Monday, October 31, 2016

Food News: New Super Teas from Primal Essence

As huge tea drinkers, Bunny and Brandy are always excited to hear about new ways to enjoy their favorite beverage. So when they first heard about Primal Essence and their new line of Super Teas, they knew they had to learn more.

Primal Essence (, a leading producer of whole-plant extracts that capture flavors and aromas in their purest and most natural form, has introduced a new line of certified organic herbal Super Teas that enable consumers to prepare and savor tea as never before. Instead of ending up with the standard soggy tea bags and messy leaves, Primal Essence Super Teas invite tea lovers to simply add a squirt or two of purely natural plant extracts into a cup of hot or ice water and experience a burst of flavor that will make traditional tea seem blandly diluted by comparison.

Primal Essence Super Teas are sold in easily portable 1.5 ounce bottles each yielding a full 50 or more cups of tea for just about $10 a bottle. Derived from the world’s finest and purest organic herbs, spices and botanicals, Super Teas are packed with beneficial whole plant phytonutrients and are completely free of artificial ingredients, caffeine, sugar, GMOs or gluten.

Certified Organic and Kosher, Primal Essence’s highly innovative new teas are available in several delectable varieties including Classic Chai; Vanilla Chai; Lemon Ginger; Ginger Zing; Peppermint Splash; and Turmeric Tulsi.

"What a novel idea," Brandy exclaimed, "This might be the most inventive food product since sliced bread. From now on people might start saying, 'That's the best idea since Super Teas!'"

The writers of this blog have been compensated for the information contained in this post.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Whiskey Thief or The Brunch-less Horseman 

The Slow and Savory Review

"I've had a very strange dream," Brandy's friend Brocco was telling her, "Normally, I'm not one to believe in the supernatural, but this one just kind of stuck with me. I was standing on a hill, looking over a large green field. The sun was shinning and there was a herd of goats frolicking down below me. Then, the sky went dark and this figure on horseback came riding into the field. I suddenly realized he was headed up the hill and straight for me, so I started running. And then he was right in front of me, blocking my path. He had a long black cape and the eyes of his horse were blood red. I couldn't see his face, though, because it was obscured by something... something that looked like a frying pan. And he had a squealing pig under one arm and a chicken under the other. Also, he smelled like whiskey. He threw the pig at me and then he snatched the sleeve off my shirt and just sort of... rode away into the darkness." "Well, that certainly is a harrowing tale. But I don't think its anything supernatural." "No?" Brocco asked. "No. I think its just your brain trying to tell you that you need some brunch." "How do you figure that?" "A chicken and a pig? Sounds like bacon and eggs to me!" "But what about the sinister whiskey-smelling sleeve thief?" "He's telling us exactly where to go for brunch, of course!"

And so Brandy and Brocco headed to Evanston, where Whiskey Thief Tavern had recently begun serving brunch.  From the first step inside, Brandy was instantly smitten with the decor. Heavily worn woods, antiqued metals, and stacks of antiquated books were as far as the eye could see. Along one wall hung an eccentric collection of mirrors, along the other was a line of booths inside what looked to be giant beer barrels, and at the back was a sort of library area with a fireplace and bookshelves almost all the way up to the ceiling. Even though several large screen televisions were scattered around the room, they somehow didn't feel out of place with the centuries old vibe. "What's that thing where the kids dress up like Victorians in sepia tones?" Brandy asked Brocco. "Steampunk?" he ventured. "Yes! Doesn't this place have that sort of feel?" "I can see that. But... you don't think it's haunted, do you?" Brandy only gave Brocco a sly grin.

The cocktail menu caught Brandy's eye, so they ordered up some pre-brunch libations. Brocco chose the Hanging Acrobat, a mix of bourbon, honey, lemon, bitters, and an apple cardamom shrub. Altogether it created a crisp and refreshing, yet fall themed flavor that Brocco thought was reminiscent of spiced cider. Brandy chose the Maple Old Fashioned, which was spiked with some smokey chili liqueur. Brandy found it especially sweet and smooth with a great kick in flavor coming from the spiced sugar rim. Brandy also sampled the Pomegranate Bellini, which was bright and fruity without being too sweet.

The meal began in earnest with a plate of Crispy Potatoes and Gravy, a kind of combination of a poutine and a gratin. The potatoes were indeed crispy, even after having been slathered in a thick and creamy white gravy and topped with melted cheese curds. There was a hint of smokiness from the addition of some bacon, and the potatoes themselves had a wonderful buttery flavor without being greasy. "This is like a side dish getting a promotion to the big time!" Brocco proclaimed.

Next, they indulged their sweet teeth by sampling the Whiskey Toast, a sort of hybrid between French Toast and bread pudding. The toast was dense with a lovely vanilla and bourbon like flavor, which was also helped along by a bourbon infused whipped cream. The sprinkling of slightly sour cherries helped to break up the richness of the dish a bit. Brocco had already consumed a third of the plate by the time he looked up to see Brandy glaring at him. "I'm sorry, did you want some of this?" he asked sheepishly. "Yes. That's why I ordered it," Brandy replied.

Moving on to his very own plate of food, Brocco ordered the Steak and Eggs. The steak was cooked perfectly and was a surprisingly generous portion of sirloin for a breakfast plate. Brocco particularly liked that the seasoning on the steak was very simple, which let the taste of the meat shine brightly. The potatoes that accompanied the steak were of a smashed variety, much like those in the appetizer, and had a good bit of creaminess and crunch to them.

Brandy picked the classic Cheeseburger but added on bacon and a fried egg. The burger was a big juicy mess, as any good burger should be, with the yolk from the egg mingling nicely with the mix of mustard and mayonnaise already on the bun. A little red onion and some pickles were the only other accompaniments to the meat, and Brandy appreciated that things hadn't been overly complicated with condiments and vegetation. "Being the carnivore that I am, I deeply appreciate a meaty burger," said Brandy, "And adding bacon to this sucker is just the icing on the meat cake."

Despite loving the atmosphere and the simple, yet unique takes on classic bar food, there were some slight problems with the service. Dishes listed on the menu were unavailable, entrees were forgotten briefly, coffee was hard to track down, and at the end of the meal, Brandy and Brocco were left waiting for quite some time for a box to pack up their leftovers. The servers, though, were friendly and personable enough. "Maybe that was what the ominous part of my dream was predicting," said Brocco. "Didn't you say that the figure in your dream chased away a herd of goats from a sunny, green field?" Brandy asked, to which Brocco nodded in answer. "Well then," said Brandy, "I think that figure might have simply been the ghost of a certain curse finally leaving town. If I were you, I'd be less worried about ominous figures chasing you and maybe be think about putting some money down on that Northside baseball team right about now."

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Whiskey Thief Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story at the Chicago International Film Festival

Hello there.  Today, I'm blogging as Jessica and not as Bunny and Brandy's nameless narrator because this particular post is something pretty personal, so please forgive this rare intrusion into my own elaborate fantasy world.

On Monday night, I was invited to attend a screening of and reception for Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story, a film by documentarian Brett Schwartz, as part of the Chicago International Film Festival at AMC River East.  The film, as you can probably tell by the title, told the tale of Chef Homaro Cantu, innovator, culinary genius, and all around wonderful human being.  If you've read my tribute to the late chef, then you'll know exactly why this film was especially meaningful to me and why I was more than honored to attend this particular screening.

Director Brett Schwartz
Schwartz first learned of the work Homaro (or Omar, as he was known to family and friends) was doing in a 2005 New York Times article.  He then spent three years following Omar around, witnessing first hand the man's manic energy as he spearheaded project after project, constantly striving to innovate the food industry for the betterment of humanity.  As asserted in interviews all throughout the film, it was hard to be around Omar and not get caught up in his lofty schemes, and Schwartz does a fantastic job of letting the audience feel his desire to save the world.

It was a troubled beginning in life that shaped everything Omar tried to do as an adult.  He didn't just want to create extraordinary food, he wanted to eliminate world hunger, decrease pollution by decreasing food miles and packaging, and even take sugar out of the American diet vocabulary with use of the miracle berry.  He truly was a mad scientist, but one with a heart and a great sense of humor, which comes through brilliantly in the film.  Sure, there is that hint of hard-ass chef (especially when he relates the story of Moto's first Valentine's Day service, where he almost purposely cut the power to the restaurant to escape an overbooked service), but that same conviction is what drove him to try and create an ambitious empire of innovation on par with companies like Apple or Tesla.

Sadly, many of Omar's plans never came to fruition or started to crumble in front of him during the final years of his life.  iNG was forced to close down after flooding issues made them a high risk tenant.  Moto lost one of its driving forces in Richie Farina when he decided to leave and pursue other opportunities.  Well publicized legal troubles began to plague Omar, slandering his character by portraying him as careless with the money of his investors.  The film doesn't shy away from any of the controversy, and for those who know what's coming, the latter part of the film feels not just like a "gut punch," as Schwartz put it, but a gut punch in slow motion.

The thing that brought me to tears was the final moments of the film, in which the camera pans through the Fast Forward Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, which showcases some of Omar's forward thinking inventions, like the 3D food printer and a polymer table top oven.  This was the very exhibit in which I first heard of Homaro Cantu, Moto, and all the wondrous things going on down on Fulton Market.  This was what gave my friend and me the idea to stop into Moto for a drink one blustery fall evening seven years ago, where our experience there changed my life by inspiring this very blog.

My nostalgia for that moment was further enforced by the reception after the screening, where Moto alums Richie Farina and D'Andre Carter (along with D'Andre's team from his catering company, Feast and Imbibe) served up small plates of their signature flavorful and stunningly presented food.  Both these guys hold a special place in my heart and my history; Richie, because he was the person who toured us through the kitchen at Moto when I returned there for dinner as Homaro's guest in June of 2010, and D'Andre because of his patience with me when I shadowed him as a "guest chef" one fateful day at iNG in December of 2012.

The food, as to be expected, was the perfect showing of skill and mischievousness, like the miniature beef and broccoli with a pipette of soy sauce, the tuna and avocado mousse push pops, or the strawberry short cake shaped like a tiny ice cream cone.  But it was when Richie emerged from the kitchen, that trademark Cheshire cat grin plastered across his face as he gestured to a plank of small round balls, that I nearly burst into tears once more.  These were S'Mores Bombs, a signature dessert from the Moto days, that look like an innocuous chocolate truffle, but have a flammable marshmallow wick and a magical, liquid graham cracker center.  This was the very bite my friend and I were offered that night in October of 2009.  We had paid for a single cocktail each because it was all we could afford, and the staff, over hearing our humming and hawing over whether to split the dessert flight they used to offer at the bar, took it upon themselves to bring us the bombs.  That magical presentation of watching the wick burn down, the glorious moment of tasting the graham cracker as it washes over the tongue... That was what had caused me to send a tweet of thanks to Homaro.  That was what caused him to send me an invitation to dine at Moto.  And that was the meal that started the blog.

Monday night, as I looked at that little melting ball of chocolate between my fingers, I held back tears because I never thought I'd get to experience that moment again.  But there it was, the bite that started everything, given back to me with just as much generosity as it had been given almost exactly seven years ago.  In a year that has been very emotionally tough for me, I needed Insatiable to remind me that there is still a hell of a lot of good people in this world, and we all need to do our part to inspire the best in each other.

You can follow Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story on Facebook to find out where it's playing next.  I also encourage you to consider a donation to the Cantu Children's Trust, which goes towards ensuring Homaro's two girls are promised a bright future.

The writers of this blog were invited to attend this event free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Food News: Insatiable- The Homaro Cantu Story at Chicago International Film Festival

From the Insatiable Facebook page
As many of you may know, the late Homaro Cantu holds a special place in the heart of the writers of this blog.  Not only did he inspire the creation of this blog in the first place, he supported, promoted, and encouraged us as this little site was first getting on its feet.  It is for that reason we have always considered him to be the guardian angel of Bunny and Brandy's Brunchtime Blog, because we experienced first hand his generosity, passion, and never ending capacity for kindness.

Film maker Brett A. Schwartz began filming a documentary about Homaro Cantu at a time when the chef's life was filled with a dizzying array of new projects, which all came to a halt with his untimely death.  After many years of cutting together intimate footage of Homaro in his element and interviews with some of the people who knew him best, Schwartz is finally getting a chance to bring his project to the public.

Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story is set for its final showing as part of the Chicago International Film Festival this evening at the 6:15 @ AMC River East.  Tickets can be purchased here and include not only entrance to the screening, but access to a special reception at Chez that will include a menu of hors d’oeuvres by former Moto Executive Chef, Richie Farina along with Chef D’Andre Carter former Executive Sous Chef of Moto and now Executive Chef of Feast & Imbibe. For those unable to attend tonight's event, Brandy will be posting her full recap of the evening in Wednesday's post.  We do hope to see some of you there tonight to help us support not only an important film, but to join us in celebrating the life of a brilliant chef and a wonderful man.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pumpkin Fest Brunch at Chez Moi

Brandy gets pretty picky about her pumpkin intake during the fall.  She used to be as big a fan as anyone else of the classic autumn flavor, but once it became over played and watered down, she found herself leaving the pumpkin spice behind.  "People don't seem to understand that the joy of pumpkin is the subtly sweet, earthy squash flavor that is complimented by, rather than masked by, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and the like," says Brandy, "It's so flexible, so perfectly between the line of sweet and savory, and that is why we've grown to love pumpkin in the first place!"

So when Brandy heard that Chez Moi (home of the only Bloody Mary she'll ever drink) was hosting a Pumpkin Fest with special pumpkin themed brunch and dinner items, she felt it was her civic duty to check it out.  The special menus are running through October 30th with drinks, entrees, and desserts, all featuring the fall's favorite gourde.

Brandy started off her meal with a drink called The Great Pumpkin, a twist on a mimosa with Grand Marnier and a spiced pumpkin semifreddo.  The spice in the drink combined with the sparkling wine and the sweetness of the liqueur made for an almost apple cider like flavor, but the aftertaste was distinctly pumpkin.  "A crisp drink for a crisp fall morning," Brandy sighed with satisfaction.

Starting off sweet, Brandy sampled the Pumpkin Pancakes with cinnamon butter.  Despite pumpkin pancakes being a fairly common fall brunch item these days, this dish differentiated itself by the use of fresh pumpkin mixed into the pancakes, rather than pumpkin puree, with a few more pieces of pumpkin and fresh fruit to top them off.  This meant that not only was one experiencing pumpkin flavor, but also the texture, a rarity in most sweet pumpkin dishes.  The cinnamon butter was just subtle enough to not overwhelm the delicate flavor, and Brandy felt that a good slick of maple syrup really helped to bring the pancakes to life in all their autumn glory.

Next up was the Pumpkin Omelette, an intimidating and adventurous option.  "I don't know that I've ever had squash in an omelette before," Brandy commented, "But I'm certainly wiling to try everything once."  As it turned out, the tiny bit of sweetness from the pumpkin really enhanced the dish, especially when paired with some earthy pumpkin mushrooms and a delightfully nutty cheese.  "How perfectly fall!" Brandy exclaimed, once again reveling in the use of fresh pumpkin rather than a more processed form, "Perhaps next year I can convince Chez Moi to do this same combination of flavors in their oh so delightful quiche!"

Finishing up the entrees, Brandy ordered up the special version of Chez Moi's decadent French Toast, this time topped with a pumpkin pie flavored mascarpone.  This was definitely the dish for the pumpkin spice lovers of the world, as the light and fluffy mascarpone really set off the eggy, buttery toast, and the pops of flavor from the fresh fruit scattered around the plate.  "I adored this French toast the first time I tried it," said Brandy, "But I love this version just as much.  They're like fraternal twins, similar in looks, but each with their own distinct personality."

Lastly, Brandy finished with one last sugary indulgence, the Pumpkin Crème Brûlée.  There was nothing too complicated about this dish, just a delightfully aerated cream, infused with plenty of pumpkiny goodness, and topped with a perfect burnt sugar crust.  "This all just goes to show exactly how versatile pumpkin is," Brandy commented, "Sweet or savory, when a skilled chef is the one bringing out that elusive, delicate flavor, it's hard to go wrong."

There's only four more chances to check out the special Pumpkin Fest brunch menu at Chez Moi, but the dinner menu is available every night until the 30th of October.

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Food News: Green City Market Hosts a (Mostly) Veggie Affair

It can be hard to get Chicagoians (especially Brandy) up and out once the temperature drops below 70 degrees, but when the Green City Market decides to throw a party, it certainly provides a bit more motivation to leave the house.

On Thursday, November 10, the Green City Market and Modern Farmer present the veggie-friendly fall fundraiser, A (Mostly) Veggie Affair, at Lakeshore Beverage at 400 N Elizabeth St..  Throughout the evening, guests will enjoy a walk-around stationed tasting, featuring local chefs' all-vegetable savory and sweet dishes made with Green City Market vendor produce.  Complementing the array of delicious vegetarian fare, Green City Market Board member chefs will prepare meat-centric dishes, so that carnivores like Brandy won't feel left out.

There are two options for ticket buyers, the first of which are the VIP passes at $70, which will allow a limited number of guests early access from 5:30 –7:00 p.m. for a reception in a special area featuring Moët Chandon, a charcuterie spread from Chef Scott Manley of Danke, and a veggie spread from Chef Dave Chapman of Green Zebra. Beverage offerings will include tastings from five to six local craft breweries from Lakeshore Beverage, wine from Boisset Collection, and cocktails featuring New Holland Spirits from some of Chicago’s most celebrated mixologists.

For the General Admission option, Early Bird pricing is $55, which allows access to the event from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Tickets are available on Eventbrite or can be purchased in person at the Green City Market info booth on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m in Lincoln Park, and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at Mary Bartelme Park.

As Brandy says, "Chicago needs reminders like The Mostly Veggie Affair to show them that the world hasn't ended just because it isn't summer any more.  There's still plenty to eat, to drink, to see, and to explore, so what better reason reason to throw on a scarf and venture out into the world than a fund raiser for a worthy cause and a collection of deliciousness to boot!"

Friday, October 14, 2016

Festival Recap: Taste Talks 2016

If Taste of Chicago is for the food loving public and Chicago Gourmet is for the more dedicated foodies among us, then Taste Talks is the food festival for the die hard food fans.  Now in its third year in Chicago, Taste Talks brings together chefs and industry experts for a whole weekend of amazing food experiences, informative seminars, and demos that aim to not only entertain, but to educate.  Brandy has been a big fan of this particular festival since its inception, and when she saw this year's lineup, she was more excited than ever to return.

After a raucous opening night party, the festival began in earnest on Saturday morning with Bang Bang Pie serving up their signature biscuits along with some scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, and a variety of toppings that kept everyone's energy high throughout the day.  Nescafe was also on hand to make sure the attendees were well caffeinated, while Kellog's returned with their innovative cereal bar, this time with augmented bowls created by Brian Jupiter (of Frontier), Joanna Stachon (of Ada Street) and Mike Sheerin.

Settling in for an afternoon of talks, Brandy first attended an infinitely interesting panel about the forgotten history behind Chicago's restaurant scene.  With Tony Mantuano leading the way, panelists Matthias Merges, Jimmy Bannos, Tony Quartaro, and Carrie Nahabedian shared stories about the restaurants where they learned their trade, waxing poetic about the days when irate chefs could (jokingly) throw knives at their underlings without fear of repercussions from any HR department.  The thing that became more than obvious during this talk was that all roads in Chicago led both to and from the late, great Charlie Trotter, whose infamous restaurant proved to be a catalyst for the thriving restaurant scene Chicago has today.

Next, Brandy listened with interest to a panel about the fine dining revolution, where restaurant insiders like Kevin Boehm from Boka Group, Belinda Chang from Maples and Ash, and Gregg Horan from Gibons Restaurant Group discussed how the days of the black tie and white table cloth could possibly be coming to an end.  "Not a moment too soon!" Brandy thought to herself, "I shouldn't have to put on my good jewelry every time I want to go out for a steak.  That is, unless I want to, of course."

Down on the second floor, the San Pellegrino stage housed demos by the likes of Abe Conlon from Fat Rice and Jimmy Bannos Jr, among others.  Brandy listened with vested interest as cocktail king Paul McGee explained the history of rum to an enraptured crowd and even mixed up a few cocktails for them.  Sarah Gruenberg then stepped in to show her skills at making pesto, which she has become an expert in since opening Monteverde, where she makes all of the pesto herself.  The highlight of that demo was actually getting to try some of Sarah's pesto on top of some home made pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and plenty of cheese.

In the middle of the day, Brandy once again attended the Kellog's Cereal Bar Throwdown, where Brian Jupiter and Joanna Stachon were presented with a tray of mystery ingredients and tasked to create the ultimate bowl of cereal while being subjected to a barrage of  cereal related trivia questions.  In the end, Brain Jupiter took the crown with his creation (the crown being a vintage Tony the Tiger doll, which his daughter was very excited to receive).

Sunday marked the All Star BBQ, which is always Brandy's favorite part of the Taste Talks Weekend.  She particularly enjoyed the abundance of meaty options this year, which did give the place more of a BBQ feel.  Jason Hammel and Sarah Rinkavage of Lula Cafe teamed up with Dan Bitney from Tortoise to create a really interesting short rib dish with crunchy seeds, red cabbage, and huckleberry, while Charlie McKenna from Lillie Q's took short rib in another direction with Johnny cakes, collard green kimchi, and pickled veggies, and Paul McGee and Pete Coenen brought in short rib skewers with avocado and lime to pair with a cocktail of pineapple, rum, lime, and apricot.  Also featuring beef was Bjorn Rasmussen of Old Town Social with a classic slider topped with a sharp cheddar, red onion, black pepper jam, and charred bone marrow aioli for a truly decadent experience.  Jared Van Camp from Leghorn Chicken won Brandy over instantly with his mini chicken and waffle bites, while Chris Pandel chose a non meaty star for his dish of corn on the cob with uni butter and candied shrimp.  But it was Big Star that really stole the show with their grilled adobe marinated porchetta sandwich with stone fruit salsa.

Make sure to check out all the pictures from the weekend on Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page!

The writers of this blog were invited to attend the events mentioned free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.