Grilled Cheese Quest – Grahamwich

I feel like I was born to love grilled cheese. Guess it’s not that hard but I really do have a huge affection for the wonderful buttery bread and cheese combination. It’s a comfort food from my childhood that has lasted through adulthood. Good thing comfort food is so popular in Chicago.

Here is my first official stop at a restaurant solely to try their grilled cheese. If you have any recommendations for where I should take my next grilled cheese quest, please let me know!

For my first visit to Grahamwich I think I went at the perfect time, after lunch. I am assuming this place gets a lot of to-go traffic from people on their lunch break. Even if you want to eat-in the seating is limited. But after 2pm there is plenty of room at the communal table in the back and no line. The restaurant is small with a clean design and good lighting.

Grahamwich Front of Restaurant

My friend and I decided on splitting the grilled cheese (obvs), the tuna salad sandwich and the g’wich chips.

Grahamwich Tuna Salad & Grilled Cheese

The Grilled Cheese: Wisconsin cheddar + tomato marmalade + cheese curds + cracked pepper + Pullman loaf

If comfort food is what I wanted, I got a whole week’s worth from just half a sandwich. Last time I had cheese curds I was in Madison and these took me back to good ol’ Madtown. Yum. The sandwich could survive without them but what fun would that be? The tomato marmalade satiated my love for ketchup and the bread was crunchy crisp on the outside and soft once you sink your teeth into it. Enough melted cheese to satisfy anyone. I recommend this sandwich to anyone looking for a delicious, quality grilled cheese. Depending on your appetite this sandwich is plenty big enough and rich enough to split with a friend if you throw in a bag of chips.

Tuna Salad: Green beans + blistered peppers + basil pesto + black olive + rustic ciabattta

Grahamwich Tuna Salad

The polar opposite of the grilled cheese, light, more on the deconstructed side and won’t put you in a food coma after consuming. The tuna had a great flavor and it wasn’t weighed down by mayo or other condiments.  This sandwich is good for when you want a filling but healthy feeling sandwich.

G’wich chips: Yukon potatoes + fresh herbs + bacon bits + cheddar cheese + ranch powder

Grahamwich Grilled Cheese & g’wich chips

Wow. These chips come in a huge bag that you are quite sure you couldn’t possibly finish but next thing you know…you are fighting over the last chip. Genius concept combining herbs, bacon, cheese and ranch. Chips were perfectly crispy. Here, take a closer look…

Grahamich g’wich chips

Grahamwich 615 N State St Chicago, IL

The Purple Pig – Near North Side

Last fall a friend from San Francisco was in town for work and wanted to go to lunch. Due to time constraints and location I needed to think of place on Michigan Avenue I would want to go and want my friend to experience. The Purple Pig came to mind. It’s good enough for anyone considering themselves a foodie but accessible enough to anyone wanting a casual atmosphere. So despite the crowds and noise level The Purple Pig is cozy and easy-going once you sit down. The wait staff is very knowledgeable and happy to share their expertise and recommendations. You also feel like you could be in any handful of cities in Europe. Get there early or be prepared to wait as they do not take reservations.

There are individual tables but also communal tables that speak to what this restaurant is about, small plates meant for sharing. Depending on how much wine you have you might end up sharing with your neighbor.

With only two people it was a bit difficult to narrow down what we were going to get. There are many things on the menu that I would like but if I had to only eat what we ordered forever more, I would be okay with that.

First up: Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistachio Vinaigrette & Butternut Squash Arancini with Sage & Walnut Pesto.

I know, beets and goat cheese, ubiquitous to every menu in the last two years. The goat cheese being whipped and the pistachio vinaigrette do make it worth it getting. But I wouldn’t blame you for not ordering this. However, you should order the Butternut Squash. It was the perfect fall day dish. The squash was cooked and season perfectly with salt and pepper accompanied by this wonderfully warm sage. Let’s look at it up close:

Feeling a bit adventurous and considering the restaurant’s name we ordered the Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg. Every ingredient worked magically together. The ear is served in thin slices so enough taste but not over powering at all.  Served up in a pig shaped bowl. Equal parts cute and off-putting.

Next up, Octopus with Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes & Salsa Verde. The Salsa Verde was the perfect addition to this dish. Added acidity to the octopus (cooked perfectly by the way, not too rubbery) and gave some zip to the vegetables.

Dessert choices were presented and couldn’t be turned down. We went with the Sicilian Iris – Ricotta & Chocolate Chip filled Fried Brioche. Wow. Thin layer of crisp on the brioche as it hits your teeth then you sink into the softness of the brioche and gooey ricotta and melted chocolate.

The Purple Pig is also a great place for European wines, beer, house made charcuterie, and cheeses.

Fast Food Quest – BIG & little’s Near North Side

Image via pchannon.blogspot.com

12/5/11 Update: BIG &  little’s has moved to 860 N Orleans St,  Chicago, IL

I heard that Chick-fil-A opened in Chicago and it got me thinking about fast food. I remember liking it back in the day but would I like it now? It’s like when you have a favorite movie from your teenage years and you go back and watch as an adult and are so disappointed because it’s really bad and not bad enough to be good, just really bad. I am rambling but in between thinking about going to Chick-fil-A and missing In-N-Out Burger    my friend April suggested we check out BIG & little\’s in River North/Near North Side.

It is a tiny place with about 10 counter spaces to sit. Seems the majority of people take the food to-go. Parking isn’t the easiest now since they are redoing the street and it’s in a part of town that is probably not on your usual path if you are walking around the Near North side.  Stepping inside you are immediately hit with the smell of seafood being fried and burgers being cooked — it was a great. Reggae music was playing and it made me feel like, “where are we??” It was a good feeling though, nice to be out of a comfort zone as they say and have a new experience.

Chef Gary Strauss welcomed us and gave us some recommendations. He didn’t mind me taking pictures and had a very laid-back vibe. We went with the Whitefish Po Boy and truffle fries.

While waiting for the food I noticed BIG & little’s has won a few awards for cheap eats and chef Tony was on the reality show Hell\’s Kitchen.  Also they will be on the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on Monday November 7th.  All really great, but not as great as the smell of the truffle fries when I opened the to go bag (pictured above). I had to dig right in instead of waiting until we got home. These were some of the best fries I have ever had. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and perfectly fresh. No ketchup needed, in fact it takes away from the fry. YOU NEED TO EAT THESE FRIES.

The White Fish Po Boy was huge, can be split even if you have a healthy appetite. I’m not the biggest fan of fried fish but this sandwich did not feel too heavy or greasy. There was a bit of spice to the sauce and the bread was fresh. I recommend eating the food there (if there is room) since it does lose a bit of the crispness over time. The fries were still great but by the time we were home there was difference.

I will be back, for the fries obviously but to try their fish tacos. I’ve heard they have some of the best Fish & Chips around. So if you are looking for seafood (or burgers/fries) and don’t feel like a sit down place like  GT Fish & Oyster or Shaw\’s Crab House come here. Especially if you work in River North and want something new or need a snack break when you’re shopping downtown. Oh, it is cash only.

BIG & little’s – 939 N Orleans, Chicago, IL 60610
 

Attention Oyster Lovers: Shaw’s Crab House – Royster with the Oyster Festival

Image via Shawscrabhouse.com

The  “Royster With The Oyster” 23rd Annual Oyster Festival and Tent Party started this Monday and continues through tomorrow at Shaw\’s Crab House. For anyone that likes oysters and a party, this is for you.

There is an Oyster Hall of Fame Dinner tonight at 6:30pm. $79/person. Friday Shaw’s hosts their Tent Party on Hubbard. There will of course be oysters but also other seafood on Shaw’s menu as well as live music. Live music starts at 3pm.

Last but not least, The Oyster Slurping Contest. Or as Shaw’s calls it,  “…Slurp-Off, is as simple as whoever slurps a dozen oysters the fastest, sans hands, wins.” That should be interesting to watch.

Image via Shawscrabhouse.com

Shaw’s Crab House: Fresh Seafood Events – Royster with the Oyster Festival.

Lunchtime at GT Fish and Oyster

UPDATE: I came back for the Chicago Restaurant Week special at GT Fish and Oyster solely for the lobster roll and it was worth it. Check it out —-> https://www.tastemade.com/v/zEhBW87vRMO7QvdSpPqhTg

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Open for about four months, GT Fish and Oyster took over the space that used to house Tizi Melloul and changed it into a  bright and open restaurant. Sunshine was streaming through the windows and the vibe was relaxed. The music lent to the ambiance, Neil Young‘s Harvest Moon, Mumford & Sons and Ray LaMontagne. From what I have heard, this is opposite of the feel at nighttime, crowded, loud and more like a scene.

Here’s the lunch breakdown:

Tuna Poke: mango, cucumber, black sesame. Fresh and good flavors. The mango keeps this dish from tasting like the standard poke.

Tuna Poke

Oysters served with Ponzu Mignonette and GT Cocktail Sauce: 3 Pebble Beach (West, Washington) and 3 Kusshi (West, British Columbia). I’m not an oyster expert but I did like the Pebble Beach oyster, tasted like the sea. I did not try the Kusshi but my friend really liked both and he knows his oysters.

Fish Taco: Rockfish, chipotle aioli, chicharron, garlic, pea shoots. Perfect size and great flavor combination. Pea shoots added a nice dimension and balanced the aioli.

Tuna BLT: seared tuna, bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, aioli. Served with Fried Pickles. This was my favorite dish of the meal. The tuna was seared perfectly, sourdough bread was fresh, avocado/bacon/aoili and tomato together, delicious.

The best fried pickles I’ve had north of the Mason Dixon Line and no dipping sauce needed.

I would recommend GT Fish and Oyster for a nice lunch with a friend/date or a business lunch. It also sounds like it could be fun for a night out if you are up for it. High quality ingredients and excellent service, however, this is also reflected in the price.

GT Fish and Oyster is on 531 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654.