One of the things about being a food blogger is that the food blogging community doesn’t appear to be as competitive as entertainment figures. Maybe it has something to do with not being paid a ridiculous salary well into the 7-figure range for the write-ups on restaurants. Perhaps it has a lot to do with genuine interests in what like-minded individuals love to eat and another little thing called information sharing. Such was the case with a blogger I started following mutually out of New York City. I had received an email note recently inquiring about good restaurants in Chicago and whether I was interested in getting together for some good food and some knowledge swapping. Food was involved, and I could leave it at that. After finding out what the blogger had a taste for, as well as what he was tired of eating, I suggested that we meet at Bandera at 535 N. Michigan Avenue in the Magnificent Mile.
Having been to Bandera for lunch several times, I was aware that the restaurant fills up quickly. The food is the draw and Bandera is NOT a tourist trap like Cheesecake Factory and Grand Lux Cafe, both which are in the Magnificent Mile. I had never been for dinner, so the three-piece jazz band playing was an added bonus. My fellow blogger and I started with a skillet of cornbread and a plate of focaccia with black olives. The cornbread at Bandera is an absolute must for every visit, unless you cannot stomach bread. We’re not talking perfect little muffins. No, we’re talking a small skillet full of love with a crunchy top that will make you love it more than cupcakes. For a lighter carb on the palate, the focaccia is simply a beauty in flavour.
The blogger had gone to a restaurant or two earlier in the day, which meant that he had been sampling from some menus already. I had captured some impressions for breakfast and a few for lunch at two restaurants, which meant that I was not going to attempt to overdo it at dinner. So, we both ordered entrées rather than starting with appetizers. The blogger ordered the ahi tuna with a salad in a vinaigrette. I had this particular dish during previous visits and loved it. Seeing that the blogger didn’t wince, grimace, or leave any left on his plate, I took that as a sign off his approval of my recommendation.
For me, I ordered the pecan crusted trout with potatoes. After the server had walked away from the table, I then had the thought flash that there were pecans in the recipe. I bit down hard and decided that I would enjoy the dish although I hate nuts. Well, it must all be in the preparation because the pecan crust on the trout was a dream. I would like to think that the delectable taste of the gravy contributed to highlight of the trout, but it was only a very good guest star. The pecans had been cooked, baked, prepared such that they weren’t crunchy and being in the gravy, I didn’t get the tree bark aftertaste that I get from pecans. I didn’t want to awake from this dream.
Always great service and awesome food, Bandera is one my top go-to restaurants for American fare. There is no menu with pages of options to leave you with your eyes crossed. One page, great selections, and what you get from the kitchen exceeds what you see on your final tab. Lunch is a perfect time to go for an introduction. If you want to enjoy some outstanding jazz music while delighting yourself with a beverage and entrée, I suggest making a reservation for a Saturday evening and arrive around 6:00 PM. You can thank me later.
For disclosure, the blogger who had come to Chicago blogs at Lord of the Forks. His trip to Chicago was not just to sample a few restaurant, but to meet with several Chicago-based foodists and to get more samplings of restaurants worthy to showcase on Tabelog. The one city in North America that has a tremendous representation of “old country” authenticity in its restaurants’ food is Toronto, much because Toronto is a metropolis of immigrants. Little do many know or even acknowledge is that Chicago — for all of its flaws and national gaffes — is a true sister city to Toronto. So, you find a plethora of cultural culinary havens. And what my newfound friend found in Chicago were not celebrity chef hangout spots, pretty-people-only lounges, big box eateries with bigger price tags on food, flash, and flare. He discovered the States’ proper melting pot. Raise the bandera to signal the people to come.