Monday, October 31, 2011

Chicago: Logan Square Farmers Market

Mission Paint Queen G's Room - Day 2 started off at the Logan Square Farmers Market:

Yea.  We have this pesky problem of always getting distracted by food.  One day we'll need to sit down and reevaluate our priorities, but not yet.  I mean, just look at how cute all those little tents are!  How could we possibly resist?

On top of that, the weather in Chicago has been ridiculously nice this fall and it's imperative that we take advantage of it for as long as we can.  We may think with our stomachs rather than our heads, but we're not dumb.  We know that winter is going to be brutal this year.  So leave us alone!  Let us have our fun!

I think I'm getting a little worked up...Chicago winters have that effect on me.  Sigh.

Anyway, we took our time browsing through all the fresh produce stands and finally stopped at Spencer's Jolly Posh British and Irish Foods:

The smell of the bangers and bacon on the grill was just intoxicating.  We got to sample a bit of everything, both the traditional pork banger and the pork and herb banger as well as the back bacon.

They were all delicious, but we finally went with the pork and herb banger sandwich ($5):

The banger was so very juicy and the baguette soaked up those juices without getting unpleasantly soggy.

Free samples could be found all across the farmers market.  We sampled everything from fruit jams to cookies to hot sauces to granola:

Honey lavender granola from Wild Child Granola:

Still not full, we paused at the crepe stand:

We got to choose three ingredients to go in our crepe.  We took the savory route and chose ratatouille, swiss, and turkey ($7):

The crepe was unexpectedly huge and very satisfying.  Thick slabs of cheese, flavorful ratatouille, and what looked to be a "healthy" crepe, but tasted amazing all the same.

We certainly couldn't leave the farmers market without some ice cream:

Nice Cream had 4 flavors to choose from.  After consulting with the guy at the stand, we ordered a baby salted chocolate ($1):

And a scoop of vanilla mint ($3):

My favorite was hands down the vanilla mint.  I was expecting mint extract, but instead got a full blast of fresh mint flavor.  I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.  That difference between mint extract and a sprig of fresh mint.  Oh, man.  It blew me away.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the Logan Square Farmers Market.  It felt like a community event, where people came to enjoy the weather and the company of their neighbors.  Everyone was super friendly, dogs were out and about, and all the products sold were local and top quality.  Kind of makes me want to move to Logan Square...

Luckily, the advent of winter won't mean the end of the Logan Square Farmers Market.  Instead, starting 11/5 until 3/25, the farmers market will be moving indoors to the Congress Theater lobby.  Still on Sundays, from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

For those of you who actually care about whether or not we eventually got around to painting Queen G's room, we did.  I ended up with paint in my hair and mysterious bruises on my legs, but we got the job done.


Logan Square Farmers Market
southeast corner of Logan Blvd and Milwaukee Ave
(773) 489-3222

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chicago: 2 Sparrows

Early last Saturday, I met up with Queen G at her new place to help her paint her room.  Our friend KE was kind enough to come with her car to help Queen G transport her new dresser (which almost killed us getting it up the stairs) and then take us to buy paint.  We took a break in-between to get brunch at 2 Sparrows:

Well, technically we were aiming for brunch, but it ended up being more of a late lunch.  Since there wasn't a line out the door, we walked in thinking that the wait wouldn't be too bad...only to find out that the seemingly nonexistent wait was actually an hour.  AN HOUR.

Maybe a little fazed, but not completely deterred, we left our phone number and then hit the streets to explore.  Luckily, there's a lot to do in Lincoln Park.  Before we set out, Queen G asked for a cup of coffee.  When she tried to pay for it, she was waved off and told that it was on the house.  Score!  We'd browsed through Trader Joe's and were just starting to dig through Buffalo Exchange when we got the call.

Things were starting to quiet down in the restaurant, but there was still a steady stream of people walking through the door:

Before we started ordering, we were warned that a couple of dishes were no longer available.  Fortunately for Queen G and I, they weren't the dishes we were eyeing.

Queen G and I got the shrimp with grits:

The shrimp were perfectly grilled, just slightly pinkened and very tender.  I've never really had a good experience with grits, but I've never been able to give up on them.  I always believed that the perfect grits were out there, waiting for me.  And they were.  At 2 Sparrows.  Even without the awesome tasso ham gravy, the grits were creamy and delicious.

We also split the belly sandwich:

The best part of the dish was definitely the KILLER tater tots.  I could eat those all day.

The sandwich itself consisted of a buttery biscuit, pork belly, a sunny side egg, and pickled onions:

While the combo was indeed fantastic, we were a little disappointed by the size of the sandwich and more importantly, by the one tiny strip of pork belly in it.  One.  It really needed a friend or two.

I don't know if I would be willing to wait an hour again, but the food at 2 Sparrows was definitely well thought out and well executed.  

We ended up never getting around to actually painting Queen G's room, though we did get the taping done.  We freaked out a bit when we opened the paint can to find a blinding white instead of the soft gray we were expecting.  That led to a panicked trek back to ACE Hardware, where we learned that paint always dries darker.  Huh.  How were we supposed to know that?

By the time we got back to Queen G's place, it was too late to start painting.  Oh, drat.  At least lunch was good...

2 Sparrows
553 W Diversey Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 234-2320

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chicago: Go 4 Food

When my friend asked if I wanted to join a bunch of the law kids for dinner in Chinatown, I was happy to be included, though skeptical of the location.  I mean really.  The restaurant is called Go 4 Food, for Pete's sake.  Nothing good ever comes out of a Chinese place with a name like that:

It was a Friday night, but we shouldn't have worried about the wait.  When the 10 of us rolled in, we were immediately led into the dining room downstairs, or as we liked to call it, The Party Room.  Too bad there wasn't karaoke playing on the big screen.

We started the meal off with some hot and sour soup:

Then came the French-style beef tenderloin:

Beef chow fun:

And cuttlefish in salt and pepper (my contribution):

One of the guys insisted on getting sweet and sour pork.  When he persisted despite the dirty looks the Asians at the table were giving him, we had to relent:

Eggplant in spicy garlic sauce:

Mapo tofu:

And finally, walnut shrimp:

At the end of the meal, we were each brought a bowl of pumpkin dessert soup:

My expectations weren't very high walking into the restaurant and I have to say it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  Decent food, nothing too spectacular.  A bit Americanized and a little heavy on the oil (glistening veggies galore).  Good portion sizes.  Average prices.  All in all an okay place in Chicago's Chinatown.

I would skip the sweet and sour pork though.  Neon sauces scare me.

Go 4 Food
212 W 23rd St
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 842-8688

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chicago: The Southern Mac and Cheese Store

Over the summer about half of my SSA girls moved out of Chicago.  The few that are left are busy with their new jobs and no longer live around campus, so it's rather difficult to schedule a get together.  I finally caught up with EK and Queen G downtown at The Southern Mac and Cheese Store:

A store entirely devoted to mac and cheese?  Oh boy.  The store actually started as a food truck, which is still out roaming the streets.  But given my last food truck experience in Chicago, I was much happier sitting down in their new storefront.

The three of us each ordered a different mac and cheese so that we could different flavors.  There was the smoked bacon, blue cheese, and mushroom:

The roasted artichoke, spinach, and goat cheese with thyme:

And the truffle infused white cheddar:

I think the general consensus was that the first few bites were good, but halfway through the richness of the mac and cheese really got to us.  More ingredients in the mac and cheese would've gone a long way to cut into that richness.  Also, we wished the mac and cheese was more cheesy instead of creamy.

We all left feeling a bit sick and craving some fruit.

The mac and cheese is good, but if you're anything like us, split one order with a friend and order a salad on the side.  Oh, and flash your student ID if you have one because there's a student discount!

The Southern Mac and Cheese Store
60 E Lake St
Chicago, IL 60601

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chicago: Sun Wah BBQ

As I've often lamented in my posts, Chicago has a dearth of good Chinese food.  Sun Wah BBQ is supposed to be have the best Chinese BBQ around town, so I was excited to try it out, yet careful not to let my expectations rise too high.

The packed restaurant was a good sign:

Though the mostly non-Asian clientele was a little troubling.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to CK's boyfriend's family dinner.  Since they seemed to be regular customers of Sun Wah, I let them figure out what to order.

First came the roast pork:

While a bit meatier than I like my roast pork to be, it was very legit.

CK's boyfriend and his family were raving about some eggplant dish they'd had before:

Apparently this wasn't the right one, but it still tasted good.

There was the fish filet with stir fried ginger and green onion:

And won ton soup:

Small clams in black bean and garlic sauce:

Beef chow fun:

And last but not least, pea pod leaves:

All in all the food was decent, but nothing incredibly spectacular.  Where do all the Chinese Chicagoans go for good Chinese food?  If anyone knows, please let me in on the secret.

I'm not completely crossing Sun Wah off my list though.  Sun Wah is actually known for its Peking duck, which, to my disappointment, we didn't order.  I did, however, see ducks being brought to other tables and carved tableside.  While I'm not a particular fan of eating Peking duck in steamed buns, the duck itself looked juicy and delicious...from across the room at least.  The duck feast is supposed to also come with duck soup and duck fried rice.

If I ever go back to Sun Wah BBQ, it'll be to get the duck feast and the duck feast only.  Everything else I can probably find cheaper elsewhere.

Sun Wah BBQ
5039 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 769-1254

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicago: Bite Cafe

It took us a few circles around River North before we realized that we didn't want to eat downtown at all.  It took another few minutes of aimless driving before Carmen suggested we get dinner at Bite Cafe:

Located right next to Empty Bottle, Bite Cafe recently beefed up its menu to go from late night, post-show grub to intimate dinner for two...or four, in our case.  The interior is pretty small, which adds to its cozy atmosphere, but as a result there was nowhere for us to stand and wait for a table.  Instead, once we found out Bite Cafe is BYOB, we walked around the neighborhood looking for a liquor store.  It took a bit of searching, but we finally located a bottle of wine and made it back to Bite Cafe with time to spare.

Since I was with three of the biggest foodies I know (including the co-founder of Ruxbin), I just sat back, relaxed, and let them take care of all the ordering.  Either my friends really know their stuff or Bite Cafe has a brilliant chef (I think it's a combo of both), but everything that came to our table was DELICIOUS.

First we got a side of fries:

Fries are surprisingly easy to mess up, but these were spot on.  Hot, crispy on the outside, heartily seasoned...mmm.  No ketchup necessary.

We also gave the mac and cheese a whirl:

Not the most memorable of the night, but still good.

The brussel sprouts with bacon and shallots were also a treat:

Caught up in the feel of autumn in the air, we couldn't resist the parsnip risotto with roasted rutabaga, butternut squash, herbs, and parmesan:

Creamy good.

We noticed that their daily special menu was eerily similar to Ruxbin's menu.  As kind of a test, we ordered the trout special:

I don't remember exactly what was in it, but we all agreed that Bite Cafe's trout can more than stand on its own.  The fish was perfectly cooked and the blanket of veggies made the perfect complement.

Then there was the crispy pork shank, which came with an arugula salad, pickled onions, and peppers:

Ohmygawd, the pork was absolutely to die for.  I can't even think about it without drooling.

We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the meal, but we still couldn't make ourselves leave without dessert:

Fudge brownie, graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow fluff, and bourbon caramel....really?  Don't even look at the picture.  How decadent does that sound?  Tasted amazing too.  Marshmallow fluff!

Definitely one of the best meals I've had in Chicago in a long while.  Scratch that.  Make that one of the best meals I've had in a while, period.  I highly recommend checking out Bite Cafe.  While the wait staff isn't exactly particularly engaging,  the food is better than good and the prices are reasonable.

Bite Cafe is open until 1:30 am and their late night menu looks really promising, so there really isn't any excuse not to go.  I almost don't want to advertise it too much because I don't want to fight a large crowd the next time I go.  However, I'm a generally nice person and Bite Cafe is just too good not to share.  Be grateful.

Bite Cafe
1035 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 395-2483

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicago: Chick-fil-A

I've heard a lot of fuss about Chick-fil-A, but never had the chance to check it out until one opened in downtown Chicago sometime this summer.  Still, I dawdled and didn't actually get around to going until earlier this month.  I was on my way downtown with Queen G and Carmen when Carmen suggested we stop at Chick-fil-A for lunch:

Apparently everybody and they mama had the same idea:

With the mass of people waiting around the front, it was difficult to hear our name being called, but we ultimately got our food back to the table we managed to snag:

Queen G and I shared a spicy chicken sandwich deluxe meal, which came with a drink and waffle fries.  Okay, so maybe we could have gone with a healthier side like salad or cole slaw, but really?  When waffle fries were an option?  I thought not.

We also got an order of chicken nuggets:

Those nuggets were some of the best, no, THE best nuggets I've ever had in my life.  While I enjoy my mysterious meat McNuggets as much as the next person, having a nugget made from actual chicken was really...refreshing.

Not to mention the great sauce selection:

My absolute favorite was probably the honey roasted BBQ sauce, not shown here.  The honey  mustard was a close second.

Here's what's in the spicy chicken sandwich deluxe:

Crispy chicken breast, dill pickle, tomato, lettuce, and pepper jack cheese all sandwiched in a soft bun.  The chicken was actually spicy, which shouldn't have come as a surprise, but did anyway.  Spicy!  Imagine that.

I get it.  I get what all the fuss is about.  Chick-fil-A is awesome.

After some research, I discovered that there are 46 Chick-fil-A's in California.  46!  And yet none of them are in the Bay Area.  What the hell is up with that, Chick-fil-A?  Totally dropping the ball, man.

Not cool.

30 E Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 266-8888
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