Last year, I was inspired to put together my top eats by fellow Food Editor Gourmet Rambler and our friend Genie Bae. In keeping with tradition, I am sharing my list for this year. You can also check out Genie’s list here and Gourmet Rambler’s first list from last week (see FOOD FRIDAY: Best of 2011 – Part I).
When I became unemployed in 2008 from my design job and made the decision to switch careers, it meant that I had to be frugal with where I ate. What is great about Chicago, is that there are plenty of options for delicious food without having to break the bank. Last year’s list reflected that as well as this year. There are some repeat favorites in respect to where I dined. This further proves that these chefs consistently turn out amazing food, while always improving their craft. So, here is my list (in no particular order):
‘This Little Piggy’ (Franks ‘N’ Dawgs)
Franks ‘N’ Dawgs’ tagline is “Five Star Dining on a Bun”, which they live up to, in my opinion. For me, this is it when it comes to a gourmet dog, which really is a gourmet sausage sandwich. Even the New England-style lobster rolls used sets them apart from the rest. My favorite this year was created by The Publican’s Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston for their Iron Dawg monthly competition. It featured a garlic pork sausage, butter pickled red onions, salt ‘n’ vinegar chips crusted fried pacific northwest oysters and a remoulade vinaigrette. Some people will disagree with me and prefer Hot Doug’s, but where are you going to get this tastiness without the long wait in line?
Pork Sausage Dog With Chili Fries (Belly Shack and Butcher & Larder)
One of my favorite chefs, Bill Kim, collaborated with my favorite butcher, Rob Levitt, to celebrate the launch of Marissa Guggiana’s book “Off the Menu” (both were featured in the book). Using Rob’s pork sausage and Chef Kim’s branded Seoul Sauce was a marriage made in heaven. The chili fries will probably set the standard to how I measure!
Pumpkin Mochi Cake (Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar)
Okay, I know what you are thinking. Union has probably some of the best sushi and Japanese dishes, so why did I pick a dessert? Aside from the fact that I have a sweet tooth? Do not get me wrong, I love everything that comes out of Chef Chao’s kitchen, but this dish stood out to me. It is not what you would expect when you think of mochi. Such decadent flavors, between the caramel sauce, pumpkin and ice cream, without being too over the top.
Nightella Donut and Nightella Coffee Cake (Nightwood Restaurant)
I am a sucker for Nutella, so when Nightwood came up with their version, Nightella, I had to try it. It was featured in one of their donuts and coffee cake. All I have to say is that I will take a serving of Nightella any day anytime. It was THAT good.
S’mores Pie (Hoosier Mama Pie Company)
You cannot go wrong with any of Paula Haney’s pies. They are one of my weekly indulgence, crafted from scratch using local ingredients with a buttery flaky crust. The S’mores pie takes a childhood campfire treat and it truly melts in your mouth.
Roasted Bone Marrow (The Bristol)
I may be a little behind on the times, as this is a dish featured on menus of a few restaurants for awhile now. As a child, I remembered always wanting to eat the bone marrow from bones used in soups. The Bristol took my child memory to an elevated level.
Sunday Dinner Club Burger (Sunday Dinner)
I first discovered Sunday Dinner at their stand at the Green City Market. My husband and I would treat ourselves after market shopping, by splitting a breakfast sandwich and cheddar burger. We started going to their supper club dinners and really enjoyed their take on farm to table dining. As with Genie, their fried chicken dinner made my list last year, as well as their burger this year. I do not know how they could take their already delicious market burger and make it even better. Well, they did. Owners Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski even warned us that we would not look at the market burger in the same way again. What made the burger so delicious was the different cuts of meat used, with the addition of bone marrow. It was cooked perfectly, which is medium rare, and served on a pretzel roll. What could make the burger even better? Sides of Siracha aioli and homemade onion rings. It was pure burger heaven!
#anitahasaposse Tweetup (Old Town Social) – Pasta Course
I first discovered Chef Jared Van Camp’s approachable cuisine when he worked under Chef Rick Tramonto at the now closed Osteria di Tramonto. Once a month, the restaurant would host their Fiasco family style dinners, which showcased a different region in Italy. This pasta dish reminded me of those dinners. It was served at a tweetup I co-hosted with him, previewing his upcoming restaurant Nellcôte. The dish featured house-made Spaghetti a la chitarra, Illinois lamb ragu, green olives, chilis, cocoa, parsley. I cannot wait for Nellcôte to open!
Braised Pork Shoulder (City Provisions Supper Club with Old Town Social and Vinejoy)
This dish was a collaboration with Chef Cleetus Friedman, Chef Jared Van Camp and Chef Zeeshan Shah (Chef de Cuisine, Old Town Social). Jared wanted to play on Zeeshan’s talent and do a modern twist on Indian food. Instead of lamb, Cleetus chose to do a milk braised pork shoulder. It was served with homemade Madras curry, fingerling potatoes, palek dahl and sweet onion kulcha. Fresh naan was used to dip and soak up the remaining curry – so delicious!
#GivingBelly tweetup (Belly Shack)
Chef Kim’s food is probably my top go-to choice, where you can find unique flavor profiles, but with an approachable price point. He shines the most when he is experimenting with dishes you would not see on his regular menus. #GivingBelly was my second tweetup collaboration with him – Belly Shack’s version of Thanksgiving. I loved every dish, so it was very hard to choose. Check out the photos from the event to see why.