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Best of Chicago 06


New Public Servant
Mariana Coyne

Mariana Coyne

Among city employees, Mariana Coyne may have the most unusual job: she drives up and down the state, traveling mostly along two-lane roads, literally looking for farms. Her title? “Farm forager,” says the 42-year-old Coyne, who explains that her mandate is to build, brick by brick, a network of local farmers and link them to end buyers in Chicago, from individual consumers through the city’s farmer’s market program to large commercial kitchens. Last year, Abby Mandel, the founder of Chicago’s Green City Market, dreamed up the job when she found out that Coyne had not only worked as a commercial baker (she had co-owned Three Tarts Bakery & Cafe in Northfield) but apprenticed on organic farms throughout Brittany in France. Now in her second full-time year, Coyne, who is paid jointly by the city and Mandel’s organization, is doing no less than trying to establish a local food economy—a welcome alternative to the Whole Foods and Wal-Marts of the world.

Neko Case’s Touring Band

record cover for Neko Case

Plaudits have been heaped upon Neko Case, the Humboldt Park alt chanteuse who early this year tipped into rock stardom with her fourth studio album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. But on her current tour, now looping across the United States and Europe, attention must be paid to the dream team behind her: Case’s longtime collaborator Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel guitar; Devil in the Woodpile regular Tom V. Ray on upright bass; and New Pornographer vet Paul Rigby on banjo. The final jewel in the crown? The acclaimed jazz songbird Kelly Hogan lends her silky voice on backup vocals.

Chopped Liver
Max & Benny’s | 461 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook, 847-272-9490;
332 E. Illinois St., 312-321-9490

For some, chopped liver is not a poor man’s substitute for foie gras but one of the world’s great comfort foods. Simply served on a bit of deli rye, the classic recipe blends calf and chicken livers with chopped egg, grilled onions, and a healthy dose of schmaltz. For us, the North Shore deli stalwart Max & Benny’s, which recently opened a branch restaurant in Streeterville, gets the proportions exactly right. Without a hint of dryness, the texture is smooth and creamy, the flavor a perfect balance of homey ingredients that can be detected individually but meld together beautifully. The results are so good, in fact, we pray it never becomes illegal.

Luxury Doggy Daycare
Urban Out Sitters | 729 W. Randolph St.; 312-651-7387,
*plus two other locations

Inside the three-story edifice, the grand ballroom shimmers with gold-leaf molding, wall sconces, and crystal chandeliers. The walls are lined with curtains and faux-Renaissance paintings. This isn’t some posh manor in the Gold Coast; this is your dog’s home away from home. “Some people are amazed that dogs play here,” says Tommy Spinosa, who, along with his partner Joseph Giannini, opened the flagship location on West Randolph five years ago. “But we think they deserve it.” Now, with three locations—two in the West Loop, one in Lake View—Urban Out Sitters offers drop-off-and-pick-up daycare from $23 to $28 per day (the business also offers 24-hour, cage-free boarding and daily dog-walking services). Dogs are separated by size, and enrollment is limited.

Kids’ Meals
Prairie Grass Café | 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433

kids' meals from Prarie Grass Cafe

Sarah Stegner, the chef at Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook and the mother of a two-year-old, is perhaps the perfect person to reinvent the restaurant kids’ meal, understanding as she does that presentation is key. Her fruit-and-vegetable combo plate ($4; pictured, top) is a sophisticated homage to a finicky nephew, with unexpected cheffy flourishes like a scrumptious brûléed banana. Stegner’s other child entrées—made from scratch and priced at $4 or $5 each—are a far cry from the straight-from-the-freezer fare that confronts parents most everywhere else. “Every dinner comes with a side of steamed veggies,” she notes, adding: “If you put french fries in front of kids, they’re going to eat it.” The biggest seller is Stegner’s petite filet mignon ($12; bottom): a four-ounce steak and half a twice-baked potato. It’s food fit for an adult, which Stegner believes is just as it should be.

Vintage Jewelry
LuLu’s at the Belle Kay | 3862 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-404-5858,

Laurie Davis, owner of the vintage clothing boutique LuLu’s at the Belle Kay in the bustling North Center neighborhood, says her selection of vintage jewelry is “not for the faint of heart.” She plays it big, bold, and glitzy—and it pays off. The expertly edited collection has included art deco French paste earrings dating from the 1930s; gold-plated cuff bracelets from the late 1920s; and huge cocktail rings, including one dazzler from the 1950s set with blue moonstone and surrounded by aurora borealis crystals. Prices run the gamut, with crystal button earrings from the 1940s going for $42 and highly collectible Eisenberg Original brooches priced at up to $650. Persistent treasure hunters can expect something different each time they shop. Says Davis, “Every two weeks, the table turns over.”

Lulu’s Dim Sum & Then Sum | 804 Davis St., Evanston; 847-869-4343

Uninspired buffets are the norm in the world of all-you-can-eat dining. That’s why Lulu’s Dim Sum & Then Sum—a casual Asian restaurant in downtown Evanston—is a real find. On Mondays and Tuesdays from 5 to 9:30 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restaurant runs a seemingly insane promotion called Munch a Bunch, which lets you order every item on the menu (save a couple higher-priced selections). Our last visit found us gobbling shrimp and crab won tons drizzled with sweet chili, golden bao buns filled with roast pork, chilled steamed spinach drenched in toasted sesame vinaigrette, and spicy dragon noodles mixed with pork and napa cabbage. And that was just to start. The price, $15.95 per person, does not include beverages and desserts—or doggy bags.

Best of Chicago - Table of Contents

Best of Chicago - 01

Best of Chicago - 02

Best of Chicago - 03

Best of Chicago - 04

Best of Chicago - 05

Best of Chicago - 06

Best of Neighborhhoods - Albany Park

Best of Neighborhhoods - Evanston

Best of Neighborhhoods - Highwood

Best of Neighborhhoods - Hyde Park

Best of Neighborhhoods - Ukrainian VIllage and East Village

Best of Chicago - Architecture

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