The Purple Pig

When I toured full time I kept an ongoing list of places I wanted to eat. I researched upcoming cities, made a long list of restaurants and visited as many as I could. It was both frustrating and invigorating because as soon as I’d eaten at one great place on my list, I’d read or hear about 12 others that I really should visit and my list never got any shorter. Ultimately I stopped updating The List because I like crossing things off and it was borderline stressful to see all the many places I would never be able to eat because my life was too short and my stomach too small.

See how I made something pleasurable into a chore? It’s like an anti-super power.

I found The List last week and realized that The Purple Pig was on it, which I’d forgotten when I suggested it for a late lunch with college friends of mine. The Pig was on my list because of Bon Appetit’s recommendation, a great pedigree of Chicago chefs and the second most popular restaurant concept of the 21st century: pork.

Chicago IL

Chad and Lisa and I have been friends for many years and every time I see them, I’m reminded that I made really good friend choices in my early 20s. Isn’t is lovely when that happens? We met up on a cold grey day and spent 4 hours eating lunch, drinking wine and telling stories.

The Purple Pig

Is there a better beginning to lunch than this?

Chicago IL

or seating with partial views?

The Purple Pig

How about these salt roasted beets with whipped goat cheese?

The Purple Pig

Acorn squash with balsamic and burrata

The Purple Pig

Eggplant caponata with goat cheese

The Purple Pig

Charred cauliflower

Empty bones where marrow used to be

The Purple Pig

Fried olives with chorizo

The Purple Pig

And pig’s tail, because too much pig is never enough pig

The Purple Pig

And after that surfeit of food, we pushed ourselves out into the cold and actually tried to go here for dessert

Chicago IL

But it was closed. Booooo! Next time, Chicago… Next time.

PS: yes, I crossed The Purple Pig off The List with great satisfaction.


Meli’s Cafe

One of the things I love about the Chicago restaurant scene is the proliferation of all day breakfast places . When I lived there, I thought this was how every city was organized because doesn’t every neighborhood need a breakfast joint that serves eggs and pancakes all day? I would argue, yes. Of course they do. But apparently not everyone agrees with me and the closer you get to a downtown area in certain cities, the more scarce breakfast places become (Pittsburgh, I’m looking at you. Please open a decent diner downtown and don’t make me go back to Cherries Diner with the crabby waitresses and terrible coffee in styrofoam cups, although I do enjoy the window

*end parentheses*

That said, Meli’s is a nice breakfast place in the Greektown neighborhood of Chicago.

When I see that a place is a cafe, I usually think of great coffee and pastries and bad egg sandwiches cooked in a microwave. But Meli’s is a restaurant with a giant menu and a vast selection of options, like this scramble of bacon, kale and goat cheese.

Chicago IL

They also have a juice bar, so I got juice. How about that?

Chicago IL

Green, clearly: wheatgrass, pineapple, something something? Don’t clearly remember. And then I let it sit long enough to separate the grassy part from the juicy part. It was still pretty good…

And there you are, Meli’s Cafe: Breakfast near downtown Chicago. Don’t cross town to get here but if you’re here, stop in.

Heaven on Seven

Heaven on Seven is a cajun food place in downtown chicago.

Even those words look like strangers when they’re in a sentence together.

I guess you could ask, why is that strange? Of course there’d be a cajun food restaurant in a city with great food of every description.  And you’d be mostly right…

After my brother went to Thailand he came to visit me in Tucson and we went out for Thai food. I asked him if his dinner was good and he said it was and then I asked him how he could possibly say that Tucson Thai food was good after he’d eaten in Thailand. He said “You can’t compare eating pad thai from a street vendor on the streets of Bangkok to sitting in a restaurant in the states. They’re totally different experiences.”

I subsequently went to Thailand and ate pad thai from street vendors and he was right. The two experiences weren’t comparable. Since then I’ve eaten Thai food in the states that’s every bit as good as the food I ate in Thailand.


I’ve eaten in New Orleans and I’ve eaten cajun food elsewhere and I can say with certainty that every time I’ve eaten cajun food outside of Louisiana, it lacks a certain something. I don’t know why this is and I don’t know if it’s just me but Heaven on Seven is no exception to this rule of mine: Cajun food belongs in Louisiana.

Chicago IL

Even though when they have all the requisite condiment options, and more besides (and if there’s one thing I love, it’s an array of condiments…)

Heaven on Seven

And the chicken etouffee was delicious

Chicago IL

and the barbq came with an several sides (condiments, sides and dipping sauces comprise the trifecta of my perfect meal scenario).

It was good. But it wasn’t as good as New Orleans.

But that’s ok because I’m going to New Orleans next week. So consider this the opening volley and start preparing yourselves for a week of posts about Mardi Gras beads, cajun food and late night jazz. And maybe I’ll figure out why cajun food can’t be exported.

Excited? Me too.

Longman and Eagle

Longman and Eagle. Isn’t that a strange name for a restaurant? I haven’t done any research on it but I suspect it has literary or poetic meaning.

Hold, please.

Ok, I was close. ish. It actually references this Eagle sculpture in Logan square and the artist who designed it.

As to other website oddities, the chef looks like Sweeney Todd’s brother.

Moving on…

This place advertises itself as the kind of localorganicfarmtotable type establishment that is the most popular restaurant concept of the early 21st century. Pretty soon we’re going to see a restaurant built around an actual garden with cows roaming between the tables and waitstaff bustling around, uprooting your carrots in front of you so you know your food was sourced within 5 feet of your table.

This has probably already happened and I’m already behind the times.

But until you get watch someone forage for your dinner, I’d recommend Longman and Eagle because we went for brunch and most of the food was great.

Let’s get the less-great things out of the way first. Doesn’t this look luscious?

Yeah, it was about 50% less delicious than the picture. I really wanted this apricot scone to be amazing. And it wasn’t. It was dry and crumbly.

BUT, this was my breakfast.

PBR brunch

The creamy cheese grits were astonishingly thick, smooth and cheesy. I probably don’t even want to know how much butter and cream and cheese went into making them so delectable. But when grits are done right, you could take away everything else on that plate and I wouldn’t mind.


Yes, that’s enough bacon to feed my entire table. I have a very high tolerance for bacon but I don’t think I finished it. I opted for the grits instead.

And the piece de resistance?

PBR brunch

Yes, kids. This is the PBR brunch.

Coffee and a PBR. That’s what a weekend looks like.

A Toast, to Toast!

I’ve written frequently about my love of breakfast but I think this picture epitomizes all my loves:

Chicago, IL

A snowy vista of crème brulee French toast with a mimosa standing guard on a corner table in one of the best neighborhoods of my favorite city.

With one of my favorite people.

What’s not to love? And if you aren’t entranced by that, allow me to seduce you with the rest of our breakfast:

Chicago IL

Pesto scrambled eggs and an omelette lorraine with more toast – cuz you gotta – and coffee for days.

It’s the perfect breakfast after a magical night on the town that started in the old neighborhood and may have included a startling proposition and the promise of Cartier from a Chairman in Dubai.

But that’s a story for much much later. Over drinks. And music. Maybe here?

Chicago IL

Because one of my favorite things is a story-worthy evening followed by a picture perfect breakfast.

A toast, to Toast!

Chicago IL

All About the Wow Bao

A bao is a Chinese steamed bun full of something delicious. It’s basically China’s version of the hamburger.

Ok, I totally made that up.

Bao have been around since Pompeii was an island whereas I bet there are people still living who remember a world without hamburgers. If anything, hamburgers are our version of bao.

However, these two food items that are very dissimilar do have these things in common: They’re easy to eat with your hands, easy to eat on the run and present infinite filling possibilities.

Wow Bao has narrowed the field to just eight bao options – including a vegetarian edamame filling – but they also offer spicy noodles, pot stickers and breakfast oatmeal with goji berries and red dates so there’s clearly an eccentric intelligence at work here.

Spicy peanut noodles

I had a chicken curry bao, coconut custard bao and spicy peanut noodles that came with cucumber sticks and fresh cilantro creating bright crunchy bursts of flavor. I’d order that same thing all over again.

Kudos to Wow Bao for filling the fast food gap we didn’t know existed, and for choosing Chicago as your birth place.

Now, please start franchising west.

At Rosebud, Where We Were Family

I’ve been on a Ryan Gosling streak these days and I finally saw Drive with my friend Jeremiah. Neither of us loved it. The movie seemed like an aimless mishmash held together by the very fetching presence of Mr. Gosling and his ability to rest in silence while the camera panned around his perfect jawline. However, my friend Nason defended the movie passionately during a discussion on facebook, citing some of my beefs as his favorite parts of the movie.

The disparity in our opinions made me wonder if I’d have liked Drive better seeing  it with Nason. And conversely, would Jeremiah have liked the movie had he seen it with someone other than me?

I believe context is everything when it comes to shared experiences like movies and food. I know my feelings are highly subjective. They’re linked to the company and my state of mind as much or more than the food or activities. But I’m ok with that. I’m not a reviewer. I don’t have to be objective and because of that, I get to talk about how much I love Rosebud.

Rosebud is a high end Italian restaurant in Chicago with white tablecloths, a vast menu and just the merest whiff of a mobster past. It happened to be the restaurant connected to our hotel last month, which is why I ended up there one evening with a group of people including two guys named Rico and Rocco. How’s that for the start of a story worthy evening?

Rosebud TrattoriaI got the eggplant salad. Crispy eggplant sliced as thin as paper layered with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella garnished with arugula and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Amazing.

Not only did I have entertaining dinner company that night, but when the restaurant closed and we were getting up to leave, the manager , Yvonne, said “Why are you going? I’ve got another bottle of wine. Sit. Stay.” So we stayed. After hours, drinking wine with the servers, the lovely Yvonne, and the chefs, sharing stories, hanging out and staying up way too late. I have no idea how many bottles of wine we went through that night but it was only the first of many nights at Rosebud.

Yvonne knows that food can pull people together into a family. She knows that people come back to a restaurant where they feel welcome. This is especially true of us traveling gypsies who pull into strange towns, work weird hours and stay for several weeks. All we want is a friendly place to hang out in and get fed late at night. Yvonne decided that Rosebud would be that place for us; so, she kept the kitchen open late, delivered us room service and made sure we always had just what we needed, as well as a glass of wine.

Rosebud TrattoriaThat salad is as big as both of my forearms, so I got it chopped the next time.

This is probably not a hard salad to make but it wouldn’t be the same at home. I can’t recreate the salad and enjoy it as much without Yvonne, Marcos and Danny. It wouldn’t taste as good without the late nights, the camaraderie, the chance to practice my Spanish with Marcos as he tells stories about his family in Colombia, the realization that Yvonne and I met each other 20 years ago through a mutual friend and the inevitable “Another bottle? Of course you will, just a little glass.”

Like I said, context is everything.

Girl and the Goat

I love Top Chef.

There are very few TV shows that I watch with any regularity, mostly because I don’t have a TV and because I got out of the prime time habit while I was on tour but I always download Top Chef (and Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t judge.). So when I heard that season 4 winner, Stephanie Izard, opened Girl and the Goat in Chicago, I had to check it out.

This restaurant opened a year and a half ago and it’s still really difficult to get a table. This usually means the food is good. I tried to get reservations but it was booked for weeks and I only had one night off during my three week stay here. However, I knew that the restaurant kept some tables open for walk-ins so I figured I’d show up and take my chances. With only one night off, other people might pick an activity with a guaranteed success ratio but I chose to spend mine at a popular restaurant waiting as long as necessary for a table. No one who knows me is surprised by this.

I got very lucky with my dinner companion because Mark is an old friend of mine who I adore and rarely see plus he’s in the food business and he knew a server at Girl and the Goat. So he called Marnie and she recommended we come early and promised to make sure we got seated in her section so she could take care of us.

It was a dark and rainy wednesday night and while the restaurant was crowded and busy, it only took us an hour to get seated, an hour we happily spent drinking wine and catching up.


When Marnie showed up she asked some preliminary questions about food allergies, dislikes and our desired adventure level (none, none and high) and then offered to choose our food for us. Yes please! If there’s anything I love more than eating at a great restaurant, it’s eating the best things that restaurant has to offer and tasting as many things as possible. Marnie said she’d create a tasting menu for us, ask the chefs to make mini portions of some things so we could try more dishes and check in after several courses to see how many more we thought we could handle. Did we want wine? Of course. Did we want her to do some wine pairings? Yes! And maybe we could share some wine portions so we could try more wine options as well? Awesome.

We handed over our menus (a copy of which I had to get later because I didn’t even look at it) and each said “I LOVE eating like this!” about 3 times apiece with escalating levels of excitement.

First course was my favorite, though I would have ordered it for the name alone: Fried Naked Cowboys

Girl and the Goat

Crispy fried oysters atop egg salad and capers. Smooth, creamy, crunchy, crispy mouthfuls of deliciousness. I’d go back just for these.

Second course: hiramasa crudo

Girl and the Goat

Yellowtail amberjack sashimi, crispy pork belly, chili aioli and caper berries. The crunchy croutons and bitter sprouts were a perfect sensory accompaniment.

Third course: Sauteed green beans and grilled seppia

Girl and the Goat

Topped with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. Creamy, crunchy, salty. The green beans were perfectly cooked and we ate them with our fingers.

Girl and the Goat

with sea beans, smoked tomatoes, hazelnut parsnip puree and bonito flakes that waved like tiny fingers with the air currents. I hadn’t had cuttlefish before but it was tender and chewy like really good squid (no surprise).

Fourth course: kohlrabi salad and braised beef tongue.

I didn’t get any good pictures of the salad. As you can tell from the rest of the pics, the low light made it difficult to for my camera to focus.

Girl and the Goat

Beef tongue with masa chips and a delicious thick salsa verde at the bottom.

Around about this dish I realized a theme with Girl and the Goat’s food, namely that it grew on me the longer I ate it. I’d have one bite and think it was ok or interesting, a second bite was delicious and by the third bite I wanted to bat Mark’s fork out of the way and eat the whole thing myself. The flavors and textures layered in my mouth and each bite was better than the last, quite the opposite of the “first bite is the best” case with most good food in my experience.

Fifth course: Sugo

Girl and the Goat

Pappardelle with braised beef, goat and pork, rosemary and pickled gooseberries. Pickled gooseberries? Seriously? Bonkers delicious. And the pasta was cooked perfectly.

We had fun experimenting with camera shots and this was one of my favorites.

Girl and the Goat

Post-pasta Marnie said she had a couple more courses in mind and asked if we were slowing down. We said, bring it.

Fifth course: Grilled pork ribs

Girl and the Goat

Sous vide first so the meat was falling off the bone and then charred on the grill for a crusty exterior and served over a mushroom slaw with a grilled scallion vinaigrette. We abandoned all sense of decorum and gnawed the meat off the bone and licked our fingers, which totally delighted Marnie when she caught us.

Ribs again for the Sixth course: kalbi style beef ribs

Again no good photographs but a completely different rib experience served with sweet potato and okra. I loved the meat so much that I traded Mark my potato for his last rib and scarfed down every little chewy bit of meat.

I could have kept eating. We both could have. But it seemed the course of wisdom not to explode into gooey pieces all over the restaurant so we opted for a couple dessert options and some cheese.

Girl and the Goat

They were both good but I don’t remember many details. One was a donut flavored with butternut squash and cheddar cheese, served with pears (?) cornmeal streusel and some kind of gelato and the other was red and had pecans. How’s that for specifics? The cheese tasted like horses in a barnyard, in the most delicious way, and threw Mark into equestrian ecstasies prompting many stories of his recent riding adventures.

We did have wine. It was great. I have no idea what it was. This is why I write things down! I can only remember so many details.

All in all, highly recommended both for the food, the company, the service and the experience.

If you’re in Chicago, get your Goat on and ask for Marnie.

Last breakfast in Chi-town and a pursuit of the Amish

I had my last Chicago breakfast of smoked salmon eggs benedict at the House of T:

Can you believe he made something so picture perfect?

We carried these restaurant worthy plates to his roof top deck and ate in the sunshine (!!) looking out over the hazy Chicago skyline.

Amazing food, strong coffee and my last chance to hang out, breathe deep and relax before I got in the car and headed down the road. T’s been a consummate host and if he weren’t headed out of the country to go sailing, I’d recommend he open a B&B.

It’s been a rollicking good time here in Chicago. I’ve been reminded of all the reasons I love this city – primarily the food and the people – and the few reasons it makes me crazy – the Chicago highway system that I fear was designed by a petulant child who needed a nap and instead was given crayons. How on earth do people figure out how to get in and out of this city when they have to use 12 different highways in the space of a mile? How do they connect to all of those highways when the exits are spaced about 400 feet apart on opposite sides of 6 lanes of rush hour traffic? Why was I in bumper to bumper traffic at 10am on a Sunday, 5pm on a Wednesday AND 2pm on a Saturday? When traffic is this bad, why are buses getting reduced, routes cut down and trains running less and less frequently? Someone needs to step up and solve this mess because it’s absurd!

I avoided toll roads and didn’t rear end anyone, which is all the good that can be said about getting out of Chicago. But an hour later I got off the major interstates and started driving back roads going south and things settled down remarkably. I turned up the music and sang along as I drove into Amish country.

It was a good plan. I’ve never visited any of the Amish communities and this was a perfect opportunity, but for one tiny detail: I’ve been driving around and  T just quit his job to head out of the country, so it’s been several days wherein neither of us consistently knew the day or the date. Thus I didn’t take into account the most important part of visiting a community rooted in religious practices:

Ah, right. It’s Sunday. A day for rest and family and not for tourists with their cars and cameras and inquiring minds. I spent an hour walking past one closed up shop with a “Have a blessed day and come back Monday” sign after another all along route 57 headed south through Illinois into Missouri. I did see a number of these fine buggies in action:

And took pictures against my better judgment because they were so pretty. I don’t want to violate their religious beliefs but the sheer aesthetic beauty of the scene makes me want to document it. If you look up the definition of “bucolic” I think this picture pops up:

I also discovered that the author/creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy lived in the (now) Amish community of Arcola, which explained the prevalence of dolls and toys and books in the few antique stores that were open. I have a Raggedy Ann doll my grandmother made for me so I know a little about the stories. I found out in Arcola that the creator, Johnny Gruelle, made up the stories for his daughter Marcella when she was little and after she died at 13 from an infected vaccine, Johnny patented the dolls and published the stories in her memory. After his death his remaining family created a museum in his memory.

I stopped for lunch at a mediocre place that I won’t name and asked the lady about the Raggedy Ann and Andy museum. She told me what I soon discovered when I drove past it on the main street, that the museum had moved to NYC because the family members wanted to retire and no one could take care of it. They moved some remaining pieces to a gift shop named after his daughter and all that’s left of the museum are these sad creatures.

Don’t they look sheepish and apologetic?

I’m not sure why they were sculpted shrugging, but I’m sure there’s a good reason.

I took them as my cue that Sunday is no day to sight see so I drove the rest of the way into St. Louis without stopping, which puts me in a hotel, in my pajamas and writing this post at least 4 hours earlier than has been normal this week. It also means I’ll get a decent night’s sleep, which sounds amazing.

And that’s all I’ve got for today: breakfast, buggies and sad sculpture.

But I have high hopes for tomorrow because I think the Virgin Mary might make another appearance. Come back and I promise a story.

See you then.

Wicker Park, Mindy’s HotChocolate, the Flat Iron Project and Ukranians

It’s always a challenge to come back to a city where I used to live and try to see it differently. I lived in or near Chicago for almost 7 years and have great memories of my old neighborhoods. I frequently revisit my favorite places in Wrigleyville, Boy’s Town and Lincoln Park because I love them, but today I wanted to see a different neighborhood so I went to:

Back in the early 90’s, Wicker Park was an under-the-radar cool place to live. Artists and musicians gravitated there, the rent was cheap, the music venues were plentiful and hosted great local bands and everything was a little scroungy and “underground.” You know, where the cool kids can be coolest because no one knows how cool it is, except them. And then some local musicians achieved national prominence (Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins, for instance) and then it got used as a location to shoot High Fidelity and suddenly you couldn’t get into shows at the Double Door and then American Apparel moved in.

Isn’t that always the way it goes? If I go to a cool neighborhood with great coffee shops and tattoo parlors and music venues (see also, Queen Street West in Toronto), I know gentrification is happening when American Apparel and Urban Outfitters show up. They’re the vanguard of the encroaching mainstream.

I picked Wicker Park today primarily because I wanted to eat at Mindy’s HotChocolate:

I know it’s hard to believe that I would pick a neighborhood strictly for a restaurant, but it’s true. The pastry chef, Mindy Segal, got a James Beard nomination in 2007 and I read about her restaurant in Travel and Leisure a year or so ago so this place has been on my radar for a while. I dragged my friend, T, with me and we had the greatest lunch.

That’s Lamb Krema Casa, lamb sausage, krema casa cheese and arugula wrapped in grilled sourdough flatbread and served with grainy mustard and pickled beets. In.cred.i.ble. Filling and hearty on a grey day (Overcast! Foggy! Raining! Again!!), any heaviness perfectly offset with the vinegary accoutrements. Is that all? Of course not! It’s Mindy’s HOT CHOCOLATE and I would be remiss not to try dessert. So I picked the Mexican hot chocolate:

Dense rich liquid chocolate with a kick of cinnamon, poured into a cup and then into my mouth, accompanied by a fluffy homemade marshmallow and further accompanied by “warm brioche donuts and hot fudge sauce.”

Also caramel corn, because you can’t have too much sweet/salty deliciousness on one plate. Seriously, so much sugar. Delectable luscious chocolatey sugar, but still. I could have stopped at the hot chocolate. Almost too much. Overall the food was fantastic and the service was only ok – non-smiling reluctant waitstaff are no fun, but the food made up for their lack of enthusiasm.

We spent the afternoon walking it off.

T recommended the art studios from the Flat Iron Project so we started there. SUCH a cool building. 3 floors of art galleries and studios, all different mediums:

each room a different artist with the art spilling out onto the hallway walls and floors:

Chicago based artists rent these studios to work and display their art. On the first Friday night of the month, as well as the weekends, every gallery is open, artists are there and you can wander, chat, buy and hang out. Prices range from cheap to expensive and artists range from beginners just out of school to well established career artists with thriving businesses. Today the building was open but the galleries were largely closed so we just poked around and looked through windows. I found a couple pieces I really liked and might go back on Saturday to purchase if I’m still thinking about them.

From there we walked down Milwaukee wandered in and out of shops, got a photo strip taken at the old school photo booth in Reckless Records, bought a pair of retro sunglasses

Took lots of pictures of street art:

And finally made our way to the Ukranian Village. I wanted to see their Modern Art museum and round out the day with something more structured and curated. Two Ukranian students from the Art Institute of Chicago opened the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art in the early 70’s with other older Ukranian artists who immigrated to Chicago to escape oppression during the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The  art collection is small but beautiful. I loved this stained glass piece called Baden

And this one called Traffic

We then walked around the Ukranian Village and T, who is German, was especially ecstatic to find his favorite sausages at this European deli.

The bakery smelled so deliciously of bread and meat that I wanted to eat something right then but I was still full from lunch (hard to believe, I know) and I had yoga. So, I passed it up. See, it happens!! I finished the afternoon with yoga at the Wicker Park studio, a sister studio to the Lincoln Park studio I visited yesterday.

Between the two, I’d choose the LP studio because the facilities are bigger and more complete, inclusive of actual locker rooms and a shower. However, the Wicker Park studio has a great neighborhood feel in a third floor walk up building with a vast open loft around the enclosed studio and plenty of space to hang out and cool down after class.

I took class with Kathryn, who, like Mike, said something at the very beginning of class that stuck with me the whole class:

Bikram thought of the day: There are no shortcuts.

I think this is the hardest lesson in life, especially in American life. We want shortcuts. We think we can find a way to do anything faster and better and still get the results without doing all the work. In Bikram, and in many other things, you have to do the work. You only get there by doing the work. It reminds me of an old Bally’s commercial: “If a better body came in a can or a book or a pill, you’d already have it.” It can be a grind, but you have to keep showing up, sweating buckets, pushing yourself beyond your flexibility and then going back (WAY back) and doing it all again.

In other words (a 1000 words, or so they say), there are no shortcuts to get here:

But that’s good. If there were shortcuts, everyone could do it and what’s the fun of that?

Tomorrow: more of this. But different. And equally as cool. So come back.

See you then.