Friday, January 27, 2017

Novo or Oh! You Pretty Things

The Slow and Savory Review

One of Brandy's favorite places in all of Chicago is the Art Institute. That fabulous establishment that houses centuries worth of human achievement in the arts and beyond is as hallowed as ground can get in her view of things. "Beyond the ability to create undefinable beauty, art is the thing that makes being alive worth it," Brandy says, "For without something to ignite the senses and remind us of how extraordinary the world we live is, what is the point, really?" Brandy has much the same opinion when it comes to food. Just as an expertly painted portrait is a delight to the eyes and the precise placement of notes in a song can please the ear, the perfect combination of flavors on the tongue is one of the most transcendent experiences one can have.

Though she's had some terrifically tasty meals as of late, Brandy hasn't quite had her senses ignited by a plate in a very long time, at least not in the same way they are ignited by a piece of fine art. She was lamenting this fact to her friend Starr as they took a Sunday morning drive out to Oak Park to check out the recently revamped menu of a little hole in the wall place called Novo. "Brunch is so easily tossed off and forgotten these days. I'm just longing for one of those truly special meals that really make me feel inspired and hopeful. Not just some tasty bit of something on a plate, but a complex, thought out culinary adventure. I do so hope we find such a meal today."

Novo was fairly unassuming, but cozy and warm. Understated lighting, warm woods, cafe music, and exposed brick all culminated in an atmosphere Brandy likes to refer to as "wine barrel like." Starr and Brandy sat themselves by the window so as to people watch and ordered up a few glasses of Pear Bellinis, which were nicely crisp and sweet.

To start off their meal, the ladies were presented with a plate of Roasted Squash Hummus, which had been drizzled with some mint oil and topped with pomegranate seeds. The result was a lovely combination of fresh, sweet, and earthy flavors with a nice bit of texture from the bits of roasted squash. They both enjoyed the warm naan bread served with the hummus, so much that they had to request a second round of it so as to keep shoveling the golden orange spread into their mouths.

Next came a pair of delightful salads: the Roasted Beet Salad and a brand new invention the chef had only just premiered at the dinner service the previous night, an Almond Salad. The beet salad consisted of oranges, pickled beets, radish, a chunk of fresh burrata, and a swirl of vanilla bean vinaigrette, of all which combined for a bright and hearty mouthful. The burrata, especially, added a complex creamy note to balance out some of the more acidic flavors. The almond salad was a bit more unusual, bringing together slivered almonds, fried parsnip strips, pickled red onion, sliced apples, and a toasted almond puree. Both ladies loved the slight sweetness of the dish, which was complimented by the overall nutty flavor and creamy texture with a light crunch coming from the parsnips. "I wasn't quite expecting such an burst of flavors from such a simple looking salad," said Brandy, "but I'm happy to be so thoroughly proven wrong!"

Following that, a couple of entrees made their way to the table in the form of a Prosciutto Benedict and a Smoked Trout BLT. Brandy just adored everything about the Benedict, from the chive infused hollandaise to the delicate salt flavor from the prosciutto, to the sprinkle of crisped shallots on top of the perfectly poached eggs. "This is simply divine and unique, yet has all the hallmarks of a classic benedict," said Brandy, "It's a rare day that I become this excited by a hollandaise any more!" Starr favored the trout BLT, which had a thick slice of delicately smoked fish that went toe to toe with the bacon, meaning neither one completely overwhelmed the palate. The house made items were some of the best things about the plate, from the focaccia style bread that was tender and soft but held together well, to the side of potato chips that were so light and crisp that Brandy couldn't stop stealing them from off the plate.

Finally, an infinitely elegant dessert was brought out, a Gingerbread Cheesecake with a Raspberry Balsamic Sorbet. The plate was almost too pretty to eat, with the vibrant pink sorbet contrasting beautifully with another little drizzle of green mint oil (the same used on the hummus, Brandy suspected). The mint oil actually made the cheesecake a bit too herby for Brandy's liking and din't quite match with the gingerbread crust. The meat of the cheesecake also had a slightly grainy texture that made the ladies furrow their brows as they pondered it. But the sorbet was good enough to have been served on it's own, with its assertive brightness and creamy texture perfectly paired with some crunchy and bitter cocoa nibs.

Though the meal wasn't perfect, Brandy and Starr found that their little road trip had been more than worth it to witness the inventive and unique dishes being created at Novo. The relaxed, yet refined atmosphere was perfect for getting one in the mood for a culinary adventure, while the friendly and un-intrusive service was also spot on. The prices were perhaps a bit more than the average brunch menu, but with the quality and intricacy of the dishes taken into consideration, they were more than justified. "I really do feel as if we've just walked through a museum of food just now," Brandy commented as they clambered back into the car. "All my senses are alight and I feel inspired!" "Inspired to do what?" Starr questioned. "Oh, I don't know... eat some more delicious food?" said Brandy.

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tea Time with Brandy: Argo Tea Garden Direct Collection

"There's nothing a good cup of tea can't fix," is one of the many mottos upon which Brandy has staked her life, and now more so than ever, she's been drinking quite a lot of tea. In fact, every time she turns on a television or dares to venture into the depths of Twitter, she suddenly has the urge to drink copious amounts of tea. "My cabinets are almost bare!" she exclaimed recently when she went to make herself a strong pot of oolong after a particularly trying online conversation. "Well, this has to be remedied immediately. I don't want to think about what would happen to me if I ran out of tea! How on earth would I be able to read the morning news?"

That was when Brandy remembered that Argo Tea, her favorite purveyors of delicious tea-based cafe beverages, had recently launched a brand new line of loose leaf teas called the Garden District Collection. The collection includes 24 single estate teas that are sourced from the world’s premier tea growing regions and represent a variety of traditional flavors and blends, from comforting chamomile and delicious darjeeling to exotic jasmine and mysterious hibiscus.

Thinking back to a summer she spent in Morocco long ago, Brandy went with the Armenian Mint. Originating from the Ararat Valley, the tea is naturally caffeine free. When steeping, the leaves turn a vibrant green and an incredible aroma of fresh mint fills the air. The tea has a golden brown hue and a vibrant minty flavor that does well with a touch of sugar added. Though Brandy had brewed the tea hot, she suspected that it would also work rather well iced, making for an especially refreshing summertime drink. "This does take me back to that beautiful time long ago when I used to drink mint tea and wander the tourist street bazaars," Brandy sighed with pleasure. "Ah, those were simpler times. Though I do have to say, the tea has only gotten better."

The Garden District Collection teas are priced from $10.95 - $39.95 and are available for purchase online at and at most Argo Tea Cafés in Chicago and New York.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Harvest Moon or Moonage Daydream

The Slow and Savory Review

While Bunny and Brandy were busy branding 2017 "The Year of Togetherness," Brandy's friend Bailey was making a different New Year's resolution in the form of returning to her love of art. "I barely painted at all last year. I miss it so much. Being covered in splatters of color, having pigment under my fingernails, getting splinters from gripping the brushes too tightly... Oh, I miss it so much." "Well then," said Brandy, "Why don't you bring out a canvas and get to it?" "I need some inspiration!" Bailey sighed, "With everything that happened last year, I just sort of... lost touch with my creative spark. I need to find something to ignite my imagination." "Well, I know my little old brain box always works best when I'm well fed." "Brunch is your solution to everything, isn't it?" "Brunch is the world's solution to everything, darling, not just mine."

Thinking about Bailey's artistic inclinations, Brandy was drawn to an eccentric little spot in Bucktown called Harvest Moon. Backing up its Bohemian vibes with a local and seasonal inspired menu, a rotating selection of local beers, and local live musicians, Harvest Moon stood poised to become a favorite hangout for artistic types from all over the city.

From the very start, Brandy was enchanted by the design and feel of Harvest Moon. Large surreal murals of Edwardian women filled the space on the brick walls not taken up by the high backed booths, which adorably resembled over sized arm chairs. The bar's back wall and sides had been covered in moss and lit with tiny fairy lights for an extra touch of magic, while the ceiling had been decorated with a patchwork of empty picture frames. The layout was open and flexible enough to allow for different table configurations, which came in handy when one took into consideration the stage at the back of the room, which throughout the week would host live musicians, DJ's, and trivia nights. "I simply adore the decor," Brandy swooned, "This place is like a speakeasy in Wonderland!"

The brunch menu was limited to a few signature entrees accompanied by traditional brunch cocktail options (like bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary's, though the bloodies came in some very interesting sounding flavors), so Brandy and Bailey decided to just split a few dishes between them while sipping on some mimosas. First up, they started with the intriguing sounding Breakfast Pot Pie. Brandy had been hoping for something quiche-like, but the dish actually more closely resembled a frittata. Coming served in a miniature cast iron pot, the dish consisted of an eggy mixture with spinach and bacon topped by a circle of puff pastry. Brandy enjoyed that these traditional breakfast flavors were being combined in such a new and interesting way, especially the bacon, which had been crumbled so as to function almost as a flavoring salt.

Next up, they tried the Shrimp and Grits, which like the pot pie, ended up more resembling another traditional brunch dish. Instead of southern style grits, this dish actually came with a block of polenta, which was surrounded by several large shrimp, a spicy tomato sauce, and topped with a fried egg. The spice in the tomato sauce certainly wasn't kidding around and had both Bailey and Brandy reaching for their drinks after the first bite. "This reminds me more of the Spanish dish, Eggs in Purgatory," said Brandy, "Quite ingenious to combine the two dishes into one." The shrimp were nicely tender and the egg too was perfectly cooked. "And look, we got a double yolk!" Bailey exclaimed, pointing to the egg, "Those are good luck, you know!"

Following that, the two dived into the Chicken and Waffles. The chicken was quite a generous portion of leg resting on a large waffle, which had more of the crumbled bacon mixed into the batter. Bailey, the expert on fried chicken, really approved of the cornmeal coating on the chicken, which had a great crunch, as well as the tender meat. The waffle, on the other hand, was a bit dense for her taste and even though it had been dotted with bacon, didn't seem to have much flavor. "The whole point of chicken and waffles is that it should combine sweet and savory," Brandy observed, "So in my opinion, the waffle generally needs to be firmly on the sweet side. Otherwise, what you've got is more chicken and a biscuit." Of course, a good slick of maple syrup helped to bring the flavors together a little better, but still, both ladies felt the waffle needed a reformulation to really live up to the delicious chicken.

Lastly, they ended on a sweet note with an order of the Cinnamon Apple French Toast. The toast came served with cooked green apples and plenty of whipped cream. While well done, there wasn't anything really remarkable about the dish that set it apart from similar dishes at other establishments. The apples were nicely sweet and tart at the same time, the toast was eggy and well caramelized, and the cream added a nice bit of decadence. "You know me," said Bailey, "I'm never going to turn my nose up at anything with apples in it."

The service at Harvest Moon was relaxed and friendly, leaving Brandy with not just the feeling of being taken care of, but of having actually made a human connection. The prices were quite good for the dishes as well, mostly ranging from about $10-$15 a plate, but it seemed that most of the plates were devoid of side dishes, which had to be ordered separately. "So, do you feel inspired yet?" Brandy asked as Bailey finished up her last piece of chicken. "Oh yes, I think I've definitely found my inspiration. You know how the chef here has combined ideas from several different dishes to create new ones? I think I want to try something similar by combining different styles of art to create a whole new genre!" "Sounds good to me," said Brandy, "After all, the greatest meal known to man was created when some intelligent person decided to combine breakfast and lunch."

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Friday, January 6, 2017

Jerry Sandwiches or Grateful Bread

The Slow and Savory Review

There was a time in the 1960's when Brandy had occasion to visit a certain area of California known as Haight-Ashbury. She had been told there was a terrific tea shop in this particular intersection from which she could buy almost any variety of loose leaf tea she could dream of. At a time before the internet made the acquisition of rare goods almost instant, this was quite a prospect. "They did indeed have plenty of varietals that excited me greatly," Brandy later recounted, "But there was an odd smell in that shop I could never quite pinpoint." During her time there, Brandy also became an unlikely fan of the kind of music being produced by the free spirited residents. "I used to be able to sit on the steps of the building I was staying in and hear guitars and tambourines all the way down the street. It was very lovely, though I do wish they could have played a little more ragtime or jitterbug every once in a while."

Remembering this had been a particularly happy period of Brandy's life, her good friend Mama Bee decided to take Brandy on a little adventure to a restaurant inspired by that very same spirit of freedom and discovery: Jerry's Sandwiches. Named after the leader of one of the biggest bands to come out of the psychedelic era, Jerry's boasts a menu of over 100 sandwiches with influences in flavor and composition from all over the country. Mama Bee figured this would be just the kind of place where Brandy might be able to find something really unique among a huge variety of choices, much like she had all those years ago in that little tea shop in San Francisco.

The Jerry's in Lincoln Square had an open, welcoming vibe with a fireplace off to one side and pops of teal paint on the walls to liven up the space. Nothing pretentious or fancy, but this was also not some hole in the wall deli. "It feels like the perfect kind of neighborhood place," said Brandy, "Where one can come in for a drink, a bite, and enjoy a game. It's rare in this day and age to fine a place that offers that kind of feel without trying to be something else as well."

Speaking of drinks, Mama Bee chose the Abuelita's Old Fashioned to start off her meal. This fun twist on a traditional Old Fashioned was made with a Mexican vanilla bean infused syrup, chocolate bitters, and Mexican hot chocolate spices placed inside a cinnamon stick, so that when one swirled the stick around, the drink swirled into its final form. Both Mama Bee and Brandy (who was able to steal a sip while Mama Bee wasn't looking) loved this sweet and spicy concoction that had the aura of a spiced cider, but an almost creamy and smooth finish. Brandy went with the Leatherbone cocktail, as she has a great affinity for smokey drinks. This one combined bourbon, bitters, and a leather scented syrup in a bold, smokey cocktail that almost emulated puffing away on a cigar. "This is what you call a Sipping Cocktail," Brandy commented, "That is to say, it's something to enjoy over a long meal."

For their starters, Brandy and Mama Bee split an order of Fried Cheese Curds and the house special Corn Dogs, which every month were made with a different sausage at their core. The cheese curds were fairly standard for what they were, but well done with a melty interior and a lightly crisp exterior. The unique thing about them was that they could be ordered with a side of soup for dipping into, which in this case was a butternut squash bisque, working quite well for adding some more earthy notes to the experience. The corndogs were quite interesting, as this particular sausage was a Hungarian smoked sausage, which gave each bite a warmth and a burst of flavor. The sausage had been sliced into rounds and then coated in a cornmeal batter, deep fried, and served with a skewer in them, so they didn't exactly resemble fair ground corndogs, but thankfully, they didn't taste like them either. Brandy and Mama Bee got an extra joy from dipping them into a spicy honey mustard for an extra bit of kick.

After a meaty and cheesy opening to their meal, Mama Bee decided to stick on the side of vegetation and ordered a sandwich called the Jenny F. Brandy was actually surprised by this, as Mama Bee has a somewhat low tolerance for heat, and the sandwich mainly featured green chilies and sliced jalapenos along with fried onions, fresh mozzarella, avocado, shredded lettuce, and a southwestern mayo (Mama Bee also added on some bacon because, as she put it, "Bacon makes everything better! Even vegetarian dishes!") all on a potato bun. The sandwich certainly packed a subtle punch that sneaked up on Mama Bee, but the avocado and the heartiness of the potato bun helped to balance things out. The veggies were all nicely crisp, the unusual combination or which made for something one doesn't often see in a mainly vegetarian sandwich. "Usually you see some tomato, lettuce, cheese, and that's about it," said Mama Bee, "I'm always glad to see the new and exciting ways people come up with for giving veggie fans more exciting options."

Brandy went in the opposite direction and ordered the Western Burger with a side of Cider Slaw and Caramelized Potatoes.  This meaty option came saddled with fried onions, bacon, cheddar cheese, ranch dressing, a house BBQ sauce, and some crispy shredded lettuce on a pretzel bun. With the onions and bacon coming in to play, the burger had a nice bit of crunch to it, which Brandy greatly enjoyed. The flavors of the various toppings and sauces all sort of vied for attention at once, like an overly talented ensemble cast in a movie, meaning the beef was not the central focus of the burger. Though she usually likes to be able to taste the meat of a burger first and foremost, Brandy didn't mind this one so much, as the various bold flavors all sort of worked well together.

"Even though I greatly enjoyed my burger, I have to admit that I'm quite curious about the 99 other options on this menu," said Brandy, "That's the problem with such a variety of choices. You'll always end up wondering what could have been." "Did you ever wonder what you were missing out on at that tea shop in Haight-Ashbury?" asked Mama Bee. "Oh constantly," Brandy replied, "There were all these bearded fellows in denim jeans and fringed vests who used to come in and ask for the 'special blend.' Yet when I asked for the 'special blend,' the owner told me he didn't think I would like it. From what I saw, it seemed perfectly acceptable to me, though he sold it pre-packaged in tiny little plastic bags... I never did get to sample it."

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Jerry's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Food News: Avec 2017 Collaborative Brunch Series

After the whirlwind year that was 2016, Bunny and Brandy have decided that their theme for 2017 should be Togetherness. "Most people promise to eat healthy and that sort of thing for New Year's," said Brandy in their joint statement (made via satellite, of course), "But we think that in the current climate, there's simply more productive things we could be doing, and that starts with working together." "Yes indeed!" squeaked Bunny, "After all, shouldn't brunch be about togetherness? It's the only meal that successfully combines the opposing forces of sweet and savory. Come to think of it, brunch itself is a combination of two different meals, working together harmoniously to create the ultimate in gastronomic experiences!"

In the spirit of togetherness, avec has announced that they will be continuing their successful guest brunching series from last year, in which they bring in chefs from restaurants across the city to contribute signature dishes to avec's already existing brunch menu. The series kicks off this weekend with the wizards from Honey Butter Fried Chicken bringing dishes like:

  • Biscuits & Gravy: Fried Chicken Strips, Buttermilk Biscuit, Fried Egg, Rosemary Gravy, Roasted Fennel, and Preserved Lemon
  • Fried Chicken & French Toast: with Bourbon Maple Syrup, Honey Butter, Dried Mandarin Orange, Dates, and Almonds
  • avec’d Up OG Sandwich: Fried Chicken Strips, Candied Jalapeño Mayo, Crunchy Slaw, and a Fried Egg on Avec Ciabatta
  • “HBFC” Deluxe: Focaccia with Pimento Cheese, Honey Buffalo Drizzle, and Scallions

    The series then continues about once a month with a diverse array of cuisines and chefs:
"There is absolutely no better way to demonstrate our new found desire to promote Togetherness than by witnessing what avec is doing first hand," Brandy concluded. "We cannot wait to see what all these collaborations have in store!" Bunny added with a wink.

Stay tuned to see which of these fabulous brunches Bunny and Brandy plan to attend and let us know in the comments below which ones you are looking forward to!