Friday, October 24, 2014

mEAT or Brunch on a Stick

The Slow and Savory Review

Usually, when someone says, "I want to make a movie about you," most people would approach the prospect with a certain amount of skepticism, but when Brandy recently heard these very words while attending a screening at the Chicago Film Festival, she was intrigued.  The person saying this to her was a woman by the name of Boxty Ban, an up and coming avant garde director who had gotten into a conversation with Brandy while they were both waiting for the movie to begin and became fascinated by Brandy's tales of her brunching adventures.  "Of course you do, dear," was Brandy's response to this impromptu confession, "Unfortunately, due to my youthful naivety, I am technically still under contract to RKO, so I cannot appear on screen for anyone else."  "My dear lady, RKO has been defunct for quite some time now," said Boxty, tilting down her dark sunglasses and flipping aside a stray lock of hair from her fashionably asymmetrical haircut, "I'm sure that contract is null and void."  "Possibly," Brandy pondered, "But I did make a promise to Howard Hughes, and by God, I don't need his ghost haunting me, so I'm afraid it's simply not possible."  "What if I don't show your face camera?" suggested Boxty.  "A movie where you don't show anyone's face?" Brandy pondered, "I suppose that would put the emphasis on the food, which I can appreciate...Alright, I'll do it!"

Before Boxty could begin filming her vision of a brunch feature film, she asked Brandy to take her out to one of her typical brunches, so Boxty could get an idea of what eating with Brandy would be like.  Brandy chose to take her to mEAT in Streeterville, thinking the fashionable neighborhood, exciting presentations of the food, and the unusual concept of the restaurant (it concentrates on communal and interactive dishes like fondue, meat skewers, and shared side dishes) would appeal to Boxty's artistic temperament.  Though a little off the beaten path, mEAT's Streeterville location was a fairly dimly lit, atmospheric tavern like space with elevated booths and high tables.  Though Brandy felt the lighting was a little on the dark side for brunch, especially as the back part of the space didn't even have any windows for natural illumination, she did like the cozy feeling it created.

The meal began with a choice of brunch cocktail classics: bloody marys and mimosas.  Both were done well, if fairly traditional, but Brandy noticed that the menu featured some more elaborate versions of the drinks and she simply couldn't help but ask about them.  One of the kindly managers obliged her curiosity by bringing over one of the Orange Sherbet Mimosas and a Peach Sherbet Bellini, both of which were rather delightful in their presentations and constructions, being prepared with melted sherbet in place of the juices and topped with fizzy citrus foams.  "I like that they're thinking about the cocktail in a different way here," said Boxty Ban, studying the glasses carefully, "I've always felt that you are what you eat, so if you're eating creatively, you're thinking creatively."  "I find I think creatively while consuming any alcohol in general," Brandy replied.

The first course was decidedly decedent, as the two brunch companions were presented with the Breakfast Fondu, which included a pot of luscious melty cheese sauce and a platter of various goodies to dip into it.  The cheese itself had a surprising sweetness to it, as it consisted of not only fontina and gruyere, but also white wine and honey, both of with made it a great match for almost all of the dippers (while Brandy loved dipping the pieces of sausage, bacon, waffle, and bagels into the mixture, wasn't entirely convinced about dipping things like pineapple and strawberry into the cheese, but Boxty very much liked dipping the green apple slices).

Next was the Bacon and Egg Salad, which consisted of a bed of frisee topped with bacon lardons, an extremely soft poached egg, and a tangy dressing of shallots, mustard, and more bacon.  Always appreciative of sweet and savory combinations in her brunch dishes, Brandy was particularly fond of the vinaigrette that dressed the salad, while Boxty marveled at the nice combination of textures from the chewy bacon, the silky egg, and the frilly greens.

One of the main features of the mEAT menu is unsurprisingly the meaty skewers, and for this particular meal, Brandy and Boxty were treated to the Cinnamon Glazed Bacon Skewer, which was hung on a special stand at their table, so as to show off all of the glossy, bacony goodness.  The large chunks of meat were easy to slide off the skewer with the use of some tongs and had nicely crisp edges to them.  They weren't overwhelmingly sweet, but the cinnamon kick was definitely there.

A second skewer they sampled was the Cinnamon Roll Skewer, which sadly could not be hung like the bacon one, as the kitchen had yet to devise a way to keep the pastries from sliding off.  The rolls had a nice sweet icing to compliment their spicy interior swirl.  "These are the perfect size," Brandy raved, "Sometimes restaurants will give you humongous cinnamon rolls, and even though they might be tasty, they're just too bloody big to finish.  These are a couple of bites a best.  Brilliant."

Three different "sides" were then brought to the table, though both Boxty and Brandy agreed that these could have easily been entrees on their own.  The first was the Salmon Hash, with was a skillet with some flaked fish, potatoes, and leeks in a creamy sauce.  While Brandy liked the flavor of this one, she found herself wishing for a bit of a crunch to break up the similar texture of the tender salmon and the potatoes.  The second side was the Almond French Toast, which was a pretty standard dish but with a nice bit of nuttiness from the sliced almonds on top.  Lastly was the Quinoa with Baked Eggs, which both Brandy and Boxty felt was one of the standouts from the morning.  "It reminds me of the polenta I used to eat every morning during my shoot in Spain," Boxty said, "Rich, but not overly aggressive."  Brandy agreed with her sentiment, but added that she felt that once the egg yolk had been broken and mixed in with the quinoa and veggies that the dish pushed into a more decedent category.

There was something for every budget at mEAT (most of the dishes, including the bigger plates, sides, and skewers came in well under $15), which Boxty very much appreciated, as she was so inspired by her brunch with Brandy that she immediately began budgeting for her brunch feature film.  "I'm going to call it, 'The Rise and Fall of Sweet and Savory,'" Boxty said, making a gesture as if to showcase the title on an invisible marquee.  "I'd go see that," Brandy smiled to herself (she'd had several mimosas at this point), "But can we get Olivier and Gielgud to play Sweet and Savory?"

The Short and Sweet Review
Meat on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Postcards from Bunny: Rick Bayless at Macy's

It's no secret that one of Bunny and Brandy's favorite things to do in Chicago is checking out the Culinary Council demos that happen every few months at Macy's on State Street.  Bunny tries to attend them when ever she can make a quick jot into Chicago, but failing that, she will often send Brandy to watch the stars of the culinary world as they cook live and offer the crowd samples of their dishes so that she can take copious notes and report back to Bunny with the results.

Recently, when Bunny heard that Chicago icon Rick Bayless was going to be doing a demo, she nearly burst into tears as she realized there would be no way for her to attend.  "I've been waiting for them to do a Rick Bayless demo for years!" she cried into the phone.  "Well, I'll go for you and take notes like we've done before," Brandy sighed.  "It won't be the same!" Bunny whined.  Then suddenly, Brandy remembered something.  "He's the one you go all squishy for, isn't he?" she asked Bunny with a smirk.  "I do not go all squishy!" Bunny shrieked.  "I can practically hear you blushing over the phone," Brandy said, "Look, why don't I try that new fangled video chatting thingy while I'm at the demo?  Then you can watch the whole thing from your seat in... where are you now?"  "I'm not entirely sure, but everything smells of curry, so I'm guessing either India or Thailand."

So Brandy trotted down to Macy's on State Street early enough to grab a seat with a good view, and then enlisted the help of a nice young woman beside her to get Bunny on to the screen so she could watch as Rick Bayless entered the kitchen space.  "Oh, it's just like watching his PBS show!" Bunny exclaimed, and Brandy hushed her, wondering briefly how she was going to keep her arm from getting tired holding up the phone the entire time.

Chef Bayless began by making a simple guacamole in the same sort of rustic Mexican cooking with a twist that he is famous for.  "People often add too much lemon or lime juice to their guacamole because they think it will keep the avocado from going brown, and it will, but it also overwhelms the taste," Chef Bayless told the crowd.  He also suggested serving the guacamole as cold as possible, even utilizing a thermionic container like a terracotta flower pot with an ice pack under it when leaving the dip out at a party.  This particular guacamole he spiced up, so to speak, with serrano peppers, as he felt that jalapenos were inconstant in their heat levels, due to genetic manipulation.  He also added a bit of sweetness and crunch with some fennel and green apple, which sounded odd, but as Brandy assured Bunny, actually tasted quite good.

Then Chef Bayless took his guacamole mix and used it to coat some pre-cooked shrimp, plating the dish in a martini glass as he told the crowd how much he liked this kind of thing as an appetizer at parties.  "In America, we're more chippers and dippers," he said, "But in Mexico, this is how you would serve a guacamole, as a sort of dressing."  He also gave the crowd tips on how to cook authentically Mexican by keeping dried chilies in their pantries, buying avocados at Mexican markets (because they cost less and are more ripe), never buying tomatoes out of season (he prefers to use sun dried tomatoes when he can't get fresh), and making sure to rinse your sliced onions to rid them of their natural sulpherous compounds, which not only cause eyes to water, but make digestion difficult and cause food to rot faster.

Lastly, Chef Bayless presented a simple, yet delicious shortbread cookie, which was a combination of a pecan sandy and what people often call Mexican Wedding Cookies (Chef Bayless said the cookies are actually more traditional for things like Christmas than weddings).  Indeed, the crumbly little cookies were so delicious that the chef himself couldn't keep his hands off them, munching away as he took questions from the crowd.  "I'm quite pleasantly surprised," he told everyone, "When I saw we were doing a demo at noon on a Monday, I thought four people would show up and I'd just cook us all a nice lunch!"  "I wouldn't mind that," came Bunny's dreamy voice from the phone screen.  He also spoke about his devotion to yoga, which he practices every day.  "I always make all my difficult decisions while I'm doing yoga," he said, "I find that it puts me in touch with my body, so I'm more aware of when I'm hungry, when I'm tired, I smell things more clearly, and even taste things more clearly."  "No wonder the man is so zen all the time," Brandy whispered to Bunny.

After the demo, Chef Bayless stayed and signed copies of his newest cookbook, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks (or "The three major food groups," as he put it), so Brandy dutifully joined the line after much begging from the tiny woman in her phone, but by the time she reached the front, Bunny seemed frozen with nerves and couldn't even manage to squeak a "hello" to her hero.  "Don't mind her," Brandy said to a befuddled Chef Bayless, "I think all that talk of yoga gave her a mental picture her senses weren't quite ready for.  She'll be fine in a bit."

The writers of this blog have been compensated by Everywhere Agency for the information contained in this post, but the opinions stated were not influenced.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Food News: Pret a Manger's Fall Menu and Chicago Exclusives

There are many reasons Brandy has grown fond of Pret a Manger over the last few years.  Everything they offer is freshly made, the ingredients are local and top notch, the service is always amazingly friendly, and the menus are ever changing to keep things exciting.  "Places like Pret have spoiled me a little when it comes to fast, casual dining," as Brandy likes to say, "Even on the days I'm not going to some elaborate brunch, I know I can pop into one their shops and find something to satisfy any craving I've got."

Though she couldn't be more pleased with Pret a Manger as it is, Brandy was pleasantly surprised to learn that new items were starting to appear in locations across the city which are Chicago exclusive items.  Feeling as though she is some sort of super hero guardian over Chicago's food scene, Brandy felt compelled to try some of these items out for the good of the city's citizens.

The first Chicago exclusive item she tried was the Angus Beef Melt Toastie, which consisted of thick slices of roast beef, red onions, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and mustard mayo on a hearty artisan bread.  Brandy loved this combination of flavors, but thought the sandwich was a touch on the dry side on the whole after it had been toasted.  A little cup of beef broth to accompany it would not only have solved this problem, but added a nice little touch of Chicago to the beef.

Next, she sampled the Chicago Meatball Hot Wrap with pork and beef meatballs smothered in marinara sauce and loaded with lots of melty cheese.  The packaging on the wrap was pretty ingenious, as it opened in such a way that one could hold the wrap without getting one's hands messy.  The wrap itself was pretty typical for a meatball sandwich, but done well, and the substitution of the tortilla for the bread meant there was nothing to interfere with the meaty goodness.  Brandy couldn't quite decide what was so Chicago about this Chicago Meatball Hot Wrap, but she liked it just the same.

Deciding to stick with the cheese theme, Brandy then went for the brand new Mac and Cheese, which came in a vegetarian variety with spinach and tomato, and a carnivore variety with bacon (of course, she decided on the bacon one).  The normally rich dish had been cut with cauliflower to make it a little healthier without sacrificing the creaminess, which Brandy surprisingly liked, as it added a bit of crunchy texture as well.  The bacon was nice and smokey and in big enough chunks that any true bacon fan wouldn't be left wondering where it was.

Lastly, Brandy sampled the Sweet Potato Falafel Flatbread, which is a new item in locations all across the country.  The wrap consisted of lots of Middle Eastern flavors with not only the falafel, but a drizzle of tzatziki sauce, pickled cabbage, and fresh herbs.  Though expecting the falafel to be a bit crunchier, Brandy found this version to be soft and sweet, but still with a good amount of texture to it.  The fresh veggies and herbs ensured that every bite was bright and exciting.

There were many more new dishes on the Pret a Manger menu, like the BBQ Pork Hot Wrap, the Spicy Chicken Toastie, and the Chicken Caesar and Bacon Baguette, but Brandy had to put those off for another day.  With what she had sampled so far, she felt she had done her duty and protected the masses from bland, wasteful food for another day, so she was off to another exciting adventure (in other words, she was full, so she went to her knitting circle meeting).

The writers of this blog were invited to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 17, 2014

State and Lake Chicago Tavern or Which Came First, the Chicken of the Bear?

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy has been so busy lately with different festivals and giveaways that her brunch reviews seem to be a little few and far between, but mostly she's felt guilty about neglecting a promise she made ot a friend last fall.  "You said you'd watch at least one Bears game with me and I'm holding you to that!" her dear friend Bailey Blue said one day.  "Alright, alright.  Find me a brunch place that puts out a good spread and shows the game and I'm in," Brandy relented

Bailey picked State and Lake Chicago Tavern, a sports bar on the classy side, located on the ground floor of the Wit Hotel in the Loop.  Arriving outside, Brandy was a little more than skeptical, mostly because of a certain experience with another restaurant associated with The Wit, but began to feel more at ease once she'd stepped inside and was greeted by a host of greetings from the staff.

State and Lake had nice touches of color, light, and elegance that made one feel all at once comfortable and pampered.  The woods were warm and rich, the bar sparkled from the yellow and orange bottles that surrounded it, and the whole space came off as rather cozy and welcoming.  As they were taken to their table, Brandy made sure to situate herself to face a window out onto State Street so she could people watch, while Bailey focused in on a television for a good view of the Bear's game.

Brunch started with a visit to the bar, but this was no flagging down a bartender, leaning on the counter, and waving money around affair.  The bar they visited was the Make Your Own Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar.  Bailey was handed a glass with ice and vodka, while Brandy was given a glass half full with champagne, and they were both directed to a spot coked full with mix ins, garnishes, and condiments.  Bailey was delighted to be able to pour her own portion of the house made Bloody Mary mix, sprinkle in the perfect amount of hot sauce, and create a custom skewer with olives, cheese curds, and even bacon.  Brandy, on the other hand, was given a choice of several fresh juices (she chose pineapple) and a veritable orchard of fruits, from which she chose peach slices and brandy soaked cherries.  As they bustled back and forth, picking their various drink accessories, a kindly manager informed them that come the colder weather, an eggnog bar was to be installed as well, with things like dulce de leche pearls and cinnamon sprinkles.

Once their drinks had been appropriately decorated and mixed, the ladies seated themselves once more and settled in for an appetizer of Deviled Eggs.  The eggs themselves were delicately soft and creamy and came served with a bright and slightly astringent salad of arugula, English peas, and Tamworth ham, dressed with meyer lemon.  While Brandy loved the eggs, she wasn't such a huge fan of salad, mainly because of her psychological aversion to lemon (it's a story so long we'd need to purchase a bigger Google storage plan to tell it), but Bailey rather enjoyed the contrast of the salty, prosciutto like ham and the acidic and peppery greens.  "They compliment each other like a kicker and a receiver," Bailey said happily.  Brandy starred blankly at her.

The main event of the day (other than the game) was the Fried Chicken.  A specialty of the house that's only served on Sundays, the chicken was marinated in a brine over night, twice coated in a cornmeal batter and fried, and served with huge, tender biscuits.  Brandy and Bailey put in a for a full order (which turned out to be two buckets of various pieces and 4 biscuits), figuring that would supply them with enough food to get through the game with.  The chicken's coating had an excellent crunch on the outside, but was extremely juicy and flavorful on the inside.  Bailey had the right idea of eating the chicken straight off the bone, while Brandy preferred to pry the meat from the bone with a knife and fork, which did mean that the coating slipped off more easily.  Both Bailey and Brandy felt the texture of the chicken was spot on and that the coating wasn't too dry or thick, but might have been a little on the salty side.  The biscuits were melt in your mouth perfection and came served warm with tiny pots of butter, honey, and raspberry jam.

As a side dish, the ladies shared an order of Creamy Grits with wilted kale and parmesan cheese.  The grits were very smooth and light with a nice nuttiness from the cheese.  Brandy very much appreciated the addition of the kale, which added a bit of bitterness to break up the creaminess, though she almost reached for a little bit of the bacon in Bailey's skewer to dip into the pot.

By the time the cheerful and informative waiter came to the table to inquire about dessert, Brandy and Bailey had stuffed themselves so full of chicken that they couldn't think of enduring another bite.  "But we must have something sweet!" Brandy proclaimed, "It's not brunch if we don't pair some sweet with the savory!"  "Well, there are some boozy milkshakes on the drinks menu," Bailey moaned.  "Done," said Brandy.  They ordered up two of the said shakes: the Devil in a Red Dress for Bailey, which consisted of coffee liquor, dark chocolate ice cream, hot sauce, and sea salt, and the Live Till you Die for Brandy, which was a mix of whiskey, brown sugar caramel ice cream, and pecans, both of which came served in rather adorable cowboy boot shaped glasses.  While Bailey's shake was maybe a little more subtle and tasted like a frozen mocha, Brandy's defintly had a boozy kick that greeted the drinker with each swallow.  "This is certainly not something you'd want teenagers sipping at the soda counter!" Brandy proclaimed, attempting to figure out just how to get the pecans from the bottom of the glass into her mouth.

As the game approached half time, Brandy and Bailey settled up their bill to free up the table and relocated to the bar to finish out the game.  The service at State and Lake was impeccable: informative, friendly, and quick without being intrusive.  The food was definitely on the high side of quality, as reflected in the not terribly outrageous prices (the full order of chicken including the biscuits, for instance, came out to $30) and the extra little touches in presentation were certainly appreciated.  "So will you consider watching a few more games with me this season?" Bailey asked during a time out.  "Perhaps," Brandy mused, "Of course, if you ply me with ice cream, booze, and fried food, I'm liable to do whatever you want me to do."

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review

The Short and Sweet Review

State and Lake Chicago Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tea Time with Brandy: Door to Door Organics Giveaway!

Brandy's love of food stems from a deep appreciation of good ingredients.  "The finest chef would be hard pressed to make a factory processed vegetable delicious," as Brandy says, "For a time, the population seemed more concerned with how big and pretty their vegetation looked rather than how flavorful it tasted, which boils down to how it was grown.  Thankfully, it seems things are swinging the other way, though now we're forced to sacrifice convenience."

Enter Door to Door Organics, the grocery delivery service that promises to bring only the best organic food straight to your home.  Of course, there are other grocery delivery services in Chicago, but no others showcase a selection of not only fruits and vegetables, but dairy, meats, snacks, beverages, and a whole host of other essentials (and luxuries) which are all certified organic.  Brandy very much liked the idea of a convenient service such as this and so decided to try it out for herself.

The service begins with the produce box.  Customers select a size that suits their household (which ranges from the Bity Box for a single person to a Large Box for families), then select whether they'd like fruits, vegetables, or a mix of both, and lastly whether they'd like a box every week or every other week.  Once the account has been created, the customer will receive an email the Friday before their first delivery to show the contents of the produce box that week, and at that point the entire online grocery store is available for meal planning.  The box itself can be somewhat customized by allowing customers to change out produce they don't wish to receive as well as adding other food stuffs onto their order so as to meal plan their entire week.

Brandy was thrilled to see the amount of not only local produce available (indeed, one could even choose an entirely local produce box), but also the local food makers represented, like Coffee Cake Connection and Upton's Naturals.  There were so many things like fresh pasta, bakery breads, supreme cuts of meat, and even prepared foods that Brandy was a little overwhelmed at first.  Luckily, the Door to Door Organics website features a massive cookbook that is shopable, meaning if one was uncertain what to do with the produce coming in their box, they could search the database of recipes, find one that sounded good, browse the list of ingredients needed to make it, and add them straight into the box.

Brandy's first delivery was a joy to open.  The produce was well packaged with plenty of cushioning to prevent damage, while the frozen foods were in their own insulated box with a bit of dry ice and the refrigerated foods came in a box with an ice pack to keep everything at the ideal temperature.  Brandy did not

ice that one of her items was missing from her order, but she emailed the customer service team about the issue and was given the credit back for the item within a matter of hours with no fuss at all.  The quality of the produce was not only pleasantly surprising, but almost awe inspiring in it's vibrancy of color and size.  The bunch of kale Brandy received, for instance, was so gigantic that she had to cook it immediately, as it could barely fit in her vegetable crisper, and one of the apples was so large that it took two hands to hold it while being eaten.  Of course as we all know, size isn't everything, but Brandy was not disappointed in the least by the flavor of anything she received.

Luckily for our readers, Brandy was able to secure an opportunity for everyone to try Door to Door Organics for themselves!  Below you will find instructions of how to win one of three $50 gift cards Brandy will be giving away for Door to Door Organics (NOTE: This contest is open to Chicago residents only)!  But if you just can't wait to try it for yourselves, you can use the coupon code Brunchtime14 on your first order to receive $10 off!  Make sure to stay tuned to this space because in a the next few weeks, Brandy will be bringing us recipes using all of the deliciousness she received in her Door to Door Organics boxes!

The writers of this blog have been provided with products from Door to Door Organics at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rick Bayless Live at Macy's on State Street!

Happy Monday, brunch fans!  Brandy has forwarded us some top secret information to share with all of our readers in regards to one of Chicago's most famous and well loved chefs.  Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Xoco, three of Chicago's top restaurants, will be appearing next Monday, October 20th at Macy's on State Street to demo some of his favorite holiday recipes, which the audience in attendance will get to sample!  There will even be an opportunity to meet and greet the chef, as anyone who makes a purchase of $35 or more will receive a free copy of his cookbook, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks, and can have it signed by Rick Bayless himself!

For more information on the event or to find out how to reserve a seat, click here, or if you won't be able to attend, check back here on Wednesday October 22nd for Brandy's full recap of the event!

The writers of this blog have been compensated by Everywhere Agency for the information contained in this post, but the opinions stated were not influenced.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Festival Report: Chicago Gourmet 2014

Being as old as Brandy is, it's hard for her to remember a lot of things in full detail, but one thing she is reminded of every year is what it's like to be a child at Christmas.  The anticipation the night before, the surge of excitement when the morning finally dawns, the joy at the sight of all the presents under a sparkling tree, all of this Brandy experiences in late summer every year when the Chicago Gourmet festival is upon us.  "Yes, it is foodie Christmas," Brandy fondly sighs, "From June when the tickets go on sale to that glorious weekend in September I feel just like I felt when I was a child in the lead up to Christmas."

This year's festival promised to be the most extravagant ever with plenty of star power to boot.  Chicago icons like Rick Bayless, Graham Elliot, and Stephanie Izard as well as national super stars like Carla Hall, Spike Mendelsohn, and Masaharu Morimoto and so many others were all present for demos, book signings, and tastings.  "The difference between this and a music festival is the simple fact that people can interact with their favorite stars here in a more personal and direct way," Brandy observed, "These chefs are here to give their food, like a gift, to the masses, not show off.  Perhaps that's why there seem to be no egos among even the most accomplished chefs.  Everyone is happy to shake hands, sign autographs, and talk food no matter how many James Beard Awards they have under their belts!"

After the inaugural toast made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Brandy took a minute to bask in the beautiful weather before diving in head first to the tasting pavilions, gathering up as many bites as she could before the change over at 3:00.  There were surprising amounts of the same sorts of things (lots of sliders, several octopus dishes, and on the sweet side at least five different kinds of donuts), but plenty of restaurants and chefs easily stood out in the crowd.  Lines at the Supreme Lobster Pavilion were as long as ever, but the new BBQ Pavilion also got it's share of attention.

As always seems to happen, Brandy found favorites right away.  Jared Van Camp brought Leghorn's famous Hot Chicken Sandwich, which was a pretty substantial portion of fried chicken breast on a soft house made bun with shaved vegetable slaw and just a touch of hot sauce.  Paul Fehribach from Big Jones showcased an end of summer bisque made of eggplant and pecans, served chilled with poached shrimp and wax beans, which made for a nice change from the usual fall flavored squash soups others were serving, though Jon Keeley of Gemini Bistro and Rustic House had a pretty tasty butternut squash soup with pumpkin seeds and bacon lardons.  Jimmy Bannos Sr. of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig had a Creole chicken and cheesy grits that Brandy would have happily eaten a full sized plate of, and in the same pavilion, Stetson's Modern Steak and Sushi had an amazing cup of fall vegetables with mandarin orange, roasted fig, goat cheese, spiced pear puree.  There was an over abundance of seafood dishes, but Brandy's favorite among the crowd was the lobster mango roll from Jellyfish, which was not only tasty, but one of the prettiest dishes there.

Dessert seemed to have a particular emphasis this year, as Brandy was very pleased to see.  Donuts were at the forefront, with Glazed and Infused bringing a goat cheese and red wine glazed cake donut, Firecakes giving attendees the choice between a vanilla, chocolate, and "almond joy" flavored, custard filled yeast donuts, and Stan's Donuts stealing the spotlight with their Chicago Mix donut, which was topped with caramel corn and filled with a cheddar cream.  "Not sure how I feel about this one," Brandy said, studying the neon orange interior of the pastry, "But it certainly is unique!"  Other sweet favorites included Bistronomic's version of a Kit Kat bar, composed of feuilletine, chocolate hazelnut ganache, and served with orange Grand Marnier sauce and The Langham's pistachio and cherry tart, which was a such an intricate dessert that the station displayed one of the desserts cut in half to show all of the layers inside.  Another major crowd favorite was surprisingly from Francesca's Restaurants, which brought a sweet corn butterscotch bread pudding with blueberries, caramel corn, and vanilla ice cream.

Even though the amount of wine in the main festival was overwhelming as always, Brandy made a major effort to visit the Grand Cru this year, the showcase for international wineries that often invites the best chefs at the festival to create small dishes that pair perfectly with the wine.  While Brandy may not be the most sophisticated wine drinker (she pretty much just worked her way through the lines, holding out her wine glass for a pour, and then moving on) she was pleased to see chefs like Stephanie Izard and Andrew Zimmerman were hurriedly feeding the crowds themselves at the back of the space.  Brandy's favorite among the group were Tony Mantuano and Chris Marchino from Spiaggia, who served pickled black mission figs with Castelmagno cheese, ‘nduja sausage and fennel.

Next, Brandy jumped over the Bon Appetite Mainstage to take in a chef demo or two.  She caught the very end of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's demo, in which he showed off his knife skills by breaking down a gigantic fish (as well as singing) in front of the crowd.  After that, Carla Hall (from Top Chef and The Chew) made a cheddar cheese and apple pie, proving to be just as quirky and lovable live as she is on television.  After that came Jeff Mauro, otherwise known as The Sandwich King, whose comedy training came out while he prepared rustic Italian favorites, even inviting his son to come up and help with the dish's prep.

Finally, Brandy took one more turn around the tasting pavilions (and as many of the cocktail tents that would serve her).  Davanti Enoteca smartly pandered to the crowds a little bit by serving the ever so fashionable cheese, burrata, with stone fruits, microgreen basil, and saba and RL Restaurant had a very simple yet classic Crab Louis with avocado.  Three of Brandy's brunch favorites made the list of standouts: ZED451 which brought their signature stuffed pepperdous as well as a steak tartar, Koi had a cold noodle and peanut salad sweetly served in a take out container, and Nana, who had one of the most unique dishes at the festival, which was a fried Mexican pasta topped with a farm raised shrimp (they were so proud of the shrimp, in fact, that they had a live one in a tank at the station and gladly told anyone who would listen about their partnership with The Salty Prawn), avocado, and sweet corn.  720 South Bar and Grill brought a lobster salad on a sweet corn macaroon, which Brandy loved as it straddled the line between sweet and savory.  Lastly, Brandy finished off with a fall vegetable terrine from CafĂ© des Architectes at the Sofitel made with red pepper, eggplant, yellow and green zucchini, topped with house-made goat cheese and pepperone.

As per usual, Brandy had to be practically torn away from the gates as the fesitval closed down for the night.  "And now the worst time of the year," Brandy whimpered as she waddled her way to the bus, "The longest possible wait until next's year's Chicago Gourmet Festival."  Brandy may have even started to weep from despair if it wasn't for the fact that she fell into a deep slumber the moment she sat down on the bus, only awaking just in time for her stop when her knitting needles fell from her hands.

Remember to check Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page for even more delectable pictures, and check out this piece from Time Out Chicago, where the writers behind Bunny and Brandy talk about their favorite fall flavors from this year's festival.

The writers of this blog were invited to attend this festival at no charge in exchange for an honest recap of the events.