Quack: Sun Wah Bar-B-Q

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There are two reasons to go to Sun Wah [http://www.sunwahbbq.com/]: duck and secret menu items. Duck, the glorious big-boned bird; with its crispy skin and glorious, tender meat that just falls apart in the mouth. Sun Wah understands this is not something to be taken lightly.

Here is the vital step before eating a duck at Sun Wah: call ahead. Pick up the phone and make a reservation, not only for your party but for a duck. The best value for your dollars is the Peking duck dinner, not actually featured on the menu. The duck is carved at the table, comes with duck fried rice and a rather forgettable duck soup.

When you make it to the restaurant, order a beer—Goose Island brews are $3. A $3 Matilda is virtually unheard of anywhere else, and it will suit your duck well. Peking is carved at the table and served with steamed buns, a variety of sauces and daikon and carrots, so you can make yourself a little duck pancake. There is also an amazing cup of chili oil with roasted chilis on the table, it will go well on top of anything you care to consume that evening.

One duck dinner will set you back about $32 and will more than comfortably feed two to three. If you decide to go with four or more, order two ducks. My party of five happily destroyed two ducks, with a bit of fried rice left.

Also, rumor on the street says that the Mike’s chicken item is tops. Again, call ahead.

Sun Wah Bar-B-Q, 5039 N. Broadway.

Twin Anchors: All Aboard

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Twin Anchors Ribs Chicago

That is a super cheese title, sorry. It’s hard not to get a little mushy about this place. Twin Anchors has been serving up fine food and booze since 1932 in Lincoln Park, Old Town to be exact. Located on the corner of Sedgwick and Eugenie, this neighborhood spot has all the charm of a yesteryear supper club. The layout, complete with booths in the bar and a small dining room, is cozy and intimate. There is nothing chic and modern about the decor–it actually reminds me of my grandparents supper club opened in the 1960’s. Memorabilia covers the wood paneled walls, and there seems to be a story in every photo.

It was pretty busy on a Thursday night with a 5 minute wait for a 9:00 dinner time. We sat in the bar booths and had a great view of Blackhawks game on 3 big HD TVs. It wasn’t distracting, it was great. The bar was also full with people drinking happily. Twin Anchors seems like a nice place to get full and get drunk.

The menu was pretty small, but that’s fine–who needs a bunch of filler when you have a rock-solid foundation? THE RIBS. The ribs are what makes this place famous. (Fun fact: Twin Anchors was Frank Sinatra’s favorite rib joint and he frequented dozens of times.) Ribs, chicken, a couple steaks, some no-frill salads (I did also spot a veggie burger or something to the effect), and some seriously awesome sides. Hint: get the pepperjack creamed spinach. Sooo good. The “1960’s Style Fried Fish” also got my piqued my interest. A classic fish fry is fitting for the establishment.

There was also a nice beer and wine list as well as some tasty cheesecake for dessert. However, the only thing you really need to know here are the ribs. Two kinds of sauce complete the delight, I preferred the “zesty.”

Places like Twin Anchors are a joy to have in Chicago. Well-worn, tried and true.

Visit www.twinanchorsribs.com for more.

Eve Understands Brunch

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Gripe #528 about downtown Chicago: eateries are in extremes. Your choice:

1. Fancy place serving truffle oil infused vertically plated trendy protein of the moment topped with bacon foam, requiring payment on a diamond-encrusted credit card, or
2. A lovely generic chain restaurant. The end.

Sure, downtown Chicago tends to cater toward those with either diamond-encrusted credit cards or those seeking a quick lunch from a nice generic franchise, but what about, say, the exclusive mashmeal of brunch?

Brunch, by the by, is terribly underrated. It’s the best of both breakfast and lunch food, combined into one ultimate supermeal. Two meals in one! Not uncommonly served with adult beverages!

Eve, www.evechicago.com, 840 N. Wabash Ave., understands brunch, and it understands well. Brunch runs weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., dangerously into late lunch territory, but this fact is a mere circumstantiality. Eve understands brunch as $20 for an entrée and unlimited mimosas.

Yes friends, eggs benedict with lobster, prosciutto and pesto hollandaise is just within reach! Or fill up on the waffle and chicken, burger or eggs with shrimp, mushrooms and goat cheese. Mimosas will tide you over (and over and over and over). All will be well in the cruel world of downtown eating, at least for the brunch window of an hour and 30 minutes. (As always, rules in paradise—can’t drink mimosas forever, now can we?)

Not only will Eve allow you to make a reservation for its brunch brilliance, a rarity in the world of combination breakfast and lunch, but it also understands that the days of Sunday through Thursday are prime for $29 three-course prix fixe from 5 to 7 p.m. and Wednesday is a fine day to bring your own wine as well. Hope for downtown eating, indeed.

Eleven City Diner: This Diner Goes To 11


Ah, the little neighborhood diner that is hardly little! Eleven City Diner, 1112 S. Wabash Ave., is a quintessential New York diner, Junior’s cheesecake and all, which just so happens to be located in the South Loop. Serving up simple but well-executed diner fare (think burgers, sandwiches, all-the-time breakfast, matzo ball soup) with a hearty sense of humor ($0.00 side of guilt available)—Eleven City may very well be an 11 on a 1-10 scale of diner splendor.

Can’t go wrong with any of the breakfast items, plentiful enough to serve as both breakfast and lunch, but what makes this place scream “diner!” is the love poured into the beverages. Milkshake? It’s huge (for $7, it should be, and is), and made with—wait for it—ice cream, not some frozen mutant mutation that was hopefully milk-based at one point. Cherry and vanilla Coke? Made with syrup, the real thing. Hot toddy? Yes, one can order a hot toddy.

In true diner fashion, this is not a place to go if you are watching your waistline, though salads are on the menu somewhere, this is a place to go if you (1) consumed a number of hot toddies the night prior, or (2) crave inch-thick challah bread/hefty fries/baked macaroni and cheese. (And non-meat eaters, take heed: lots of options for your kind—the mushroom burger is no short of amazing.) But go ahead and order a slice of cake.  It called our name, too.

International Night at Map Room

maproom

Map Room really doesn’t need to do much to lure people into this beer lover’s paradise, but International Night, which takes place every Tuesday, is hard to pass up. Here’s the concept: buy two drinks, receive a stamped ticket for the meal of the night. Each Tuesday features a different cultural cuisine; this month was Israel, Soul Food, Costa Rica, Nigeria and BBQ.

Map Room boasts over 200 brands of beer, plus 30 something styles of brewing. They really mean business. If you really want to have a proper beer experience, I would probably advise coming on a less crowded night though. International night is definitely a bit of a circus. Expect to see broke hipsters along side beer nerds and suits. If you can handle the crowd and line to the food, this is a must do.

Here’s a tip: The line forms when the food attendees announce that it is feeding time. Don’t ask for anything extra, different, or modified. These guys serve up no less than 100 plates and have it down pat. It’s standard issue–everyone gets the same meal. If there are extras, the guys will alert the feeders that seconds are available. Also, try to get there before 6pm, so you can score a table. It’s no fun to stand and eat.

Inidan and Nepalese Food: Chicago Curry House

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tikka
I’m always a little anxious trying new Indian restaurants. Because when it is good, it’s heavenly. But when it’s bad it is a night in the bathroom. I was feeling up to the challenge, so I recently set out for the Chicago Curry House.

It’s a hidden little spot in sort of a cul du sac style road (899 S. Plymouth Ct.) and I though the address was wrong at first because it looked like a residential area with the occasional dry cleaners. But then the sweet scent of curry rose up through the breeze and I knew I was headed to the right spot. The place is well appointed–it sort of reminded me of a hotel lobby. Not my favorite aspect of the experience, but who cares when you are there to eat, I suppose.

I was really excited to see they have a bar and full drink menu. I like eating at places that I know I have the option of getting wasted at too, in case that’s what I would rather do than consume whole food. Not in the mood to get ripped, I ordered a glass of wine. My dining companion had an Indian Beer, a lager.

We set forth with Veg Samosa and Aloo Chat, plus those little crisps with chutney they always give you. Yummy! The samosas were huge and really fresh tasting, cooked perfectly. And thealoo chat was crispy, spicy, and healthy tasting. Very good. Chicago Curry House also states they are a Nepalese cuisine as well, so decided to venture around a little bit for the entrees. ChickenTikka Masala, Chicken MoMo, and Lamb Vindaloo were all served with Basmati rice and arrived in the cool little copper kettles. The Chicken MoMo was from the Nepalese selections and it was awesome. I don’t know what MoMo is supposed to taste like, but I liked it. The Chicken Tikka Masala was creamy and spicy, and the chicken was all white and tender. (I don’t mind dark meat, but I hate when they sneak it in there whilst claiming it’s all white meat–they didn’t do that here.) The LambVindaloo was ordered extra hot, and it delivered. I can handle some spice. The regular naan was perfectly cooked, and we even had leftovers.

I tend to skip desserts at Indian restaurants because I’m usually so stuffed that I can’t eat another morsel, but I decided to give theRasmali a whirl out of a love for pistachio. Good choice. refreshing and savory.

I would eat here again. They have a lunch buffet that looks pretty good too. Curry up and give this place a shot.

Chicago Curry House, 899 S. Plymouth Court.

New Food: Tapas Valencia

paella

Named for Valencia, Spain; this Spanish-style tapas spot is new to the South Loop/new Southside neighborhood (although a couple other restaurants have existed in the location) and is another addition to the growing dining scene in the are. The space is modern and on the edge of trendy: big, open loft-like accommodations with some industrial touches. It’s bright orange and yellow touches of color on the walls and chair and there was some cool looking Mosaic tiles on the walls, but other than that, the place is pretty minimal on decor. The converted warehouse feel is left in tact with huge cement pillars in the dining room.

The menu is a little more sparse than other tapas places in the city (Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, Emilio’s) but filled with many of the classics, such as Serrano ham and cheese (great!) and paella. I tried a rock shrimp dish that was very good, as well skirt steak with blue cheese that was only so-so. The chorizo and black bean soup needed more chorizo to complete it, but my ‘Spanish garlic potato salad’ was incredible, not shy with the garlic. My biggest disappointment came in the squid in ink sauce. Where’s the flavor!? This dish was painfully bland and tasted unfinished. However, Tapas Valencia redeemed themselves with the bacon wrapped dates. These delicious little morsels were both sweet and salty, despite initially appearing a little iffy. I had glass of sparkling rose that was very nice…not at all sweet, surprisingly and a nice glass of sauvignon blanc. I felt the prices were fair and on par with other tapas places in the city. The portions seemed a little small however.

One of the best things about Tapas Valencia was the service. We were greeted by several staff upon walking in and out server never skipped a beat. She was helpful, knowledgeable ans very sincerely asked that we fill out a comment card if we felt anything could be improved. (I chimed in my two cents on the squid.) She knew a lot about the wine list, and seemed excited to describe the food. Service can really make or break a place for me, and in this case I think it gives Tapas Valencia that extra push it needed.

Ribfest Chicago

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bbq-ribs

Ribs! The annual event upped the ante and is up to three days now. Averaging 65,000 pounds of ribs and featuring 25 bands in 25 hours, more than 50,000 people are expected to kick­off summer at the three­-day long Ribfest Chicago. Proceeds of the festival are utilized to fund community activities, area greening efforts and local outreach programs such as the innovative School Grant Program.

You can sample ribs and BBQ and listen to the sounds of Harlem Shakes and Margot and Nuclear So and So’s. The festival will feature a crowd-voted award presentation for Northcenter’s Best Ribs (you can vote by text). Kids Square, which offers rides, live entertainment and hands-on activities, will run from noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Sony Playstation is sponsoring a Gaming Rig where you can play your favorite video games.

But does any of that really matter when there 65,000 pounds of ribs? Participating restaurants include Chicago faves Smoke Daddy and Robinson’s #1 Ribs and many more. Remember to bring extra wet napkins.

$5 suggested donation. June 12-14.

Best Chicago Pizza Joints

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deep-dish

As far as styles of pizza go, Chicago is parent to one of the most ubiquitous and well known: deep-dish. According to Wikipedia, “true Chicago-style pizza features a buttery crust, generous amounts of cheese and chunky tomato sauce,” and I would have to agree. But not all the ‘za coming out of the Windy City is “stuffed.” Each pizza is different and delicious in it’s own right. Many of the thin crust style pizzas served here are also unique to Chicago. Chicago and pizza have a pretty saucy (sorry) history.

The first deep-dish came out of Uno’s kitchen in 1943–so they say. Other sources quote that the first of its kind actually showed up a few years later, but by the hands a Malnati cook working in the Uno’s kitchen. I think the bottom line is that we are all grateful for yet another menu option. Chicago’s thing crust is also unique due to a crispy, crunchy crust instead of a soft floppy one; and it’s also served in squares instead of the triangle pie shape. Chicago will always love it’s pizza’s; and here is a list of the best-loved versions.

1. Home Run Inn Pizzeria
4254 W 31st St, Chicago, IL
South Side, low-key, and some of the best damn sausage. A great style of crust, too. A thinner crust, but with real substance.

2. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
439 N Wells St, Chicago, IL
Well-known and well-loved deep-dish.

3. Pat’s Pizzeria & Ristorante
2679 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL
My all time favorite thin crust. Roger Ebert’s too.

4. Pequod’s Pizzeria
2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL
Lincoln Park hangout offers big, flavorful pies and a devoted following.

5. Piece Restaurant
1927 W North Ave, Chicago, IL
Spacious and complete with brewpub, this place is delicious and cool.

6. Pizzeria Uno
29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL
The one and only. You will leave as stuffed as the pizza.

7. Giordano’s
730 N Rush St, Chicago, IL
As stuffed as they come; and loved by visitors and residents.

8. Gino’s East
633 N Wells St, Chicago, IL
It’s a little touristy, but graffiti for reading material is always fun–like the pizza.

9. Art Of Pizza Inc
3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL
This locals favorite for Chicago-style and thin-crust pies on the city’s North Side could be easily overlooked. Don’t make that mistake!

 

Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day, 4/21 or Free Stuff is like the Golden Girls

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free-cone

I was going to write a piece on the great parking meter tragedy of 2009, but my lofty goal seemed well–lofty. Parking meter downer? NO! Calorie filled happiness! YES! Ice cream cheers everyone up, right? And in these hard times (side note: I am really sick of writing, reading, and generally observing that adage) it seems appropriate to type about the treats in life instead of the tricks for a change.

The hippie-ish ice cream chain has been scooping out the freebies since ’79 and there will no doubt be a line longer than the Navy Pier outpost that will be dishing out the goodies. (Navy Pier Scoop Shop, 700 E Grand) Free ice cream might be a faithful customer appreciation act, but it is also a way to lure in new converts or tempt old members to return to the gluttonous club. Conspiracy theory? Personally, I am a huge ice cream fan, but if you keep anyone away from something long enough, they could forget. Think of watching Golden Girls, for example. Its always on, but you never watch it because its (groan) Golden Girls. But then the day comes where you are too lazy to change the station and lo, the girls are cracking you up with Blanche’s sleazin’ around the hood, Rose’s idiot blunders, and Dorothy’s Dorothy-ness. Ah, Bea Arthur, I missed you!

That’s just what these free cones are going to do. You (try) to diet and work out. Avoid high fat and sugar desserts at all costs. Ice cream is honestly lacking in nutrition. But a bad day and a free cone later, it all comes flooding back to you. Cool, sweet, creamy memories will take over good sense and you will forget why you stopped eating it in the first place. Welcome back, friend. It’s just a sleigh ride into plus-sized pants now.

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