My sister recently took her first trip to the United States to visit me. Living in Chicago, we often forget how truly lucky we are to live in such a wonderful city. Despite the winter, we still can visit different restaurants, museums and all the other architectural attractions this city has to offer.
I took her through some of Chicago’s neighborhoods so she could experience different cuisines. I must confess that she liked the local Dunkin Donuts store the most, which was a new experience for her.
We began at Burkes Public House in Edgewater where she had an all American burger. They have a small but delicious menu, and the waffle fries are quite tasty!
Since we are from Germany, visiting the Lincoln Square neighborhood was a must. Not to mention, I work at The Chopping Block’s Lincoln Square location! She had the chance to explore the neighborhood, visit the shops in the area, eat some froyo (apparently, they only have plain flavored froyo in Germany), and learn about the neighborhood’s German heritage at the Dank Haus.
As we continued to explore the neighborhood, we ended up on Budakis Hotdogs on Damen Avenue, as she wanted to have a “real” Chicago hot dog. Just don’t ask for ketchup there! We met some friends at The Rail, also on Damen, where on Wednesdays they offer half-price burgers and Trivia Night, which can be a lot of fun!
In Lakeview, we visited one of my favorite sushi places, Matsuia on Clark Street. This is a cute little restaurant with great food and service.
Walking thought Lakeview, we got to see and experience a little of the nightlife, and we ended up at Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club were we stayed for the wonderful martinis (they have so many kinds!) and great entertainment.
We explored the Magnificent Mile, with all of its shopping, people, hassle and excitement. We also took some time to visit the Palmer House Hotel, a Grand Dame on State Street. This is also the oldest hotel in the city, rebuilt after the Great Chicago fire in 1871. We took a break for lunch so my sister could have a chance to experience Chicago’s deep-dish pizza.
For a perfect ending to the day, we visited The Signature Lounge on the 96 floor of the Hancock Tower, which has spectacular views of the city, as well as great cocktails and appetizers.
Of course, we also stopped at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart, which is the largest commercial building in the world, and another place I work.
Saying goodbye is always hard, but my sister fell in love with Chicago, and she promised to come back again as there are a lot more places to visit and experiences to have in our city. She may even take one of my cooking classes next time!
What’s your favorite destination when playing tour guide in Chicago?
Hans graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute in Pegnitz, Bavaria in Germany. He also completed an apprenticeship program at the Rosenthal Casino in Selb Bavaria. Hans' professional career extends to several hotels. He worked for Hilton International in London before transferring to Chicago where he held different positions for several hotels within the company. We are now proud to have him as a Chef Instructor at The Chopping Block. When Hans is not teaching, you can find him at local museums, coffee shops, farmers markets, or concert venues—mainly classical music. He is an avid reader, loves to travel, and enjoys the company of his family and friends.
My partner and I have a small group of wonderful friends who share the same passion for food and wine as we do. It was his birthday last week, and we made reservations at a fairly new restaurant in Lincoln Square called Gather. We had eaten there a few months ago and it was fantastic, and we knew we needed someplace special for our group of discerning palates.
Gather’s menu is focused on locally sourced, seasonal dishes that are meant to be shared around the table. Since we are of the food-obsessed variety, we pretty much ordered everything on the menu. What’s amazing is that every dish was stunning, literally: my friends are known for their gregarious natures, and there were moments of silent reverie happening.
A unanimous favorite was the Crispy Brussels Sprouts, mixed with toasted pistachios and miso vinaigrette, then topped with crunchy bonito flakes.
Another stand out was the Uouvo Raviolo, which was filled with homemade ricotta, and topped with pancetta and white truffle butter. One of our friends ordered a second one after he tasted it.
The Heirloom Beets were one of my favorites. They came tossed with a pepita brittle, crispy pork belly, feta and chamomile.
After a zillion appetizers came my entrée, which did not disappoint either: Pan seared cod, rutabaga mash, apple-dill slaw and topped with a horseradish creams and chili puree.
It was just a deluge of very intentional dishes that maintain a rarified essence. The presentation, like the décor, is a balance of elegance and comfort, and the staff is a wealth of knowledge on the menu and the wine list.
Chicago is replete with world-class restaurants, and it is refreshing to know that some of them are in your own local neighborhood. We will certainly Gather again!
David LaRocco is a retail trainer at The Chopping Block. He grew up in South Florida and started cooking in his family's Italian restaurant as soon as he could roll a meatball. He is a singer/songwriter, loves to paint and finds the most truth to be in buddhist meditation and yoga. He lives in Chicago with a loving partner and two totally insane cats.
Lincoln Square is looking a little more festive this week. Our neighborhood was one of just five selected across the United States for a “Main Street Makeover” as part of this week’s Small Business Saturday. Others are in New York, Miami, San Francisco and Washington D.C.
The holiday was created by American Express in 2010 as a way to help small businesses battle the shopping forces of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and drive more customers through their doors. This year, Lincoln Square is getting a new look for the holiday. Lincoln Avenue from Lawrence to Leland is being transformed into a winter wonderland. Local interior designer Adam Zollinger’s plans call for garland-wrapped arches, wreaths and blue and white lights to represent AmEx’s shop small logo. Giddings Plaza will be lit with spotlights and the focal point will be a massive Christmas tree with 800 ornaments and 3,000 feet of lights. The Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce will get to keep all of the decorations to reuse for future holidays, with the exception of the live greenery.
Zollinger tells DNAinfo Chicago that he was able to stretch his budget from just a handful of shops to the entire block, in part because so many area businesses, like ours, traditionally trim their own storefronts.
The Main Street Makeover will be officially unveiled Saturday during a tree lighting ceremony in Giddings Plaza at 5pm. Stop by our Lincoln Square store for a warming beverage. We’ll have our own special coffee blend, tea and our favorite winter wines.
Lincoln Square businesses are also teaming up to give away gift cards. Shop at any participating business on Saturday, November 29th and enter to win a $50 gift card. Each participating store will have one winner. The more you #ShopSmall the better your chances of winning!
Andrea has been with The Chopping Block for over 12 years in every role from Chef Assistant to General Manager to Private Event Coordinator and now Public Relations. Her journalism background and culinary school education from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago give her the know-how to spread the word about The Chopping Block's mission to get people to cook. She'll never shy away from a music festival, hot yoga class, beach read, dinner out with friends or a good glass of Pinot Noir, especially when cuddling on the couch with her terrier, Bosworth.
We are coming off an Apple Pie high here at The Chopping Block after last weekend’s Apple Fest in Lincoln Square. We literally baked hundreds of pies for this event, 350 to be exact. I was part of the baking team that baked 152 apple pies last Thursday, and let’s just say that shift took its toll on me. I’ll spare you the tears but after one serious blister from holding a knife, one carpal-tunneled wrist act up, one cast iron burn and countless apple-juice-in-the-eye occurrences, I can honestly say that I am not a huge fan of Apple Pie.
Now I understand that nothing is as American as Apple Pie and all that, but it just isn’t my favorite dessert. I’ve tried The Chopping Block’s famous Apple Pie recipe and it certainly isn’t to be ignored. It’s a delicious, never-fail kind of pie. But even though I don’t like Apple Pie, I do love other apple-flavored desserts. Here is one of my favorite apple-centric recipes in case, like me, you don’t really jump on the pie bandwagon. Oh also, Pumpkin Pie is not one of my favorites either. But more on that in October.
Baked Apple Donuts
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tbls ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup unsweetened applesauce, from jar
1 1/2 cup fresh apple, peeled and grated
For the Coating:
Unsweetened applesauce, from jar
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In another large bowl, stir together melted butter, eggs, sugar, buttermilk and applesauce. Stir in fresh apple.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Stir with wooden spoon. Add another 1/3 of flour mixture and stir. Add remaining flour and stir just until combined.
Spoon batter into a large Ziploc bag. Seal and snip the corner off one end. Squeeze batter into the cavities of a donut pan sprayed with non-stick baking spray. Fill each cavity 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full (to help donuts keep their pretty shape when baking, use a clean finger to gently even out the batter in each cavity and clean off the center knob of the pan). Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the tops of donuts spring back slightly when touched. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
For the outside coating, combine sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Brush each donut with a light coating of applesauce. Then dip into cinnamon sugar and toss to coat. Let cool completely before eating, if possible. A second dip into the cinnamon sugar creates an extra crunchy coating. These are best enjoyed the same day!
Tracey is an avid reader of youth fiction, nonfiction essays and cookbooks. She collects journals and agendas, Hello Kitty memorabilia and books of all genres. She has her BA in English from Loyola and her MA in Writing from DePaul. She hopes to one day write her way through Europe, master the French language and visit the nation’s largest amusement parks in one summer. Tracey was born and raised in Chicago (the city not the burbs) and currently lives in Logan Square with her cats Trixie, Milly and Archie. She’s slightly addicted to Pinterest.
I love being a chef! It’s that simple. Well, it really isn’t that simple.
Being a chef involves years of training, stressful work and brutal hours. But it can also be one of the most glorious jobs. Chefs work hard, no matter if they work in a small neighborhood joint or a gorgeous, dimly lit, tablecloth and candles on the table fancy place. They work so that we all can experience the joy of food. Have you ever ate a meal that gave you goose bumps? I have! It’s about food that trips over the tongue and leaves fascinating sensations in your mouth and on the brain.
I’ve been very lucky to have experienced some amazing meals in my life. And yes, I’m one of those people who photograph some of them with my cell phone camera. Other times, I completely forget the cell phone in my pocket. I guess that happens because I’m so intrigued with what I am eating at the time. I might have missed taking a photo of whatever deliciousness I was eating, but I can assure you that the memory lives on.
Here are a few of my best restaurant food memories in photos:
Last October, some of my colleagues from The Chopping Block and I were invited to take part in one of the most glorious meals ever created. It was part theater, part art and a hell of a lot of creativity. The restaurant is called El Ideas in Chicago. Every time a plate was placed on the table, each and every one of us let out a sigh of pure amazement. A chef came out from the open kitchen to explain each dish being served. The presentation and vast list of ingredients and components that went into each dish boggled my chef brain. Sometimes, I could not even process all of the ingredients. I remember just needing to dig in, to dive into this work of art that was just placed in front of me. And dive in I did! These two photos demonstrate that lack of patience I had.
I travel to Mexico once a year to a small colonial city called San Miguel de Allende. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. They have fabulous restaurants, amazing chefs and great food. My favorite restaurant there is Mare Nostrum. It’s a small Italian restaurant run by Giulio, who is from Italy and his wife Brenda who is from Mexico. I swear it’s the first restaurant I hit after the plane lands and I unpack my bags. Guilio makes a Bolognese sauce that brings tears of joy. Placed on one of his made to order freshly made pastas, it’s a plate of food that’s out of this world!
I can go on and on about some of the other amazing restaurants there such as La Posadita, that has the most amazing rooftop view of San Miguel, as well as The Restaurant, known for its fine dining and inventive approach to foods of not just Mexico but from all over. But I must mention the restaurant San Augustin. They are known for the most delicious, made to order, churros you’ve ever eaten before. They are served with your choice of three types of hot chocolate: Mexican, French and Spanish. I tend to go with the Mexican hot chocolate. These churros arrive to your plate, piping hot, coated in a generous amount of cinnamon sugar. They are crispy on the outside and so moist and flavorful on the inside and definitely a favorite of mine.
Back here in Chicago, I dine at one of my favorite local restaurants at least once a week. Sunshine Cafe in the Andersonville neighborhood is old-school Japanese. Don’t go there looking for fancy sushi, maki rolls or sashimi. It’s old school with tempura, teriyaki, sukiyaki and tonkatsu. The owner Joanie (who happens to be one of my favorite people) is a tiny dynamo in the kitchen. She’s over 85-years-old and still has it! By the way, if they ever have rainbow trout on the menu as a special, do yourself a huge favor and order it.
I also love a local, incredibly charming Thai restaurant called Jin. It’s run by Jin, who is in the kitchen, and her husband, Chai, who works front of the house. Chai is a friendly man, with an ever-present smile and a willingness to get a laugh out of you, as he’s graciously seating you at your table. As for Jin, there is no one nicer, kinder, sweeter and willing to share the dishes of her homeland. We often have Jin surprise us. She will create some of the tastiest, spiciest, most flavorful, authentic dishes from Thailand. Her soft-shell crab curry is a thing of beauty! I’m not really a huge fan of soft-shell crabs, but her version in a silky, curry sauce is astounding. If she has mussels on hand and offers them as a choice, go for it. You won’t be sorry.
Then, there is Mas Allá Del Sol. I cannot say enough about this awesome restaurant. My very first experience with the concept of Mas Allá Del Sol, was with the original restaurant, Los Nopales in Lincoln Square, which has always been one of my favorites. Run by Chef Adan and his wife Mirea, you might also see one of their two daughters waiting tables at either restaurant. Adan took the concept of Los Nopales and created a restaurant a bit larger and more upscale, but still totally approachable and homey.
I don’t know what this man does with steak, but whatever it is, he needs to patent it. His Carne Mas Allá del Sol combines the tastiest and perfectly marinated grilled skirt steak, served with a chile morita and tomato sauce, borracho beans (which are pinto beans cooked in beer and bacon) and served with fried panela cheese, grilled green onions and an avocado relish. It’s wonderful! The meat slices just like butter, with a moistness and tenderness that’s unbelievable.
One more dish I want to mention is the Braised Lamb Shank. It’s a huge hunk of lamb shank, that has been braised for hours in a light tomato, chipotle sauce and served over corn mashed potatoes, with tops of verdolagas (purslane).
These are just a few of my favorite restaurant food must haves. I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to several foreign countries and dine on amazing and unusual dishes in my life. But I’m also grateful that I have the opportunity to enjoy some great restaurant food right here in Chicago.
What restaurant dish do you crave? Share with me in the comments, and I’ll check it out!
Quincy has been a Chef Instructor with The Chopping Block since 2006. He has a great passion for cooking and enjoys teaching others to cook. When he is not at The Chopping Block, he can be found trying out new recipes on friends and family. Quincy also travels throughout Mexico, especially in the town of San Miguel de Allende, where he checks out the many new and exiting restaurants opened by chefs from all over the globe. This love of traveling has also taken him to such far off places as China, as well as several European countries, which brings inspiration to his cooking and teaching.