Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

Let’s talk about brunch. There is nothing better than Sunday brunch. It means you made it through the week, are not working the weekend (or at least not Sunday) and have every excuse to hang out with your brunch companions for an extended period of time. There is a reason no one does business brunch. No one rushes you out of brunch. But my real favorite part of brunch is that the sweet-savory debacle is easily solved by table pancakes. This place has awesome options for table pancakes.

The Place: Mindy’s Hot Chocolate  The Neighborhood: Wicker Park

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Sugar Puffs and Hot Chocolate

I usually start with the food, but given the name this is the place to start with the drinks. The hot chocolate is why you come here. It is basically creamy chocolate soup and totally acceptable to eat it with a spoon. Although, full disclosure, I might be saying that because that is what I do before my hot chocolate is cool enough to drink like a grown up. There are hot chocolate options for everyone: white, milk, dark, caffeinated and boozy. But no matter your choice, they are all topped with a homemade marshmallow or two. My favorite is the half and half which is half dark chocolate and half espresso. It is all kinds of delicious!

Onto the food. With a rotating menu there is no such thing as ‘I’ll try something new, because I have already had that before.’ It’s all new and all SO good. Lucky for me, my brunch companions today were all about the lets get stuff and share mentality. For the savory dishes, we had duck hash with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts and a veggie omelet. This was one of my friend’s first time having brussels sprouts and she loved them! The omelet came with roasted potatoes that were so on point they could have been their own thing. Both dishes came with grilled bread, a small touch that is not to be underestimated. All bread is good with hot chocolate.

To satisfy our sweet tooth, we had the french toast of the day with chocolate cream and macerated figs. It was one of those foods where you put in your mouth and just float off to a magical place. My brunch companions and I are usually very chatty when we hang out, but once our food arrived we basically ate in the silence of brunch bliss. We also had the sugar puffs. These are soft, fluffy doughnuts and today came with raspberry preserves.

All in all, this Wicker Park staple was perfect for a rainy Chicago October Sunday.

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Half and Half

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?

Firecakes

Are doughnuts the new cupcake? In the ever changing world of trendy foods and handheld sweet treats, it looks like there might be a new sherif in town. Don’t worry though. In Chicago, there IS room for the both of them. This doughnut shop has found a home in River North.

The place: Firecakes; 68 W Hubbard St. Chicago, IL

That’s right. It is on Hubbard. Across from Paris Club and down the street from Hub/Sub 51. Even though it is on a street known for its late-night-weekend scene, it is only open until 3:30 in the afternoon. So, you won’t be getting your sweet tooth fix post-Social 25. But, they are just as good during the day. Firecakes is no more than a corner store with just enough room for a few trays of doughnuts. BUT the doughnuts speak for themselves and don’t need the fluff of a cafe setting.

Hazelnut Long John
Hazelnut Long John

First of all, the doughnuts are huge! And let’s be honest, bigger is always better… They are infused, glazed, filled and delicious. They have your standard jelly, except that the jelly is made from fresh fruit and not sugar-gelatin with strawberry flavoring. The Long John gets an upgrade with a hazelnut filling! This one is definitely the best and I was super jealous of my friend who got it! Good thing she gave me a bite! Normally, I recommend against plain vanilla, but the Firecakes vanilla doughnut is so pretty. It is topped with white chocolate chips and looks like a little wedding doughnut.

Vanilla Doughnut
Vanilla Doughnut

This is such a great spot to stop and get a snack if you are doing the touristy thing downtown and shopping on the Mag Mile. If you decide to end your afternoon with a drink at the Trump Tower, make sure to take a little detour here! You, and your out-of-towner, won’t be disappointed! If you are fortunate enough to live (or work) in the area, good luck to your waistline!

For more information: http://firecakesdonuts.com/

Happy Trendy Treating!

The More Cupcake Truck

Despite my desire to be a cool foodie, I was adamantly against the cupcake truck thing. I just really didn’t think that childhood treats should come out of vans, marked or not. But, one cupcake from here had me coming back again and again. Watch out because Molly’s has some competition on wheels.

The Place: more cupcakes; 1 E. Delaware Pl. Chicago, IL

The whole idea behind more is excess. (Note: more is not capitalized; I promise I am not just being lazy!) More frosting, more love, more cupcakes. Sounds perfect. Sometimes you just need to indulge your sweet tooth and not worry about it. My friends like to suggest we split cupcakes. ALWAYS say no to splitting a cupcake. Get two and try both! No one is ever satisfied with splitting cupcakes. They are individually sized for a reason!

The truck has about 1o cupcake options with a rotating featured flavor. Last week, it was strawberry cheesecake which was almost my first non-chocolate cupcake purchase in years (probably ever). However, I can tell you, the more cupcake is amazing. It is a chocolate cupcake filled with a white buttercreamish filling and topped with a chocolate ganache. The favorite is basically the same as the more cupcake, but filled with dark chocolate. They also have a caramel chocolate cupcake filled with gooey caramel and topped with some of the most amazing frosting I have ever tasted. This one is also not super sweet, which means you could have two. Lastly, for your self-indulgent inner 6 year old -or your actual 6 year old- there is the cookies and cream cupcake. The frosting literally looks and tastes like ground oreos. Need I say more?

I have never been to their actual storefront on Delaware, but I am willing to believe the cupcakes from there are just as good. I usually catch the truck on Grand and McClurg, right across from River East. That’s right! Right across from a gym! It is the perfect post workout treat, not to mention motivation to spin just a little harder. So if you are in that area you might just get lucky.

Some things to consider: I know cupcakes out of a truck are questionable because there are so many things that can be wrong with a cupcake. But, they are made fresh every day and all the ones I have tried have been moist and perfect. They come in little chinese takeout boxes and you have to be a little gentle with them, but they come out looking beautiful -just like you hand-picked them out of the shop. I think the actual store has more flavors and more of the creative flavors. Visiting the actual establishment is definitely on my list of places to go! But for now, the truck after work and before the gym will have to do!

For more information, but not the truck schedule: http://www.morecupcakes.com/default.asp (If anyone can find the truck schedule and other places it stops, feel free to let me know and I will add it!)

Enjoy embracing excess!

iCream Chicago

What if you could completely customize your ice cream? I don’t mean crush your favorite candies and mix them into your favorite flavor. I mean actually be part of the creative process. Before this place only ice cream scientists and tasters had this opportunity. How do you get those jobs anyway?

The Place: iCream,  1537 N. Milwaukee Ave Chicago, IL 60622 

Wicker Park is home to many young families and “bro-ey” guys fresh out of college. These are the guys attempting to become part of the real world while they still live in apartments with all of their fraternity brothers. However, the Wicker Park neighborhood is most commonly known for its hipster crowd. iCream is definitely the hipster of Chicago ice cream parlors, but ice cream is the universal road of happiness. So, iCream is a place anyone can enjoy.

Good for any control freak, you start by choosing your base. There is regular, non-fat, soy, yogurt and non-fat yogurt. Dieters and soul feeders can come together over whatever it is they call their frozen treat. Next you pick a flavor or two. It can be as vanilla as vanilla or as spicy as cayenne pepper. Then come the toppings, which include fresh fruit, candy and other mix-ins like nutella, granola and cookie dough. You can also add color, which I think is kinda weird, but kids probably think is really cool. The best combination I have come up with is ginger and butter pecan with white chocolate chips and gram cracker crust mixed in. If the list is overwhelming, they also have some combination suggestions on the wall. However, there is something really satisfying about going with your friends and coming out with a combination that no one thought to get, but everyone wanted to try!

After you concoct your perfect scoop, the magic happens. It all goes into a bowl with a mixing machine that adds liquid nitrogen, smokes a bit and produces bliss. This is a great end to an afternoon spent enjoying the area, perhaps after a little shopping.

For more information: http://www.icreamcafe.com/

Some things to consider: Parking in this area can be a challenge (but not totally impossible) because of all the good shopping and restaurants around. You should walk here, take public transportation, or ride your bike (as the hipsters do). It is pretty close to the El. Since the ice cream is made right then and there and not churned, it is less creamy than ice cream at other places, but this is not a total deal breaker. iCream is not just a summer place. They also have hot pudding, which is steamed from scratch and made to order.

I scream. You scream. We all scream, for iCream! (I think this should be their tag line.)

Happy Customizing!

Molly’s Cupcakes Chicago

Childhood seems to get everything right. It has nap time, summer vacation, ice cream sandwiches, playgrounds, Candyland and cupcakes. These days cupcakes have taken a turn for the trendy and been transplanted right out of childhood and onto trucks and fancy boutique-like shops. And while transportable sweets are cute and convenient, these places tend to take the childhood right out of the cupcake. However, there is one Chicago cupcake shop that meshes the two seamlessly and includes only the good stuff!

The Place: Molly’s Cupcakes, 2536 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake
Chocolate Raspberry Cupcake

It is a coffee shop sized place a 15 minute walk from the Fullerton Red Line. The inside is cute and slightly understated. In place of barstools there are swings. They have wifi and board games. I went there once and enjoyed a game of Guess Who with my cupcake while the person at the table next to us sipped a latte and typed furiously on his computer.

I don’t care what anyone says or how many cupcake shops make it onto the Food Network. I have a lot of experience eating cupcakes and these ones are the best! They are filled so you don’t have to plan your bites to incorporate the frosting. You will get filling, frosting, or both, in every bite. They probably have unfilled “normal” cupcakes too, but I’m not sure why you would get that. If you are going to have a cupcake, you might as well have a cupcake! I went with a friend last week who got a box because she planned to only eat half of her cupcake. It didn’t happen; she ate the whole thing. They are just too good to stop and it is kinda hard to save half of a filled cupcake. I have never been disappointed by any of the flavors, but if I had to pick a favorite I would go with the Kahlua (chocolate cake, coffee frosting and Kahlua filling). The Boston Cream Pie is a close second and I have always wanted to try the Strawberry Shortcake. However, chocolate has a very firm grasp on my heart and the cupcakes with chocolate steal me away every time.

Pretzel Cupcake
Pretzel Cupcake

I am a firm believer that the way to someone’s heart is through his or her stomach (at least that is true for me). Molly’s cupcakes are a foolproof way to go! Everyone relaxes a little when they are reminded of their childhood. It was generally a simpler time where the games we played had clear rules to determine a winner and a cupcake could calm even the sorest loser’s tears. So, ignore the two day texting rule and take someone to Molly’s for cupcakes and some friendly childhood competition!

Some things to consider: Right after school can get a little full of young children wound up from their days and excited for some cupcake release. If kids annoy you or you are trying to pick up a large order, this might not be the best time to go. Molly’s is also a great place to get cupcakes for an event! However, they use a delivery service. This means if you want your cupcakes at a very specific time and not within a time range you have to pick them up yourself.

For more information: http://www.mollyscupcakes.com/chicago/home.php

Happy Playing!