New Orleans has always held a unique place in my heart. From late nights in the Quarter as a college kid, to lazy rides on the St. Charles streetcar as a tourist, in search of an oyster po’boy or a strong Sazerac. I proposed marriage in Audubon Park after an epic jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace nearly 20 years ago, so yes, you could say NOLA has always been special to me. Few cities in America are so resolute in their distinctiveness. The birthplace of jazz and the American cocktail only add to its allure. Cajun, Creole, African, Spanish and French accents fill The Big Easy with a gumbo of sorts that’s impossible to fully understand unless you’ve actually been. Here’s your chance . . . Read More
Evanston is known for many things: Northwestern, Edzo’s and the rocky lakeshore come to mind. But beer? Not until recently. The Hopleaf’s Michael Roper says get ready to hear about Temperance – the first and only brewery from Evanston that has some wonderful citrus hops, low alcohol and just a touch of rye. Here’s to yet another Chicago area brewery, doing things the old fashioned (small batch) way. Cheers.
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!
So you can probably figure out where we’re headed next, based on this picture, but if you can’t, be sure to save the dates of March 8 – 11 for a one-of-a-kind trip unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I’ve spent the past three weeks lining up mixologists, chefs and artists; a plantation owner and a few restaurateurs I know, with the sole purpose of creating a once-in-a-lifetime eating and drinking tour to one of my favorite cities. This trip has something for everyone, and the accommodations are pretty swank as well. I’ll release all of the information and detailed itinerary later this week, but for now, just think oysters. Lots and lots of oysters…
This week’s pick has nothing to do with magic, it’s simply an oatmeal stout from one of our favorite breweries – Firestone Walker. “They can do no wrong,” says Hopleaf owner Michael Roper, and with its low alcohol and dark, rich finish, it’s a beer that’s well-suited to the cooler days ahead. Cheers to that.
Much has been made over the past year, regarding the restaurant’s final auction, the high school art show, etc., but I think one of Charlie Trotter’s greatest legacies – at least in terms of his contribution to Chicago’s culinary scene – is all of the great talent he molded, scolded, shaped, sharpened and ultimately sent off into the world. Many of his former employees stayed right here in Chicago, realizing that due to their former boss, the city had suddenly become more welcoming and willing to embrace new talent. You have to remember, Trotter was self-taught. After graduating from UW – Madison (Go Badgers) he traveled around the world, ate in the best restaurants for inspiration, then came home, and after a brief stint working for Gordon Sinclair on the North Shore, opened his eponymous restaurant with help from his father in 1987 – seven years before anyone was talking about the Food Network. He was the first to establish the Chef’s Table, put a premium on wine service (with a vast cellar to boot) and pushed his staff to be the best; that meant better than anything in New York City. I remember covering a dinner at the restaurant when Alain Ducasse was in town, and you would have thought the brigade was cooking for Francois Mitterand. Ducasse didn’t lift a finger the entire night (well, just to apply some gold leaf to the dessert). Everyone else was working so methodically, with such purpose, and yet there was this gentle buzz without anyone screaming. Trotter would “shush” the kitchen if it got too loud. Read More