Given the flow of people who came through after which there were greetings by first name, it became evident that Chef Sara’s Café has a steady stream of regular customers. Once you get to enjoy anything from the menu, engage everyone in conversation, or find yourself dancing to the music played in the background, you will no doubt find yourself being a regular patron. It is rare in today’s environment that you can go into any establishment as a stranger and leave as a part of the family. Chef Sara’s Café will be the first café or restaurant I go to for a proper sit-down after the pandemic eases. I always enjoy going back home. Continue reading
When I moved to Logan Square in late 2017, Armitage Avenue was very must desolated. For several miles, there were buildings plastered with boards, vacant lots, and blight. Over the past few years, Logan Square has maintained a slow rejuvenation that has resulted in what is becoming a very attractive neighbourhood. One restaurant that now has residence on the landscape as a replacement for what was once a local bar is Scofflaw at 3201 W. Armitage Avenue.
Touted as a gin bar, it’s definitely a great gin bar also with brunch, dinner, and other cocktail offerings. Having tried to go one Friday evening only to walk into a room with not much navigation space, I opted for an early Sunday brunch for my return visit. Enjoying the cozy atmosphere, instead of enjoying a seat at one of the booths or small tables, the bar was where I parked myself.
The brunch menu had a few items that caught my eye and after a brief acknowledgement that I was going to turn brunch in “drunch,” I spied a few items that I figured I would enjoy slowly while indulging a flight of gin cocktails. The first landing was a devilled egg topped with crispy chicken skin, smoked buttermilk, and fermented celery. Another menu item was a plate of cathead biscuits, topped with cream cheese, trout roe, and chives. The third landing was Hong Kong style French toast that came with cashew butter and honey chamomile whipped cream. This is the best French toast ever! And the last landing was a simple breakfast of toast, sausage, and eggs scrambled with eggs. Not a smear or crumb was left afterwards.
Now, the question now may be, “What exactly did you have to drink?” Wanting to partake of a few gin cocktails, I requested a flight of four different selections, not necessarily exact to the cocktail recipe. The first two were a gimlet and a jasmine, both made with Scofflaw Old Tom Gin. The gimlet was prepared with gin, lime juice and a little bit of sugar. The jasmine was prepared with lemon juice, orange Combier, Compari, and a touch of simple sugar.
The second part of the flight consisted of a classic martini and a negroni. These were made with St. George Terroir, based out of California. The Douglas fir in both helped to bring out a woody note in the sips. The martini had gin, dry vermouth, and a hint of orange bitters, topped with lemon zest. The negroni had gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in it. Being one who prefers darker alcohol, these four gin cocktails are now on my immediate go-to list.
The final cocktails were hot to warm things up before going outside into frigid temperatures. The was a wassail, that was made with gin instead of with bourbon. There was also a rum toddy just to introduce a darker spirit into the imbibing equation. Quite possibly not a part of the regular menu, these certainly are good for hastening warmth after coming inside from frosty temperatures and enough to make you not ever want to go back outside afterwards.
The brunch crowd filled in quickly, an indication that service is great and quality of food and beverage are top. Having sat at the bar and engaged the bartenders in conversation, it was apparent that they are dynamic in their craft. The weekend evenings indeed see a packed restaurant, for sure. I have not gone during the middle of the week, but it’s a safe bet that this is a neighbourhood favourite for good reason. Chicago has plenty bars, but none specific to be a gin bar. Scofflaw is certainly one I would recommend if you are wondering which one to try.
Hello, 2018, you’ve made it. And it’s a very good thing that I did not leave my appetite in 2017. I brought it with me. I must admit that spending a few weeks in Morocco towards the latter part of 2017 left me with a bit of depression. Imagine going to country with so much beauty, culinary delights, and warm weather, only to return to Chicago experiencing an early freeze and a refrigerator that I had emptied before my vacation. Thankful, I had a memo for Kingsbury Street Cafe at 1523 N. Kingsbury Street.
My first visit to Kingsbury Street Cafe was a few days after my return to Chicago. Temperatures were not all that bad, so I didn’t complain. When I arrived at the restaurant, there wasn’t the usual long line outside or any kind of wait inside like what you experience at lot of breakfast spots in the city. Spacious and full of light, I was in for what I expected would be a pleasant experience.
I started with a millionaire coffee, which was a nice winter recipe of house coffee, rumchata, kahlua, and frangelico topped with whipped cream. I call this my festive beverage. First to the table was a cup of egg and carrot soup. This reminded me a bit of Chinese egg drop soup in texture, but of a rather light autumn soup thanks to the presence of carrots. If it is still on the menu, I highly recommend having it, especially during the chilly months.
The finale was a plate of shrimp and spinach frittata with stewed tomatoes. The shrimp were plump and nothing close to popcorn size. It was also evident that they were fresh from the absence of a fishy aftertaste. Tomatoes are a vice for me, so I was well past satisfied while devouring the ones in the dish. Everything in the dish worked well and I must say that this was a nice deviation from the usual pancake, waffle, and omelette offerings.
During my second visit, which was at the beginning of the New Year, I went a little later in the morning and it was full of quite a few patrons. Granted it was the weekend instead of in the middle of the week like I had gone the first time, there still was no wait. I was fortunate to have the server who was my server during the first visit. After a few pleasantries about the Christmas holiday, I had a mimosa and a parfait of yogurt, granola, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Simply divine as a healthy starter.
The finish was a plate of angel food cake French toast with orange slices and lemon zest topped with whipped cream. Sitting atop a crème anglaise, this weekend French toast was a winner. The concept in French toast preparation was different that what I’ve had before, that being light and fluffy like angel food cake, so that made it the more appetizing. Without any syrup, this can be enjoyed to completion without recognizing that no additional sweetener was needed.
Kingsbury Street Cafe scores high points with the great service. It’s clear that the output from the kitchen is consistently good. The amount of navigation space and elbow room is also a high mark, especially when so many restaurants in Chicago entertain crowding diners into the dining area. It may be that Kingsbury Street Cafe is not on a “Best Brunch Spot in Chicago” list, which explains why seating is fast. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a breakfast or brunch — or dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — spot where you don’t find yourself wondering if you’ll ever get a seat, add Kingsbury Street Cafe to your destination.
With ongoing growth in Chicago, neighbourhoods like Edgewater are becoming hubs for a lot of cultural cuisine. There is influence from the Vietnamese community just to the South in Uptown. There are several authentic Thai restaurants, Ethiopian restaurants, a nearby Nigerian restaurant, sushi bars, American cafes, and a dusting of Indian restaurants. Mango Pickle at 5842 N. Broadway Street was my latest jaunt for a sampling of something representative from afar.
Touted as a cafe, Mango Pickle is a spacious restaurant that serves Sunday brunch and dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. For my first visit, I went for Sunday brunch. I started with a Smoky Negroni since you can never go wrong with a negroni. The bartender mixed a great brunch cocktail that was neither heavy-handed with the alcohol nor too light that it was watery. To get a good sampling of offerings, I started with chicken soup, which came in a deep plate with tender chicken and root vegetables over a curry gravy. Although I was expecting the landing to arrive in a cup or a bowl, it was still a flavourful dish that I would have again.
The second brunch landing was a plate of carrot halwa with French toast. Topped with pecans and drizzled with a light syrup, this was a rather light offering considering the toast had the consistency of fluffy, scrambled eggs, rather than grilled bread. The carrot halwa was the item in the dish that stood out as representative of something in Indian dining. With the natural sweetness of the halwa, it was a nice accompaniment to the toast.
For the third brunch landing, I had bun maska with homemade jam and accompanied it with a cup of masala chai. This was the first time I had ever eaten this Maharashtrian favourite. Dusted with powdered sugar, the bun maska was warm, right from the oven, buttered, and outstanding with the jams. As to the masala chai, Mango Pickle needs a walk-up window where one can order the chai for take-away.
Recognizing that the brunch seemingly had an Indian influence to American breakfast, I returned a few days later for a tasting of the dinner offerings. Very much like during Sunday brunch, the restaurant was crowded and full of energy. I was full of anticipation.
I started with a cup of masala chai that came with a small vial of bourbon and another small vial of Somrus Indian liqueur. Being a fan of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, there were no complaints while enjoying the bourbon in part with the chai. Where I was completely won over was with the Somrus Indian liqueur. Having gotten a taste of the liqueur at a media event in December 2016, I was quick to make a reminder to myself to seek out a bottle of it for enjoyment at home.
As usual, I opted for a few landings so I could have a good idea of what Mango Pickle had for the dinner crowd. I started with a lamb slider that came open-faced atop naan and accented with a drizzle of kasundi mustard. Not a large appetizer, but certainly one that will awake the taste buds, I recommend this as a starter.
The second landing was baigan bharta, a traditional creamed eggplant dish in Indian cuisine. Spicy the way I had requested it, this was a very satisfying vegetarian option. This dish came with root vegetables and was topped with papadum. One thing I noticed with the inclusion of root vegetables (i.e., beets and sweet potatoes) is a hint of Eastern European flare sneaking into certain dishes. It works well here, for sure.
The final landing was still in keeping with vegetarian options. It was chana masala. This dish had a heavier ginger base than I have had before at any Indian restaurants domestically or abroad. I ordered basmati rice with the chana masala that had herbs and two small dollops of ghee added. Fantastic. Looking back, I think naan would have tempered the ginger a bit, but the ginger was actually good for digestion given how much I had ordered.
Since I often spend a lot of time in Edgewater visiting with friends, I never paid much attention to Mango Pickle on the landscape. So, I can’t say that it is a new addition to Edgewater. It is, however, a welcomed one, I’m sure. The service during Sunday brunch was superb. And during my return for dinner, the server recognized me as “the photographer who sat at the high-top.” That alone was enough to prove consistency in the service. And for the food, I’m won over completely. Even with the faint hint of Eastern European showing up in the ingredients, the restaurant serves some delicious Indian cuisine still. You should add Mango Pickle to your “Must Go Here” list.
While going for nigiri at a Japanese restaurant in Oak Park with my restaurant advisor, we walked by a nearby coffeehouse. The name, Addis Cafe, was rather captivating to us, as we wondered if it was a cafe that served Ethiopian options for the palate. After a quick Google search, since the cafe was closed, we saw that they indeed served coffee but they also served breakfast options along the lines of waffles and scones. So, during the weekend, I returned to Addis Cafe at 818 S. Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, IL, while my restaurant advisor had homeowner tasks to tend to.
Let me just say that I love the limited menu concept. It’s very reminiscent of cafes throughout Europe, South America, and sections of Australia where what’s served has been perfected because there isn’t a focus on trying to cover a plethora of menu items. I started with a spicy chai and a plate of salted caramel waffles. When I requested that the chai be spicy, I got it exactly how I wanted it. And having had waffles from all over the world, the waffles at Addis Cafe rank on my Top 5 Waffles Worldwide List. It’s one thing to mention that they’re crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It’s another to mention that they actually pop with flavour and require no syrup.
For the second round, I considered a cup of coffee, but I had another spicy chai and a plate of mixed berry compote waffles to go with it. Unlike most compote, the version at Addis Cafe did not have the berries drowned in syrup. It was almost as if the berries had been macerated so that they were in their natural juices. This made it that much better because I could taste the berries without a saccharine heaviness on my tongue. With no more room for eating more, I shall return at a later date for a sampling of their savoury waffle topped with gorgonzola and sun-dried tomatoes.
Addis Cafe is a quaint coffeehouse with extremely reasonable prices and outstanding service. I’m slowly working coffee back out of my diet, so I didn’t have any for making an observation of quality and taste. The chai was addictive enough. I will also have to save room for one or two scones. Oak Park is very family oriented so there were several parties that came in with little kids, the parents letting the kids have a good run of the place. There are no meat options on the menu, but everything is so blooming good that you won’t miss meat. Addis Cafe proves that the most inconspicuous places are absolute top.
A few weeks ago, I went back to Jackson, MS, to see family. I had not even dropped my luggage off before I wanted to make a pit stop by the farmers market. Knowing that I would be cooking and baking, I wanted to get some white corn on the cob, lima beans, cranberry peas, collard greens, squash and a few other vegetables. I also wanted to get some peaches for baking a peach cobbler to go with homemade ice cream. For as much as I am a city rat, there will always be the need for indulging some good food from Mississippi that has not been messed up with growth products, additives, and who knows what else.
Having returned from hot and humid Jackson to muggy Chicago, I was strolling through Lincoln Square when it had become apparent that my stomach wasn’t rumbling. It was roaring. And to my blissful surprise, I happen to find myself standing outside Luella’s Southern Kitchen at 4609 N. Lincoln Avenue. Being that I think about eating constantly, I was curious as to whether this was one of those restaurants trying to make an attempt at Southern comfort food. So, I entered and was greeted with a Southern hello. That was all the indication I needed to know that they were not simply passing off Southern cooking as a fad.
Seeing that September came in feeling like July and August, I needed something to cool off. A jar of sweet tea was what I needed to hit the spot. Not getting just plain sweet tea, I had it accented with figs. Either I was incredibly thirsty or this tea was divine.
Now, although I had a severe hankering, I did not want to go overboard. I ordered something that I never, ever, ever had a desire to eat as a child. I had shrimp and grits. I love shrimp like a baby loves a bottle. But grits were absolutely disgusting to me. Unlike the sticky grits of my youth, these were cheesy grits that didn’t congeal. My grandmother is looking down now saying, “You wait to get old to start enjoying Southern table food.” I appreciate the fact that the shrimp and grits were not prepared ala white table-cloth gourmet style.
For a finale, I ordered something to take me down to New Orleans. I had to get some beignets. The beauty of the beignets was not that they were so blooming good, but that they came to the table right out of the fryer. There will never be an argument that you can get beignets outside of New Orleans that are worth getting confectioners sugar on your face. The beignets from Luella’s Southern Kitchen were worth it. And with another jar of sweet tea, I can honestly say that this is where I will return for Southern cooking.
There are plenty seats in Luella’s Southern Kitchen. There is no alcohol on the menu, not that I could see. Coming from Mississippi, I can vouch for the food being authentic in flavor. I must say that a winning tactic I noticed was that the staff actually engaged the diners. The food was already top, so winning patrons over with hospitality is indeed a winner. When I found out that they were from Greenville, MS, it was as if I had gone to my parents’ home. And Luella’s Southern Kitchen will also be like going home.
When family visits, I avoid downtown tourist traps. Coming from cultural hubs like New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and London, nothing can kill an enjoyable stay in Chicago like going to some establishment and faking a smile throughout the experience. And when Caribbeans start sucking their teeth, you have to redeem yourself quickly. Well, during my sister’s visit, I took her to several ethnic restaurants where I have gone already and to a few restaurants where I have not been. Lula Cafe at 2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard in Logan Square is one cafe that I bypassed for years because of arriving late and having to wait for almost an hour for a seat.
With fantastic temperatures finally gracing Chicago, we had waited for an outdoor seat so that we could soak up some sun, feel the breeze, and enjoy some brunch. Since no brunch is complete without a cocktail, we had one apiece for starters. My sister had a la piña coronado, which definitely screamed Caribbean. The recipe of agricole, amaretto, pineapple, coconut made for quite a refreshing cocktail. I am a fan of scotch, so I had the penicillin. The combination of scotch and ginger was a winner, for true.
Having eaten something only a few hours before arriving at Lula Cafe, my sister ordered pancakes and scrambled eggs. To hear her describe them, they were tasty pillows accented with confectioners sugar. One highlight that certainly cannot be missed was the apple chicken sausage. Either the sausage was grilled or there was some liquid smoke used in the recipe, for it tasted like it had been smoked at a backyard barbecue. For me, I had scrambled eggs with cream cheese. And for the main brunch item, I ordered brioche French toast that was crusted with pistachios and topped with raspberries. The French toast was so good that it didn’t require any syrup. This French toast may be one of the main reasons why there is a constant crowd at the cafe.
Lula Cafe is a small cafe with limited seating inside and some patio seating outside. It seems as though there is a constant tide of customers and I imagine the ebb is during closing only. Even then, the service is fantastic. The output from the kitchen reminds me of home cooking, not restaurant cooking, and this may also be something what customers find so inviting. I had been tempted to take my sister into downtown to one of the numerous breakfast spots, but I am glad that I decided to go to a place closer to my apartment. I only have to remember to arrive as soon as the doors open when I go again.
When I think of diners, what comes to mind are burgers, fries, and milk shakes. And then you go to a neighbourhood like Ravenswood and find that the local diner is a seafood restaurant. You smile. Well, I smiled.
Let me start by saying that I had an aggressive appetite. CrossFit and kickboxing early in the morning had already worn me out, but in a good way. However, such intense workouts crank my appetite and I obey. Glenn’s Diner at 1820 W. Montrose Avenue certainly fits the bill for satisfying one’s craving.
Starting with brunch, I loved the chocolate chip waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup. Loved the scramble eggs with cheddar cheese. When brunch was done, I waited about 20 minutes, got my second wind, and then had the tuna tartar with chips. Raw tuna compacted together with avocado and onions. Delicious. And then I had halibut with potatoes and asparagus. Talk about flaky fish and everything being seasoned without being overdone. The jambalaya with cornbread was out of this world, although it didn’t come with rice. It was closer to the jambalaya that I’ve had in New Orleans than the attempts I’ve had at other New Orleans style restaurants in Chicago.
There is a constant flow of patrons coming and going at Glenn’s Diner. During midday the crowd was light. Given the breakfast was good, I imagine the morning crowd fills the restaurant. The food is certain worthy, so I can understand if the restaurant stays crowded. I’ll be a part of the constant crowd from now on, for true. So glad they were not about burgers, fries, and milk shakes.
Going for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Chicago can be rather discouraging. Many breakfast spots have long lines outside and crowded waiting areas inside. If you are like me and you are not a fan of waiting a long time for something to eat, you end up preparing your own breakfast at home. And then you stumble upon Bite Cafe.
It could be that I arrived as soon as they opened for business because the restaurant did start to fill up later, but not such that patrons had to wait outside for a seat. This was a huge plus. Quite cozy on the inside, Bite Cafe does not fit the big box or even medium size restaurants. Not of the hole-in-the-wall variety, but definitely inviting, my appetite and I were rather happy.
I ordered mashedbrown, eggs scrambled well with Gruyère cheese, and the challah bread French toast. The mashedbrown was a potato cake that I’d buy in bulk and eat in the mornings for a breakfast snack. And since I was able to get Gruyère cheese in my eggs rather than American, jack, or cheddar cheese, I was in love. The French toast was so blooming good that it didn’t require any more syrup than the maple syrup drizzle that came on it. The hazelnut butter and banana creme anglaise gave flavour without making the toast excessively sweet.
So, it seems that Bite Cafe also has lunch and dinner menus. I shall have to return after work one of the days to check out those offerings. The breakfast set was definitely good enough for me to consider several more mornings visits.
Several times I have mentioned my love for breakfast, which may be at any time of the day. The thing is in Chicago most breakfast spots pack out within the first fifteen minutes of the doors opening for business. This past weekend I decided to get out of bed early enough to try a restaurant that was supposedly known for wonuts — waffles prepared like doughnuts. Well, after a bit of waffling around, I figured I would add my experience to Chicago Alphabet Soup.
Waffles Cafe in Chicago’s Lakeview neighbourhood at 3611 N. Broadway was my destination for sampling a variety of different waffles. It is neither a big box nor is it a hole in the wall. Small in size, but still comfy, it’s a sweet spot for some breakfast bliss. Upon entry, the host was a bit of a space cadet. That all changed when the camera came out of the bag. My server was outstanding and recognized that I was ready to release the Kraken — that being my appetite. Actually, I think she heard my stomach growling, as did the two at the table next to me who started snickering.
I had checked out the menu online on the bus ride to the restaurant, so I had an idea of what I wanted. However, there were so many options. So I decided to do a flight — a flight of hot chocolate and a flight of waffles. The hot chocolate came in dainty little cups. There were caramel, Mexican hot chocolate, and toasted marshmallow. Now that I have a lumberjack beard, complete with wild moustache, each sip left whipped cream across my upper lip making my moustache match the white in my beard at the chin. Each flavour had won me over to the point where I wanted another flight. I had to wait on that to see if my belly would be okay with another flight, considering I had ordered a flight of waffles.
Now, I have had a flight of pancakes at Orange in Roscoe Village and thought those were cute. What I got at Waffles Cafe was more than I had expected. There were four waffles — green tea, Mexican chocolate, red velvet topped with strawberries, and liege with apple compote. One thing I must say is that the waffles had a hint of the flavouring. All while I worked my knife and fork on the breakfast beauties, I wondered if the taste had been a little more prominent if I would have liked the waffles more than I did. Given I didn’t use any syrup, the accompanying dollops of flavoured whipped cream were perfect as highlights. My favourite was the Mexican chocolate, and I swear that was a hint of Kahlua in the recipe. The green tea waffle was my second favourite, followed by the red velvet waffle, and finally by the liege waffle.
There were several customers who had come in to get to buy wonuts for take-away. The wonuts looked inviting, all of a variety of offerings — chocolate covered, cinnamon coated, drizzled, Oreo crusted, blueberry, and other options. I had bought some doughnuts from Somethin’ Sweet in the Cragin neighbourhood, so I did “window shopping” only just to see what wonuts were available in case I should return to Waffles Cafe. Overall, I enjoyed the breakfast and will go back soon, considering I did not have to stand outside waiting for a seat the way you have to at most breakfast shops on the North Side. Many may not be a fan of the waffles not being packed with sugar. If you’re adding syrup, a waffle upping your glucose level may not be a wise delicacy to indulge. But to each his or her own. And to me, I have just made a calendar notice for a return visit in the upcoming weekends.
No more waffling. Release the Kraken!