Neapolitan pizzas have been taking over Chicago recently, kind of like Middle Eastern falafel joints, fried chicken shacks and BBQ houses. But the best of the bunch is certainly Panino’s Pizzaiolo - although I’ve also loved the pies at Forno Rosso, on the far western edge of the city, on Harlem Ave. Say all you want about Nella’s in Lincoln Park (I was just there), the crust (and by that I mean the yeast starter) at Panino’s is far superior, resulting in a chewy, complex dough with just the right amount of salt. A combination of longer fermentation and a hot oven – plus the addition of fior di latte cheese and San Marzano tomatoes – make this Neapolitan one for the ages. Mangia!
They’re known for their pies, obviously, but Bang Bang Pie Shop in Logan Square is also rightly beloved for its biscuits. Unlike the pie crusts (which have lard in them) they stick to butter for the biscuits. But oh, how their heft and density boggle the mind. I could eat these everyday for breakfast, with a simple jam or marmalade, or better yet, one of the half-dozen butters or seasonal preserves they make in-house everyday. Bonus: they just started selling breakfast sandwiches featuring their candied bacon, eggs and sausage, so if you’re anywhere near Logan Square in the morning, you’ve got to stop by and try one.
I doubt The Twisted Baker in Old Town is going to be sending any holiday cards to La Fournette. The latter opened up two doors away from the former, and the (relatively) new kid on the block is doing hardcore French pastry, baguette, croissant and one of my favorite macaron (not macaroons) in the city. They are ever-so-light, delicate and best of all, come in a vast assortment of flavors you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. I have nothing against a simple pistachio or hazelnut, but when you start talking bergamot tea and linzer, my ears (and eyes) perk up. They are definitely something you should eat.
If you hate lines, best to avoid The Swedish Bakery on weekends, when “take a number” is the sad, but inevitable reality. A lot of Swedes make the trip in the from ‘burbs to get their rye bread or pick up a Princess Torte, but I’m guessing most of the regulars are there to also pick up an Andersonville coffeecake. The cardamom and cinnamon-filled cake is best warm – preferably saddled with a cup of coffee – and makes a perfect brunch gift, if you’re so inclined. They sell them not only whole, but by the half as well, so even if it’s just for you and a friend, you can have a few pieces, and still have enough leftover for the next day.
Ever since I tweeted from Smalls about their brisket bibimbop, I’ve been having dreams about it (I know, I’m sick). It’s so obvious and yet, no one in Chicago has dared combine the rich, earthy, smokiness of slow-cooked brisket with the bold, assertive Korean chili paste (gojujang) and crisp, blanched vegetables and rice that are endemic in Korean restaurants. It’s not served in a giant stone bowl, but rather, a simple, aluminum sheet tray. One recommendation: rather than get the standard white rice, ask for the Filipino-inspired garlic rice; you’ll thank me later. (Videography courtesy Todd Rosenberg Photography – @toddrphoto).
Smalls Smoke Shack & More
4009 N. Albany
Over the past few years, Nick Spencer has been showing up at places like Dose Market or the Logan Square Farmer’s Market, cooking up his homemade British-style bangers (sausage) and back bacon, and turning them into tasty sandwiches. But over the course of the last year, he’s opened a brick-and-mortar store along Irving Park Road, selling imported grocery items, those bangers and back bacon, as well as some mighty tasty scones. Now, he’s turning the space into more of a cafe, creating several sandwiches. One his most recent creations is the Coronation Chicken Salad, which obviously nods to the Queen, but also integrates his country’s penchant for zesty Indian flavors; in this case, cumin and mango chutney. Pull up a chair with a pot of English tea, and you’ll be transported back to Marylebone in no time. (Videography courtesy: Todd Rosenberg Photography – @toddrphoto)