Category Archives: Chicago food and drink

Broken Barrel Bar – new chef-driven sports bar in Lincoln Park

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You’ve heard of Chicago beef sandwiches. You’ve heard about the Philly cheese steak. Now prepare yourself for the sandwich that combines the best of both and takes it all to a new level. It’s called The Broken Brisket Dip sandwich (more on this below), and the only place you can find it is at the Broken Barrel Bar, 2548 N. Southport. It’s just one of the resident chef’s innovative ideas for bringing good old every day bar food to new heights – and making gluten-free and vegetarian souls smile.

The Broken Barrel Bar is a brand new Lincoln Park spot that promises to become a favorite destination for those who love to eat, drink and watch sports. Owner Luke Johnson of Wine Not Hospitality said making people feel comfortable is what it’s all about. From the extra-large, well-padded U-shaped booths inside, to the stepped natural-wood booths and stadium seating in the outdoor space, the arrangements are perfect for big parties, yet relaxed for smaller groups and couples. Another thing Luke does to enhance the bar’s spacious yet cozy ambiance is partner with local artists to create whimsical wall art. The whole restaurant/bar is ideal for large groups – family, friends, or work pals – to hang out together. Game day, let’s-get-crazy day, or just relaxing time, you and your whole gang will feel welcome.

Broken Brisket sandwich - irresistible
Broken Brisket sandwich – irresistible

Broken Barrel Chef Bryant Anderson is all about presenting his unique take on smoked meats and pickled accompaniments that lift the barbecue bar a notch beyond the ordinary. That Broken Brisket Dip sandwich is stuffed to overflowing with perfectly tender chunks of pot roasted beef (not paper-thin slices) studded with tiny pepper slices in the house-made giardiniera and sitting atop of a generous layer of cheese melted onto both sides of a good-sized hunk of Italian-style bread. All of that is bathed lightly in the chef’s smoked meat juices and served with a side dish of same for dipping. And, oh, you’re going to wanna dip. I mean, I seldom eat beef – and almost never Chicago’s Italian style beef because that razor-thin-sliced meat’s too dry for my taste once it’s reheated in the sauce – and yet I nearly finished this big sandwich. And I made sure I took home the small chunk I had left, too. It was delicious even straight out of the refrigerator the next day.

Delictable, piquant lamb tacos - irresistible
Delictable, piquant lamb tacos – irresistible

Another standout sandwich is the Guajillo Lamb taco – guajillo-pepper-marinated hickory-smoked lamb shoulder chunks, served in warm corn tortillas and topped with house-made, sweetly pickled red onions and dollops of super creamy, just-sharp-enough goat cheese. Again, though I’m neither a lamb nor a taco aficionado, this sandwich was mouth-wateringly good. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I ate this whole thing, too.

Some of the sides are right up there, as well. The crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($4) actually taste like and have the mouth-feel of real sweet potatoes; my companion could not stop eating them. The medium thin regular French fries ($5) are nicely browned and not greasy – and I AM a French fry aficionado. Chef says since Lincoln Park has a high percentage of vegetarians, they’ve chosen to honor that eating style by offering dishes like the Nachos, interlaced with roasted brussels sprout leaves, pickled onions, pickled radishes – all house-made – plus jalapeños and a jalapeño cheddar sauce on top of the sprinkled cheese. We had asked for the sauce on the side, but the dish would have come together better with it on top – and with even more of it, ‘cuz it was good!

Then there’s a selection of wings – gluten-free, by the way, because they are fried crispy but not breaded – that come with your choice of dry rub or several unique BBQ sauces: Buffalo, Garlic Buffalo, Honey Habanero, Chili Maple, Sticky Curry, Hell Raiser Hot, or their biggest prize winner, Bourbon BBQ. Try these with a side of Mac & Cheese with smoked cheddar and two toppings ($15), Fried Plantains, a Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin ($6 – could have used a bit more cheese intensity), or a side of nicely roasted Brussels Sprouts ($6).

Oh, yeah - whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!
Oh, yeah – whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!

The mini donut dessert was exceptional. Freshly made, hot-out-of-the-fryer donut puffs, placed in a pretty circle around a dish and interspersed with puffs of whipped cream, all drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a dish of house-made triple berry sauce in the middle. Big enough for two and irresistible – even if you’ve already chowed down on your main dishes.

The wine list is a truly carefully curated selection that includes a couple of whites, a single Cabernet, a single Tempranillo, Malbec and so on. These are obviously well chosen to appeal to a range of discerning palates, and the ones we tasted were more than satisfactory. Wine glass prices range from $9 up. Well chosen, delicious wines. And for beer lovers of tappers, tall boys and bottles, you’ve got choices. And of course, there is a full bar and a nice selection of custom cocktails.

I suspect that if I lived in walking distance, this place would become a regular haunt. It’s so friendly and cozy, even with the dozens of TV screens that will keep you company even if you’re alone. And which, by the way the night we were there, we noticed they kept turned down until the Chicago Cubs (next year!) game came on. Go here and get your game on. Drink and eat. A nice example of the best in Food and Drink in Chicago.

P.S. They start serving weekend brunch on Saturday November 3! Check these options out:

  • SMOKED LAMB BENEDICT. Fresh baked biscuits, slow-smoked lamb shoulder, creamy hollandaise sauce, two over easy eggs, maple-sriracha drizzle & micro cilantro $14. OMG, that lamb from the tacos is FABulous.
  • HANGOVER BREAKFAST SANDWICH. Hickory brisket, fried egg, Merkts cheddar, arugula, chipotle mayo, crispy onions, toasted pretzel bun, choice of side $13. Oh, my. It’s lunchtime as I write and I think I need one of these right now.
  • CROISSANT FRENCH TOAST. Orange-buttermilk batter, homemade triple berry sauce, fresh croissant, whipped cream $12. Dessert for breakfast!!!
  • And what’s brunch without the booze?! Broken Barrel Bar will be pouring their house-blended BLOODY MARY, served with Hank’s Vodka and chef-pickled vegetables $9. Or try “WE’LL TAKE A BOTTLE”  – a bottle of bubbles with fresh orange juice $30.

 

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Champagne Maison Henriot glorious with pasta!

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Maison Champagne Henriot has been making beautiful champagnes for generations. The family is still running the winery and making the precious wines with the same care and attention they have always lavished on their creations. Recently the lovely Katie Parker, Regional Sales Director for Henriot Maison in central U.S., brought several expressions of this line of fine champagnes for wine dinner guests to try in combination with chef-paired pasta dishes specially created by the experts at Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan. Truly a memorable way to enjoy these luscious champagnes and the creative genius of Spiaggia’s culinary team, Chefs Tony Mantuano and Joe Flamm, along with Rachel Lowe, one of only 5 female Master Sommeliers in the world, who manages the restaurant’s extensive wine collection.

Maison Henriot invited the chefs to taste the wines and invent pasta dishes that would showcase how perfectly the various expressions pair with the right pasta. The point is, said Maison Henriot rep Katie Parker, glorious champagnes don’t have to be relegated to only haute cuisine or special occasions. They are equally appropriate with simple, beautifully prepared dishes.

The chefs at Spiaggia, of course, don’t stint on their creativity when designing pasta dishes. Seeing that Spiaggia bills itself a “modern Italian” restaurant, it’s not surprising that some of these items were extraordinary in themselves – and truly magnificent with the paired champagne. A favorite was the Aglio e Olio Agnolotti, a magical creation from the Spiaggia kitchen that fairly dripped creamy richness, both from the filling in the hand-made pasta and the richly aromatic olive oil drizzle, paired with Henriot’s Brut Souverain. This champagne is a classic, elegant expression that’s a mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot noir and 5% Pinot Meunier. Aged a minimum of four years, it shows a nice minerality along with wonderfully lively with notes of white flowers and citrus on the nose. On the palate, brioche and white fruit notes lead to a clean and fresh finish. We so had to close our eyes on this combination!

The Brut Blanc de Blancs is non-vintage but is blended with up to 40% of reserve wine from other excellent years. The mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier is aged a minimum of four years and results in good minerality and fresh bouquet, yet shows full body and power on the palate. Notes of brioche intermingle with quince jelly and acacia honey along with a fresh and wonderfully long finish.

Other expressions include the Brut Rosé, Cuvee 38, and theirt wo vintage 2008 Millésimé champagnes, Brut and Rosé. Champagne Henriot Cellar Master Laurent Fresnet uses no oak in the house’s pure Chardonnay expressions, so if you’re of the no-oak-thank-you persuasion, you’ll find these champagnes highlight all the other wondrous qualities of the grapes. Maison Champagne Henriot continues to do justice to the long revered art of producing fine champagnes. Special occasion or simple pasta, you and your guests will feel rewarded no matter which expression you choose.

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Super cool no-stick MasterPan has kickstarted

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A company called Masterpan is out to change your cooking habits. Their live Kickstarter campaign for the new MasterPan collection began on August 31. And after using the samples we received  for a couple of weeks, we admit to being impressed.

The pans are heavier than you expect for a non-stick pan. Each pan has a large heavy steel disk on the bottom which, when preheated for two minutes, actually distributes the heat across the entire area of the giant square pan. It minimizes cold corners and edges. The nonstick coating seems thicker and sturdier than others we’ve used. And the lid fits all of the pans, so you can steam something for a little bit and then brown it on both the flat surfaces and the grill surfaces.

Masterpan grilled potato wedges
Masterpan grilled potato wedges

One night I decided to challenge the pan to produce some crispy potato wedges. I was delighted to find that five minutes in the microwave for a couple of very large red potatoes got them just soft enough to slice into thick wedges. Then, using an absolute minimum of oil – we use a pump mister for our olive oil – I distributed the wedges around the three sections of the pan. Then I noticed they weren’t quite cooked through, so I put the lid on the pan for five minutes and got them just tender enough. The soft-rubber-edged seal makes the lid fits closely and thus creates a good head of steam to hurry the cooking along.

Took the lid off and continued cooking to end up with crispy potato wedges with those appetizingly brown grill marks on them. Sprinkled half of them with chipotle chili pepper and garlic salt, the other half with just garlic salt, and applied the oil mister a couple more times. Really delicious and crispy and not oily in the least. And I didn’t have to turn the big oven on – a problem in our small kitchen, which heats up outrageously when the oven is on. We are always looking for good ways to avoid that, especially in the summer.

MasterPan breakfast
MasterPan breakfast

Made a beautiful breakfast the last two mornings. Four minutes for a potato in the microwave. Meanwhile, steam as much fresh baby spinach as you can fit into the grill side of the 3-section pan. Throw a few drops of water or olive oil in first, then put the leaves in and cover it. After the potato is squeezably soft, grate it (thin slice the peels, too). Open the skillet lid, remove the spinach to your plate. Mist the 3 sections with olive oil, throw the grated potato in the grill section and one of the flat ones. Cook a few minutes – it will brown delicately – and then break an egg into the third section. You can cover to steam the egg a bit, or you can flip it over. Voila. You have fresh steamed spinach, hash browns and an easy-over egg, all from one pan, in under 10 minutes. This is simplified cooking, people.

Masterpan grilled chicken n veg - more challenging than breakfast
Masterpan grilled chicken n veg – more challenging than breakfast

We love the heaviness, the close-fitting multi-pan lid, the multiple cooking options (grill, flat) and, for a single person living alone, the small divided sections do actually help control portion sizes – as long as you stick to that much. Get yours now during the MasterPan Kickstarter campaign. And, just for fun, here’s their cute promotional video.

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Homewood Suites by Hilton amenities beckon foodies

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It was a stroke of genius for Homewood Suites by Hilton40 E. Grand, to invite Kevin Curry to show Chicago media how to cook his unique dishes easily with their food-friendly amenities, including the full complement of pans and other kitchen utensils available in every Homewood suite in all of their three downtown Chicago locations.

Curry is really fit. You notice immediately upon meeting him how his nicely cut shirt strains over his nicely cut muscles. He operates FitMenCook and part of his mission, since he himself travels  a great deal, is to make up delicious recipes for low calorie, low-cost dishes that you can make with minimal ingredients.

The family-friendly, all-suite Homewood Suites by Hilton are designed for people who want to stay for several days in the city, whether for business or pleasure. The Grand Ave. location has undergone a dramatic re-design in the last few years. It used to be more of the old-fashioned dark green and maroon colors, cozy with lots of walls. Now they have opened up the spaces, removing walls and installing light, modern furnishings along with a wall of glass, so guests can see some of the most iconic buildings in downtown Chicago while relaxing with a glass of wine or a snack at cocktail hour.

And Homewood Suites by Hilton make cooking in your suite, pardon the pun, a piece of cake. One of the most amazing services they offer is the free shopping service. Seriously. You heard right. You make out the list. You give them the list. You relax or work while they go shopping for you. Then, they deliver your items to your suite. Or hold them at the desk if you’re not back yet. How cool is that?

*Consider putting a package of Miracle Noodles (see pic above) on that shopping list. Eating Curry’s recipe for shrimp in avocado -coconut sauce served atop of these almost-no-calorie gems is as close to guilt-free, rich pasta eating as you can get.

All of the rooms have been newly conceived: clean, crisp, and nicely designed. A very pleasant place to come home to when you’re staying in our busy city for several days. Certainly, on the really hot day of the cooking demos, the air conditioning was struggling a bit with 25 observers in a single room. But obviously that shouldn’t be a problem when you book a room with a normal number of occupants!

All of the people who were involved with the event seemed passionately committed to helping guests enjoy their experience in this lovely reimagined 23-story building in the heart of Chicago’s downtown. Consider it for your home-away-home when you’re in town for business or just want to take a break from ordinary life for a few days.

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5 unique food and drink ideas – 2 snacks, 3 beverages

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We are always looking for new drinks, treats, snacks and desserts that set our tongues a-tingle and our imaginations aflame. Ran into a few such items recently and are happy to report so you can add them to your repertoire if you like.

Chocdates for snacks or dessert
Chocdates for snacks or dessert

Chocodate makes snacks that pair healthy sweets like Arabian dates, almonds and coconut together with a light, soft chocolate layer in individually wrapped little bites you can take with you anywhere. Each treat is 56 calories, and the wrapped goodies have a fairly long shelf life (about a year), which means you won’t have to throw any away if you decide to ration them for your weight’s sake. They come in coconut-chocolate-date, milk or dark or white chocolate, or in a package of assorted. SRP ~$5 for ~3.5 ounces. Tasty, not-too-sweet snack.

Donnafugata Floramundi
Donnafugata Floramundi

Donnafugata has successfully paired a delicious wine with fine art in its Floramundi 2016. It’s a refined Cerasuolo di Vittoria with a flowery soul. Complex, fresh and full-bodied, this red has intriguing aromatic depth and a fruity and flowery bouquet that is pleasantly spicy on the palate. With the 2016 harvest, Donnafugata reached its goal of launching production in Eastern Sicily in the Vittoria area – the only DOCG of Sicily. Made by blending Nero d’Avola (70%) and Frappato (30%), this lovely wine pairs beautifully with first courses and grilled meats. Or try it with red tuna steak, roasted amberjack or other fish baked in the oven, or with gourmet pizzas. The Floramundi label shows the fantastic figure of a woman giving gifts of flowers and fruits. The picture represents a dialogue between two souls: the elegant and sophisticated Floral Liberty, an art style found everywhere in Vittoria, and the tradition of Pupi Siciliani (Sicilian Puppets). SRP ~$30.

Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey
Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey

Gentleman Jack, double-mellowed Tennessee whiskey, from the makers of Jack Daniels. We just missed National Whiskey Sour day (August 25), but a nicely crafted cocktail is just as delicious any other day. So, for your edification, these guys have come up with some excellent sour recipes. Incorporating items like fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and flavors like peach, cucumber, ginger beer, Chambord and more, these four recipes are sure to please any whiskey-cocktail lover. Check ’em out here.

Michelles Maccs are fabulous for Kosher holidays, too!
Michelles Maccs are fabulous for Kosher holidays, too!

Michelle’s Maccs, by FreshBakedNY. These rich, delectable confections bear little resemblance to the typical meringue-disks-with-a-filling most of us know as macaroons. Before she started the business, inventor and former chef/sous chef Michelle Goldberg had been making these for years, both at home and for friends and family in The Hamptons and Manhattan. These eggless, flourless, gluten-free versions consist of an incredibly dense filling of thickly shredded coconut, sugar and, well, who-cares-what-else, all enrobed in a thick layer of Belgian chocolate: Simple White, Simple Dark or Simple Milk chocolate were the initial versions. Then later she added some other flavors that could knock your socks off: Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chocolate, Mango, Salted Caramel, Key Lime, Amarena Cherry, Orange Zest, Espresso and Banana Walnut, all available from the company website. The Pina Colada in white Belgian chocolate is hauntingly habit-forming.

P.S. Mich’s Maccs are not for dieters – each treat has 200+ calories. Delicious, and so rich you can eat just half of one and still feel like you’ve indulged. I had one for breakfast the other day and my mouth didn’t give a darn about nutrition – just love the chewiness of the tightly packed, thick shreds of coconut! These goodies come in boxes of assorted flavors or in little single-flavor tubes of four. Perfect for coffee-and or dessert. Irresistible. They’re calling my name from the refrigerator right now…

Alessandro di Camporeale “Donnata” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC 2014. Deep, dark and delicious, this 100% Nero d’Avola wine is light-bodied with ripe cherry and sweet spice on a background of soft, silky flavors. It pairs nicely with rich tomato and cheese pasta dishes as well as with roast poultry and meats. Can’t be sure what price you’ll find it for – we saw online prices ranging from $9 to $20, so search carefully.

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5 new food products you might like

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As more and more discoveries are made on all fronts – from robotic exoskeletons to Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the universe – the world of food is no different. It just keeps coming up with new and exciting ideas, many of which are significantly healtheir than similar items in our pasts. Snacks, for example, and seasoning agents and even ugly-but-nutritious produce. Check out these 5 ideas:

Kiwa Life chips n snacks
Kiwa Life chips n snacks

Kiwa Life, styling itself “The Taste of South America,” searches for sustainably farmed vegetables in the growing regions of Ecuador. For example, their Andean potato chips, made from potatoes grown in the Andes Mountains, are processed at high altitudes to minimize cooking times and then exported around the world. A sample we tried proved to be crispy thin and delicious, with a richer, sweeter potato flavor than typical chips – of which we are huge fans here. We could say these Andean potato chips taste a bit more like real food than some of the US’s top brands. The company also makes Golden Plantain Chips that were tasty, but not quite salty enough for our salt-craving taste. Also, definitely not as crispy, crunchy as typical potato chips. However, at only 65mg of sodium per ounce, they’d make a great crunchy-enough snack for those who must watch their sodium intake closely. The company espouses social responsibility, and that’s good. Just wish they didn’t have to ship everything so far. They’ve even got their site translated into Russian, but when you go to the “shop” page, it says shopping for their snacks is only available in the U.S. (in 12-unit boxes).

Just Preserves for breakfast
Just Preserves for breakfast

Just Spreads come from the same importing company, New Frontiers, as the Kiwa Life snack line. The spreads are made with real fruit, and the only added sweetener is apple juice concentrate – still a sugar, but healthier than common alternatives like corn syrup. Delicious on toast, bread, oatmeal, biscuits or whatever, it’s great to know you’re not ingesting a ton of cane sugar in each bite. Love that Four-Fruit one!

gimME Health makes organic roasted seaweed snacks. Read here about the family that runs the company. We tried the Toasted Coconut version. Turned out we had to sort of educate ourselves to the taste. Our first reaction was, oh, this tastes like very savory seaweed-wrapped sushi. Almost seemed too strong for a snack. But the next time we tried them, they seemed much more complex – crispy like chips, umami like…seaweed, slightly chewy from the coconut, and just a touch sweet. Delicious and surprisingly satisfying. A serving is stated as being a whole individual bag, but you may find yourself satisfied with less than the whole bag. How often does that happen with other salty, crunchy treats like potato or corn chips? Never, right? And by the way, most places don’t even sell single serving bags of chips anymore. You buy one and you get 2.5 or even 3 servings in a bag – the calorie count grows exponentially as you eat your “small” bag. Anyway, these gimMe snacks aren’t cheap at $3.99 for a .77 oz bag. But they’re super healthy and uniquely tasty/satisfying.

Ink flavored soy sauces
Ink flavored soy sauces

Ink Flavored Soy Sauces are a secret weapon for giving your culinary creations that sumpin’-sumpin’ special that is so subtle that many people won’t know what they’re tasting. They’ll just think your food is especially flavorsome and unique. Tried the Ginger Sesame version and the Lemongrass versions and found they gave a delicate boost of flavor to dishes like plain cooked quinoa or plain sauteed fish filets. The website gives suggested foods to use each type with. Other flavors include Garlic Sesame, Orange Chili, Thai Chili, Wasabi – all ranging “from sweet to heat.” Nice to know it can be this easy to make a plain dish taste exotic. $10.99 per bottle with small discounts for larger quantities.

Imperfect Produce. One in five fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. doesn’t meet the strict cosmetic standards of grocery stores – often resulting in waste on the farm. Help farmers fully harvest their precious crops, and help more people have access to affordable fresh produce at 30-50% less than grocery rates. Sign up for your customized box of funny-looking but delicious, nutritious Imperfect Produce and save 33% off your box during the month of August to celebrate the innovative food delivery services 3 year anniversary; use the code “BIRTHDAY3.” PLUS, they will also donate a meal to a customer-selected local food bank for every #giveimperfect hashtag used on social media. For box options, visit www.imperfectproduce.com/join. Order and search by zip code here.

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Summer parties at Cafe Brauer event space

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Chicago view from roof of Cafe Brauer
Chicago view from roof of Cafe Brauer

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.

Party treats at Cafe Brauer
Party treats at Cafe Brauer

 

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!

Lincoln Park zoo oasis right near Cafe Brauer
Lincoln Park zoo oasis right near Cafe Brauer
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TimeOut Chicago names city’s best bars for 2018!

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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 Lake was 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:

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.

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Victory Tap heats up South Loop food scene

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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.

Victory Tap bread plate
Victory Tap bread plate

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.

Perfezionare polpette - with ricotta side
Perfezionare polpette – with ricotta side

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.

Baconfest winner - agnolooti with sage and brown butter
Baconfest winner – agnolooti with sage and brown butter

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.

Almond-crusted sea bass
Almond-crusted sea bass

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.

Ricotta cheesecake
Ricotta cheesecake

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.

Handsome private dining/party spaces
Handsome private dining/party spaces

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.

Look for Joe's Mama's Meatballs in your grocer soon!
Look for Joe’s Mama’s Meatballs in your grocer soon!
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Gourmet pasta and rich red wine – classic comfort meal in minutes

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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.

 

 

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