Friday, June 28, 2013

Festival Report: Two Brothers Brewing Company Summer Festival

Nothing says summer like live music, good food, and great beer, but sadly two of those things are not normally a part of Brandy's brunch routine.  "I know the young people like having beer with their brunch, but we just don't do things like that in England," Brandy says, "Beer is only for lunch, after lunch, tea time, before dinner, during dinner, and after dinner.  But definitely not for brunch."  But when Brandy heard that Two Brothers Brewing Company was hosting their annual Summer Festival last weekend, she decided to make an exception.

Bringing along with her Bailey and Hawk from The Cider Press, the trio arrived early in the day in order to get a lay of the land.  The festival was being held on the grounds of The Roundhouse, Two Brothers' historic figurehead tavern.  Outside the building, a series of tents had been set up, boasting some fine festival food offerings, some of Two Brothers' own signature beers, and also selections from other local breweries, all leading to the mainstage, which was set to host a number of amazing local bands.  General admission allowed one access to the festival and concerts, with tickets for food and beer available for separate purchase, but the VIP passes afforded one not only five complimentary beers, but all the food you could eat and access to the inside of the Roundhouse, which was hosting even more beer tastings, food, and even an art show.  Being a VIP wherever she goes, Brandy naturally took the latter option.

 Diving straight into the food and drink, Brandy and company picked up some choice tidbits from the booths first.  The cheerful people working the tents were quick and efficiant all day long, providing the crowds with fresh grilled corn on the cob, burgers, hot dogs, short rib or pulled pork sandwiches, and more creative offerings like tater tots topped with beer flavored cheese and sweet fried bread rounds, coated in an orange zest syrup.  Typical festival food, to be sure, but done so brilliantly right that Brandy didn't even miss her usual brunch time favorites.

As Bailey was the designated driver for the day, she started off with some Cinnamon Root Beer, a wonderfully flavored beverage that went not only with the BBQ style food, but with the relaxed atmosphere. Hawk and Brandy, on the other hand, started their day with the Dog Days Lager and the Hop Black respectively.  The Dog Days proved to be light and crisp, the perfect thing to start off a summer afternoon, while the Hop Black was strong, a little bitter, and boasted an almost coffee like flavor, which Brandy liked very much.  Because the Hop Black was so strong, it was served in a smaller portion, meaning Brandy was soon moving onto her next beer, the Ebel's Weiss, a more mild, full bodied beer with an almost bread like after taste.

After watching the first band play, Brandy and friends moved inside the Roundhouse to get a look at the other goings on.  The main tavern had been opened up for people to sit and enjoy a broadcast of the music outside, while still in air conditioned comfort.  There were food demos from local companies like Bee's Knee's Bar Snacks and Wagner Farms Honey in the main lobby, a roaming string band performing in different areas of the building, and each of the other smaller bars throughout the Roundhouse carried a myriad of seasonal and specialty beers from Two Brothers Brewery.  The center of the building opened out into a circular beer garden with a beautiful pagoda like gazebo at its center, from which smaller concerts and performances are hosted all throughout the summer months.  Buffet tables (another perk of the VIP tickets) had been set up both inside and out, serving more BBQ favorites like cole slaw and potato salad along side more burgers, hot dogs, and the like for lunch, and Mexican themed dishes like vegan enchiladas and chicken verde for dinner.

After a few more plates of food from the buffet, Hawk and Brandy once again sampled some of Two Brothers' wears (while Bailey sipped on iced tea and enjoyed their giggling and general loss of balance).  Brandy was intrigued by a brew called the Laughing Panda, which was an IPA flavored with green tea.  Not usually a fan of light beers, Brandy was more than a little skeptical about this particular one, but it turned out to be rather refreshing, a little bitter, and truly unique as it actually did taste like a perfect hybrid of beer and tea!  Hawk opted for the Resistance, another IPA, but this one aged in oak.  This beer had a lovely smoothness that matched its woody flavor, but was sadly not a great sipping beer, as it became very sour as it warmed.

Brandy managed to grab one last beer (a heady and rich cocoa stout) as they headed back out to the main festival to watch a lively reggae band.  Though not wont to join in with the masses dancing on the pavement, Brandy did have to admit admiration for those who had planned ahead and brought their own chairs to make for nice little picnic encampments on the grass.  "This is certainly not like the festivals in Chicago," Brandy mused, sighting that the laid back, happy atmosphere is something rare at a lot of bigger festivals, where slow moving tourists can lead to pushy locals, and the emphasis often tends to be on sales and promotions, rather than creating a genuinely good time for the attendees.  So although it may not have been a typical brunch for Brandy, she had to admit that there was no better way to spend an afternoon than with good friends, good food, good music, and of course some truly great beer.

*Brandy and friends were given free passes to this event by Two Brothers Brewing Company as members of the press

Friday, June 21, 2013

La Fournette Bakery or Killing Me Softly with His Carbs

The Slow and Savory Review

Unsurprisingly, Brandy is not a great fan of the health food movement.  "If I've lived this long without eating like a rabbit, I think I'll be fine," she says, "After all, you never hear a 100 year old saying they've had nothing but salads all their life.  They've usually got a diet of steak, wine, and cigars."  In fact, Brandy had been keeping an Atkins-like diet for years without even knowing it (she simply went through a phase where she was craving mostly bacon at all her meals), but soon began eating bread more often in open rebellion of the carb-cutting trends.

And so it was that recently after watching a television program about the dangers of carbohydrates, sugar, butter, and other such culinary bad boys, that Brandy began craving European style pastries, which usually consisted of all the terrible things mentioned above in abundance.  After a quick argument with her smart phone (Brandy and Siri are sworn enemies), Brandy received the name "La Fournette Bakery," located in the heart of Old Town.

Brandy found an inviting, European style bakery on one side of the room, and a line of small cafe tables on the other.  The room had a warm feeling, being simply done in bright woods and butter colored walls.  "Can I help you?" said a bright eyed young lady behind the counter.  Brandy pulled her attention away from the glistening pastries behind the glass to the chalkboard menus above the girl's head and placed her order.

In a matter of minutes, her food was ready, and presented rather sweetly on a wooden serving tray.  "Am I getting breakfast in bed?" Brandy joked with the gentleman who had called her forth to receive her meal.  He smiled wryly at her and quickly walked away.

Brandy was a little disappointed to see that the Iced Coffee she had ordered was really a cup of ice, over which one could pour the hot coffee from the warmer on the cafe sideboard, which instantly melted all of the ice and made for a more room temperature drink.  Luckily, it was a dark roast from Intelligensia, so the intensity of the flavored wasn't too watered down.

She started off the the Tarte Flambee Baguette, an open faced sandwich topped with bacon, caramelized onions, and sour cream, then set under a broiler to toast.  The bread and a wonderful crunchy crust, but incredibly soft innards, which made it easy to bite off pieces and chew without too much effort.  The bacon was in thick chunks, making each mouthful full of smokey, meaty flavor, while the onions provided a subtle, sweet note.  The true star was surprisingly the sour cream, which having lost some of its moisture while being broiled, had turned into something more resembling a smooth goat cheese.

Brandy then satisfied her sweet tooth with a Butter and Sugar Crepe, which was exactly what its name would imply.  The crepe was thin and delicate, as well it should be, but with a slight glutenous chew to it.  The inside had been coated in Turbano sugar, which leant a nice crunch as well as sweetness, and the butter wasn't greasy at all, but added a richness and the slightest hint of salt.

Of course Brandy couldn't think of leaving without a few of those delicious pasties, so she ordered up a few signature pieces to go.  First was the Beignet, a simple round of fried dough, covered in sugar, which was tender and chewy.  Next was the Brioche roll, a more sturdy piece of sweet, buttery bread, which had also been finished off with some of the crunchy Turbano sugar.  Lastly, the Raisin Roulade, a cross between a croissant and a cinnamon roll, dotted with juicy raisins and filled with a luscious pastry cream.

For a quick, moderately priced meal (just under $30 for all the comestibles, plus tax and tip), Brandy thought La Fournette really couldn't be beat as a purveyor of authentic European baked goods and cafe food.  "I may not live in Europe any more, but this just show me that there's not a whole lot to miss about the food, as Chicago provides places like this which are just as good as any corner patisserie," Brandy said, "Now if we could just get a little European style healthcare in this country, I'd really have nothing to complain about."

The Short and Sweet Review
La Fournette on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 14, 2013

Festival Report: CS Magazine Burger Cookoff

Now that Chicago is in full summer swing, Brandy has found herself inundated with requests for her attendance at several fabulous foodie events across the city.  "I haven't been this in demand since I came out as a debutante," Brandy has been known to joke.  Sadly, as she is a very busy woman (her quilting society meetings alone take up 72 hours of her week), she is not always able to attend everything that comes her way, but she made an exception this week.

Brandy was invited to the 4th Annual Burger Cook-off, sponsored by CS Magazine and held at Presidential Towers (a stunningly beautiful and modern luxury building in the heart of River North), which featured five local restaurants and bars all competing for the title of the night's top burger.  All proceeds from the event went to benefit the Garfield Park Conservatory, a thriving community center which also provides a home base for some of the finest burgeoning performance and visual artists in Chicago.  A nobler cause there could not be in Brandy's mind.

As she didn't wish to go by herself, Brandy invited along Hawk from The Cider Press to be her date for the evening so that she wouldn't feel too out of place amongst all the bright young fashionable things.  First stop of the evening was at the Stella Artois bar, where Hawk was delighted to see they were serving their signature cider along side their classic Belgian style beer.  The beverage was light, crisp, and refreshing to Brandy, but of course she was not the stated expert on the subject (we'll leave the full assessment up to our friends at The Cider Press).

The first burger they tried was the Mediterranean Burger from Palace Grill, which had been stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives before being topped with a creamy tzatziki sauce and sandwiched between two pita bread slices.  The flavor very much reminded Brandy of the slider Michael Psilakis made at the Buick Food and Wine event a few weeks ago, as it had the same sort of gyro spices mixed into the meat.  This was officially Hawk's favorite burger of the night.

After that was the Chorizo Burger from Municipal Bar & Dining Company, which had spicy sausage at the center of its beef burger and came topped with Manchego cheese, tomato, and crispy onions.  This burger had a rather nice kick from both the chorizo and the chipotle aioli, but Brandy felt the sausage was a little overwhelming, reminding one a little more of a particularly tasty taco rather than a burger.

Another beverage break took Brandy and Hawk to the Grey Goose bar, where three signature cocktails were being featured.  Brandy chose a concoction that featured Grey Goose's Cherry Noir alongside some citrus elements and garnished with a sprig of rosemary.  Brandy felt the cocktail was a little medicinal for her taste, but that definitely didn't stop her from finishing off the whole thing.  "A drink is a drink," she told Hawk.  While enjoying their beverages, Brandy and Hawk managed to snag some of the side dishes being passed around, which included Tandoori potato chips (nicely flavored with Indian BBQ spices) and some tater tots topped with a truffled mayo.

Going back to the burgers, Hawk managed to snag one of the last plates from Grill on the Alley, which featured a Peppered Bacon Burger with cheddar cheese and a little avocado.  Sadly, Brandy didn't manage to sample this burger, but Hawk said she wasn't missing much.  "I'm mostly getting the pepper," he said, "And the rest is pretty greasy and charred."

Moving on to what turned out to be Brandy's favorite burger of the evening, the amazingly creative entry from Protein Bar.  Rather than a bun, Protein Bar placed their burger on a foldable piece of lettuce and covered it in what seemed to be a tangy buffalo sauce, crumbles of blue cheese, and bits of crispy kale.  Though the most untraditional burger for sure, Brandy thought this was the most flavorful by far and she simply loved the combination of flavors and textures.

Last but not least was the all American burger from Bull & Bear (a familiar restaurant to Brandy) which had good old fashioned American cheese, tomato, and a house made pickle all stacked on a sesame seed bun.  This burger, though simple sounding, had some real love and care put into it, especially when it came to crisp slice of pickle, a condiment Brandy is usually want to bull from her burgers.  If there were special awards to be given, the Bull & Bear crew definitely should have won one for having the most fun out of all those working the event.

So all in all, a rather spectacular night was had by all at the CS Magazine Burger Cook-off, with the icing on the cake being the spectacular views from the second floor rooftop of Presidential Towers.  It just goes to show that one can surround one's self with all the splendor and luxury money can buy, but sometimes all you need is some time outside and a good old fashioned hamburger to make you feel truly at home.

*The writers of this blog were invited to this event as members of the media.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Prasino or Green Eggs are Fab

The Slow and Savory Review

Its often hard to convince those of an older generation to lead a "greener" lifestyle.  Brandy, for one, grew up in an age where children were taught that the world was full of endless resources, and that the human race was entitled to said resources.  But as we now know, it is exactly that kind of attitude that causes global climate change, skyrocketing oil prices, and species extinction, among other things.  "In my day, you could pay the same amount for gallon of gas, a cup of coffee, or a loaf of bread, because no one thought we'd ever run out of anything," Brandy often complains, "Granted, that amount was also the wage for a days' work, but that made us more grateful for the coffee, bread, and gas!"  We hesitate to point out to Brandy that even in this day and age, a cup of coffee, a gallon of gas, and a loaf of bread are around the same price (gourmet coffee drinks and sprouted wheat bread can be pretty pricey), but to be fair to her, that price has gone up by about 1000% in the last 100 years.

So it is understandable that when presented with the notion of a "green" restaurant, Brandy often misinterprets the meaning of the phrase.  "Does that mean they use a lot of herbs?" she has been known to ponder.  Once it was explained to her that the term referred to restaurants that were making the turn towards being more environmentally friendly in the use of their facilities and the buying of their ingredients, Brandy's response was, "Well that's just silly.  Those restaurants are obviously doing those things to seem more fashionable to the young kids in their bell bottomed trousers and flowery headbands.  Its probably also an excuse to charge an arm and a leg!"

It was with this rather cynical attitude that Brandy headed off to Prasino in Wicker Park, a Greek inspired eatery that is based in a philosophy of farm to table cooking, all natural, high quality ingredients, and an overall move towards sustainability.  "That's a lot of posh tosh," Brandy was heard to remark as she set foot inside the eatery, "I don't need to know the name of the farm my eggs were hatched at, just show me the cocktail menu."

Prasino boasts an impressively open and sunny interior, with massive tables and booths available to all sizes of parties.  The main dining room was decorated cleanly, but didn't feel oppressively like it was trying to be cool.  Each table boasted a little succulent plant as opposed to a more traditional bud vase, which Brandy almost mistook for an appetizer.  "I thought it was one of those blooming onion type dishes," she said.  Quite honestly, Brandy was surprised to have been seated so quickly, as the restaurant seemed to be buzzing with people, and even more surprised to have been given a cozy booth in which to spread out.

A friendly waitress approached the table, having given Brandy just enough time to browse the menu.  Brandy started off with one of the more intriguing cocktails, a concoction called the Breakfast on the North Shore, which consisted of absinthe, cream, egg whites, and caramelized orange blossom water.  "Oh, you're going to love that one!" the waitress told her, "It's the perfect thing for day drinking."  Brandy found the cocktail very interesting indeed; normally not a big fan of licorice flavored anything, the creaminess of the cocktail seemed to mellow out the absinthe's natural harshness.  "This is definitely a good drink for sipping," Brandy thought.

First up for food was the Caprese Benedict, an Italian inspired twist on the original with a slice of tomato standing in for the ham, a little fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkling of basil.  The muffins that housed the delicious stack of food were better than perfect: toasted and buttery while still being easy to cut through, but also tender without being soggy.  The eggs were also flawless, with firm whites and running yolks.  Brandy thought this version of a Benedict was very well balanced, with the brightness of the tomato slice and the slight herbaceousness from the shredded basil matching well against the richness of the cheese and Hollandaise sauce.  The potatoes served on the side were a little less impressive.  Though cooked very well to a creamy texture, Brandy felt a little underwhelmed by their simplistic flavoring.  "I suppose I've been spoiled by the use of more exciting spices in the past," Brandy mused.

As a sweet ending to her meal, Brandy ordered a plate of the Pretzel Croissant French Toast, which came served with a white chocolate and salted caramel sauce.  Immediatly, Brandy was struck by the texture of the "toast," which truly was the perfect hybrid of  a pretzel and a croissant.  "Its as though the baker was making both, got confused, and mashed the two doughs together!" she said as she chewed.  She loved that the dish had a nice subtle, salty hit and that the decadent sounding sauces weren't' too overwhelming to the palate in either richness or sweetness.

Although the atmosphere was bright, the prices weren't absorbent (Brandy paid around $40 with tax and tip included), the philosophy noble, and the food plenty tasty, it was the friendly and efficient service that really set Prasino apart in Brandy's eyes.  The mere fact that her waitress had actually come back to the table to inquire conversationally (as opposed to a forced professional politeness) about Brandy's liking of the cocktail spoke volumes about the level of care put into the restaurant and turned it from a stop on the trendy foodie's to-do list to a place Brandy would love to visit over and over again.  If anything, Prasino shows that a restaurant can be consciously minded without having to sacrifice anything in price, taste, quality, or service.

The Short and Sweet Review
Prasino on Urbanspoon