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
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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?

Toro Sushi

BYOB sushi is everywhere and it doesn’t seem to need to be good for people to flock to it.  If there are beer goggles for people, then maybe there are BYOB goggles for food. Also, sushi is like the ultimate date food. For whatever reason boys are always trying to get sushi. Maybe because it is light-ish? You still feel sexy after? Or maybe sushi is the cultured thing to do? However, good food is ALWAYS the way to go. Despite spending hours in anatomy lab these days, I am still convinced there is a direct connection from my stomach to my heart. So here it is, a BYOB sushi spot that actually has amazing sushi.

The place: Toro Sushi; 2546 N Clark Street Chicago, IL

Toro Sushi
Toro Sushi

This place is one of Lincoln Park’s best kept secrets. It is right next to Molly’s Cupcakes, which I have been frequenting for like 8 years and I just recently found out about Toro. Despite the secrecy and lack of a website, be prepared to wait, because all of the Lincoln Parkers know it is there (totally worth it I promise). It is a tiny place that seats a maximum party of about 5 and does not take reservations. Here the nondescript interior is no frills and all food. You can watch them make the sushi at the bar and probably see the owner smiling away and chatting with patrons. It is a great setting to unwind with friends over a bottle of wine or two (or three) or get to know someone new -still over the wine.

I have yet to encounter a roll I did not enjoy. Toro is a place to be adventurous and not get a California roll, although I would bet theirs is really good. The Sunny roll is a must and the Big Ten has been my favorite so far with  yellowtail, salmon, tuna, tobiko, scallion, spicy mayo and sriracha. The Arizona comes shaped like a cactus and El Fuego is another great one with tuna, yellow tail, tobiko, jalapeno, cilantro, cucumber, avocado, scallion, tempura crumbs, wasabi mayo and sesame seeds. The menu is extensive and they seem to always be adding new rolls for those who are lucky enough to be frequent Toro visitors.

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Some things to consider: If you want to go on a Friday or Saturday, get there early and only go with a few people. You have to physically go in to get your name on the list, but they will give you a phone call when your table is ready. So, you can get a drink in the area, or a cupcake at Molly’s while you wait. That being said, go with someone you are pretty sure you like. If you realize during your hour plus wait that you actually don’t like him or her, the sushi is good enough that you should suck up the lackluster company and eat at Toro anyway.

For more information: You just have to take my word for it and go, because Toro does not have a website.

Happy BYOB sushi!

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!

Province

There are no words for this place besides AMAZING. And I am not just talking about the food. This is one of the most responsible and sustainable restaurants in Chicago. Not only do they try to source their food locally and sustainably, the space is gold level LEED certified. That means it maximizes efficiency while minimizing costs and environmental impact. Obviously none of that matters if the food sucks. But the food is also out-of-this-world!

The place: Province; 161 N Jefferson St. Chicago, IL

Scallops and Short Ribs
Scallops and Short Ribs

The interior is painted pink with white ‘trees’ hanging upside down from the ceiling. It is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, but a little less trippy and a little more comfortable-classy. It feels like everyone is there to take care of you, but not in an overbearing way. A meal at Province is a relaxing experience with high quality and delicious food.

The whole menu sounded good! They do a fixed tasting menu, which I would highly recommend. You get a try a lot of different menu items and it changes often so the tasting menu never stops being an option. I wanted too many things that were not on the tasting menu, so we didn’t do it. The menu is set up with small plates that you can do tapas style and larger plates you can have as a meal. Get the tuna tacos. They are unbelievable with the chipotle salsa. It is smokey and spicy and takes the whole thing to foodie bliss. The muscles were amazing and served sans shell with chorizo.

Tuna Tacos
Tuna Tacos

The larger plates include Duck Paella. This is a must-try after the tuna tacos! The duck is melt in your mouth perfection. The scallops in the Scallops and Short Ribs were incredible. We shared a side of the lobster mashed potatoes. They were the best mashed potatoes (lobster or regular) I have ever had. Completely unbelievable!

Duck Paella
Duck Paella

The dessert was beautiful. I could have eaten it with my eyes, but my taste buds appreciated it too! The dessert menu changes, but I would recommend the shortcake and whatever version of chocolate is on there!

Seven Layers of Chocolate
Seven Layers of Chocolate

They have a great drink menu, but the homemade citruscello must cap off your meal.

Some things to consider: Province is great for a variety of meal price-points. You could have a huge celebratory meal here with a big group. Or, you could also come in for a more casual lunch and still have a great experience and amazing food. The service was awesome. The food is awesome. This place is just great!

For more information: http://chicago.provincerestaurant.com/

Happy environmentally friendly dining!