Crack Shack

I finally moved to sunny San Diego, which means I have a lot of food exploring to do! I passed this place quite a few times and the huge patio and long line kind of had a Big Star vibe, so naturally I had to try it out.

The Place: Crack Shack; The Neighborhood: Little Italy; The City: San Diego, CA

I have a few friends who LOVE fried chicken. BUT it is not always my go to. However, when a place has good fried chicken, I’m all over it. The Crack Shack has a chicken forward menu for sure with fried chicken being the main event here. That is not to say there are no protein bowl or grilled chicken options. There are. This is California. I am just going to have to assume those options are good too, because the fried chicken is too good to pass up and I haven’t eaten here with any veggie friends yet (yes I have them, I live in California now).

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The Firebird

I had the Firebird, which is their spicy sandwich menu option. It was so good. One bite and I was drifting off to that happy food place. Not too spicy and not the spicy that is just spicy, but has no flavor. This is the real deal spicy chicken sandwich, where the fried chicken is still crispy from first bite to last. My companion had the G-bird, which is the grilled chicken sandwich option. It wasn’t a grilled chicken kind of day though (moving is no joke) so she swapped it for fried. Obviously this companion was my mom. Anyway, the G-bird has a really awesome shishito pepper relish on it. We also split the biscuits, which were really good. I have to say, the San Diego biscuit game has been pretty strong (stay tuned for more on that in future posts).

This place has a full bar too with rotational local options and the staples. San Diego has a LOT of beer. All the seating is in their outdoor patio, which is not a gamble since it does not seem to rain here. The patio has a fun vibe with an area for games for all ages. I’ve seen little kids running around and bros playing bags. Crack Shack really seems to be a place for everyone to enjoy, which is awesome. I cannot wait to go back.

Let me know if you have any San Diego recs! Help a new girl in town out!

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Pump Room

Guys, I’m moving to San Diego! Pretty soon, I am going to be one of those people that pulls out a hat and gloves instead of shorts when my weather app says 60 degrees. I’ve been making fun of those people (Californians, Floridians, etc.) since I met them in college, but really I’ve just been jealous all along. Even though I love love LOVE Chicago, it is time to try something new and reach outside my geographic comfort zone. That being said, there is a LOT of Chicago eating to do in the next couple months and a whole new food beginning waiting for me on the west coast (best coast?…too soon?).

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Who can resist a California sunset?

I started with this place. A place I have only ventured to for some fancy cocktails. But matching (into a residency program so I can be a real doctor) seemed like a good enough reason for fancy brunch. Also, side note, I am technically about to finish 20th grade…that’s over 75% of my life spent in school. The thought makes me want a cocktail from this place right now…

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Sunny Side Up Frittata

The Place: Pump Room; The Neighborhood: Gold Coast

The food is on the fancy side, with things like lobster scramble and a sunny side up frittata, but all of it was yummy. The brioche french toast with caramelized pears and smoked bacon with definitely my favorite. They soak the bread for 24 hours and it is crispy on the outside and so gooey on the inside. The organic egg sandwich was a table favorite as well with smoked jalapeño jack cheese and housemade pork or chicken sausage.

The coffee was good and even though we had done a lot of celebrating the night before, everyone was peer-pressured into cocktails. The Bloody Mary was simple, but on point and just the right amount of spicy. We did not indulge in other non-brunch cocktails, but this is an excellent place for cocktails. The people watching is awesome, because this is definitely a place to bring someone you are trying to impress…if you know what I mean.

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Future doctors of California and Wisconsin; Photo by Tina

Nosh and Booze

I like to think I am a cool Chicago foodie but a swipe through Instagram makes me feel like everyone with a cell phone can call themselves a foodie these days. This pop up is my claim to fame as being a real foodie and not just someone who has been taking pictures of her food since before it was cool/socially acceptable…whatever a real foodie is…

The Place: Nosh And Booze; The Neighborhood: West Loop

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Country ham sandwich with gravy

Nestled in the remnants of Vivo (RIP) on Randolph St. this is by the same people as AMK in Logan Square. (Logan Square is a neighborhood the real foodies -like me -eat in too.) It’s snacks and drinks, sharable dinner and the most important meal of the week: brunch. I did all three in a week and a half. This place is actually that good.

Let me take a break from trying to convince you I am cool and talk about the food. It is so good! The snacks include spiced duck fat popcorn and cheese curds. It would be quite an accomplishment to make fried cheese bad so I’ll just say that even though spiced popcorn sounds boring they manage to make it sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time. Both times I got it, I could not stop eating it. Also shout out to the oxtail poutine and pimento burger. They make their own pimento cheese in house. It’s a good burger and not quite the food coma commitment Au Cheval is.

Next brunch. The fried chicken benedict is my jam. It is on top of a scallion and white cheddar biscuit which they also use for their biscuits and gravy. And everyone needs some fried chicken to go with their fried cheese curds. Go big or go home, right? These biscuits star in the country ham sandwich as well.

You could also just go here for the drinks and a snack while you wait out your intended popular West Loop dinner spot. The Violet Daisy and the IPA Jackass(MULE) are two of my favorites.

Anyway, even though Nosh and Booze will only be sticking around through December, it is a placeholder and taste of what is to come as AMK is promising a more permanent version later in 2017. And even though I’ve been sitting on this post almost a month now while I eat in airports and other cities, I will definitely be back at least one more time before it comes to a close in December!

Au Cheval

People always ask me what my favorite food and restaurant are. These are my actual least favorite questions. They are SO HARD. Medschool has nothing on these two questions. The answer really is that I like good food. But I can’t say that…it makes me sound like a jerk. This restaurant has become my answer though. I feel like if I am willing to wait the usual 1-3 hours about once a month (don’t judge me), this probably is it. My favorite.

The Place: Au Cheval; 800 W Randolph Chicago, IL

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Nestled on a corner of West Randolph among greats like Little Goat, this unassuming restaurant sounds like it is going to be really fancy, but serves up bags of Fritos. The inside is kind of intimate -mostly because it is a dimly lit small space. You can get pretty intimate with the kitchen though since the flat top is behind the bar.

Anyway, the food is what makes this place the Chicago staple it has become. It is the BEST burger. I know, that’s a BIG statement. But it’s true. 2 patties, cheese and the bacon and egg are musts. Just do it. This is not the place to count calories. You lost when you walked in the door…But really you win, because the bacon is some of the best and is what makes the burger! Other highlights from the menu are the bone marrow and the chicken wings.

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Bone Marrow

As for drinks, the Flapper is my go-to. They also have the hoppiest IPA you will ever try. It’s awesome with the burger. If you are into that kind of thing.

Summer House Santa Monica

This morning was one of those mornings where I woke up and all I wanted was some good company and pancakes with a side of benedicts. Something I have learned is that you have to pick your brunch buddies carefully. The sweet-savory dilemma is real and comes out in full force at brunch. Lucky for me, the brunch stars were in alignment this morning at Summer House Santa Monica.

The Place: Summer House Santa Monica; 1954 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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Summer House is such a great spot. They have awesome, creative and sunny drinks to make you forget that your flight to New York was canceled and you probably commented on how warm it was in Chicago today when you stepped out and it was 35 and sunny.

The menu is California-inspired American, which actually means for brunch there is a ton of kale on the menu. This is good for all those eggwhite-no-bread-extra-celery friends we all have to invite to brunch sometimes. I chose no kale since there was lemon in the pancakes. Also, punch and mimosas are mostly fruit I think.

The lemon cottage cheese pancakes are light, moist and not too sweet. There is syrup and a lemon curd on the side to sweeten the deal if that is your style. Next time I go, I want to try the orange chocolate chip pancakes.

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Some of their benedicts come on hash browns. It’s genius. Hash browns and bacon are basically brunch essentials. Sometimes the drawback of the benedict is that they tend not to come with those things. At Summer House you can have your hollandaise served up on your hash browns. The smoked salmon hash brown benedict really hit the spot.

Some things to consider: This place always has a wait. I tried to make a reservation on a Monday for Sunday brunch and my options were 9:30am or 2:00pm. When my friend showed up at 11:00am on Sunday, the wait was 1.5 hours. That being said, we were able to sit and eat at the bar right away. They have the full menu, so a good option for 2 people trying to brunch at brunch time. This is also an awesome spot for a happy hour! I will definitely be going back soon.

Eataly Chicago

This is one of the few places that has lived up to to its hype -probably because it is the work of food and restaurant geniuses Mario Batali, Lydia and Joe Bastianich’s and Oscar Farinetti. Anyone who can confidently wear orange Crocs and socks like Mario Batali must be able to back it up with something. In Batali’s case, it is food that will knock your Crocs off… Too cheesy?

The Place: Eataly Chicago; 43 E. Ohio, Chicago, IL

Butternut Squash Ravioli
Butternut Squash Ravioli

Eataly is a 62,000 square foot restaurant emporium, with sit-down restaurant stations, multiple wine bars, a microbrewery, a Nutella bar and even groceries. The restaurant stations include, fish, pizza and pasta, meat, veggies and a separate Batali-Bastianich restaurant: Baffo.

The food is simple and Italian with just a few high quality ingredients. The fish station has trout that will literally melt like butter in your mouth. The grilled octopus with mussels and squid in olive oil, lemon, white wine and garlic reminded me of meals I had on the Venetian islands.

Mussels, Squid and Octopus
Mussels, Squid and Octopus

The pasta and pizza station has the longest wait, but once you are in, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The butternut squash ravioli was incredible and the Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo is like something out of an Italian dream. They make the tagliatelle in house and top with with braised short rib ragu, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.

Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo
Tagliatelle al Ragù di Manzo

The Bastianich family owns multiple vineyards in Italy so, the wine is just as good as the food. You can order a glass of wine and walk around and wait for a table at one of the food stations. Or you can grab a snack like focaccia the size of a slice of deep dish. The microbrewery has a bar-style sit down area where you can grab an appetizer as well.

After all of that wine and pasta save room for Nutella. You can’t miss the Nutella station on your way out (or in). They have crepes and Nutella pastries. Or, if Nutella is not your thing (ew who are you?) there is also a gelato station, which I would assume is good too.

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Some things to consider: Eataly is busy! It is like a tourist attraction, but one real Chicagoans aren’t tired of yet. It has been so popular that Chicago ate it out of food during its first week. Eataly chose to close for a day to regroup. I definitely know people who went 3 or 4 times that week (maybe me too). Good work Chicago! But stop in anyway for a snack or a crepe at least if you don’t want to wait!

For more information: http://www.eataly.com/eataly-chicago/

Go let Eataly knock your (orange) Crocs off! …Still cheesy?

Big Star

There is nothing hidden about this Wicker Park gem. I recently waited almost an hour to sit outside on a Thursday. I spent most of the time in line eavesdropping on the guy behind me. Apparently he recently dumped his girlfriend because he needed more ‘cushion for the pushin’.’ He was totally serious. As always, the margaritas and patio were totally worth the wait.

The place: Big Star; 1531 N. Damen Chicago, IL

Guacamole is a must-try at Big Star
Guacamole is a must-try at Big Star

Big Star is my favorite summer spot. The patio has prime people-watching and Wicker Park is full of some of the most interesting people. It is super casual, but I feel like its patrons put on their best I’m-too-cool-to-try-too-hard-but-I-still-look-casually-hot outfits. It is very Wicker Park in that way.

If you are on the patio, food is definitely more of something to go next to your pitcher of margaritas or beer in a can. However, they have the best fish tacos! That is saying something, because I don’t even like fish tacos. The queso fundido is also a must try. Who doesn’t like melted cheese and moderately spicy peppers? And of course, there is the guacamole! It is okay to just come for the food. You can get it all from their take-out window as well.

Left: Taco de Pescado (fish)  Right: Taco de Panza (pork belly).
Left: Taco de Pescado (fish)
Right: Taco de Panza (pork belly).

The drinks are the main attraction here. The margaritas are always strong, but if you have some time, get a pitcher and just enjoy the day. The Big Star Margarita is awesome and smokey, but unfortunately, Big Star does not make them in pitcher form. Beer is mostly of the canned variety to enhance your too-cool-to-try-too-hard image and the Lone Star from Texas is my favorite. It tastes kind of like Corona.

Pitcher of Margaritas
Pitcher of Margaritas

Some things to consider: Big Star isn’t really the place to eat and run. It makes for a relaxing afternoon or evening. Go with people you like and just enjoy! That being said, be prepared to wait- especially if it is nice outside. They will take your phone number so you can wander around Wicker Park while you wait -another reason to go with someone you like. Lastly, it is cash only. Don’t be that guy (or girl).

For information: http://bigstarchicago.com/

Happy People Watching!