BUDGET BEAT: ZKF
At ZKF (1633 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-9600), a hip but homey spinoff of the defunct cafeteria mini-chain Zoom Kitchen (the “F” in the new name is for “Food"), curbside and regular takeout are available if you’re really zooming. But now you can also sit down, order off a menu, and stay awhile. If “comfort food” didn’t already exist as a label, it would have to be invented for the offerings here, which, while familiar, are never dull. Thick slabs of meat loaf come topped not with ketchup but with chunky, slightly sweet tomato chutney, while the rosemary-marinated boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast surprises by being deeply tasty and delightfully juicy-we loved it with sensible veggies and less sensible candied sweet potato wedges (pictured here; $10.75). Substantial sandwiches include a lovely grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta ($6.25) and a decadent grilled Italian ham and Cheddar ($6.75). Chili lovers will be happy with the smoked chicken version available daily ($4.75/bowl); the ever-changing soup list-there’s always one vegan option-is also worth a gander ($4.25). End with a brownie, lemon bar, or pastel-frosted cupcake ($2) made by the moonlighting Molly Kipp, a pastry chef at Spring and Green Zebra. No liquor. –Joanne Trestrail
DISCOVERY: SOLACE 601
Some of the dishes have French names, but the preparations at cozy Solace 601 (601F W. Army Trail Blvd., Addison; 630-458-9300) tilt more persuasively toward the Italian end of the Mediterranean spectrum. (Eggplant napoleon? We’d call it eggplant parmigiana.) Whatever their provenance, starters of bruschetta or lightly caramelized scallops à la rouge (pictured here; $11) are pure pleasure. Generously portioned pasta dishes satisfy and then some; we especially liked the orecchiette strewn with pieces of mild, fennel-y sausage and a special of bucatini with seafood and roasted tomatoes. Zabaglione with fresh berries makes a rousing finish.
OPENING: AIGRE DOUX RESTAURANT AND BAKERY
French lesson du jour: “Aigre doux” means “sour and sweet.” That’s about all the French you’ll need to navigate Aigre Doux Restaurant and Bakery (230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9400), slated to open in mid-January in the old Pili.Pili space. The husband-and-wife owner/chef team, Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen (both formerly of L.A.’s Chateau Marmont), intend the words metaphorically (as applied to their relationship) and literally (as applied to their food). Expect savory dishes from Islam, such as a seared ahi tuna appetizer alongside cumin-infused jicama citrus salad with oregano (pictured here; $10). And Ameen’s signature sticky toffee pudding with mascarpone sorbet sounds like one sweet deal.
NEW: QUINCE AT THE HOMESTEAD
The old Trio space has a new occupant: Quince at the Homestead (1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston; 847-570-8400). Chef Mark Hannon (formerly of Miami’s Azul) bills Quince as the “un-Trio: Top-quality food at an affordable price.” With a makeover by François Génève (Spring, Green Zebra), complete with fireplace, Hannon hopes to attract North Shore locals and Chicagoans alike. For the bold, Hannon’s contemporary American cuisine offers shaved asparagus salad with roasted tomatoes and tempura aspargus garnish, while the more timid might choose grilled cheese and tomato soup. Dessert? Cozy-but far from common-banana bread pudding with coconut sorbet, coffee sauce, and candied peanuts (above; $9).
Photography: Tyllie Barbosa