Category Archives: guest blogger

Guest blog spot: Wagyu burger at Sola

After guessing the Hot Doug’s mystery mural and choosing to write about the Wagyu beef burger at Sola for her guest post, you’d never guess Kate Bongionvanni blogs for fitness Web site, www.fit-ink.com. But when she’s not working out she’s hanging at Sola for Thursday’s “Burgers, Bacon and Beer” night (yeah, it’s as awesome as it sounds). I love everything on the menu at Sola, so it’s no surprise Chef Carol Wallack’s burger is a hidden gem. I mean, it’s on a pretzel roll, can you go wrong? Kate’s post and pic to follow.

Sola burger

Sola burger


A Burger to Bend For
I tend to steer clear of red meat, but Sola’s Wagyu beef burger makes me break my rules. And for good reason: It’s irresistible to both diners and servers at Carol Wallack’s Lakeview hotspot. Not only is this sandwich tough to pass up—even among other menu favorites like the seafood preparations and short ribs—but it’s only available twice a week, at lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and during “Burgers, Beer and Bacon Thursday” nights.
But what is it about a burger that leaves my mouth watering and makes this most-of-the-time pescatarian craving more even after polishing off the entire over-sized sandwich? It’s the combination of flavors sandwiched between a pretzel roll. The medium-rare Wagyu beef piled high with melted cambozola cheese oozing out the sides, wilted arugula, crispy house-cured bacon, and my favorite, onions caramelized in pineapple juice. There’s something about the melding of those flavors that has me savoring each bite, telling myself to save some for later and even when I do bring a box home, the burger doesn’t sit around for long. Plus, it’ll only set you back $13 at lunch for burger perfection. And Chicagoans aren’t the only ones taking notice: Wallack cooked her signature burger at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival’s Burger Bash in February. Although her burger didn’t win top props (rumor has it that Spike from “Top Chef” Season 4 stole the show), the accompanying truffle fries received the “Best Potatoes” award. Sola 3868 N. Lincoln Ave., 773.327.3868

3 Comments

Filed under guest blogger

Guest blog spot: El Taco Nazo

Of all the neighborhoods I cover on the blog, I have yet to eat my way through Pilsen, which is why I was expecially excited when Molly Schemper of Fig Catering guessed the Urban Belly mystery logo, A resident of Pilsen, she decided to blog about her favorite neighborhood spot, El Taco Nazo, and also promised to take me on a food tour of her ‘hood with her partner Justin Hall (who got to share his own Chinatown-inspired guest post a few months back). Her delicious post (she had me at guac) and fun pics to follow..

Chiles rellenos

Chiles rellenos


I don’t get out much. As much as I’d like to try all of the new restaurants I read about or get to some of the “oldies, but goodies,” the reality of running my own business (not much free time or free cash) often gets in the way. When I’m tired from a day of working in the kitchen or at an event, I usually end up at a neighborhood joint. Luckily, I live in Pilsen so that’s not always a bad thing, with a plethora of Mexican taquerias and slightly more upscale seated places I can usually get great tacos, tender tampiqueña (grilled steak with beans, grilled spring onions, guacamole, rice, etc.), ceviche, and chiles rellenos—my favorite.

So, where do I end up most often? El Taco Nazo (née Azteca Tacos). The service at ETN is somewhat distracted, but the four delicious homemade salsas and unlimited chips they bring to your table will quickly distract you. Cold beers with cold mugs (by request or repeated recognition only) make it feel like you’re on a Mexican beach (ignore the blaring lights that are new and will hopefully be dimmed by the next time I visit). The guacamole can sometimes use salt, but add it and you’ll enjoy the creamiest version around (I believe Pilsen has first dibs on avocados in the city.). The chiles rellenos are freshly fried and bathed in a spicy, smoky tomato sauce full of peppers and onions. The beans are homemade and lardy. The ceviche tostadas are bright and crunchy; unlike true ceviche the shrimp and fish are precooked and mixed to order with lime juice, onion, tomatoes, and marinated jalapeños (sometime really hot, other times not). The torta Milanesa (breaded steak) topped with mayo and avocado is a great sandwich and the guisados (stews) I’ve tried have been great as well.

Unless I’m at Topolobampo I don’t end Mexican meals with dessert, and considering the pictures of Superflan on the walls at ETN I don’t make an exception here. Just have another Bohemia…you’ll be fine. 1514 W. 18th Street, 312.432.0800

Pork torta

Pork torta


Housemade salsas

Salsa in demand

Leave a comment

Filed under guest blogger

Guest blog spot: Glenn’s Diner

It was a few months ago that fellow foodie blogger Jill Blacketer (aka “Cupcake” on ultra-yum Toronto-based food blog broccoli and prosecco) guessed the mystery sign for Five Star Bar. For her guest blog, she had brunch on her mind from day one, hoping to write about the rumored reemergence of the long-lost Dodo (sniff) or her go-to spot Jane’s. She settled on Glenn’s Diner, a northside gem with all you can eat shrimp, killer potato pancakes and cereal served in chilled bowls. Sounds like brunch to me. Her post and pics to follow.
glennsdiner
“One of the things I love about Chicago is its abundance of great brunch spots. After living here for almost 10 years, I still discover new places to try.
An organization I belong to gets together one Saturday a month for a brunch meeting. In February, we convened at Glenn’s Diner. From what I had read, this spot stays busy all day and is a neighborhood favorite. And why wouldn’t it be with seafood specials like Thursday’s all you can eat “U-Peel-Em Shrimp”?
Back to brunch…It was a busy Saturday brunch crowd as advertised, and we were lucky to get a table for 6. Their breakfast menu is available ALL DAY (Yippee!) and has a diverse menu of egg dishes, pancakes, French toast, corned beef hash and daily menu specials that you can find on the two chalkboard menus. My order? Scrambled eggs with fresh chives and fresh Parmesan cheese with a side of bacon. All their egg dishes come with your choice of toast and an “in-house potato pancake.” They are fantastic, rich and creamy, and I suggest ordering a round for the table. What you’ll want to keep for yourself is a selection from the famous wall of cereal. Choose from 25 varieties of cereal served up in a chilled bowl with fresh fruit and milk on the side. Can you say worth the trek?” Glenn’s Diner, 1820 W. Montrose, 773.506.1720

Leave a comment

Filed under guest blogger

Guest blog spot: Kitchen table at Tru

So many mystery posts, so few guest blog posts! The point of the mystery spot posts is to give freakish restaurant fanatics like me a chance to identify a local restaurant by its art, mirror, wall, door, floor, etc., and then blog about something they love about the Chicago dining scene. Some guessers take a pass at blogging, while others are gung-ho like local writer/editor Wendy Wollenberg, who guessed the mystery chandelier post from a few weeks back (the answer was 16 in Trump Tower). I was so excited when she wanted to write about her recent 10-course culinary adventure at Tru’s coveted kitchen table…but also quite jel to say the least…her pics and post to follow. Keep on guessing, and you too can get your blog on.

Truly, Madly, Deeply
I recently had the great, unexpected pleasure of being invited to join a friend’s birthday gathering at Tru’s revered Kitchen Table. As the name suggests, the Kitchen Table is indeed located within the acclaimed restaurant’s kitchen, which sounds like it might add pressure to an otherwise enjoyable evening. However, the dining table is actually in a glassed-in room, which makes you feel part of the action without anticipating being asked to pick up a spatula. My (incredibly generous) friend had set everything up in advance, noting any food allergies or aversions (I’m not much of a meat-eater) or the presence of teetotalers (one of our guests, usually a self-respecting boozer, happened to be preggers at the time), letting us sit back, relax and take it all in. During our 10-course adventure, we sampled everything from a knockout strawberry-tomato gelée with Parmesan and haricot vert, to a petite frog leg with roasted garlic, carrot and watercress, to a pan-seared foie gras with diver scallop, white beans and “smoke gel.” (For courses involving meat, executive chef Tim Graham made me a veggie or fish substitute, which, to my palate, lacked for absolutely nothing.) We reveled in wines from such far-fetched lands as Madeira and Long Island. We watched in awe as pastry chef Meg Galus lovingly crafted her breathtaking desserts, which were chosen for each of us based on our reactions to the previous nine courses. And, man, did they nail it. I was the grateful recipient of a roasted plum with brioche and vanilla brown butter. Somehow, our gracious host discerned I would choose fruit over chocolate every time when it comes to dessert. It’s this attention to detail that makes a four-hour-plus meal more than just dinner. Tru, 676 N. St. Clair Street, 312.202.0001

Ginger lime and honeydew sodas

Ginger lime and honeydew sodas


Roasted plum, brioche and vanilla brown butter

Roasted plum, brioche and vanilla brown butter


Strawberry tomato gelée with Parmesan and haricot verts

Strawberry tomato gelée with Parmesan and haricot verts


Tru cheese selection

Tru cheese

Leave a comment

Filed under guest blogger

Guest blogger: Melissa Yen on Lito’s Empanadas

As winner of the Sweet Cakes Bakery mystery spot post, Vella Cafe co-owner Melissa Yen harps on one of her favorite hidden-gem spots, Lito’s Empanadas. I have never been and can’t wait to check it out for the chalkboard menu, the prices, the report that the empanadas are fried to order but not greasy..oh, and banana chocolate desserts. Her post follows the pic.
litos-photo
“One of my favorite things besides great food is great food served in a tiny space. The tinier the space, the better. Add friendly service and I’ll be raving about the restaurant to all my friends and anyone else who will listen. If it’s off the beaten path, even better. This sums up Lito’s Empanadas.
The restaurant is on a stretch of Clark Street between Diversey and Belmont. Not exactly off the beaten path, but I would never think of going to this area for great food. Once you do find it, you walk into the cleanest 500 square feet of restaurant space that I’ve ever seen. It’s a bright space with a counter along the window and five stools. You order at the counter from the chalkboard of eight empanadas. There’s a classic empanada with beef, olives, potato and raisins. Sounds weird, but it’s so good. There are two chicken empanadas and two veggie options. The vegetarian empanada with green peppers, cilantro, onion, potato and chipotles is amazing, very flavorful. Your empanadas are fried to order, but aren’t greasy at all. The crust is so flaky and tender, the inside steaming and oozing with yummy fillings. Good, hot, fresh food in less than 10 minutes; plus, at about $2.25 a pop, it’s cheap. That’s lunch for under $5. Well, $7 if you add on the banana chocolate dessert empanada, which you should!” 2566 N. Clark St., 773.857.0794

4 Comments

Filed under guest blogger

Mystery chandelier revealed

So I am STILL waiting for someone to call out the mystery hooks, but the mystery of the Swarovski-crystal (all 19,000 of ’em) chandelier has been solved. Local lifestyle writer and editor Wendy Wollenberg was correct when she guessed 16 restaurant in Trump Tower. Look for her guest blog post in the coming weeks.

Leave a comment

Filed under guest blogger, mystery spot

Guest blogger: Mark Rumble on Beans & Bagels

For guessing the Room 21 mystery art post correctly last week, local writer and Detroit-native Mark Rumble won himself a guest blog op. He chose his favorite local java spot, Beans & Bagels, and should be commended for masterfully weaving in a T-Pain reference:

“I work in Ravenswood, which doesn’t have the smorgasbord of lunch options that downtown has. I would make the quality over quantity argument for restaurant choices in Ravenswood compared to downtown, but I don’t think random Mexican joints and a Golden Nugget constitute quality, at least not when you’re sober. However, there are a few beacons of lunchtime hope around where I work, one of which is Beans & Bagels, located right off the Montrose Brown Line stop.

Here are three reasons that I think Beans & Bagels is a top shelf breakfast and lunch spot. (I realize lists are to articles what reality shows are to television, but I’ll leave the 10,000 word food treatises on “the best French restaurants located in Tokyo alleys” and other such eloquent features to Alan Richman.)

1. Beans & Bagels serves Metropolis Coffee: Metropolis coffee is made from the finest Central American coffee beans and speedballs. It’s cheaper than coke and unlike meth, Metropolis coffee won’t make you look like a 44-year-old prostitute from Oklahoma after drinking it for a week. Metropolis coffee is perfect for anyone who wants to be too wired to actually be productive, and also wants to take 17 trips to the bathroom before lunch. Metropolis is my coffee overlord.

2. Better Made Potato Chips and Sweet Sandwiches: Better Made potato chips are an award-winning snack made in Detroit. They are pretty hard to find in Chicago, but Beans & Bagels has them. I know this a Vitners city, but Vitners is the Jules Asner to Better Made’s Brooke Burke. I grew up on Better Made’s Red Hot BBQ flavor, so that’s what I recommend. There’s a taste of Detroit in every bite, and they’ll transport you to a magical place where the unemployment rate is always in double figures and the mayor is in jail for perjuring himself about text messages.

As for the sandwiches at Beans & Bagels, I celebrate their entire catalog (at least the ones with meat—there is a whole section of vegetarian sandwiches that I hear are very good). All the sandwiches are under $6, except the 86’er because of its copious amounts of meats and cheese. My two favorite sandwiches are Mark the Bird and the Smoking Winchester, both of which are served on pressed flatbread and contain turkey, spinach and red onion. Mark the Bird is smothered with chive cream cheese, which overpowers the turkey a little bit, but pairs well with red onions and tomatoes. It’s a bit unusual, much like its namesake, former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidyrich. But unlike its namesake, you don’t have to be a baseball historian or someone born in Detroit before 1970 to appreciate the Mark the Bird sandwich. The Smoking Winchester involves real cheese (provolone) instead of cream cheese, as well as big helping of smoky barbecue sauce. It’ll make you want to praise the second amendment and tell people there’s a new sheriff in town.

3. Jalapeño Cream Cheese: I won’t pretend that the bagels at Beans & Bagels are mind blowing. They are not. They’re certainly better than the ones at Dunkin’ Donuts, Einstein’s or The Great American Bagel, but they really don’t hold a menorah to David’s Bagels in Manhattan or even those salty bagels I used to get in elementary school on bagel day. But all of this is fairly moot if you get a Beans & Bagels bagel slathered with a jalapeño cream cheese.

Just like adding T-Pain’s silky, auto toned vocals and synthesized beats to a song makes it an instant hit, adding the creamy spiciness of jalapeño cream cheese to a Beans & Bagels bagel makes it about four times as delicious. The jalapeño cream cheese is made from regular cream cheese and slices of jalapeño, and I think a little jalapeño juice is mixed in as well. And it pairs surprisingly well with a cup of Metropolis coffee.” Beans & Bagels, 1812 W. Montrose, 773.769.2000

3 Comments

Filed under guest blogger

Guest blogger: Justin Hall of Fig Catering

 

Photo courtesy of Rene G, from LTH Forum

Bamboo log with chicken and braised mushrooms (Photo: Rene G, from LTH Forum)

As winner of the Feed mystery sign post, guest blogger Justin Hall of the Chicago-based Fig Catering shows his love for Chinatown’s Spring World restaurant:

“A hollowed out bamboo tube filled with braised chicken and mushrooms,” this is how El Panzone, a regular LTH Forum poster, described the meal I had to order at Spring World. Just down the mall from some of my regular Chinatown stalwarts (Lao Szechuan, Phoenix and Little Three Happiness), Spring World is an unassuming spot that specializes in Yunnan cuisine, unlike many of the Cantonese and Sichuan restaurants that surround their location (to be fair, they also do a great job with some Sichuan specialties including Kung Pao Chicken). When I looked through the menu I was given, it didn’t take long for me to find the chicken dish and point to the photo as a way of ordering (pronouncing it was another matter). Later I found out that this is not Spring World’s only menu; they have a “secret” menu dedicated to mushrooms with plenty of photos of the exotic varieties they offer (at least 50!). But ordering the chicken dish is a good way to start on your SW adventure.

Once the tube of goodness was delivered I was hooked. Huge chunks of strange looking mushrooms and braised bone-in chicken with a wonderful, spicy gravy. This is a meal that has no duplicate in Chinatown and, so far, continues to be one of my favorites on their menu. Their use of mushrooms and spices not typically associated with everyday Chinese fare (unless you live in China), including star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. SW also has a $3.95 lunch special, yes $3.95! You get to order two dishes for this price and they’re served with rice and soup. It’s an amazing bargain even though you can’t get the whole menu. Some of my menu highlights include the aforementioned chicken tube, steamed whole fish, tea-smoked duck, marinated and sliced pork belly and the mushroom hot pot. If you find yourself in Chinatown, give Spring World a try for something deliciously different. Spring World, 2109 S. China Place, 312.326.9966

2 Comments

Filed under guest blogger