Monnie Burke’s for the Pilsen

Monnie Burke's

For my last review, it was of a restaurant where two friends and I met to celebrate a very late birthday and my early birthday. Since then, I had become very serious about losing belly fat. Let me just say that it is possible, but you have to be dedicated to the point of addiction. I have been cooking at home more and spending a lot of time in the gym, so my outings to different restaurants came to a stop. However, I made time to meet my two friends for one of their birthdays. Birthdays seem to be the reason for the occasional dining excursion. We met at Monnie Burke’s in Pilsen at 1163 W. 18th Street.

Old Fashioned
Old Fashioned
Oscar Valentin
Oscar Valentin

Along with our first round of cocktails, and I must commend the bartender for mixing some great drinks without being heavy handed or dabbling in Shirley Temple world, we started with a soft pretzel that was served with a smoked gouda and black truffle fondue. I recommend this highly for a starter. While the gouda does not have an expected smoky flavor, the fondue works well with the lightly salted pretzel. I think the black truffle addition helps to bring out more on the palate.

Soft Pretzel with Smoked Gouda and Black Truffle Fondue
Soft Pretzel with Smoked Gouda and Black Truffle Fondue

Our first small course was the egg yolk pappardelle. This was angry, or arrabbiata as Italians would say. The ground scallops in the dish were outstanding and I have been looking up recipes that call for ground scallops because I need more. There was enough bite in the dish to pick up the spiciness, yet not enough to that we required sips of water after each swallow. This dish was a nod to Italy.

Egg Yolk Pappardelle
Egg Yolk Pappardelle

One supper vegetable that has become more popular than red velvet cupcakes of several years ago are Brussels sprouts. Accented with a white anchovy vinaigrette, Calabrian chili peppers, pine nuts, and parmesan, I can almost guarantee you that you’re obstinate child who hates vegetables would love this dish. It was nice that the additions to the Brussels sprouts did not overtake the flavor of the actual vegetables. This is a nice wink to the toe of Italy, to Calabria.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts
Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Another super vegetable is cauliflower. Here it is fire roasted with urfa biber peppers, medjool dates, olives, almonds, and sheep’s milk cheese. With the use of the urfa biber peppers, medjool dates, and olives, there was an injection of Turkey and Morocco into the dish. Goes to show you that you can have ingredients from different yet close regions play very well in recipes and it made the cauliflower stand out as opposed to being reminiscent of milder broccoli.

Roasted Cauliflower
Roasted Cauliflower

Those who are fans of seafood would appreciate the Spanish octopus. Prepared such that you could cut through the tentacles with a butter knife and tender enough that there was no rubbery texture. Coming with shishito peppers, papas bravas, and a black garlic mole, there was very little left on the plate. This dish gets the Clean Plate Society Award.

Spanish Octopus
Spanish Octopus

Having taken red meat out of my diet mostly, I broke my discipline for the sake of trying the cheeseburger. Not just a cheeseburger, as listed on the menu, but rather a double cheeseburger, this was worth every bite. This burger is topped with American cheddar, grilled red onions, and served with garlic fries and lemon aioli. As I was never a fan of having my burgers anything close to rare, it was nice that it arrived at the table a slight notch less than well cooked, juicy as juicy can be, and I never had to state how I wanted the burger cooked. This is the mark of a cook who knows his or her trade well.

Double Cheeseburger
Double Cheeseburger

For dessert, we had a brownie that was baked by the devil, topped with a fist size scoop of ice vanilla bean ice cream, and drizzled with a warm chocolate sauce. The caramel popcorn addition was a unique garnish. It did not take away from the brownie ala mode, though. Those who love moist — spelled “moyse” — brownies will have a problem staying on the wagon after having a taste of this dessert. It is extremely rich, so I would recommend sharing it with your dinner guest or guests.

Brownie Ala Mode with Caramel Popcorn
Brownie Ala Mode with Caramel Popcorn

Monnie Burke’s is clearly a winner when it comes to service and good food. Given the amount of food that we ordered, everything was a hit, not one disappointing moment to be had. With summer now giving us days that we can enjoy in al fresco mode, the patio at Monnie Burke’s fills out quickly. The inside was empty, but that was understandable with everyone wanting outside seating without fear of a torrential downpour or extreme humidity. It’s not of the staple variety that has graced Pilsen’s landscape for decades. However, it is a welcomed addition.


Monnie Burke's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Something Different, Somethin’ Sweet Donuts

Somethin' Sweet Donuts Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Only a few years ago, cupcakes were all the rage in Chicago. It seemed as though new cupcake shops were opening doors monthly. They peddled cupcakes baked with Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, or Pillsburry cake mix, and heaped high with two to three inches of frosting. Now it seems as though doughnuts are going through a renaissance. In the same fashion as cupcakes, you can get your doughnut piled high enough with frosting and toppings to make the tooth fairy brim with delight.

Several months ago, while heading home from Oak Park, I had a taste for some doughnuts. I was not in the mood for Dunkin Donuts and I definitely was not craving any of the “artisanal” variety. I did a quick search on my phone and saw a listing for a doughnut bakery named Somethin’ Sweet Donuts at 5112 W. Fullerton Avenue. On the first visit, it would be cliche to say that “the rest was history” after the purchase. Having kicked myself for buying only four doughnuts would be more fitting. What doughnut bakery is open at 8:30 PM and sells doughnuts that are as fresh as any you would buy at the break of dawn when they open for business? I was addicted. And given that my teeth didn’t ache from having to work them through an inch of some excessive decorative sugar, I was in love.

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album
Old Fashioned, Cherry, Apple Crisp Cherry, Old Fashioned, Apple Crisp

Fast forward to the present and I have just finished washing my hands after devouring a cherry doughnut while taking a cup of tea. I have been returning to Somethin’ Sweet Doughnuts every Friday after work — a ritual now — to purchase an assortment of 4-6 doughnuts. I was shocked at the cost the first time I had bought a dozen because the cash register showed a total considerably less than what I’ve paid when I’ve bought the same quantity from any of the popular doughnuteries. (There’s a new word for you.) I get the fascination with the brand name bake shops and during my youth when sugar was supreme in my diet, I could consume a doughnut heaped high with 3-4 ingredients. I can’t do that now. I prefer to taste the actual doughnut, not just the toppings.

I was in my twenties the last time I had a doughnut that didn’t make my gums throb. We’ll leave it at that was a rather long time ago. Somethin’ Sweet Donuts has won my heart (Best Customer Service) and my stomach (Best Doughnuts).

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Bar Pastoral, You Can Wine All You Want

Bar Pastoral

It seems that the older I get, the faster time goes by. At the closing of this week, January will have only one more week left and then February will be upon us. It dawned on me that in a few more short months, I will have inched a little closer to 50. (Pause) Okay, so I have a few more years to go before I hit the half century mark in my life. I must admit that I have a tendency to want Chicago winters to rush, though. Summer can never arrive fast enough, but we have had some warm days and with one of the most recent warm days, I took advantage of the opportunity to go outside and to some restaurant. My constant New Year’s Resolution is to find more restaurants. That is no problem in Chicago.

Apple Brandy Old Fashioned

Apple Brandy Old Fashioned

Having been to the Lakeview area to sample a few small eateries, there was a pastoral shop that I wanted to visit to get some wine and cheeses for some upcoming winter evenings I know we are doomed to experience. Well, honestly, I wanted to get a few bottles of wine so that in the event that I would experience insomnia — a problem I have never had and probably never will — I’d tackle that problem in advance. While at the shop, I noticed there was a bistro extension next door. I chose to go and get fed rather than buy some wine that I would probably end up taking to a BYOB affair. It was at Bar Pastoral at 2947 N. Broadway that I had my first breakfast happiness for 2015.

Seasonal Frittata and Spinach

Seasonal Frittata and Spinach

On this weekend, I was in a rare mood to really treat myself. I started off with an apple brandy old fashioned. Bartenders in Chicago love to put their own spin on old fashioned cocktails. It’s when they create a cocktail that leaves you sitting with a stupid smile on your face that you know you’ve had a sip of heaven. The brandy made the old fashioned a very relaxing winter drink. (Pause) Okay, that bad boy was slightly heavy-handed and that meant I had to order a lot of food to counter the alcohol effect. My first appetizer was a seasonal frittata served with baby spinach. Very light and still flavourful without an unnecessary amount of seasoning, the dish was a splendid preamble if you planned to go overboard the way I did.

Autumnal Gimlet

Autumnal Gimlet

With my belly primed and the alcohol slowly being soaked up, I was curious about the parsnip and potato hash. Served with a boiled egg instead of a poached egg — my request — and piquillo peppers and a pesto over an avocado and lemon cream, I kept asking myself why it took me so long to pay attention to the bistro. The potatoes were seasoned well. Being on a low salt diet by choice, I am aware whenever dishes are heavy with salt. Not with the parsnips and potato hash. Compliments to the chef, sous chef, cook, or fry guy because for a dish that looked too pretty to eat, I devoured it without shame. I had to wait a few moments before preparing for my “finish him” course.

Parsnip and Potato Hash

Parsnip and Potato Hash

Where I went all out was with an autumnal gimlet. Swimming in a tall glass were Letherbee autumnal gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, quince, and apple tart cherry grenadine. Swimming in my belly was nectar. Swimming in my thoughts, I imagined myself in Brazil on the beach showing my flattened tummy. And then I came back to reality when the plate of chicken and waffles arrived. Ummmmm, ummmmph! I was all about sinking my teeth into some chicken and the buttermilk fried chicken was what bliss is made of. Don’t ask me how the chef got cheddar cheese and bacon into the waffles without making a mess. Don’t ask me how I worked my knife and fork on the chicken and waffles as silently as I did without also making a mess. (Pause) Okay, so I shook my head a few times and declared, “Umph, umph, umph,” as I sopped up the brown butter glaze. You would have too.

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

Bar Bistro is not a restaurant with big box appeal. One thing I will say is that the acoustics are all over the place, which makes talking quickly become shouting. Well, not that bad, unless you’re sitting next to a large party. The bistro is quaint, in a European kind of way. I would, however, recommend making a reservation for Friday and Saturday evenings. Considered how busy it was, it was also nice that the server was extremely accommodating. I had no demands and although he couldn’t give me a pillow so that I could take a nap after my two hours of decadence, he did offer regular coffee. I accepted. And you know what? I forgot to get the wine and cheese that I went to buy initially. But I had a really, really, very good brunch. Umph, umph, umph.

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