Friday, August 31, 2012

Franks 'n Dawgs or Hot Dog Summer in the City

The Slow and Savory Review

Chicago has always had a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to New York.  Comedy? We win with Second City vs. Upright Citizens Brigade.  Landmarks? Score one for New York, as The Bean can't compete with The Statue of Liberty.  Corrupt Politicians?  Well, let's call that one a tie.  But the true rivalry has always been food.  Deep dish pizza verses thin foldable crust is like comparing apples and oranges, if said fruits were covered in cheese that is.  And then there's a battle of the hot dogs.  In New York, one tops their Nathan's with ketchup for sure, and maybe a bit of brown mustard or sour kraut.  In Chicago, a cornucopia of ingredients is placed atop the venerable Vienna all beef dog, including tomatoes, pickles, chopped onions, celery salt, and hot peppers.  But not ketchup.  NEVER ketchup.

Truth be told, Brandy has always been rather partial to the simple New york style hot dog.  A nice soft bun, juicy dog, and a little tangy ketchup was all that was needed to excite her palate.  The Chicago style dog always seemed to be more of a salad in comparison, "And if I'm eating street food," she says, "I don't want to even think of something as healthy as vegetables."

Always one for expanding her horizons (and suffering from a horrible craving for some down and dirty street food), Brandy ventured to what has become one of Chicago's most treasured denizens of dogs, Franks 'N Dawgs in Lincoln Park.  As Brandy soon discovered, this was not the place to go if one is looking for tasteless meat tubes on soggy buns and topped off with watery condiments.  However, if you should be in the mood for, say a hot dog made from scallops, this is the place for you.

To reach Franks 'N Dawgs, one must enter through a side gate that leads down an alleyway.  Once inside, a typical sort of fast food haunt is to be found, with wooden booths, brick walls, and a bit of brick a brack on the walls.  But on closer inspection, that the brick a brack is mostly comprised of articles from various periodicals, extolling the virtues of the establishment.  A wonderful system has been implemented for the delivery of the food to each table: each patron selects from the "Wall of Shame," a collection of images of disgraced athletes, politicians, and other celebrities.  This picture is then attached to your table with the use of Velcro (Brandy chose Sammy Sosa, somehow mistaking him for former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli). 

There were a few items on the menu that drew Brandy's attention straight away, especially one particular item called The Brunch Dog.  Well, no need to look any further!  She placed an order for that little wonder straight away, along with some Triple Truffle Fries and a Dang! That's Good Butterscotch Root Beer.

The root beer was spectacular.  Normally not a big soda drinker ("Unless you count soda as a cocktail mixer," as Brandy likes to say), this drink was a perfect combination of both flavors.  First, a smooth, home style root beer, followed by a creamy butterscotch finish.  Brandy would have downed the entire bottle and had to order several more if the food hadn't started arriving so quickly.

First came the Triple Truffle Fries, crispy waffle cut potato slices treated with truffle oil, truffle salt, and truffle butter and topped with a little chopped herbs.  Brandy got the smell of truffle right away, but the taste was a little bit of a let down.  She mostly found the flavor of the fries to be salty without much else.  The texture of the fries, however, was spot on.  Perfectly crunchy outside with pillow like insides.  Brandy longed for something to dip her fries into, as dousing them in ketchup somehow seemed like a sacrilege.

The Brunch Dog, which consisted of a pork breakfast sausage with bits of bacon, topped by a fried egg and maple mayonnaise.  There was no possible way to eat this delicacy with one's hands, so Brandy resorted to a fork and knife.  The bun was tender and chewy with a lovely toasted exterior that definitely put one in a brunch sort of mood.  The sweetness from the maple was the first thing Brandy noticed, then richness from the sausage and the chewiness of the bacon.  The perfectly cooked egg on top added just the right amount of decadence to the dog, blending everything together into a wonderfully entertaining mix of textures and flavors.

So impressed was Brandy by these "High Class Hounds," as she called them, that she decided to take an order to go.  Again, the food was served up in no time and after a quick bus ride home, she was able to enjoy a second round of gourmet street food.

First she tried the Brussell Sprout Salad.  Brandy had thought this would be along the lines of a coleslaw, but instead found an intriguing mix of shredded sprouts, Parmesan cheese, and pistachios in a dill flavored dressing.  Each bite was stranger than the last, and yet she could not stop eating this amazing concoction!

Brandy had also ordered a Cheese Head Dog, a Bratwurst topped off with smoked Gouda, portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and fresh chives.  The brat, which was on the same kind of buttery toasted bun as The Brunch Dog, had an excellent snap to it, and the cheese was extremely creamy.  Along with the mushrooms and onions, the dog gave Brandy the feeling being a someone's back yard cook out, but a rich someone who knew how to cook.

Lastly, Brandy finished off with some Lamington Bites, a dessert from Australia that consisted of angle food cake with raspberry jam in the middle, coated in chocolate and shredded coconut.  Brandy loved these little morsels, which reminded her of a donut or a snack cake.  Though a bit dry, the sweetness was just perfect, with just a little bit of tartness from the jam.  At $1 per cake, there was really no resisting getting several of them.
Brandy did find it a bit exorbitant to pay nearly $18 for a hot dog, fries, and a soda (the second dog, salad, and cake bites came out closer to $14), but once the caliber of said order was put into perspective, the deal really didn't seem all that bad.  Service could not have been more friendly or helpful and Brandy hoped that every person working that Sunday morning was getting paid just as well as a fine dining server, seeing as how some of the finest restaurants in the world couldn't hope to match that crew for hospitality.  So will Brandy go back to eating her hot dogs with ketchup and grease, we hear you ask?  Perhaps.  But at least now she has an alternative way to eat her hot dogs that New York will never have.

The Short and Sweet Review

Franks 'N' Dawgs on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 24, 2012

Brunch or Whose on First?

The Slow and Savory Review

Brunch.  That's what its all about, really.  Well, that's what's this blog is about, at least.  Brunch.  That elusive meal with no real definition, only a vague rule that it has to happen after breakfast, but before lunch and combine the best of both.  One could make a case that its not even a meal, but a time period; a time for taking time, for sipping, nibbling, conversing, giggling, or planning the week ahead.  Brunch is the last gasp of fresh air before the weekend settles back into the work week.  Brandy's fondness for brunch has always been founded on these principals.  "That, and its the only meal that makes drinking in the morning acceptable," as she likes to say. 

So how could Brandy very well ignore a restaurant so brazen as to call itself Brunch?  Well, the truth is, Brandy wasn't exactly ignoring it so much as didn't know it existed.  "Have you been to Brunch?" people would ask her.  "Of course I've been to brunch!  It's Sunday, isn't it?" Brandy would respond, incredulously.  "But have you been to brunch in River North?" they would invariably ask. "Not today, but I have done in the past.  Today it was brunch in Logan Square."  "There's a Brunch in Logan Square?" "There's lots of brunches in Logan Square." It would be at this point in the conversation that Brandy's partner would become very confused.

But one fateful day while wandering around the River North area, Brandy came across a large building strewn with banners proclaiming, "Brunch!"  Of course, she was intrigued and poked her head in.  Inside was a large, open space with a long counter on one end, and high wood beam ceilings. The overall effect was one of a quirky diner mixed with a comfortable lodge.
Quickly taken to a seat and present with a menu, Brandy started off with a Peach Melba Smoothie. Though the smoothie was thick and luscious like a milk shake, Brandy found it very hard to drink, as it hadn't been blended properly, leaving huge chunks of ice through out. She found herself sucking so hard on the straw with such few results that she ended up setting the delicious thing aside until it could melt down a bit.

Brandy decided to start off with the Pancake Trio, a sampler plate of three different flavors. Or, at least they were supposed to be different flavors. Though the menu listed the plate as offering buttermilk, banana, and red velvet pancakes, Brandy soon deduced that the banana pancake was no different than the buttermilk, other than that it had been topped with a few slices of caramelized banana. "Seems to me they could have mixed the banana into the batter at the very least!" she huffed. Though quite ordinary, the pancakes were rather tasty with a nice fluffy interior. She very much enjoyed the red velvet variety, which had the slightest little hint of chocolate. "Seems red velvet is all the rage these days, but not a lot of places do the flavor justice," she said to no one in particular, "This very much honors that flavor, which is so hard to pin down. Very commendable."

As her main dish, Brandy selected the Steak Skillet, a mish mash of veggies, meat, potatoes, eggs, and cheese.  This hearty sounding dish was love at first bite.  On top, the eggs (which Brandy had ordered over medium) were ever so slightly over cooked, but not enough to bother her, as the yolks still ran for the most part.  The next layer was the steak, which was juicy, tender, and plentiful.  Below that, the goat cheese, which added the most wonderful creaminess to everything.  Then came the mushrooms and spinach, which were fresh, perfectly seasoned, and not at all watery.  Lastly was a layer of cubed potatoes, which even though they had been hiding underneath all the other goodies, had somehow still maintained a crispy texture on the outside and a wonderfully smooth interior.  All combined together, Brandy could not get enough of the dish, scooping up different combinations of ingredients to make every bite a new experience in flavor.

And so at last, Brandy can finally say she has been to Brunch, and with her bill coming out under $30 for such a bountiful feast, she can say that she will probably brunch at Brunch again.  "But next time, I expect a little more effort in the pancake department," she was heard to remark.

The Short and Sweet Review

Brunch on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 17, 2012

Postcards from Bunny

We all know that Bunny and Brandy are quite the ladies about town.  It seems as though they are always being invited to the best events with the best people, the best food, and the best drink.  Up until recently it has always been a mystery (even to Bunny and Brandy themselves) why they seem to get such recognition over others.  But it seems that some of the fabulous events they've been invited to have been nothing more than result of joining one fabulous mailing list!

Edible Chicago, for those of you who may not know, is a stunning quarterly food magazine that brings Chicago foodies all the latest in local, sustainable, organic, and delicious food news.  Their articles, to paraphrase their website, show the relationship of food to every day life in the greatest of detail, combined with some of the most eye popping food photography one can find (outside of this blog, of course).

Somehow, Bunny and Brandy have found their way onto Edible Chicago's Events Mailing List, a free list that anyone can join that will alert them to Edible Chicago's wide variety of events, held all around Chicago.  These events are generally free and include lots of scrumptious food and drinks to try, the only catch being that they are first come first serve reservations (but signing up for the mailing list puts one at the forefront of event knowledge).

Not long ago Brandy and Biscuit Brown had the pleasure of attending a book launch party for Janet Lee, author of Living in a Nutshell.  This little soiree was held at the fabulous Counter Culture Coffee Training Center, where are expert guided them through making the perfect cup of iced coffee.  Wonderful little bites were provided by Kingsbury Street Cafe, along with custom cocktails made from iced coffee and whipped cream spiked with Prairie Vodka.  The ladies even got to participate in a little crafting, lead by Janet Lee herself.

Just this past week, Bunny stopped into Chicago just long enough to accompany Bailey Blue to another Edible Chicago event, this time held at Hopleaf Bar.  Local company owners like New Rose Catering, Grampa Boo's Basting and BBQ Sauce, and Stu's Sour Pickle provided some delicious tidbits for the crowd, while Brooklyn Brewery generously served up a taste of their newest brew, the Fiat Lux.  Bunny and Bailey loved the atmosphere so much that they ordered more snacks from Hopleaf's kitchens, including some Potato Croquettes and (on Bailey's recommendation) some Samuel Smith's Organic Cider (read Bailey's review of this cider here).

To find out more about Edible Chicago, where to find their magazine, and how to sign up for their events list, please do visit their website and befriend them on Facebook.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nookies Tree or An Afternoon Toast

The Slow and Savory Review

There is nothing sadder to Brandy than seeing a line outside a restaurant on a Sunday morning.  Yes, there are brunch staples in this city which sometimes cannot be avoided, but there are also so many delicious spots where one can simply walk in the door and be taken to a seat.  Many a time, Brandy has had to stop herself from handing out her card to people seated outside the steps of a busy place on a Sunday morning.  "There's no point in waiting, you know," she wants to tell them, "Come with me and let me show you to a place where the tables are waiting for you instead of you waiting for them!"  It is because of this conviction, perhaps, that Brandy has steered away from some of the more popular restaurants in the city, but as she has discovered many times over, sometimes places are popular for a reason.

Such is the case with the Nookies chain of restaurants, all of which seem to draw huge crowds every Sunday morning.  Brandy has never quite understood this phenomena, at least when it comes to the location in Lakeview, seeing as how they are open 24 hours a day on weekends (and 7:00am-12:00 on weekdays) with the vast majority of their menu available the entire time (some specials are only available at certain times of day).  "Why do these ridiculous people queue up for hours on a Sunday morning when they could have their precious pancakes and silly sandwiches whenever they'd like?" Brandy often remarks to herself.  And so finally, with a weekday afternoon to spare after a particularly brutal round of window shopping, Brandy decided to see what all the fuss was really about.

Finding the sunny and spacious restaurant virtually deserted, Brandy took over a four top table in the corner of the room.  A large and colorful mural took up the majority of one wall, but other than that, there wasn't much decoration to speak of.  She did love the variety of eating surfaces, from counter stools to booths to traditional tables on multiple levels, all spread throughout the open single room.  The menu boasted something for every taste for every meal, with dinners listed first, then lunches, and breakfast on the back.  As always, Brandy gravitated towards a good mix of sweet and savory and settled on the Monte Carlo sandwich, which came with a side dish and a cup of soup.

Brandy chose the Cream of Spinach soup, which was offered that day along with a Lentil Soup.  Although the menu listed the soup as being "homemade" Brandy suspected that it was really more "home heated."  The soup was still rather nice, being thick and creamy with good salty taste.
As her side, Brandy chose the Cottage Fries, which were truly one of a kind.  Rounded, crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside, Brandy just could not get enough of these little fried goodies, not even needing to douse them in ketchup to be happy.

The sandwich was, to Brandy, an ideal mix of breakfast and lunch (commenting on this out loud may have been what caused Brandy's server to never really check up on her, but it didn't matter much as she had been provided with a carafe of water from which to draw her own drink).  The sandwich consisted of turkey cold cuts, bacon, and Swiss cheese in between two slices of French Toast (Brandy wondered aloud again whether this combination of French and Swiss food stuffs had been officially sanctioned by the EU).  The bread was definitely eggy like traditional French Toast, but still firm enough to serve as the foundation for the sandwich.  There was a nice smokiness in the bacon and the cheese was melted to perfection.  On a dish like this, Brandy would usually yearn for a little vegetation to break up the richness, but she found her self savoring the savoriness of it.
Wanting to finish off with something sweet, Brandy asked her server about one of the crepe dishes and was informed that they were not able to serve up crepes that day.  Asking for a suggestion, the waited told her that one of the specials for the day, the Stuffed French Toast, would be an excellent substitution (he also let her know that normally this dish stopped being available about 3:00 pm, which had just passed, but that he would be willing to "pull some strings" for her).  Though hesitant to have yet another French Toast dish, Brandy went ahead with the order.

When it finally arrived, Brandy was hardly disappointed.  Very much reminding her of Bongo Room's fabled 4 Berry White Chocolate Cheesecake Pancakes, this French toast was stuffed full of mascarpone cheese and topped with a beautiful berry sauce and a variety of fresh strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  Brandy loved how the tart berries cut through the richness of the toast, which was very lush despite the thinnish layer of filling.

As Brandy waddled out the Nookies, she pictured the multitudes of people who would be vying to get in the front door on Sunday morning.  Yes, the food was lovely, the service nice, the atmosphere inviting, and the price not wallet busting by any means, but Brandy's point still remained.  Why wait in line on a Sunday morning to get what you could get any time?  Brunch is a sacred time; a time to explore, a time to relax, a time for...well, taking your time.  So Nookie it up on a Sunday if you must, but remember that there is nothing wrong with spreading the love.

The Short and Sweet Review

Nookies Tree on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 3, 2012

Best of Brunch: A Bunny and Brandy Retrospective

Greetings, dear readers!  As Brandy is constantly asked to name her favorite brunch spots, we thought we would put together a list of her all time favorites, along with those of her most cherished companions.  Enjoy, and be sure to tell us about your favorite brunch spots!

Birdie Brown
As a traveler of the world, Birdie loves a cultural brunch most of all, filled with new treats to try from exotic lands.
  1. Yoshi's Cafe: A unique blend of authentic Japanese food and French technique combine to make for an elegant and refreshing experience.  Birdie highly recommends the Japanese Breakfast, which consists of rice, fruit, veggies, soup, and a seasonal fish.
  2. Big Jones:  The closest you'll get to perfectly cooked crawfish in Chicago.  Makes a Southerner almost forget the snow and ice outside!
  3. Cafe con Leche:  A little taste of Cuba, here highlighted by Jibartito, a sandwich made with fried plantains instead of bread.  Not to mention some excellent coffee.
  4. Hearty Boys: American comfort food at its finest.  Birdie especially loves the Breakfast Corndog, a pancake batter encased sausage.  Simple yet satisfying!
  5. Ann Sather: Birdie loved being able to sample some Swedish favorites on the Swedish Breakfast Plate like the Swedish pancakes, meatballs, and potato sausage.  Also, CINNAMON ROLLS.  Enough said.

Birdie's Special Award
  • Most Unique Bebida: The Southern for the Walker Texas Ranger, a creative blend of Johnny Walker and Templeton Rye spiked with cherry tobacco. 
Biscuit Brown
Biscuit, unlike her husband, likes to be constantly reminded of her home land in the Bayou, so its no surprise to see a fair few Southern favorites in her list.
  1. Nana:  Simply the most divine Chicken and Waffles one could hope for, along with some killer Gingerbread Pancakes.
  2. The Southern: From the cocktails to the Breakfast Poutin to the House Made Bacon, there has never been a menu that offered Biscuit so many of her favorite things all at the same time.
  3. Hearty Boys: A favorite across the board, Biscuit's highlight was the Vermont Coffee, perfect for keeping the cold Chicago winter at bay.
  4. Big Jones: A lush atmosphere with fabulous food can make even the grumpiest brunch goer smile.
  5. Longman and Eagle: Biscuit adored their unique take on biscuits and gravy with just a touch of sweetness to keep things interesting.

    Biscuit's Special Award
    • Best Bloody Mary: Longman and Eagle's Bloody Lawrence.  As the lady herself put it, "This is how a bloody Mary should taste!"

    Bunny, ever the stickler for sophistication, hardly ever gets to spend time in doors these days, as she assists her husband Benedict in his archaeological studies across the globe.  Its no wonder her choices reflect her desire for all things warm, familiar, and dazzling.
    1. Nana: Another perennial favorite of the bunch, not only does Nana have a fantastic Benedict (which is what Bunny bases any good brunch place on), but this is what brunch is all about- a warm, inviting, fun place to get a great meal and catch up with friends.     
    2. Nightwood: Three words- Butterscotch. Bacon. Donuts. No one can ever have enough of these sweet and savory treats.  Nightwood keeps their menu fresh with seasonal offerings like mouth watering duck quiche, but choices vary from week to week. 
    3. Bongo Room:  The White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Pancakes are quite possibly the best pancakes Bunny has ever tasted. Indeed, she is still trying to recreate these on her own (with no luck as of yet). Although wait times on weekends can sometimes become in excess of an hour, this is one instance where the food is worth sticking in for the long haul.
    4. Hearty Boys: Yes, another vote for this Lakeview eatery, but this time with Bunny highlighting them for their Chicken and Waffles, which may be hersecond favorite brunch choice after that infamous egg dish. Hearty Boys delivers moist, well spiced chicken contrasted with a sweet and delicate waffle. 
    5. Deleece: Despite the giant piece of eggshell sitting atop Bunny's meal, the Lobster Benedict was a close second for the best Benedict Bunny has ever had. The lobster was generously portioned into succulent pieces of claw, with a sweet, truffle Hollandaise for dipping was just the right touch or opulence. 

    Bunny's Special Awards:
    • Best Brunch with a View: Signature Room with 360 degrees of windows for viewing the Chicago skyline at every angle.
    • Best Brunch with a Sense of Humor: Orange's Frushi and Green Eggs and Ham

    And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, from the eclectic Queen of Brunch herself, here are Brandy's choices for the Best Brunches in Chicago (Note: Though Brandy dearly loves some of her fellow brunch experts' choices, in the interest of variety, she has chosen to try and not double up on any of her predecessor's picks.)
    1. Owen and Engine: The quintessential British Brunch, complete with scones, clotted cream, perfect tea, and even home made Brown Sauce.  If Brandy were ever forced to brunch at only one spot in Chicago, this would be a very comfortable cage.
    2. Frog and Snail: Sophisticated, yet full of whimsy, Frog and Snail is one of those rare places that will convince you to like something you've never liked before.  Creative coffee drinks and amazingly indulgent desserts highlight this increasingly popular eatery.
    3. Vincent: There is literally no where else in Chicago where one can enjoy Fried Oysters and Snert or Pancakes with Kumquat Jam.  A truly unique and magical spot.
    4. Hot Chocolate: Though one would suspect Hot Chocolate is good at the sweet stuff, the savory entrees are also well thought out and perfectly executed.
    5. M Henrietta/Henry: Hearkening back to her very first brunch with Bunny, Brandy can still picture her beautifully plated Baked Egg and the scrumptious side of Bread Pudding.

    Brandy's Special Awards:
    • Best Fruit Cup- Tweet: Colorful, whimsical, and a good variety of tidbits.
    • Best Pancakes- Southport Grocery: No matter what you put on top of your pancakes, they will never beat the purity of these Bread Pudding Pancakes
    • Best French Toast- Socca: Brioche French Toast so soft you'd think it was Angel Food Cake, topped off with melty vanilla gelato.  Dessert for breakfast at its finest.
    • Best Mimosa- Blokes and Birds: Brandy simply adored how this mimosa came dressed almost like a Sangria with bits of fruit floating on top.

      Brandy's Sweet and Savory Awards:
      • Best Overall Sweet- Bang Bang Pie Shop: Biscuits and pie for brunch... when its done well, it cannot be questioned
      • Best Overall Savory- Takashi: Amazing bowls of noodles sitting in a broth of pure love can only be made better by a side of Duck Fat Fried Chicken.