fruitcake and light peat smoke. Out in a limited release of only 4500 bottle in the US, look for it at your favorite retailer. SRP ~$300. @HighlandParkUS
Every year, the Time Out Bar Awards celebrate outstanding achievements in the bar community in cities around the world. The point is to give the best bars, best crews and best drinks the spotlight they deserve. This year on Tuesday June 11, 2018, the Time Out Chicago Bar Awards took place for the third year—presented in association with William Grant & Sons, the independent family-owned distiller—and here’s the list of winners. Perfect time to schedule your next bar crawl!
Lost Lakewas crowned Chicago’s Bar of the Year at the Time Out Bar Awards celebration. Helmed by Paul McGee and Shelby Allison, the Logan Square tiki bar has become an institution since opening in 2015, offering playful rum-based cocktails, funky vibes and a roster of crave-worthy bar snacks.
Other venues in high spirits: Golden Teardrops—a dark and mysterious basement bar below Lonesome Rose—was honored as the city’s Best New Bar; Todos Santos—the mescal den led by Jay Schroeder—picked up the award for Best Speciality Bar; and the Spanish-Style Gin and Tonic at Cindy’s—a refreshing play on the classic that includes fennel-calamansi tonic—bagged the Sexiest Cocktail in Chicago title.
The full list of Time Out New York Bar Awards 2018 winners:
Bar of the Year presented by Hendrick’s Gin:Lost Lake
Best Legacy Bar presented by Monkey Shoulder:Green Mill
To pick the award winners, Time Out assembled an industry-renowned panel of high-profile drinks experts and top bartenders. The panel included Julia Momose, beverage director at Oriole; James Beard Award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang; Benjamin Schiller, beverage director at The Fifty/50 Group; Hendrick’s Gin Ambassador Mattias Horseman; Monkey Shoulder Ambassador Vance Henderson; and Morgan Olsen, the editor of Time Out Chicago. More info at https://www.timeout.com/chicago/bars/bar-awards.
Dark wood surroundings. Unique architectural touches. Multiple inviting private spaces. They’re all a big part of what goes on at Victory Tap, 1416 S. Michigan Ave., in Chicago’s South Loop., along a booming section of the street where new condos are going up at rapid clip. The ambiance is comfortable and classy, and the food is the star. Chef Joe Farina brings his years of experience in venerable Chicago Italian kitchens like Rosebud to this new incarnation of Italian-cum-fine dining establishment.
You start with a plate of mixed bread items, all of which are tempting enough to get you full before the main course arrives – crusty, chewy Italian bread, chunks of pizza and more with a plate of olive oil or fresh, cold butter, as you desire.
Joe’s Mama’s meatballs are a star item on the menu. Pronounced by my meatball aficionado companion as utterly divine. Big, fluffy spheres studded with bright fresh parsley, these gems come in Chef Joe Farina’s unique marinara sauce and are fit for Italian royalty. We started with an order of these meatballs and loved that they were served with a big scoop of olive-oil-enhanced, whipped ricotta cheese on the side. These tender, juicy meatballs in the succulent marinara sauce make a delicious and satisfying main course, even without a helping of one of Victory Tap’s housemade pastas, of which there are many varieties.
In fact, the meatballs are so good the restaurant has decided to take them on the road so you can buy them even closer to home. Our server Bobby shared his enthusiasm for Victory Tap, Chef Farina and the food and told us he is the one who will be marketing the meatballs to major retail outlets like Mariano’s and other private and chain establishments. Look for them soon nearby.
We also to tried the agnolotti pasta that won the first-ever-given People’s Choice award at the Chicago Bacon Fest 2018. Delicious hand-shaped pasta filled with ricotta and Parmesan and topped with a rich, sage-infused browned butter sauce and sprinkled with thick chunks of cooked bacon. Rich and delicious, even the leftovers reheated in the microwave next day.
The housemade pastas, from linguine and lasagna to shells, ravioli and cavatelli, let you mix with shrimp, sausage, clam sauce, creamy vodka sauce and more. Items on the extensive Italian-inspired menu can be paired with any of the restaurant’s carefully selected wines. Plus diners can choose from plenty of not-just-Italian dishes, including a generous selection of daily specials. On our visit, the almond-crusted sea bass daily special was a winner. Served perfectly broiled atop a bed of lightly steamed fresh spinach, it was bathed in a delicately tangy, citrus-perfumed lemon butter sauce that perfectly tied together the flavors of the fish, the spinach and the warm cherry tomato garnish. Oh, and they sell Armand’s pizza in thin crust and pan versions.
The desserts we tried were excellent. Ricotta cheesecake was light yet rich, quite different and less fat. Served with whipped cream and a beautifully cut fresh strawberry garnish in a rich graham cracker crust. Tiramisu had a thick layer of angelically light and creamy mascarpone with a perfect dusting of cocoa, all atop the coffee-enhanced cake.
The restaurant is known for its catering and for convenient packages for private dining/parties. Upstair are several beautiful, dark-wood spaces that feel like you could be in someone’s very elegant home. Great food, beautiful surroundings. A winning combination for sure. Restrooms are on the second floor, too, and there is an elevator located conveniently under the staircase, so no issues for partygoers or restaurant patrons who don’t want to deal with stairs.
This is a place where you can feel at home, appreciate the service and enjoy the food over and over. We’ll be back soon.
Have you heard about the new lady polar bear Talini at Lincoln Park Zoo? Yes, she has come to us from Detroit as part of the cooperative “preserve the species” mating programs many zoos participate in. Siku is the Zoo’s polaar guy that she’s destined to get to know.
And just for fun, the Park Place Cafe, located inside the zoo grounds in its own building (see it on this zoo map), has created two mouth-watering-sounding recipes to honor the snow theme.
TALINI Polar Bear Split – chocolate-dipped and sprinkle-covered frozen banana topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel sauce, shredded coconut “snow,” whipped cream and a cherry. $9.95. NUM!
SIKU’s Meatball Sub – marinara covered meatballs, shredded parmesan, provoline cheese on crusty hoagie roll. $9.95
Malbec World Day, presented by Wines of Argentina on April 17, 2018, will celebrate not only the noble Malbec grape but also the spirit and growth of industry in Argentina.
Interestingly, Malbec is not indigenous to the Mendoza region of Argentina. In fact, Malbec was first labeled as Bordeaux – and you won’t be surprised to learn there are similarities in taste between the two. At first, they called it the Auxerrois grape because it came from the southwest of France, specifically the Cahors region. It only began to be called Malbec in the 1780s when a producer named Monsieur Malbeck began planting it. About a century later, the varietal migrated to Argentina and was planted in the Mendoza region where is flourished. Read more about the history of Malbec in Argentina in Nuvo Magazine.
Fast forward 20 years, today, Malbec is at the heart of Argentina’s wine growing culture and has, on the way, transformed the winemaking industry there. One of the brands that’s perfect for toasting Malbec World Day is the Estate Malbec from Alta Vista.
Established in 1998, Alta Vista is a family-owned winery that focuses on the production of high altitude, site-specific wines. The French family’s winemaking knowledge and passion (read our interview with owner Patrick D’Aulan on appreciating wine) – enhanced and expanded during its ownership of the famous champagne house Piper-Heidsieck – provided the impetus to create a harmonious French-Argentine fusion. The team invested years of research that brought them to the top growing regions of Mendoza, areas best suited for the creation of terroir-expression wines.
The Alta Vista Estate Malbec 2016 ($19.99) has 100% estate grown Malbec grapes that come from the Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley in Mendoza. It is ruby colored with complex ripe, red fruit aromas and spicy nuances. On the palate, the wine is round, with soft tannins, balanced concentration and a long finish. Half the wine is aged for 12 months in 100% French oak barrels, followed by an additional 4 months aging in bottle. Enjoy this wine with grilled pork tenderloin, lamb or veal with fresh herbs. Perfect way to celebrate World Malbec Day together with friends and family!
Doesn’t the idea of sitting down to a comforting pasta meal and a glass of deep red wine sound mouth-watering? What if you could do that – at home – in less than 5 minutes?
Well, as we all know, it only takes a minute to open a bottle of wine, and we have a recommendation for you if you love the structure and depth of a bold red wine – Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon. You’ll taste dark, luscious berries rounded out with vanilla and mocha for a beautiful balance of flavors. Color is intense. Feeling could be described as romantic or assertive, depending on your frame of mind. Powerful complement to braised meats; rich and striking on its own. It made us feel like we were in an exotic country. You can buy it in dozens of retail locations in Chicago and elsewhere. And, not surprisingly, it goes beautifully with pasta dishes.
Imagine this: restaurant-quality cooked pasta in a tasty marinara sauce that you can just heat and serve. Yes, it is possible. We were pleased to sample Victoria Chef Collection Penne Marinara and found the pasta cooked to perfection (not mushy or overcooked).
The sauce was delicious, but a little sweet for our taste. They don’t add any sugar, but they do use apple juice concentrate. However, we were pleased to find that adding a tablespoon of ricotta cheese balanced that bit of extra sweetness to our satisfaction. Really surprising to taste this kind of quality from a jar. No refrigeration necessary until after the jar is opened. Victoria Chef Collection’s philosophy is Ingredients Come First™. Their recipes are based on the same ones their founding family brought with them from Italy to Brooklyn. Happily, the list of ingredients has nothing you wouldn’t put in your own pasta sauce. Check out VIctoria’s wide variety of authentic Italian sauces and delicacies.
It’s fun to experiment sometimes. Below are 6 unique interesting and unique product suggestions – one made with a hitherto mysterious ingredient from Greece, one a Chicago-based candle company that helps young mothers, a line of products all made with cocoa, a lightly sparkling drink sweetened with agave, an energy snack infused with with tea, and a super-thin cracker from Italy. Try something new for your New Year adventure!
Mastiha is a resin that drips off the bark of the mastiha tree that grows only in Chios, Greece. The Greeks have been harvesting it for thousands of years – since 600 B.C.E. It’s known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is now considered by many to be a super food – used as an ingredient in cosmetics, gum, oils, food, and liquors. It’s even sold in capsules and in powdered form to treat a vast number of conditions. The ELMA brand chios mastic gum comes either sweetened with sugar or sugar-free and contains natural gum mastic and mastic oils. It’s tasty and is said to freshen the breath. Some of the cosmetics made with mastiha include products from the Lira Mystiq line such as Mystiq Illuminating Cleanser and Mystiq Illuminating Polisher for your skin, each of which contains ingredients that are derived from the original mastiha.
Bright Endeavors, based in Chicago, makes clean-burning soy candles that smell lovely and come with your Chicago city skyline imprinted on the cover. What’s more, all the proceeds go to their non-for-profit organization that provides job training for young mothers so they can support their children and participate fully in their communities. They’ve served more than 500 young women so far and show no signs of stopping. If you’re going to buy a candle for someone, this is a terrific opportunity to make your giving extend beyond just the gift itself. @Bright_Endeavors #Chicagocandle.
THE COCOA EXCHANGE™ POD & BEAN™ makes cocoa-infused products of many types. Cocoa-infused barbeque sauce might be an acquired taste for some, but it certainly is a bold way to stand out from other options. Stone ground cocoa-infused mustard intrigues. Imagine Cheddar Ale cheese dip sparked with a tablespoon of that. Fascinating, eh? Consider some of the other unique sauces: Blackberry Chipotle, Korean Barbeque, Mexican Simmer, and more. It’s great how they have little graphic icons on each jar suggesting what foods the sauce goes well with. If you love cocoa and chocolate and are willing to open your mind, some of these products could be just what your taste buds have been looking for. Check out this amazing recipe for Bacon Ale Cheese Dip for a crowd. Check their website for more cool recipes.
Sipp™ is a brand new soft drink created by founder Beth Wilson-Parentice when she got downsized out of corporate America. Sparkling and organic, Sipp comes in several unique and delicious flavors. A fabulous mixer with bubbly or all by itself if you’re skipping alcohol. Their website even offers Sipp-with-food pairing ideas that’ll jump start your imagination. At 88 calories per can (100 per bottle) and sweetened with agave, it’s not a low-calorie or sweetener-free option, but it is completely free of chemicals and artificial sweeteners – more and more a big selling point for health-conscious consumers. Check out the Ginger Blossom flavor – ginger, smooth vanilla and lime. Or the Zesty Orange – zesty blood orange, lime and jalapeno. Or Lemon Flower – zesty lemon, elderflower and a touch of aromatic tarragon. Don’t those sound exciting? Based on our sampling for review, that’s just what they are. Bottles (12 oz) and cans (10.5 oz) available at Target and other retailers as well as on Amazon.
TeaSquares – Tea-infused Energy Snacks. A startup company here in Chicago makes these crispy light snacks that promise to provide low-cal nutrition along with a little shot of caffeine to perk you up and help you focus during the day. They’re made with puffed millet, crunchy almonds and fruits infused with tea. Enjoyably light and easy to carry around (except they could get crushed easily in a big, overfilled tote), they come in several nice fruit-combo flavors and are available online.
Tuscanini Italian Parchment Crackers. Super thin and crispy, these hand-made crackers make a light, crunchy base for appetizers or cheese, and they go beautifully with soups or salads. They are made in Sardinia, Italy, and imported from there by Kayco. Try one of their tasty flavors: Olive Oil, Rosemary with Olive Oil, or Oregano with Olive Oil. Lower calorie than bread spread with olive oil, but just as satisfying.
The space at Mago is expansive. Almost a suburban type ambiance – spacious, modern, colorful. But the food is quite a few levels above what you usually find in a typical suburban establishment. Perfect for savvy sophisticated millennials, yet totally family friendly. The tables are set far enough apart that you have real privacy for your conversations. Ideal for ladies who lunch and want to shop at a few upscale shops afterwards, or for baby boomers looking to enjoy an excellent meal and some good conversation. The space is open and welcoming enough that almost anyone will feel comfortable.
It was fun perusing the menu – both the Hanukkah specials and the regular items. We greatly enjoyed the homemade taco chips with three types of salsa – mild, medium and really hot (made with sesame seeds). Our server Ageo was most helpful explaining the menu and making suggestions. We tried a few things specifically at his recommendations and they were excellent.
For starters we tried, at our server’s recommendation, the empanadas. Excellent choice. A delicious crust with a great deal more character than most we’ve tasted before. The shrimp empanada was especially flavorful – tasted like shrimp of the highest quality roasted to perfection. Crispy turnovers served with frisee, queso cotija and crema Mexicana, in a choice of ground beef picadillo with chimichurri, chicken tinga with roasted tomato salsa, or tequila shrimp with habanero salsa. And you get to choose one each of two choices. Lovely!
The Camarones en Chile was nicely roasted shrimp in a savory poblano pepper sauce, served with special chunky mashed potatoes and a huge pile of roasted poblano peppers, all bathed in a succulent brown sauce. Delicious.
The short rib – a regular menu item – was dressed up for the Jewish holiday. Tender, richly browned and served with a rich, thick, dark mole sauce and a chunk of grated, seasoned plantain that was fried crisp and tasted amazingly good. As a side, the chef prepared potato latkes and added cilantro to honor Hanukkah and give them a Mexican touch. This dish smelled and tasted so good that my granddaughter came home from school and immediately consumed the leftovers.
The flan of the week was coconut – incredibly thick and not too sweet and loaded with coconut, drizzled generously with rich caramel sauce and topped with a big beautiful pile of whip cream and a strawberry. It was served in a huge dish dusted with powdered sugar. No problem polishing off this gem all by myself.
This was one of our favorite recent restaurant meals – and so surprising for a weekday lunch. Felt like a 4-star dinner. Mago Grill & Cantina is well worth a trip for its creative approach to blending cuisines and its commendable attention to the details of execution that take dishes several notches above the usual.
Mago Grill & Cantina is located at 1010 S. Delano Court East. The place is a breeze to get to. CTA buses and trains are a short walk away. And if you drive, no need to fight downtown traffic hassles. Take Lake Shore Drive to Roosevelt or the Dan Ryan and pull right in. The shopping mall has ample underground parking – no need to stress on that score either. Go here. We will be back with friends very soon to try more dishes on the menu.