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.

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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?

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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

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

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

Onward!

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.

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

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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.

However.

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.

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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

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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.

Scrumptious.

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:

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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:

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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?

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

A toast, to Toast!

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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.