Rhine Hall

I’ve got to say, this weather, well, hurts. But I refuse to totally let go of the absolutely immaculate fall we had as we approach the end of November. OK, there were some tornadoes, strange 60-degree temps and other some such bizarre weather behavoir, but for the most part it was a hot apple cider-red and orange leaf-bright and sunny autumn…my favorite kind. So when I explored Rhine Hall, a new hand-crafted, small batch apple brandy distillery on Fulton a few weeks ago, everything about it felt right. For the most part, Rhine Hall is a family-owned distillery, where Jenny Solberg and her dad crank out apple brandy from 100% Michigan apples (there’s huge wooden boxes in the back to prove it), as well as grappa. You can watch everyone at work from the adjacent tasting room where the smooth crisp brandy is available by the glass, or mixed into fruity or boozy cocktails. The only down side to this place is the limited hours (as much as I wanted it to be, it’s not a bar), only open on Thursdays (5-9) and Saturdays (2-7), but that gives you a enough time to stop in, warm up with some apple brandy and head out with a bottle to keep fall alive just a little longer. Rhine Hall, 2010 W. Fulton.

The Bobos at Rhine Hall

The Bobos at Rhine Hall

The Bixby at Rhine Hall

The Bixby at Rhine Hall

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My Tribute to Trotter

Yesterday morning the sad, sad news came that chef Charlie Trotter was found unresponsive at his Lincoln Park home He was pronounced dead at Northwestern hospital at the age 54. My initial reaction, like everyone else’s on twitter and facebook, was disbelief and shock. Sure, he had been mostly under the radar since the closing of his restaurant, but he had plans to travel and study, and I was sure his fast-casual burger concept in Vegas was right around the corner.

Sometimes I’ll get asked about the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed, and Trotter always comes to mind. I was lucky enough to interview him several times over the course of my career, both for local and national publications. No matter how big or small the story, he made time for my call or visit, and even though the interviews were challenging, he made them happen. I remember telling people how hard he was to interview, how he never quite answered your question, and seemed distracted, bored, borderline pissed or made you feel the answer was too obvious to even ask. But like so many encounters in life, it wasn’t personal, it was just who he was. Intense, wildly dedicated, masterfully particular, thinking of the 300 things he had going on at that moment, a perfectionist almost to a fault. It was if he couldn’t even let that guard down for a light-hearted interview about his favorite places to dine in Chicago. It’s what made him so great. He was a force, a presence that took over the room. He commanded perfection, even if you weren’t cooking in his kitchen.

And the time came that I actually did get the chance to cook in his pristine kitchen (well watch, mostly) in the early 2000s as a guest for a huge collaborative dinner with Heston Blumenthal and some other big wig chefs. I was there to write a first-hand account for CS magazine on the experience. Like most guests and writers who got to have a mini stage in Trotter’s kitchen, I was given my own chef’s coat, embroidered name and all. Of course it was three sizes too big and I had to roll the sleeves up four times just to take notes and bites of dishes as they were done. At one point Trotter felt compelled to put me to work and made me come right to the line and help dust dozens upon dozens of rabbit dishes with cocoa powder as they made their way down to the server’s tray. The “I Love Lucy” situation eventually got the best of me as my right sleeve accidentally tipped over the entire bowl of powder on the table—beyond a mere dusting of cocoa powder covered, well, everything.

Expecting Trotter to have a total blowout, he did quite the opposite. He cracked a joke about how he’d send me the cleaning bill in the morning, helped dust the powder off my sleeve, and the entire thing was cleaned up on the line in 2.2 seconds. The expediting resumed as if nothing had happened, and the kitchen didn’t skip a beat. For that moment, he let his guard down, and it’s one moment I’ll never forget.

In fact, every encounter I had with Trotter, from the vegetable tasting at the chef’s table to getting lucky enough to snag an invite to NYE at the restaurant, was an over-the-top experience that left an imprint; this was his essence.

I can only imagine the immense impact he had on the chefs, cooks, waitstaff and sommeliers that actually worked with him in his famous restaurant on Armitage Avenue, and were, and still are, forever changed and inspired. We’ll miss you Charlie.

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Sundae bar at Little Market Brasserie

Every experience I’ve had at Little Market Brasserie in the Talbott Hotel has involved a surprise. When having their delicious brunch on the outdoor patio this summer (hel-lo smoked salmon on crispy potato hash with cream cheese and capers) I was shocked to know that that the awesome acoustic music coming from inside the restaurant was actually live (the waiter came up and told me when he saw my iPhone foisted into the air, Shazam app frantically swirling and coming up empty..FYI..the singer is Michael Jansen, I later learned, of the Chicago band Mighty Fox). And during my more recent visit earlier this week, an even bigger surprise was revealed when I learned of the bounty of sweet-tooth, trick or treat heaven on a secret sundae bar. OK, maybe it’s not so secret as every Monday night, your vanilla, chocolate or swirl soft serve serves as the perfect blank canvas for the gummy worms, Swedish fish, dark chocolate disks, toasted coconut, candy corn, fresh berries and kiwi, crushed brownie bites, graham cracker crumble, sprinkles, oh god, there was more, and toppings like salted caramel and housemade magic shell. Why this bounty isn’t served nightly is beyond me (OK it’s probably to give the space back to the bar on busier nights), but we couldn’t think of a better way to start the week. All this was after an array of excellent savory comfort food dishes on the menu from mushrooms on toast slathered with shallot marmalade, a corn agnolotti with chorizo, grilled butternut squash with quinoa, and the sent-from-heaven grilled cheese of the month Melts for Meals created by Chef Andrew Zimmerman…somehow, we managed to find room. 10 E Delaware Place.

The sundae bar is definitely more treat than trick.

The sundae bar is definitely more treat than trick.

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Between Bites…a philanthropic foodie forum

Earlier this week, a plan one year in the making came to fruition. Last fall, two of my foodie writer friends Rachel Gillman Rischall and Molly Each joined me for dinner at Embeya, and the conversation led to food and writing, two of my passions. We started talking about live City Lit events, and how there weren’t any devoted to food writing. Somehow the conversation continued and morphed to the point where we decided to put on our own foodie reading event. It would be called Between Bites (this official name actually came later), and there be a charity aspect; we’d charge guests for a night of donated food, drink and words, and proceeds would go to the charity of the hosting chef’s choice. We talked and emailed and met for more planning dinners, lunches and drinks and got excited about it, then got too busy in our own lives to move forward with it, then got excited again, pushed the date back a few times, and lamented over writers, location, ticket price…mic or no mic? Finally, 6 talented food writers, 71 guests, Terlato wines, the staff of TWO restaurant joined us for what was truly an awesome inaugural event. $1400 was raised for un86’d, a local charity that helps restaurant works in need. Guests wanted to know when the next one would be (January), how they could find out more (check out our Facebook or Twitter pages), what the next theme would be (TBD). We truly couldn’t believe the response and cannot wait for the next installment in the winter. We plan to hold Between Bites seasonally, in a different location, with different writers, food, wine, charity and who else knows. What was amazing was that all of that planning came together on a mild Monday night that was infused with an energy and organic magic I can’t really explain. As we said our closing remarks and thank-yous, the guests just stared at us from their seats, even an hour of essay-reading and not a glazed-over look in the house, they couldn’t wait to hear more, and we’ll be back…follow us @between_bites.com to hear about the next installment, we truly can’t wait.

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Cooking on WGN News!

Well, I was a bundle of nerves, but had a blast doing this demo live of Chef Haidar Karoum’s (of Estadio in Washington, DC) torrijas WGN for Plate’s upcoming Spain issue. I loove me some French toast, especially when soaked in cinnamon, cloves, star anise and sherry! Click the link below to watch the segment, and tell me you don’t even notice the bread breaking…haha
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http://wgntv.com/2013/07/29/lunchbreak-chef-haidar-karoums-torrijas/

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Mystery window

This is one of my favorite (recently spotted) open kitchens around town. Guess where it is to win a chance to guest blog on elizabites.
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Arugula gimlet at Odd Duck

Up until last weekend, my all-time favorite gimlet could be found at The Matchbox, and is the only drink I order at the tiny bar. The citrus-y, powdered sugar-rimmed drink is small, but packs a serious punch. But over the holiday weekend I tried out a few places in Milwaukee, and discovered the arugula gimlet at Odd Duck. It was the most interesting cocktail on the menu at the new small plates restaurant in the Bayview neighborhood, and even though the bartender described it as a “grassy gimlet,” I had to try it. With herbal gin, simple syrup, lime juice and muddled arugula, I wouldn’t say it was grassy, but more fresh and herb-y with the bite of arugula I love in a salad or smoothie, The simple syrup added the right amount of sweet, and the lime juice added the right amount of acid. It was refreshing, light and very drinkable throughout the parade of small plates we sampled, from the pork belly pancakes to maple and mustard dressed kale salad. Odd Duck, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic.

Arugula gimlet

Arugula gimlet

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