New Restaurants in Chicago

I always come to Chicago to eat. I have a running list of places I’ve never been and really should try and then I  also look for what’s new and hot so I can try that too. It was a fair amount of eating this trip but even more time in transit since I stayed way north at my friend’s condo in Andersonville. Sometimes I forget how big this city really is.

But all that traveling was worth it and here are the two new restaurants that made an impression on me this week.

Dove’s Luncheonette

Dove's Luncheonette

The new tex-mex diner from the One Off Hospitality group that includes chef Paul Kahan and restaurants like Big Star, Blackbird and Avec.

Diners are my favorite places to eat uncomplicated food. Breakfast especially. I like sitting at a counter watching short order cooks do their business, the food always arrives hot and fast  and I can get in and get out in 30 minutes for $10. However, when famous chefs open diners they serve complicated expensive food and it usually takes forever to get it.  While I appreciate the homage, the anticipation and immediate popularity of such places combined with the menu prices eliminate all the great elements of the original concept (fast, cheap, unfussy), leaving only the visuals.

A couple of years ago I tried the Little Goat Diner right after it opened. The wait was SO LONG and the food was only ok because there’s hardly any food in the world worth a 2 hour wait. I haven’t been back to Little Goat and I’ve been leery of famous chef diners ever since.

So, imagine my pleasure when the wait at Dove’s Luncheonette was only about 20 minutes on a Saturday around 1pm and the food was really really good!

Dove's Luncheonette

I had the chili rellenos. They were super light, fried in tempura batter and filled with fresh farmer’s cheese, the texture of ricotta. I had a spicy bloody maria topped with pickled beans to wash it down and naturally fell into conversation with the friendly group of artists seated next to me. Lunch counter seating encourages conversation with strangers.

I’d recommend Dove’s Luncheonette because the food is carefully prepared and quite great, the window seating has a nice view of passing humanity and it’s literally right across the street from the train station. For visitors, I caution you to temper your expectations. It could be a long wait to sit on backless stools and it’s not a place for a big group. Don’t wait more than 30 minutes or you’ll be annoyed and hate the experience.

Up north in Andersonville is Little Bad Wolf, a new bar from the people that formerly owned The Burger Philisophy

Little Bad Wolf

It’s advertised as American food but the menu has a strongly Mexican influence

Little Bad Wolf

Like chips and salsa. Ok arguably, chips and salsa have been coopted by every sports bar in the US so they could conceivably be considered American. And these were good ones, fresh hot chips with great salsa options.

But Elote?

Little Bad Wolf

Creamy spicy corn? That’s Mexican through and through. The tempura battered avocado was a great touch and I loved everything about this, including the cast iron dish. I wasn’t impressed with the chopped salad we ordered, bland and disappointing (albeit gigantic), but I’ve never seen hard root beer on tap so I had to try it. Too sweet for me but quite an alcoholic kick so… beware.

I liked LBW. It’s a cute neighborhood bar and I enjoy the copper and cobalt

Little Bad Wolf

If you go, order the elote.

Tomorrow, a round up of the rest of my brief Chicago visit.

Andersonville: Big Jones, Svea and the Woolly Mammoth

These Chicago posts are kind of all over the place now because I decided to group my experiences by neighborhood. Why would I do such a thing when I’ve been writing chronologically up to this point? I can’t remember. Though I remember thinking it was a great idea when I thought of it. Thus (and furthermore) I’m going to start with dinner last night and work through today because all of it happened within a couple blocks in Andersonville.

I used to think of Andersonville as the Swedish village where the lezzies lived. If you wanted to eat Swedish pancakes, root through antique shops and buy feminist literature, you went north to Andersonville. It was a quiet neighborhood with wide streets, lots of shopping and great food. All that is still true and Women and Children First continues to thrive alongside the Swedish American Museum but now some cool vintage/thrift shops are moving in and adding their stamp to the area.

Last night, my friend Kateri introduced me to the “coastal Southern food” restaurant Big Jones, a relative newcomer to the Andersonville restaurant scene. Yes, I left the South to go to Chicago and order really good Southern food. It just goes to show you that it’s more about the chef and less about the location.

Check out the fried artichokes with black garlic puree, a luscious combination of crispy and creamy:

I gave shrimp and grits another try with much better results:

Grilled shrimp in tasso ham gravy over cheese grits topped with green onions. Properly cooked, well seasoned and better than Paula Deen’s by a long shot. But more than the great food, it was pouring rain and we came in right before they stopped seating. The wait staff were gracious and helpful and unrushed. We were the last people in the restaurant and they never made us feel hurried or acted like they wished we would leave. They were lovely and we ate rich soothing soul food while the rain poured and the wind whistled and we talked about our lives and drank wine. It’s the kind of evening I frequently have with Kateri. I pick great friends and they pick great restaurants, a perfect situation.

Given that I was already in an Andersonville kind of mood, T and I went up to that neighborhood today for brunch and ate at Svea:

This Swedish diner is famous for their Viking Breakfast and has been around for decades serving piles of food for cheap prices. They serve breakfast and lunch until 2:30pm in a tiny blue room under Christmas lights and sailing ship motifs.

I ordered the Viking Breakfast (would you expect anything less?) and T helped me finish it. Here are the Swedish pancakes and lingonberry sauce:

Here’s another plate of scrambled eggs, sausage and potatoes (I chose not to get toast as even I have my limits):

T thought that he could see a figure in the sausage.

He might have been hallucinating after too many meatballs but you can see it, right? Like an executioner or Death without his scythe? I should have kept the sausage and enshrined it and made a million showing it around the country, but instead I did like the Vikings and I ate it. Death tasted pretty good.

After eating like Vikings and having no long-ship to steer or hammer to swing, we did the next best thing and found a Woolly Mammoth. It’s an atrocious segue, but seriously, this place might be the most awesome in all of Andersonville. Please meet the owner, Adam:

The mastermind collector behind a thrift/vintage/art shop that specializes in taxidermy, bones, star wars memorabilia and handmade jewelry all lovingly curated in a small snug space. Adam started collecting bones and teeth and shells as a kid when he was out camping and exploring. He now has “a guy” who does taxidermy and he goes on collecting trips to scout for even more unusual skulls and bones. The store is beautifully arranged showing his eye for detail and each selection seems to flow into the next creating the most unusual montage of turtle shells next to buffalo teeth mixing with vintage games, a Darth Vader mask and a handmade quilt of sports pennants. Adam says he “feng shuis” the place and rearranges whenever he gets a new acquisition to incorporate it into the existing stock. Everywhere you look is something fascinating:

Portuguese wax organs to burn ritualistically and rid yourself of ailments? Right over there on the shelf.

Tiny clear pregnant woman key chain where the belly is a bouncy ball with a fetus floating in it? Hanging here next to the cash register.

Bees preserved in honey? Check

Taxidermied fish turned into a lamp? Check

Cabbage patch doll? Check.

Original artwork by him and his wife, military pins, belt buckles and an old school tabletop arcade game? Check, check, check and check.

I loved every part of that shop and I love the care and attention that Adam puts into his displays and his customers. I know that when I go back the stock will be different, he’ll have different stories to tell about his acquisitions and I’ll find more stuff I can’t live without.

Go see Adam. Ask him about his taxidermied 3 blind mice and buy yourself something unexpected.

Tomorrow: the suburbs, salt stain Virgin Mary and a DeLorean with a flux capacitor. See you then…