A-One Italian-French and A10

A10 Hyde Park

February is speeding with a quickness. And I had thought that I would have visited at least one restaurant per week since the New Year began. Alas, the constant snowing and arctic temperatures when snow isn’t falling joined forces to have me running to the warmth of my condominium rather than to the inviting flavours of any restaurants. That is not a good thing because it means once the temperatures warm up finally and I go outside to venture to restaurants for sampling, I will overdo it and then have issues with the night elves that visit my closet and stitch up my pants such that they’re tight around the belly. Ugh, I hate winter, but I love food enough to brave the chill of the Chicago air every once in a while.

A10 Dinner

A10 Dinner

Baguette

Baguette

A great friend and I had managed to escape to Hyde Park a few weeks ago to sample a new restaurant on the Hyde Park landscape. We were so blown over by the service and the food that the experience had plagued our thoughts and conversations since. After a long weekend of being inside, I had cabin fever. I am not a fan of shopping and long walks along the beach with the wind blowing angrily off of Lake Michigan may be a romantic escape for those who like to play roulette with pneumonia.  But food is my lover and I can stand a walk to the subway and connect to a bus to get to a destination that will take my mind way from the fact that the temperatures never got out of the single digits. So, after making reservations, we went back to A10 at 1462 E. 53rd Street in the new chi-chi fantasy world that has taken over the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park.

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Templeton Rye

Templeton Rye

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

There is always the request for what one would like to start with drinking. My friend tried her hand with an old-fashioned whiskey cocktail since I had it on the first visit and apparently wouldn’t shut up about how much I loved it. After her first few sips, she had kept mentioning how it was an excellent option. I was in a rare mood — no rarer than usual, though. I requested a flight of whiskies. You can hear all the beer connoisseurs mumbling through upturned sneers, “Snob.” With a baguette in front of us served with a plate of olive oil and balsamic with garlic cooked such that it was spreadable, we were off to a smashing start.

Garlic Soup

Garlic Soup

For starters, my friend had a bowl of roasted garlic soup and I had a Portobello mushroom pizza. The soup was hearty and full of flavour. I recommend it highly if you are all about being heart healthy. Even if you are one of those fans of vampire movies and you fear one of the pretty actors with polished fangs may come to you one night to bite your neck, a bowl of that soup would  be perfect for fending off those wicked vampires. The Portobello mushroom pizza was more like grilled toast with cheese, sautéed onions, and pickled carrots. Giordano’s what? Eduardo’s what? Lou Malnati’s what? Domino’s what? Pizza Hut what? The Portobello mushroom pizza was a blast.

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

My taste buds had me in a mood for seafood. Fortunately, A10 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to seafood offerings for my palate. I ordered a cold smoked trout that was served over whipped garlic potatoes. Wow! Having had trout fried, having it smoked such that the fish was flaky and meaty has now moved it up into my Top 5 Fish Loves. Because it was all so fantastic, I worked my knife and fork in slow motion, trying to make the moment last as long as possible without letting the dish get cold.

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Many of the specials had pork in the recipe, which was not something that appealed to my friend. Instead, she ordered blue crab ravioli with fried green tomatoes. During the first visit, she and I had shared a bit of our dishes and when I had tasted the ravioli that was bursting with blue crab, I understood fully why she ordered it again. This was not a case of “when all else fails,” but one of “you are certain not to fail by ordering the ravioli dish.”

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

We sat for a while after we wrapped up our entrées, reminiscing about how Hyde Park used to look. It appears that change is taking over the landscape of Hyde Park in a rapid fashion that would otherwise eradicate charm in other neighbourhoods because of poor execution. However, Hyde Park has been a bastion of diversity and change, so the new look doesn’t feel out-of-place. By the time my friend’s coffee and my cappuccino arrived, we had recounted where old establishments were that have gone away to give way to a shinier, dynamic Hyde Park.

Cappuccino and Biscotti

Cappuccino and Biscotti

In addition to our coffees, there is one dessert we had that I think that everyone in the Chicago metropolitan area, as well as visitors to the Chicago area, must try. It’s soft serve ice cream — and I don’t mean that cold foam you get at McDonald’s. It’s homemade ice cream, but accentuated with almond granola, a honey drizzle, and thyme. I have prepared my share of savoury ice cream, so this dessert was clearly a winner to me. This was my guilty pleasure dessert in advance of my birthday. I had an allowance for something sweet, yet not sugary and definitely not saccharine. It would be a lie for me to say that I was not in love after the very first scoop.

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

A10 is relatively new, perhaps only a few months of being in business. Unlike a lot of restaurants that are still in their neophyte stages, complete with fumbling and blaring presentations of overcompensation, A10 has the air of a well-oiled machine. It is also quite obvious that the residents of Hyde Park are appreciative of the restaurant gracing 53rd Street, as there is a constant flow of those from the neighbourhood coming in to partake of the menu offerings. For this to have been my second visit, I have been a minimum of ten notches past impressed. It’s not that the hostesses remembered me. It’s not that our first server came by and spoke. It’s not that those on the hospitality staff welcomed my friend and me back. It’s that they got it right. And for that, I say, “C’est bon et bravo!”

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 on Urbanspoon A10 Hyde Park on Foodio54

New Orleans Comes to Chicago

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop

One thing I have discovered about Facebook is that it can be a dangerous tool, especially to those of us who have constant appetites. For example, I was reading some comments on a friend’s wall and I saw a photo of a huge pot of what looked like gumbo. Well, I clicked on the photo and – lo and behold – when it opened to a larger photo, it was indeed a pot of gumbo. Needless to say, my food alarm went off and I was in a bit of a frenzy. Mind you, it was only a few hours past lunch and the photo had thrown me in a fit of hunger. This is what a food addiction has come to for me: anticipating 5:00 PM so that I can address my hankering.

With my thoughts fixated on gumbo and me having a lengthy weak moment, I knew where I could go to satisfy my craving. It was not necessarily ethnic food from the standpoint of ethnically non-American. I could make an exception for some New Orleans Cajun cooking. Hey, if I’m going to indulge some good American ethnic food, it will be worthy of the trip to get to a restaurant or cafe that represents the best Southern style cooking to be found. So, at 5:00 PM, I was off to Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop at 825 Church Street in Evanston, Illinois.

Johnny Cakes

Johnny Cakes

I got a seat outside so that I could enjoy the nice weather and listen to a band that was playing a few blocks away at an outside plaza. Having been to the Chicago Hyde Park location before it had closed, I had an idea of what I wanted. The server had a look of awe as I rattled off what I wanted. I started with complimentary Johnny cakes. Think small pancakes without syrup. There was a dollop of honey butter that came with the cakes and that was all I needed to be transported back South.

Then I had fried green tomatoes that came with shredded lettuce and chives. As a child, my grandmother used to fry green tomatoes. We would dash some hot sauce on those bad boys, sit back, and have a real go of. I did the same with the fried green tomatoes from Dixie Kitchen. I will admit that adding the “salad” to the fried green tomatoes struck me as a bit of a “trying to be exotic” addition because fried green tomatoes can hold their own without extra accessories. I ate it all to completion anyway.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

The second course was a plate of crawfish and corn fritters prepared hush-puppy style, and served with a jalapeño jelly. The fritters looked like beignets and I bet that is what they were – filled with crawfish and corn. That was fine, though, as I found them to be well worth the sampling. The fritters are not stuffed to capacity with crawfish and corn, so be forewarned. There is a fair amount of each ingredient in each fritter but you do not get a well-formed ball of crawfish and corn and a coating of crust that holds it all in place. Served with the jelly, it made for a combination that I think comes across as a perfect snack.

Crawfish and Corn Fritters

Crawfish and Corn Fritters

And then came the reason that I had made Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop my after-work destination. I had a cup of their gumbo. May we have a moment of silence? (Pause) I never know what to do with myself when I get a spoonful of Dixie Kitchen gumbo into my tummy. The gumbo at Dixie Kitchen is not prepared with a roux base the way it is in New Orleans, but it is prepared with a gravy base. The gravy may have its origins in a roux base so I shall concede a little. That’s fine because it tastes delicious just the same. The cup of gumbo burst with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage over rice. Although I had long since taken pork out of my diet, there are some concessions that I will make all in the name of enjoying good food. I did not request to have the gumbo without the sausage. I wanted the full experience, as I have always enjoyed. I was satisfied.

Cup of Gumbo

Cup of Gumbo

But I still had a little more room for something else. I had resigned myself to the notion that I was not going to indulge any dessert, so I ordered some étouffée. Unlike the appetizer size portions for the previously mentioned items, the étouffée was a full entrée That meant I had decided to eat an appetizer amount and get the rest for take-away. Again, there wasn’t the full New Orleans experience, but I am in Chicago. There are allowances. The étouffée was prepared with a roux base and full of crawfish, shrimp, onions, celery, and peppers. The flavour was there, not the spicy kick, though. It wasn’t until I stirred up the rice and the gravy more that there was a bit more seasoning to the dish than initially. Needless to say, I enjoyed the dining experience on location and had enough to take home for later food bliss.

Crawfish Etouffee

Crawfish Etouffee

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop has that shack-on-the-bayou look about it. The Evanston location doesn’t present that look and feel as much as the location that used to reside in Chicago’s Hyde Park use to display. There may be some New Orleans traditional jazz or Zydeco music playing in the background. There are always filled bellies and chomping jaws on site. It may be that you’ll get fired if you have a nasty attitude because the service is always great. As far back as 1995, the quality of food, serve, and price has been consistently good. The food may not be exactly what you get when you go to New Orleans, but for a location so far removed from the South, it still keeps those like me who have been to New Orleans coming back. Comparing any other food to New Orleans cuisine is unfair because food in Southern Louisiana really explodes with a bloom that no one outside of New Orleans and the backwater sections of Louisiana can reproduce. In the meantime, I have made a mental note to myself to not click on any more thumbnail photos that look anything like it could be gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, or any other kind of New Orleans cuisine. Food addictions consume your thoughts so full and complete.

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop on UrbanspoonDixie Kitchen & Bait Shop on Foodio54