A Cute Angle
Although it sounds like a reference to daytime highs here in January, 25 Degrees (736 N. Clark St.; no phone yet), a gourmet burger place opening in June in the old Blue Chicago blues club space, is a southern California import. (The name refers to the difference in internal temperature between a medium-rare and a well-done burger.) “[The concept] revolves around adult burgers and a wine bar,” says Tim Goodell, a partner. The nine-ounce chuck and sirloin burgers start at $9, with toppings running $1 to $2 apiece, including local artisanal cheeses. Toile wallpaper and black chandeliers produce an atmosphere the PR materials refer to as “bordello meets burger bar,” which brings to mind all sorts of inappropriate jokes involving the words “patty” and “buns.” 25 Degrees plans to stay open until the wee hours—about the same time those jokes start sounding funny.
Pollack’s Hat Trick
In honor of the Blackhawks making the playoffs, Pollack wrote up three brief early looks at promising new restaurants.
• First up was the reopened, rehabbed, refocused Bite Cafe (1039 N. Western Ave.; 773-395-2483). This beloved Ukie Village joint may not be as funky as the original, but what it lost in peeling ceiling molding and the chef’s cigarettes on the counter it gained in brick walls, wood floors, and banquettes—even little votives. Décor aside, the half roasted boneless chicken swept me off my feet—crispy skin, juicy thigh and breast, and enough soft-cooked garlic to pop a whole clove with every mouthful.
• Next stop was the Bucktown newbie Antico (1946 W. Leavitt St.; 773-489-4895). More industrial design—brick walls, wood floors, raw ceiling—but white tablecloths set the tone here. Salads lack confidence, but when I got to the gnocchi with grilled sage in brown butter sauce my spirits rose. The veal chop milanese is big enough to share (or hog for yourself), and the zeppole (sort of like Italian beignets) assured a return visit.
• Fogón (1235 W. Grand Ave.; 312-421-2000), the new West Town sib of Amelia’s Mestizo Grille, sits in a too-big, mostly unadorned space—marble floors, a few Hispanic-leaning paintings. It needs something to warm it up, and the kitchen needs to rethink the nondescript lobster empanada and the cloying shrimp pipiana. Still, the seviche sparkled, the chicken with spicy peanut sauce intrigued, and the chocolate tres leches left me with a good taste in my mouth.
“Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who’d just as soon cut each other’s throats in their off hours moving in unison with grace and ease can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.” —Anthony Bourdain (1956–), American chef, author, and TV host
As a culinary ambassador for Chile, the chef Julius Russell is sprinkling in some South American tastes at Flavor 180 (1511 S. State St.; 312-291-0800), his quick-service spot that opened April 2nd. The spice blend merquén and Chilean olive oil feature as ingredients, and the wine list will be 100 por ciento Chilean. The menu, which isn’t exclusively Chilean food, divides into “naughty” and “nice” categories, splitting the fried chicken and sweet-potato fries from the sautéed fish and turkey burger. Russell says three Flavor 180 Food Trucks will cruise the streets with their fare, as well. We’re looking forward to trying more flavors of Chile, especially the famous Chile dog.
Fitting into the pattern of Ethiopian restaurants locating on Broadway, Awash (6322 N. Broadway; 773-274-0784) opened in February in Edgewater. The owner, Tutu Mekete, promises authenticity. “There are Ethiopian restaurants here, but they’re not original,” says Mekete, who moved to the United States in 1997. “We bring most of the spice from back home.” She recommends the chicken tibs and the special kitfo, which is beef spiced to order. Ethiopian coffee and tea are available, presented with a traditional ceremony. And you still get to eat with your hands—if that turned out not to be authentic, we’d have to claim not to know how to use utensils.
She Said It
“We embrace whatever. We are not worried in the least. That just means more sweets for people.” —Stacie Foster, a partner in Turtle’s Cupcakes (469 Central Ave., Highland Park; 630-973-9759), which is opening April 30th across the street from another cupcake-shop-to-be. The flavors at Turtle’s include vanilla, red velvet, “chocoholic,” and pretzel-caramel.
On March 27th, the brother-and-sister team Stephan Chundy and Sandra Jones soft-opened The Avocado Café & Eatery (1913 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-442-2333) with a mostly vegetarian menu. “I’m a vegetarian, and it’s really hard for me find good vegetarian food in my neighborhood,” Chundy says. The menu includes portobello and eggplant po’ boys as well as omnivores’ options such as a basil chicken salad and a tuna salad with pineapple chunks. During the week, Avocado also serves pastries from the siblings’ father’s bakery, Golden Rise Bakery. Like good kids, Chundy and Jones have figured out how to work together. “I’m kind of jack-of-all-trades at the moment,” Chundy says. “My sister is a customer-service specialist. She’s really amazing at talking to people and being warm and inviting. Not that I’m not warm and inviting, but I’m usually schlepping sandwiches.”
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Things to Do
1. Get into a weekend frame of mind this Saturday, April 16th with Uptown Pie Company (1319 W. Wilson Ave.; 773-334-5450), which celebrates its grand opening with sips of wine and slices of pie—both on the house—starting at 9 a.m. (while supplies last).
2. Think ahead to what you’ll do with this summer’s bounty of produce with Patricia Wells, who will be signing copies of her new book, Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season, from 3 to 5 p.m. on April 17th at The Spice House (1512 N. Wells St.; 312-274-0378).
3. Build the burger of your dreams at Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap (1970 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-642-0007), where the Stanburger—with your pick of more than a dozen toppings and fries, soup, salad, and a fried pickle on the side—is $5 every Monday.
4. Read “Toil and Trouble” in the May issue of Chicago (Odyssey, page 46), one man’s account of how he learned to stop worrying and love making bouillabaisse. Then try it yourself.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Jason McLeod snagged two Michelin stars last November for Ria (11 E. Walton St.; 312-646-1400) in the Elysian Hotel, where he also helmed Balsan (at the same address). Three months later, he made the out-of-the-blue announcement that he was checking out—but he didn’t say where he was going. Now McLeod’s Twitter account (and the blog world) is abuzz with updates from southern California, where he’s setting up shop as a restaurant consultant for sites like La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla. . . . The Stew reported that NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030), shuttered since January for design tweaks, will come back June 3rd as NoMI Kitchen, a slightly more casual version of its former self. . . . Burgers on rye will be harder to find in Wheeling when that town’s location of Hackney’s (241 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; 847-537-2100) shutters at the end of April. . . . Lovers of vegan takeout, look elsewhere: Life On Mars (2910 W. Armitage Ave.) recently closed its doors. . . . It’s here: Pollack and Ruby’s 2011 list of top new restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs is now online in gallery form (the complete article, in Chicago’s May issue, hits newsstands starting tomorrow).
Dish is going on spring break next week but will be back (with a tan) on Wednesday, April 27th.