ChicaBro

Ah to be young, as they say. I'll be frank, this article is going to be written from as much recollection as I can muster. As Chicago treated me fair to above average, but not without an abundance of libation.

I was tasked with helping formulate our excursion to Chicago on request of two of my oldest friends in honor of their upcoming nuptials. That's right, it was time for a good old fashioned bachelor party... for two. And not just any two. One to be wed in October- an esteemed whole animal butcher,  lover of  tequila & breaking bread over stellar meals. The other taking the plunge next year- a rising physician, no stranger to the finer things, an above average Karaoke singer and always having, what the french call, a damn good time. So we all set about crafting an unforgettable weekend, that we, collectively, don't remember all of. While we experienced so much, I'm going to focus on grub & beverages.

 the bali bali at three dots & a dash

the bali bali at three dots & a dash

Friday

Once we were able to corral the 16 attendees in to one direction after arrival, we made our way to Peqoud's Pizza. Iconic? Yes. Line from here to Indiana? You Betcha. Worth it? Absolutely. The ambience is loud and divey, the perfect way to get a group fired up for the weekend ahead. Give yourself 2 hours from reservation to exit, if not a little extra for a large group. Its no fast food joint.

I have had several deep dishes, correction, 'attempts' at deep dish pizza, in my life time. Most of which are mediocre amalgamations of doughy, over-sauced blobs with a stack of processed "mozzarella" that flakes off. But this was something entirely different from previous failures. A balanced amount of sauce, not overpowered by seasoning or sugar, has a surprisingly fresh tang- paired up with cheese that would string from two stories up. Toppings are up to you. But that caramelized halo. girl. GIMME DAT HALO. Perfectly browned from what I assume is more cheese, this the true piece de resistance. The recommended pizza drinkin beer was Half Acre Brewery's Pony Pilsner.  And they were entirely right. Clean drinking beer without the frills. Great by the pitcher and easily one of my favorite beverages of the trip. 

My only picture was of our table, knocked over beer pints, single slices left in pans, and crumpled up napkins. The wife suggested i just forgo the pic and let you know its a damn good pie and you should go. We finished the night at Kingston Mine's. College style well drink- but two blues bands playing on two stages back and forth all night made it worth the trip. Some really great music!.

Saturday

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A day in Wrigleyville was also completely in order. Our slow moving bunch stumbled our way to the brown line and hopped off at Southport, and made the block to Crosby's Kitchen for brunch. Im not a die hard for sweets in the AM, but this monkey bread made me a believer!

Traditionally, the monkey breads i remember had tear-apart pieces of high yeast dough like french bread and cinnamon rolls. But these little detachable pillows were more the stuff of angels. And brioche. Lathered in cinnamon sugar, baked in cast iron & finished off with housemade cream cheese icing.

The eggs dishes were fair to middlin, but i'll take that monkey bread and this bomb bloody mary (comes with a free pony of high life, because they know you're hurtin.)

 

 hangover be gone!

hangover be gone!

Just 3 blocks northeast we found ourselves in the heart of Wrigleyville. And fortunately we came fully prepared! We decided that, with a group of 16 but no diehard cubbies fans, tickets to one of the rooftops was more in order. We used wrigleyrooftopsllc.com and I truly had no complaints with the whole experience. The view was similar to any outfield seating at one of today's larger stadiums, and 3 floors of open beer & wine, and unlimited brats, burgers, nachos etc; Standard fare for a ballgame- nothing to blow your socks off but plenty to soak up the free suds! Just good all around fun for a ball game, and an experience you can't really get at other parks. If you're with just adults & the cubbies win on a weekend, stick around for a great time. Every bar was packed!

 Deuces Dug Out, a great place to watch drunk Cub's fans jump in to a pool fully clothed...

Deuces Dug Out, a great place to watch drunk Cub's fans jump in to a pool fully clothed...

Sunday

I can honestly say I've become a smokehouse skeptic. Too many times i've felt the excitement of trying a new bbq joint- you know the one's that have so much age and character that they can't possibly be bad- just to see them come up short. I was hesitant to follow one of our crews need for some q with a reccomendation to visit Green Street Smoked Meats. And boy howdy do I stand corrected.

The entrance to this place is so subtle but entirely on point. An alley lined with a shed roof on one side, string lights guiding you to the rear entry. Inside, an eclectic open hall, rustic and naturally lit (accompanied with more string lighting) and the vibe of forgotten meatpacking districts of old. The vibe is spot on for a Sunday mid-morning.  Won over by the charm of the interior and a solid margarita from our bartender- I decided I would drink the drink, and ride the ride. I went big on my menu choice, and I don't regret it one bit.

 

 sweet entrance at green street meats. cool neighborhood to wander through

sweet entrance at green street meats. cool neighborhood to wander through

You know those gimmicky menu items they put in their own little box above the rest of the menu board.  The "hey, you, guy who isn't sure yet. yeah you. try this" menu item. Well, I signed myself up for the full smoked beef short rib at $25. Coming in a little over a pound and a half, this bad boy was unwrapped from the parchment to release a cloud of peppercorn steam. Incredibly well seasoned in what I assume was their blend reminiscent of a Montreal mix, the attendant slid out the bone and sliced four thick strips of the short rib, each one I made in to redneck taco (folded in white bread and drizzled in their house q sauce). The sauce was tangy and not too sweet, which I appreciate. But little was needed. The meat had balanced smoke and salt and was cooked perfectly. This is an example of a local joint utilizing their own local products to do what they do best. They know beef, and they nailed it. 

It wasn't until we left that I realized this place was part of restaurant guru Brendan Sodikoff's Hogsalt- including Au Chevaul, Bavette's & a few other of Chicago and NYC's finer new joints. Bravo on this one- I would recommend that short rib to any Texan, Memphisian, Kansas Citian, and all the other folks that think they own the right way to barbecue.

Stuffed to the gills, we took a solid walk through the city and sobered up a bit. Something we just couldn't have! So we made our way to the highly recommended tiki bar- Three Dots & a Dash. Okay. This place will hold a special place in my heart. Forever- or until the next tiki bar. The walk down to the basement floor was highlighted by an enormous wall of blue lit skulls. Like the call of the sirens to every Gilligan and Skipper-too who have made their way down to the rum filled concoctions below. Each signature cocktail comes in its own signature cast glass. Bamboo, tiki heads, skulls, coconuts. Garnished with cherry laden swords and purple orchids, these cocktails are no bathtub-amateur-hour-colada. No, these are craft cocktails made by people who really care about their skills and upholding the tiki vibe.

 tiki time!

tiki time!

Oh, and big group rollin in deep? No worries, they have the most legit group cocktails for up to 12 that one can fathom this side of Easter Island. We may have indulged in... a few. Seriously, it is hard to make a flaming skull taste that delicious. But they did. Kudos to them. (see first pic!)

A few places we ventured to didn't make the list. Some of our more fine dining ventures, while excellent at service and technique (and even quality of ingredients), just missed the mark on flavor. Perhaps too much hype from reviews, or perhaps my own preconception was over-inflated. More on that in another post. I'm up for giving the finer restaurants of Chicago another shot on a return trip, so any recommendations on steakhouses and Michelin I am totally up for.

Chicago, we salut your classics & applaud your newcomers. Now if i could just remember where I left my damn shoes...

San Diego Power Trip

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For two years straight, let’s say 2005 through 2007, I spent 60% of the time, every time, speaking in the Ron Burgundy dialect.  Yes, Anchorman was an epic part of my college years. The life style, the hair, everything. I wanted to immulate all things Burgundy. So it is only natural that going to San Diego was the penultimate Anchorman Fanboy experience. After all, it truly is the whale’s…

I digress. While we had a planned agenda with the fam for the first two days, my wife and I had the opportunity to take in some incredible eats on Saturday & Sunday. The highlights are, in this chef’s mind, a great representation of west coast grub.

First Place- Leroy’s Burger, Leroys Kitchen & Lounge, Coronado

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It was our last day, with a flight out at 5:30 pm. We had about 2 hours to kill and no desire to eat. And this burger stumbled along and slapped me in the face with awesomeness. Topped with Holey Cow cheese, house bacon jam and house pickles, this burger was a 9.5 out of 10 all the way around. (I’m not a little  brat when it comes to messy foods, but tidy eaters out there would be a bit intimidated by the mess.) At 5 inches tall, the burger was a perfect medium rare. Crisp pickles and red onion added brightness and crunch. And girl, let me tell ya bout that Holey Cow cheese and bacon jam combo. Salty, creamy, smokey, sweet. Real deal Holyfield. Truffle parm fries & pomegranate ketchup. Sorry about the food pic or lack there of. I didn’t plan on this being a write home experience and I was graciously proven dead wrong. If you’re a burger guy or gal, then make this a planned stop.

Second place – The Cake Batter Donut, Donut Bar, Cortez Hill

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So I was super skeptical about this one going in. Extremely well known Donut Bar has a long line and a host of accolades, which in my head screamed tourist trap. I mean, how much can you really do to a donut? Consider me dead wrong. Hailey and I tried three different donuts, the champion being the near half pound Cake Batter Donut. I expected this donut to run me $7 or 8 bucks. Nope, just $3!

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And hot damn was it amazing. Its a dense donut, but still maintains a brilliantly soft texture and bite. I braced myself for sugar overload, but was  delighted to not have any instant cavities. But what made this joint a real treat? Over 20 beers on tap. I asked my Donut-tender to recommend a brew for the cake batter, and was pointed towards the Mosaic & Idaho 7 IPA from local Mission Brewery. Bitter citrus & piney tastes washed down the cakey, sugary treat like a graceful 1-2 punch to the tastebuds.  Long line, but worth the wait.

Third Place- Uni Bowl, Island Life Foods, Little Italy Farmers Market

Okay, so its not for everyone. If you love iron tastes, and you love things that literally taste like the ocean, then this is a homerun. First and foremost, fresh fresh fresh. The urchins were all lined up on ice in front of the booth. As the sun slowly melted ice, the urchin spines started to wiggle. These guys were definitely still alive and freshly caught.

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So after they’ve cracked the urchin and scraped the uni, they stuffed the bowl with ahi tuna poke. Fresh ahi chunks, tossed in a garlic shoyu, add fresh cucumber and red onion and light acidity. Watching the process gave this chef a knife-on for sure. You can’t get better than fresh seafood like this. Topped off with the uni and micro greens. For the adventurous eater, this is a treat to catch. The market runs every Saturday & is home to plenty of farmers, ranchers & popups.

Shout outs for tasty drinks! 

So there happened to be a wine festival. So we happened to go. And I happened to enjoy it. A lot. Maybe too much. (Don’t ask my wife, sore subject :D)

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But this rosé took home first prize from our trip. it was a nice 70 degrees with full sun, so this chilly rose hit the spot. La Chapelle from Chateau la Gordonne (see below). For what its worth, I like about one in every 10 rosés I try. And this one probably tops the list. I thought it was perfectly fruity, without teetering into the sugary zone, with a good amount of bite at the end. I asked the rep about distribution and she didn’t think it had hit Louisiana yet. But one can hope! Or buy it off the internet, which this particular individual has on a todo list. Hailey and I both gave this bad boy two thumbs up.

I took a recommendation from a good buddy who works at a local brewery at home, and he gave a hearty recommendation for Modern Times brewery. I was fortunate to try two brews, both of which made my list of keepers. Black House, an oatmeal coffee stout, was the best of the category that I have had thus far. Not that stale coffee taste like a few I’ve tried, just rich almost espresso-y flavor and a smooth, I mean real smooth, drinkin beer. Fortunate Islands, MT’s Wheat beer, was also a great drinker. Especially with my big body being warm from a good bit of walking, Fortunate Islands is hop-forward taste but it doesn’t drink like that at all- which I like. We didn’t get to the MT brewery, but their brews were featured at a lot of local places.

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My wife’s fave cocktail of the weekend was a blueberry mojito from Sally’s Fish House in the Sea Village. Although the abundance of kitsch that you come across in the Amity Island remake, the Sea Village is a must if only for the views. Sally’s has a very nice patio with great cocktails and a decent beer selection. The view of the marina definitely makes it worth while.

As far as some honorable mentions, we also had some great chicken bulgogi from 500 Gogi Korean BBQ, also at the market. We had some charbroiled oysters in Brigsten’s Seafood on Coronado with jack cheese and bacon that made for a nice afternoon snack. Overall, for a few days of eating and drinking, I’d say we did a good job of sniffin out some nice stops!

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You stay classy, San Diego.

Love & Other Mollusks

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So there I was, over served and casually under dressed at 22 years old, in one of my favorite Spanish restaurants. Its one of those places where you have your favorites, and you just blindly order. But after a less than successful start to a second date, I said to myself, “Self! Call an audible, change it up, go for something different!” So I did. I had honestly never tried one before. But enough bourbon changed my mind. And within 15 minutes, there they were, like tiny white snare drums radiating beacons of awesomeness, still sizzling on cold white china at the little tapas restaurant. Needless to say, I ditched the date and left with a true love of one of nature’s greatest bivalves, the scallop.

Now it is one thing to fall in love with a food, but it truly is another to learn how to cook it. And scallops and chefs have somewhat of a trying relationship. Especially in a busy environment. This delicious nugget of salty, ocean-y goodness is not one that can be left unattended. They require just the right amount of time. These jewels are not cheap, and an over cooked scallop can leave you crying in your sleep! But here are a few tips that can help you at home:

On Purchasing!

*dry- like many seafoods, slimy is rarely satisfying. Look for scallops that have been kept refrigerated/displayed out of their own juice.

*fresh- nobody wants the funk! Look for a fishmonger or market that market that is kind enough to let you take a whiff. If it smells like anything but a little saltwater, it may not be worth it.

*size- most mollusk & crustaceans are sold based on amount per pound. Scallops worth serving are normally at least 1 ounce, so look for U-16 or better (under 16 per pound).

On Cooking!

*trimming- sometimes there is a tendon still attached to the scallop. This is what connected the meat to the shell, but it definitely needs to go! Take a paring knife and cut it out.

*heating- when we look at searing, always have your pan hot and ready before you add your fat! Crank it up to medium-high to high heat. (Some stoves mean business when they are full speed!) Need to know if your pan is ready? Run to the sink, wet your hand & flick a drop or two in. If it disappears before you can say Dumbledore, in other words very quickly, she’s ready.

*seasoning- no need to over do here. A light sprinkle of sea salt is fine. If you feel crazy, maybe a touch of cracked black pepper!

*searing-we have butter at the ready, and a tablespoon or two is fine. Any fat or oil that doesn’t have an exceptionally low smoke point will work. Once our fat is good and hot, which will happen quickly, add your scallops flat side down. Sear for 2 minutes and don’t you dare think about moving it until then. The bottom will be nice and golden brown. Flip and let it cook for the remaining 1 minute. I use a regular spoon to bath the butter back on top after flipping.

Blackberry Brown Butter Scallops

 

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We love our classic seared scallops (pictured above). But if blackberry thyme scallops (title picture) tickle your fancy, it really is a no brainer!

*In addition to our butter in the skillet, we add one tablespoon fresh chopped thyme.

*Add one tablespoon minced shallot as well.

*We want our butter to brown up a little more than our basic scallop recipe. So give it a minute or two before we add the scallops, constantly stirring the sauce.

*After our same sear method, pull the scallops and plate them.

*Cut the heat and add a little blackberry jam to the melted butter, and spread around until it melts.

Drizzle that sauce on the scallops and be prepared to destroy your next dinner party!