It’s Gumbo and Paczki Time! Fat Tuesday in Chicago

Big Jones serves gumbo ya-ya, “It all begins with the roux, made in the traditional Cajun style, with our andouille sausage, chicken, pork, and aromatic Arkansas rice.” See the gumbo in my Tastemade video.

Shaw’s Crab House has seafood gumbo full of fish, okra and fresh vegetables.

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Not So Small Plates at Wood – Lakeview, Chicago

The first time I passed Wood I peaked in and saw a beautiful wood bar with more than enough seats, a serious line up of liquor and rich orange leather booths. I immediately thought, “This is the perfect spot for a cozy drink and meal on a winter day.” Glad I didn’t wait until winter because this 2013 Michelin Bib Gourmand winner has some of the best Continue reading

Pastoral in Lakeview = Best Neighborhood Shop

Pastoral BLTA

Enjoying a Pastoral BLTA at Millennium Park

Imagine a spot where you can stop in and find the perfect bottle of wine, craft beer, cheese, olives, jams, and chocolates for the dinner party/housewarming gift/Ravinia outing/picnic and you are probably thinking of Pastoral.  Not only do they have all of these things (several items are local as well) but also they serve THE best sandwiches and salads. On top of this the staff is very friendly, knowledgeable and more than willing to help you find the perfect item you need for any occasion. They also cater, create picnic lunches and have classes.

See for yourself! Here is a video tour of my lunch last week…Enjoy!

Enjoy Some Old School Asian Fusion at Ping Pong in Lakeview

Ping Pong Sign

Although in the dozen blocks of North Broadway between Waveland and Belmont there has been a boom in restaurants this year, including a couple of BBQ places, Mexican Cafe, and a breakfast joint, I decided bypass these for now and finally try a neighborhood staple that has been around for years.

I suppose I would describe it as Asian fusion or Pan Asian, whatever that really means anymore. Basically Chinese with American influence along side Japanese and Thai dishes, it’s not strictly authentic but doesn’t aim to be. Having a fascination with all things old school Shanghai lately I was pleasantly surprised when I felt like I was stepping into 1930s Shanghai. This was exactly the point of their most recent renovation. Think Art Deco  meets Jazz club with some kitsch and vintage Chinese advertising posters and Stan Getz playing in the background.

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Want Tasty Empanadas? Get On Over to Cafe Tola in Lakeview

Cafe Tola, the to-go espresso and empanada bar, is a great addition to Lakeview.  What it lacks in size it makes up in color and flavor.

Cafe Tola Front

This tiny spot is brightly decorated and uses every square inch for either food or Latin American tchotchkes like luchador masks. The staff is very friendly and expedites the ever-present line efficiently making it the perfect grab and go spot. The empanadas are made in-house with the menu changing daily. I would suggest getting there early because they do sell out. Cafe Tola has it all, it’s quick, quality food and the price is great for the amount of food you get.

Here’s a taste of what they offer:

Sizzling steak, mushroom and peppers, Roasted Poblano Pepper & Chihuahua Cheese, Beef Sirloin, Grilled Veggie, Mole Chicken, Chicken Salsa Verde, Chipotle Chicken

Cafe Tola Window

Sounds good, right? The empanadas are nice and flaky and filled to the max. I have experienced the half-filled empanadas, muy triste. These guys fill ‘em up so two can easily fill you up. Look at that deliciousness:

Image via Cafe Tola Facebook

Image via Cafe Tola Facebook

Mole con Pollo‏ Empanada

Mole con Pollo‏ Empanada

If empandas aren’t your thing they also offer homemade chips and guacamole, tamales, quesadillas and more depending on the day. If you aren’t feeling anything savory you can get mango & farmers cheese empanada, Red Velvet donuts, and cinnamon rolls.

Need a beverage to wash that down? Plenty of coffee and tea latte drinks for you to choose from. I am hoping they have Mexican hot chocolate next time I go in. The only thing that would make Cafe Tola better is a patio space in time for summer.

Crisp in Lakeview – Best Chicken Wings in Chicago

Last week I wrote about my second favorite wings in the city here. This brings me to my absolute, hands down favorite wings in Chicago, Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings. People, these wings are amazing! Get out of your head any ideas of dry shriveled bar food that might have scared you off in the past. This Korean/American restaurants serves up for real wings that are huge and juicy. Trust me.

Crisp is fairly small with a sleek interior (chrome counters and wood communal tables) that caters to delivery and take-out. The vibe is laid back and friendly with the cyclist delivery guys/girls coming in and out along side a steady stream of pick-ups from a diverse looking crowd. The setup and atmosphere kind of remind me of Urbanbelly.

Crisp Dining Room

I am close enough to Crisp to have lightning fast delivery but far enough away that the walk is too long so I mostly order in.  If I lived closer I would eat there. Now is the moment I admit that I have ordered from Crisp at least 25 times. I haven’t branched out from some favorites but I am sure that everything on the menu is memorable.

The usual order is a Baby Buddha Bowl and 10 Buffalo Spicy Wings shared by two people and most of the time there are leftovers. Crisp has huge portions of quality food at very reasonable prices.

Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings & Baby Buddha Bowl

I know I said it before but I want to reiterate, these wings are huge. I usually only eat two; if I am feeling extra hungry I go for three. The whole jumbo wings come with your choice of sauce and I am a fan of the Bud’s spicy buffalo sauce (comes in mild, spicy or suicide). Yes, these wings are very crisp and spicy with minimal grease. Once you try these you will become, as I have, a Crisp Addict. Due to the mess factor and compulsion to get every last piece of meat off the bone, probably not good idea for a first date or if you have a broken arm (I found that out first hand…sorry, no pun intended).

Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings

The Buddha Bowl comes in small (Baby Buddha), medium (Original Bad Boy Buddha) and large (Big Boy Buddha). It’s their take on the Korean dish Bi Bim Bop with “an American twist.”

Crisp Buddha Bowl Selection

The Baby Buddha is surprisingly tasty for such a healthy dish. It comes with marinated spinach, bean sprouts, carrots and zucchini served over rice (you can order brown rice instead of white). Served with a perfectly cooked fried egg with sesame seeds and a side of Gochujang sauce. I alternate between this sauce and Sriracha sauce.

Crisp Baby Buddha Bowl

When I don’t feel like wings I get the Not So Common Crisp sandwich: Deep fried chicken breast fillet with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and either Crisp BBQ, Seoul Sassy or Buffalo sauces. Comes in regular size and double with great bread, crisp tomatoes and of course phenomenal chicken.

I have also had the wings with the Seoul Sassy sauce – “…A subtly sweet sauce prepared with ginger, soy, garlic and other select spices make this a crowd favorite.”  I would also recommend this sauce. It’s not a spicy sauce but it has a very unique almost complex flavor going on.

So to sum it up, go to Crisp ASAP. It is also BYOB. OK?

Crisp 2940 N Broadway Ave Chicago, IL 60657

Being Healthly Tastes Good – Native Foods Cafe – Lakeview

After last week’s meal at Grahamwich I was looking for a healthy option for lunch. I had heard the buzz about Native Foods but was a bit skeptical. I’ve encountered vegan food dressed up to “be like” burgers, pizza etc. and have been disappointed. After my experience at the Native Foods Cafe in Lakeview I couldn’t believe it took me so long to get there and I am very happy I live close by for future visits.

The Cafe is bright and open with artwork covering the walls. The staff was really helpful to this newbie and even complemented me on my order. I signed up for a Native Rewards card and received a free drink.

With my order placed I was handed a huge glass to fill with fresh watermelon fresca. Tasted like summer with a hint of mint. They also have free refills so I could drink as much as I wanted. I might have gone back 3 times…

The Portobello and Sausage Burger was the special for the day and come with a side. Next time I am there I will get the sweet potato fries but this time I chose the Moroccan Lentil Soup. It was packed with flavor, hearty and with a healthy garlic kick. Might not want to order it if you are on a date.

The Portobello and Sausage Burger have juicy grilled portobellos, homemade Native Sausage Seitan, caramelized onions, pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo. This was definitely the best vegan burger I have had and better than any veggie burger I have had and up there with the best turkey burgers I have had. In fact, if I had to choose between this and a turkey burger I would choose the vegan burger. For real. The portobellos were grilled to perfection, tender, meaty and earthy. The Seitan (protein rich wheat meat alternative with a similar texture to meat when cooked) was reminiscent of sausage but wasn’t trying to be, I thought it tasted better. Rich and a bit spicy. The pomodoro, garlic and pumpkin seed pesto were a great combination and added more complexity to the burger. Can you tell I liked it?

The Greek Gyro: thinly sliced Native Peppered Seitan sautéed with shallots on quinoa, steamed vegetables, and kale with lemon garlic sauce and hummus. Served with grilled flatbread. This is truly a bowl of goodness. So many flavors and I can’t believe that something this healthy can taste so good.

Moral of the story, get you to Native Foods Cafe. It’s whole foods made deliciously and affordable. Not to mention the fact there are 3 Chicago locations.

Chicago – Lakeview: 1023 West Belmont Avenue Chicago, IL 60657

Chicago – Loop: 218 South Clark Street Chicago, IL 60604

Chicago – Wicker Park: 1484 North Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60622

I Have a Secret

Julius Meinl has great coffee (they have been around for 150 years), wonderful tea, quality food and a great space to enjoy all of these things in. But here’s the secret, the real reason to come here are the little cookies they serve with the drinks. There is just one little crisp cinnamon cookie that comes with the drink and I savor it every time. It’s baffling how something so small can have so much wonderful. Trust me, these gems are worth the trip.

So invite your friends to go to Julius Meinl but don’t tell them about the cookies and maybe they will hand it over when you innocently ask, “Can I have that biscuit…”

Other good items to try:

Meinl Baked Eggs – any kind, Bacon Cinnamon Roll, Austrian Breakfast, Nutella Crepes, Soup of the Day, any of the pastries, Chorizo Spätzle and of course any of the many coffee and teas offered.

P.S.  You can buy boxes of the cookies at Julius Meinl. Do so at your own risk…

Lakeview   Julius Meinl is at 3601 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613