Friday, November 25, 2016

The General or American Pie

The Slow and Savory Review

Thanksgiving, more than any other time of year, gives Brandy a taste for all things American. "When I think of America, I don't think of flag waving or fireworks or cowboy hats," says Brandy, "I think of good hearted, hard working people who like a bit of twang in their music and a heaping plate full of deliciousness. Perhaps that is why I think Thanksgiving defines the heart of America more than any other holiday."

In preparation for her America honoring Thanksgiving binge, Brandy decided to visit The General, who host a Bluegrass Brunch every Saturday. The very idea of a menu of homey favorites combined with live music, hand crafted cocktails, and best of all, home made pie made Brandy feel warm and fuzzy. Grabbing an authentic American to accompany her (i.e. her good friend Starr) Brandy headed down to the country style mercantile in the heart of Logan Square.

The General, true to its name, had a genuine country store vibe that was charming without seeming hokey. The walls were exposed brick, the tables were warm, worn wood, the lights were rustic, and chalk boards adorned the walls, announcing various specials and drinks. "It feels like a little piece of the country right here in the middle of the city," Brandy grinned. Beside the bar and in front of a large shelving unit holding various bottles of soda, beer, and liquor were stationed two musicians, playing and singing an enchanting bluegrass tune to the delight of the small, but energetic crowd.

Starting off with a cocktail, both Brandy and Starr zeroed in on a concoction known as The Centennial, a combination of rum, bourbon, cognac, pineapple, baking spices, and a clarified milk punch. The first sip was absolute bliss. Sweet, with a floral, almost cherry blossom like flavor that ended in a warm, smooth spice, The Centennial was perhaps one of the best cocktails Brandy has had in the last year. "It tastes like liquid love," she sighed. The cocktail was so good, in fact, that upon finishing it, Brandy did something unprecedented and ordered a second one as opposed to trying another cocktail. "Every once in a while I try something so good that it positively blinds me to the rest of what's on offer. This is one of those times."

Brandy and Starr then started their meal off with a couple of freshly baked sweets; a cinnamon roll and a slice of coffee cake. The cinnamon roll was everything one could ask for-warm, gooey, and super sweet, but the coffee cake was a bit of a standout for its truly unique texture. "It's almost like cornbread," Starr commented, and Brandy agreed. The cake was a little more dry than a typical coffee cake with a cornmeal flavor and a truly scrumptious caramel sauce drizzled over the top. "I don't know that I've ever had a coffee cake quite like this," Brandy puzzled, "But I think I'd like to have one like this again."

For her entree, Starr picked the Farmer's Hash with smoked brisket and a sunny side up egg. The meat was incredibly smokey and tender with a deep flavor that reminded them both of the Southern delicacy known as "burnt ends." A sprinkle of the house made hot sauce served to kick things up a notch or two, but Brandy was delighted to learn that the hot sauce was more than just pure heat. "I'm all for hot sauce that adds flavor and not just a thrill factor," said Starr. The potatoes on the side were also a nice addition, being perfectly crisp on the outside and well seasoned. Starr also liked that the brisket came served with two house made tortillas, which were a bit thicker than a typical tortilla, and as such served the same sort of a roll a slice of toast might have done elsewhere.

Brandy went for the Chicken and Waffle Tacos, a deliciously inventive combination of two very different dishes. The tortilla on the taco was actually a waffle cone-like structure, filling with a raspberry butter, bacon, a deep fried slice of chicken breast, and drizzled with maple syrup. Brandy could have easily eaten several more of these finger licking tacos, not only because they were the perfect combination of sweet and savory (for those wishing to add more savory, they also came served with a side of spicy chorizo gravy), but also because the chicken was incredibly juicy with the perfect kind of crunch to it. "I never thought I could love a plate of chicken and waffles more," said Brandy, "But this gives one all of the flavor without the heaviness of consuming an entire waffle. It's simply genius!"

Finally, they decided to end their epic meal with one more taste of sweetness in the form of a slice of home made Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie. "It's actually made by our bartender," the smiling server told Starr and Brandy. "How wonderful!" Brandy exclaimed, "If she makes a pie anything like she made this cocktail, we may need to take a few slices home!" Their expectations were certainly met in the dense, peanut buttery pie, which was topped with a thick layer of chocolate and nestled in a cookie crumb crust. "This is certainly not for the faint of heart," Brandy laughed, languishing in small bites so as to extend the experience of consuming the rich, creamy masterpiece.

"This place is precisely what I love about Americana," Brandy said as they reluctantly prepared to leave the restaurant, "Everything paced for the slow, engaging creation of memories rather than a rushed, manufactured experience. This is the kind of place that makes one feel as thought they've been catered to by friends or family, not just the workers of a dime a dozen bar and restaurant. This is a place that makes one feel good for having come there." The prices seemed reasonable enough and the plating might not have been the most spectacular she'd ever seen, but the soul filling sense of bliss Brandy felt after dining at The General didn't come along every day. "I feel as though I owe them a meal now!" Brandy exclaimed, "Say, do you think it would be odd if I invited the entire staff to my home for Thanksgiving?" "Just make sure you ask them to bring the pie," said Starr.

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

The General Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, November 18, 2016

Taco Joint or Brunching Away in Margaritaville

The Slow and Savory Review

Oh, the ever present bottomless brunch. Chicago seems to be enamored with the practice, but Brandy's not entirely convinced it's a good idea. "Obviously, I'm hardly opposed to a cocktail or two at brunch, but do they really need to be bottomless?" she's been known to question, "If the deal works out in my favor, of course I'm happy to continuously sip until my heart's content, but that isn't always the case."

Hearing that Taco Joint in Lincoln Park was hosting one such bottomless brunch, Brandy decided to examine this phenomenon a little more closely, accompanied by her good friend Starr. The brunch was housed in the space that was The Mexican, where Bunny once had occasion to stop in for a delightful dinner. The decor hadn't changed much from a year ago, with the same bright pops of color and exposed brick, but the vibe had transition from rustic to more cool and relaxed, with the traditional tables having been replaced by high tops, stools, and communal seating.

The first thing that struck Brandy about the bottomless cocktail options was that there were quite a few tempting choices, from bloody mary's and sangria to palomas and margaritas. Individually priced, the cocktails came in around $9 or $10, but when packaged with one entree (all priced at $11 individually) as a bottomless option, the total price came out to $32 per person. "That means we'd need to drink at least three cocktails each to make this a really good deal," Brandy calculated. "It's not impossible, but it does seem like a lofty goal," Starr commented.

Starr opted for the Mango and Passion Fruit Margarita. The concoction was pretty pungently fruity, but certainly not offensive. "Whoo! That'll wake you up in the morning!" Starr proclaimed as she took her first sip. Brandy, seeing Colectivo Coffee listed among the bottomless beverage options, assumed it must have an added shot of some sort of alcohol, and needing a little pick-me-up of her own, decided on that course of action. Sadly, though the coffee was strong and delicious, it didn't seem to have anything special to it, which was a bit confusing, considering its listing on the menu. "Oh well, I'll just have to be the control in this little experiment of ours," Brandy said, "Let's see just how many cocktails you can get through in two hours."

Deciding to order one shared dish a la carte, Starr and Brandy began their morning with some Al Pastor Tacos, which came served with yellow rice and chipotle black beans. The pork filing had a nice slow spice to it that gradually built up to a pleasant warmth, while the roasted pineapple really livened up each bite. Brandy particularly liked the texture of the fresh white onions, which were a nice crisp contrast to the tender pork.

Starr's entree consisted of the Chicken Chilaquiles with pulled chicken, whole black beans, tomatillo salsa, crema, queso fresco, and a fried egg. Unlike most chilaquiles Brandy has seen, this one was almost more of a sandwich or a napoleon, with the ingredients layered between two crisped, whole tortillas.  The flavor over all was bright, but hearty, with the salsa verde really taking the lead in the mix. The chicken meat was nicely tender and the tortillas, much to Brandy's approval, retained their crispness until the very last bite. "Don't forget about that drink of yours," Brandy goaded Starr, who hadn't even made it halfway through her margarita.

Brandy chose the Carnitas Pancakes, the only vaguely sweet option on the menu. Interestingly, they came served almost like tacos, with the pancakes serving as the shell and the carnitas neatly piled in the middle with a slathering of maple syrup on top. Brandy certainly appreciated the novelty of eating the sweet and savory pancake like a taco, but she wished the dish had one more element to complete it. "Something like a little sour cream or a bit of vegetation would have done wonders here," she mused.

By the end of the meal, Starr had only managed to complete a single, albeit gigantic, margarita, so the conclusion was that unless one was intending on really doing some serious drinking, the bottomless brunch option was perhaps not the way to go. "Just as I've always supposed, ordering a la carte, more often than not, is usually the smarter option," said Brandy, "Although, far be it for me to judge those who really need the hair of the dog badly enough to power through more than two of these cocktails first thing in the morning."

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

The Short and Sweet Review
Taco Joint Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Festival Recap: LuxeHome Chill 2016

Last year, Brandy was absolutely captivated by the whimsy and the extravagance of the LuxeHome Chill event. This year, as the euphoria of the Cubs World Series victory tapered off into... well, other unpleasantness, Brandy's soul was in desperate need of a pick-me-up, so a little wander around a wonderland of food and wine was certainly called for.

Aside from the food, the atmosphere of the LuxeHome Chill evening was absolutely captivating. Silver and purple seemed to be the theme of the night, with women in shimmering silver dresses bestriding the halls on stilts or serving desserts from their bustles, while purple lights cast an ethereal gleam from behind every corner. Little oases of design elements were scattered about for seating in the main halls, while the show rooms were opened up for strolling through, the simplest things like faucets and drawer knobs seeming to give off a certain sparkling magic in the after hours. Best of all, around every bend was live music of all sorts; dueling pianists, a mariachi band, young girls playing steal drums and young men blasting jazz from brass horns.

Wine, of course, was as far as the eye could see, with sampling stations set up both in the main hallway and in the showrooms, where representatives from different wineries and distributors poured out sips for the eager attendees. There were cocktails too, which Brandy automatically gravitated towards, like a Maker's Mark Old Fashioned and a fruity tequila based punch. "Don't get me wrong, I love wine," Brandy remarked, "But sometimes in settings such as these, I like the ease of being able to grab a cocktail on the go. Viticulture is so intriguing that I could find myself chatting away with one of the wine reps and completely miss out on the rest of the night!"

Of course, the food was the star of the show, with most restaurants spread out among the showrooms, This is one of the many reasons Brandy adores the LuxeHome Chill event, because it is a rare opportunity in which the chefs can actually cook their dishes live in front of the attendees, as most of the showrooms have functional kitchens. Thus, fresh made pasta dishes were fairly popular, with the likes of Osteria la Madia serving up an Autumn Squash Ravioli, Terazo Piano offering a Sausage Ravioli with a maple glaze, squash puree, and cranberries, and Coco Pazzo presenting a Tuscan Meat Filled Ravioli with “Lucchese” style sauce. Lobster was also a popular item, showing up in things like Hubbard Inn's sumptuous Lobster Roll and the Lobster Bisque from Nick's Fish Market. Sliders, always a popular tasting festival favorite, made their appearance as well in the form of a Veal Meatball Panini from Nonnina and Wagyu Shaved Beef and Cheddar sliders from Del Frisco's.

The desserts were also plentiful this year, possibly even more so than the previous year. One entire section of the floor had been strictly devoted to the sweet stuff, welcoming attendees into the fray with one of the aforementioned silver clad ladies, offering up cupcakes and truffles from her table-like-skirt. Firecakes proudly presented a line of classic donuts for the crowd and Le Pain Quotidien offered up some lemon blueberry tarts and scrumptious coconut macaroons. Beatrix had their Oh My! Caramel Pie in tiny adorable slices, while Ada street played it simple with a smear of chocolate ganache on some fresh crostini with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

It was an absolutely pleasurable way to spend an evening for certain, especially since the entire shindig was put on to benefit three deserving charities: Saturday Place, the Respiratory Health Association, and the Lynn Sage Foundation. Not only were a portion of the ticket sales going to these lovely places, but there were also other opportunities to give at the event, like the blind bag wine pull station and an extensive silent auction. It did Brandy's heart a world of good to see these tables crowded with people for the entirety of the event.

"I really do believe that food can do a great deal of good for the soul, for the body, and for the community," as Brandy put it, "And it's just so lovely to see that concept manifested right in front of me. Now, where did that girl serving wine from her penny-farthing go?"

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

Friday, November 11, 2016

Revisit: Twisted Tea Party at Commons Club

When Brandy last visited Commons Club in the (at the time, newly opened) Virgin Hotel, she was mightily impressed with the extensive and creative menu of tea based cocktails and the delightful sweet and savory bites in a rather chic, yet comfortable setting. "It's harder than one would think to find a good tea service now adays," as she likes to say, "Either they're too traditional or they're so off the mark that they're unrecognizable."

Hearing that the service had changed somewhat since her last visit, Brandy decided to grab her good friend Starr (otherwise known as Chicago Foodie Girl) and bring her along for some afternoon sipping and noshing.

The cocktails had been themed on the Seven Deadly Sins (a leftover from October, with a holiday transition due imminently) and rather than coming served individually, they now came in a much different form: each concoction is presented in a chilled silver tea pot with either liquor or champagne served on the side so that the drinker could customize the mix to their own liking. Each tea pot contained enough mixture for about two and a half cocktails, making the decision of whether to share a single pot or order a personal one the main dilemma.

In the end, Brandy and Starr decided to order a different pot each so that they could switch between them. "We should have thought to bring more people so we could sample even more of these cocktails!" Brandy exclaimed. First, they tried the Gluttony cocktail, made with brown butter infused rum, chocolate syrup, a caramel flavor black tea from Rare Tea Cellars, with a peanut butter chantilly cream and a flask of champagne on the side. At first, the system was a little confusing to Brandy, but after she had mixed together the cocktail base and the champagne and added a dollop of the cream, she suddenly felt as though she were at a proper tea service, putting sugar and cream into her cup of strong black tea. The flavor of the cocktail was rich and decadent, especially with the cream, and did invoked the spirit of a certain chocolate and peanut butter candy, but in a very playfully sophisticated way.

Secondly, they sampled the Envy cocktail, this time combining vodka with sour grape juice and a house made crabapple liqueur, all poured into a matcha green tea. This one was much more crisp and refreshing, yet still very bold in flavor. Brandy especially enjoyed the experience of pouring the evergreen liqueur into the tea and watching it swirl into a magical potion.

Of course, no tea service is complete without finger sandwiches, scones, and various nibbles. The food had certainly been stepped up a bit since Brandy's last visit, being upgraded from a two-tiered to a three-tiered service tray. The finger sandwiches remained, now represented in Salmon and Cream Cheese, Egg Salad, and a very English tasting Relish and Cheddar. Instead of the expected cucumber sandwich though, there was a bit of pita bread with a smear of spiced humus, a chunk of radish, and the aforementioned cucumber.

Moving on to the sweets, which were abundant, Brandy started easy with a soft and tender chocolate chip biscotti, then she nibbled on a delightful raisin dotted scone. The middle tier held a whole host of deliciousness, like fudgy brownies, gold dusted walnut tarts, scrumptious apple cinnamon cupcakes, and delicate chocolate praline opera cakes. Adorable gingerbread whoopie pies were a favorite, but perhaps the most interesting item was the apricot napoleons with mascarpone and crisp filo.

"There's a philosophy we live and die by back home," said Brandy, finishing her last little bite of cupcake with an indelicate lick of her fingers, "There's no problem a cup of tea can't solve. Well, when your tea contains a decent amount of champagne, I think that old adage is especially true."

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Food News: LuxeHome Chill 2016 Coming Nov 10th

Last year, Brandy discovered the extravagance and elegance that is the LuxeHome Chill event, and this year's event, which takes place Thursday November 10th inside Merchandise Mart, promises to be even better. With over 50 chefs and restaurants in attendance, 150 of the best wines in the world, great live music, and incredible design displays as far as the eye can see, this is easily one of the best food events of the year. And the fact that a portion of the evening's ticket sales goes to benefit three wonderful charities (Saturday Place, Respiratory Health Association, and the Lynn Sage Foundation) only serves to gild the already perfect lily. Tickets are still available for those hoping to join Brandy and can be purchased here.

In the meantime, here's a few pictures from last year's festivities to help wet the appetite. Cheers!