Friday, September 28, 2012

Swedish Bakery or Dangerous Danish

The Slow and Savory Review

Sugar.  That sparkling, crystallized, bastard of a sweetener.  It has absolutely no health benefits to speak of other than building fat to keep us warm for the winter.  And yet, something deep inside of us all craves it, needs it, will stop at nothing to get it.  What an awful trick of nature.  And yet, not many people would be willing to part with their sweet teeth.  Especially not Brandy, as she would be left entirely toothless (in fact, she had been toothless for a period in 1947 after winning a "How Much Cola Can You Drink?" contest, but luckily part of her winnings was free dental care for life).

It was a crisp fall morning that Brandy found herself wandering about Andersonville when a sudden craving for sweets over took her.  Looking around, Brandy eyed a large building with Swedish Bakery written on it. "Perfect," she thought to herself, "No one does sweets better than the Swedes."

A second after stepping foot into the bakery, Brandy felt quite overwhelmed.  Breads, cakes, pastries, truffles, all beckoning her from behind clean and bright glass bakery cases.  Eager faces peered at her from behind the counters, awaiting her order, but Brandy just walked from case to case, her mouth watering continually.  "There's complimentary coffee to enjoy while you look, dear," said one of the lovely people.  Brandy nodded, looking towards the coffee station, which was set up near a sunny window.  "Do you need some help, deary?" a nice woman asked.  Brandy nodded once more, managing to choke out, "Something for breakfast."  The woman smiled at her and said, "Come this way.  We'll chat."

At once Brandy was presented a dazzling array of treats like Cinnamon Apple Bread and Orange Cream Bundt Cake, but it was the sweet rolls and pastries that really caught her eye.  In a flash Brandy was presented with a beautiful box of assorted Danishes and a bag containing two of the woman's personal favorites, a Poppy Seed Cruller and an Almond Horn.  While Brandy watched as the woman delicately tied the box up with a bit of string, she helped herself to a few generous samples that had been left on the counter.  "Make sure you try the Cinnamon Roll," the woman told her, "They're even better warmed up."  "Aren't we all?" Brandy responded through a mouthful of pumpkin bread.

Once home and with a cup of coffee in front of her, Brandy finally indulged her sweet tooth.  First, she sampled the Danishes, which came in Lemon, Raspberry, Apple, Strawberry, Blueberry, and Apricot.  Brandy very much enjoyed the blueberry, which had a thick and rich jam, and the apricot, which was very bright and flavorful.  The raspberry was also quite good with a nice fresh taste to it, and the lemon was quite creamy and delicate.  Her least favorite were probably the strawberry, which didn't taste much like anything, and the apple, which was also lacking in a little flavor.  The pastry on all of the Danishes was moist and buttery with just the perfect amount of sweetness from the little drizzle of icing.

The Poppy Seed Cruller was very interesting indeed.  The pastry it self was rather light and crumbly, and the poppy seed mixture was very very sweet and subtle.  Brandy found it perfect for dunking into her coffee.

Lastly, the Almond Horn, which was a sort of croissant, but filled with a very delicious almond paste.  This was certainly meant for satisfying sweet teeth, but also provided a nice mix of textures with the crunchy nuts on top and the flakiness of the croissant.

With her insatiable need for sugar now satisfied thanks to Swedish Bakery and with a little money still left in her pockets (the entire assortment only came out to about $15) Brandy took a short nap before venturing out once again, this time in search of something to satisfy not her sweet tooth, but to stop the odd tremors she gets when she's gone more than 12 hours without a cocktail.

The Short and Sweet Review
Swedish Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 21, 2012

Native Foods Cafe or Viable Vegan

The Slow and Savory Review

In her many years upon this planet, Brandy has flirted with a lot of different lifestyles (and lifestyle coaches), but none has tempted her so much as becoming vegetarian.  "I don't eat animals I think are cute," she explained once, which pretty much only eliminates dogs and cats from her menu choices...well, dogs for certain.  Quietly, Brandy has gone through several phases of vegetarianism, from cutting out all animal products together, to only cutting out meat from land animals.  Its not that vegetarian fare doesn't appeal to her; on the contrary, Brandy quite enjoys a good vegi burger, BBQ seitan, or tofu stir-fry.  But the lure of the beef burger, BBQ chicken or shrimp stir-fry inevitably draws her off the band wagon.

Being rather secure for the moment in her lifestyle choice of being a carnivore, Brandy headed into vegan fast food specialists Native Foods Cafe in Lakeview one afternoon for a quick brunch.  Right away, Brandy was impressed by the friendliness of the staff, the colorful decor, and the fact that vegan recipes were posted everywhere from the walls to the tables.  As Brandy approached the counter, a lovely young man smiled widely at her and asked if it was her first time there.  Brandy nodded, gazing up at the board listing the specials of the day.  Straight away, the young man launched into descriptions of some of the dishes on offer, making sure to point out his particular favorites.  Brandy spotted a few things right away that sounded pretty appealing, so she placed her order and looked around the space for a nice sunny table.  "Also, because its your first time here, you drink is on the house!" the young man informed her.  The usually sour faced Brandy had to smile back at him as he handed her a glass and pointed her towards the drinks station. 

Brandy sided with the Lavender Lemonade.  She loved that the drinks bar included several options for garnish, including lemon wedges and mint leaves.  "Such a nice touch," she said to herself as she filled her glass.  The lemonade had the perfect amount of sweetness to it, and had just tasted very refreshing indeed.  "I was worried it would taste of soap," Brandy said to a curious couple across the way from her table, "But its rather lovely, actually.  Not too herbal at all."

In less time than it took for Brandy to take out her copy of Sense and Sensibility (she enjoys reading Jane Austin just before meals as she says the sentimentality peaks her appetite) her food had arrived.  Brandy had ordered the Portebella and Sausage Burger with a side salad, all of which looked lovely and colorful.  The salad had a nice variety of crisp, fresh veggies, including some you don't see every day on a fast food salad, like beets, alfalfa sprouts, and sunflower seeds. 

The burger was rather tasty, if a bit off putting to a normally meat eating consumer.  The mushroom was definitely the star of the piece, but the spiced "sausage" also had a very nice texture to it that isn't always present in some fake meats.  The bun was quite soft and supple, which Brandy liked, and she soon found herself surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, as the burger was quite substantial) growing rather full.  But she made sure to save room for dessert.

It should be noted that just as she was finishing up her main course, a very sweet server approached her table, seeing that her glass was empty, and offered to fill it with more lemonade.  "It's your first time here, we have to give you the full service treatment!" the adorable young thing said to her, causing Brandy to try and hide her grin behind the pages of her book.

She decided to finish up her meal with some Vegan Cheesecake.  The cake itself was incredibly creamy and smooth without being too rich.  The crust was made up of crushed nuts and oats, which surprised Brandy in a good way, as she had expected a more traditional graham cracked crust.  To add a bit of brightness to the dessert, Brandy had been given a small cup of sweetened blueberries, which really made the whole thing very refreshing indeed.

And so, after flirting with vegetarianism (as well as a few vegetarians), Brandy was sorely tempted once again to jump aboard the meat-free band wagon.  Well, at least until she is presented with a plate of bacon at next week's brunch.

The Short and Sweet Review

Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 14, 2012

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy

Brandy has been noticing a lot of fancy French Toasts out there these days.  Everything from Bananas Foster French Toast, to Red Velvet French Toast, and everything in between.  In that spirit, Brandy decided to come up with a little concoction of her own.  Hope you all enjoy and let us know if you try it out!

Banana Split French Toast

Vanilla Mix
1/2 cup of milk
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Strawberry Mix
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of strawberry puree (blend about 10 strawberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar)

Chocolate Mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup of milk
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 table spoons of chocolate syrup

Bread: Brandy suggests using day old brioche or any kind of egg bread with a sturdy crust.

Dip slices of bread into the mixes and cook on medium heat in a buttered saute pan until the outside of the bread begins to caramelize (about 1-2 minutes per side).  Serve hot with sliced bananas.  Brandy also suggests toppings like strawberry puree, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, or candied chopped nuts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bull and Bear or Where the Styled Things Are

The Slow and Savory Review

There is something to be said for having connections in this world of ours.  Knowing somebody can get you anything from a deal on a stationary set to a brand new career and at one time or another, every one of us has been known to pull a string or two.  But if you are the person who is usually the one with all the VIP credentials, it can come as quite a shock when all of the sudden, you are totally reliant upon another's clout.

Such was the case with Brandy's brunch companion this week.  A few of you may remember Brandy's dear friend Babka, the world famous Polish supermodel.  Even fewer of you may know that Babka's darling sister, Baranina, is also rather famous in her own right, being Poland's most recognized non-polka playing musician.  In fact, Baranina is so well known that she decided to take a little vacation to Chicago, where she was hoping to go unrecognized and undisturbed by the public.  Babka did a little string pulling of her own and called Brandy to see if she could look after her darling Baranina. 
So Brandy and Baranina met at the chic yet sporty bar and grill known as Bull and Bear in River North.  Brandy had actually been invited to Bull and Bear as their guest, and as such thought it an excellent opportunity to give this lovely starlette a real treat.  "How intellectual," Baranina remarked as they entered the establishment, "This restaurant has been named for the emblems of the stock market, there by reflecting America's simultaneous capitalistic worship and economic troubles, yes?"  Brandy starred at the young and rather brightly colored lady (her clothing was several shades of neon, as was her hair) for a moment.  "I think its named for sports teams," she said rather blankly.  Baranina nodded thoughtfully

The interior of Bull and Bear was roomy and comfortable, with an energetic vibe, but without being too loud.  Sweet little touches like the ceramic milk carton flower vases mixed with the wine glass shaped light fixtures lent the place an air of sophistication, even with the abundance of televisions screens showing every kind of game and sport imaginable.  The ladies were taken to a large booth by a sunny window.  Brandy noted that a lot of the bigger booths had beer taps built right into the table tops.  "Ingenious," she marveled as they passed.  Brandy also noted that unlike a lot of places on weekend mornings, the staff at Bar and Bull all magically seemed in a good mood, having genuine smiles on their faces.

Starting with some libations, Brandy ordered the Blue Malibu, a mix of blueberries and coconut rum, while Baranina stated quite plainly, "I want the typical American brunch experience."  "She'll have a mimosa," Brandy told the grinning waitress.  Brandy instantly fell in love with her cocktail, which had the freshness of real blueberries while still being fun and fruity.  She downed the thing so quickly that a second cocktail was ordered straight away, this time a concoction called Life's a Peach which turned out to be a peach flavored mint julep.  Brandy also adored this one too for its freshness and, as she put it, "The splash of whiskey that every morning needs."  Baranina's mimosa was rather run of the mill, but presented nicely.  So desperate for the "Typical American brunch experience" was Baranina that she proceeded to order a Bloody Mary as well.  Again, a fairly safe version of the old favorite, but this time coming with a surprise accompaniment.  "The Bloody Mary gives you access to the cereal bar," the waitress told her, pointing towards several dispensers, milk, and bowls, which had been set up on the back bar.  Baranina's eyes positively lit up when she laid eyes on the Fruit Loops while Brandy merely downed her second cocktail and buried her head in her hands from embarrassment.

Executive Chef David Blonsky was kind enough to visit the table and introduce himself, personally walking the ladies through the menu.  "We do just a few things, but we do them well," he emphasized.  After his irresistible description, Brandy took the lead by ordering the house made Pop Tarts to start.  These little beauties serve as a playground for Chef Blonsky, who dishes out both sweet and savory flavors that change every week according to his whim.  This particular day the pastries came in Vanilla Pear and Bacon, Egg, and Cheese.  In no way resembling their corn syrup soaked name sakes, these pop tarts were made from a flaky and buttery puff pastry.  The sweet variety tasted like the most divine little pie without being too sweet.  The savory one had perfectly clean flavors without being watery or greasy.  Brandy marveled that even the crust has not been touched by any excess moisture.

Going along with Brandy's suggestions for a typical American brunch ("I just want to feel like one of the ordinary people," Baranina insisted as she put on a pair of diamond encrusted sunglasses and hid behind a magazine with her picture on the front of it) Baranina ordered some Eggs Benedict.  Once again, Chef Blonsky had left himself a way to play with an old favorite by placing among his delectable Benedict concoctions (classic, shortrib, and crab cake) the Seasonal Benedict, which he changes to match the ingredients available.  The flavor this day was braised pork shoulder with tomato and arugula and a tarragon hollendais.  Baranina simply adored the dish, wondering at the perfectly executed poached eggs, the peppery greens, and especially the tender melt-in-your-mouth pork.  "American brunch is so decedent!" she exclaimed.  Brandy simply smiled at her enjoyment.

Brandy had ordered a lovely breakfast sandwich entitled the Day Trader, a combination of eggs, bacon, tomato, and cheddar cheese on a soft pretzel bun.  Although she prefers her eggs over medium, Brandy ordered them scrambled, having learned her lesson on several occasions about the messiness of runny yolks on a sandwich.  Brandy was especially pleased to see the addition of the tomato, as so many breakfast sandwiches tend to be in desperate need of vegetation to break up their protein rich fillings.  She also tipped her hat (it was a lovely vintage cloche from Paris) to Chef Blonsky for putting a few slices of beautiful fruit on the plate.  "I've said time and time again, a touch of fruit to cleanse the palate does such wonders for the meal!" she was heard to remark.  The potatoes on the side were also rather lovely, having a nice crispy exterior, but soft insides, and tasting of caramelized onions, bell pepper, and just a hint of truffle oil.

As a further treat, the ladies were brought a plate of Bull and Bear's signature Belgian Waffles, topped with fresh whipped cream and berries.  Though the whipped cream (which had a hint of mint flavor to it) and berries were a nice refreshing end to the meal, the waffles, sadly, were a bit of a disappointment.  Though very flavorful to the point of tasting like caramel candies, the texture was a bit too hard, making it a little difficult to even cut through them.

So impressed with everything from the service to the food was Baranina that she informed Brandy she wanted to give these "typical Americans" an impromptu concert, but Brandy managed to talk her out of it, telling her to, "Just let the poor people watch their football games, dear."  "You must be quite the celebrity to get treatment like this.  Such special food and such nice people," Baranina said to Brandy.  Brandy smiled and said, "Well, dear, I should hope they treat everyone just the same.  But yes.  I am quite the celebrity here."  Baranina was rather glad to have made such a well connected friend.

The Short and Sweet Review

Bull & Bear on Urbanspoon
* The writers of this blog were invited by this restaurant and provided with a free meal in exchange for a review.  The opinions of the writers' have not been influenced by this transaction.