Though Chicago is home to hundreds of thousands of people of Polish descent, Polish cuisine is among the quieter ethnic presences on the local fine-dining scene-represented only slightly better than, say, Finnish. But there’s nothing quiet about Szalas(5214 S. Archer Ave.; 773-582-0300), a colorful, chalet-themed homage to the old country. Starting with the rope you yank to gain admittance (it rings a heavy bell, which summons a staffer to unlock the door), the Szalas experience is a trip. Polish antiques (farm equipment, an early horseless carriage, wooden sleighs converted to dining booths), taxidermied animals, and costumed servers set the mood, but it’s the well-prepared food that keeps diners going back. Menu highlights include a homey plate of fried potatoes served, charmingly, with a cup of buttermilk ($4.95) and a smooth, ruby-red borsch accompanied by a plump deep-fried meat roll ($4.95). Pierogi fans will be delighted with the choices, especially the sauerkraut-and-mushroom combo (pictured here; $10.75 for 12). Meat eaters can dig into anything from bold kielbasa with grilled onions (three sausages to a serving, $7.95) to pricier options such as roasted duck and T-bone steak. To drink? Nothing beats a cold mug of brawny Okocim Polish beer with this rib-sticking fare.
There’s nothing like a little sibling rivalry to keep a new restaurant on top of its game-at least, that appears to be the rationale behind the opening of sister restaurants, connected by a single kitchen, with two very disparate cuisines next door to each other. Trucchi Italian Bistro (5141 Main St., Downers Grove; 630-434-7700) fights for attention with spinach-stuffed gnocchi in a wild mushroom ragù, rosy balsamic-glazed lamb chops, and sprightly caprese salad with roasted tomatoes (pictured here; $7). Not to be outdone, the festive Comida Bebida Mexican Bar & Restaurant(5139 Main St.; 630-434-0300) throws its sombrero into the ring with strong margaritas and golden empanadas filled with carne asada, chorizo, and habaneros.
Chicago must be the most steak-house-friendly city on the planet. We’ve lost count of these puppies, but no matter. David Burke, who cut his meat-savvy teeth with the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, thinks there’s room for one more: David Burke’s Primehouse (616 N. Rush St.; 312-660-6000). To differentiate his new chop shop from all others, Burke calls it a modern-day steak house. That means a place with dry-aged steaks and an old-school feel, but “some more exciting appetizers than you would get at a classic steak house.” Judging by the pretzel-crusted crab cakes with pineapple slaw and poppy seed honey (pictured here; $15), it looks as though Burke is on to something.
Tracy Kellner is a true epicure. With her new gourmet market, Provenance Food and Wine(2528 N. California Ave.; 773-384-0699), Kellner plans to make it easy for her Logan Square neighbors to indulge in boutique treats while not breaking their budgets. She promises to keep at the ready a selection of high-quality, mostly organic yet affordable items such as small-batch artisanal cheeses, olives, and pasta. Throw in one of the Red Hen breads Kellner will offer and a bottle of wine or Belgian-style beer, and a lovely light supper at home becomes a done deal. Who needs pizza delivery with an option like this?