For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.
Blackened opakapaka from Bob Chinn’s Crab House
I’ve lost track of how many meals I’ve had at Bob Chinn’s Crab House over the years. For my family — and also just about everyone else I know who lived in the Northern Suburbs — Chinn’s was the place we went for birthdays, graduations, visits from out-town-guests (including my friend’s French husband, who considered it the only decent restaurant in the area). After Bob Chinn himself died on Friday, April 15, and I went to pay tribute. Aside from the memorial sign attached to the lobster tank, it was the same as ever — although because it was lunchtime, there was no line, and the network of hosts communicate through iPads now instead of walkie-talkies like they used in the pre-Wi-Fi era. I ordered a mai tai to go with the complimentary garlic rolls, which, as always, came drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with raw minced garlic. One of the daily specials was opakapaka, a pink snapper flown in from Hawaii. A rule at Chinn’s: if there’s opakapaka or onaga on the menu (or any other Hawaiian snapper, really), you order it. It has the smooth soft texture that is generally described as “buttery” and falls apart at the touch of a fork. The top is perfectly browned for a touch of sweetness. Whoever applied the blackening seasoning did it with a light hand; the dominant flavor was the fish itself, and the smoke from the grill, complemented by the tanginess from the tartar sauce. I could have eaten it forever. Bob Chinn’s Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling —Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Leg of lamb at Meet Your Meat: On the Lamb pop-up
When Texas-based butcher Kriss Abigail returned to her native Chicago for a pop-up in September 2021, she assumed that her unusual event — a live axis deer butchering demonstration in front of a crowd followed by a seven-course meal with alcoholic and booze-free pairings — would be a one-off. But as she and her local collaborators, bartender Stella Miller (Alpana) and actor-slash-general manager Caroline Shaul, looked around the room that fall, it struck them: This could be a thing.
Seven months later, the intangible energy they sensed has evolved into a full-blown following for their Buckwild Babes collective, which this week gathered for its second affair, At Meet Your Meat: On the Lamb, held Monday, April 18 inside quirky brewpub Orkenoy in Humboldt Park. Handsaw at the ready, Abigail deconstructed a lamb (sourced from Paddington Family Farm) before a crowd of rapt attendees in restaurant’s back room, before ushering patrons into the dining room for a meal by personal chef and caterer Jacquelyn Lord (the Dinner Belle). Each of Lord’s courses paid tribute to a part of the lamb, from heart to shank to rack, including an especially noteworthy leg of lamb, tender and sliced thick enough to maintain its texture, served with root vegetables and a rich and garlicky aji verde, all brightened with thin slices of zingy pickled radish. Spring weather is still a touch-and-go situation in Chicago, but this week at Orkenoy, Lord delivered on seasonality to great effect. Buckwild Babes pop-up at Orkenoy, 1757 N. Kimball Avenue, Humboldt Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Fried Oysters from Bronzeville Winery
Here’s the disclaimer: preview dinners don’t always showcase what customers can actually expect during a restaurant visit. The kitchen has more control over pace and doesn’t have to worry about getting an order wrong. There’s more time to get items done right without as much pressure to serve an entire dining room. That being said, the team at Bronzeville Winery have caught my attention, and the restaurant, which opened on Wednesday, April 20, should be on everyone’s radar. Executive Chef Whitney McMorris kept on impressing with smaller portions of some of her highlight reel, an improvised tasting menu (management should consider making this a fixture for regulars). I came away wanting a cold beverage and bucket of her fried oysters: “Shout-out to fried food,” McMorris said after dropping the oysters on the table. McMorris prepped these morsels in three different flavor profiles. McMorris says she poaches them first before they go into the fryer. The Buffalo-style version, served with blue cheese specks in many ways demonstrates what Bronzeville Winery is trying to do. They’re giving the South Side the elevated wine bar experience that no restaurant group wanted to give the area.
The food is full of cheffy techniques; McMorris learned the ways of molecular gastronomy at Moto, the restaurant from the late Homaro Cantu. But she’s not alienating customers who aren’t used to fine dining (it’s not their fault, no one’s bothered to open a fine dining restaurant nearby, one that felt welcoming). There are already doubters, with the boring chorus that questions what a wine bar is doing on Cottage Grove. Ignore that noise. If staff can find and keep their groove, don’t be surprised if McMorris and company find one or two award nominations coming their way in the coming year. Bronzeville Winery, 4420 W. Cottage Grove. Bronzeville — Ashok Selvam, editor
Tandoori pulled pork slider from Dhuaan BBQ
America is neck-deep in a Desi food revolution as cooks seek to diverge from the survival cuisine their elders crafted after immigrating from South Asia. With global cuisine, restaurants often have to dumb down flavors to satisfy those who think immigrants aren’t trying hard enough. These entitled customers want chefs to pander to their tastebuds instead of challenging them, risking harming their little tongues with something unfamiliar. On the other end, cooks can ignore that noise and just make whatever food that tastes good. Sheal Patel over at Dhuaan BBQ is doing the latter, mixing the joys of Texas smoke with Indian spices. The tandoori pulled pork slider served at the Kedzie Inn, part of the Chicago Reader’s Monday Night Foodball pop-up series curated by Mike Sula, was case in point. Delectable slivers of pulled pork fit under a garlic slider bun (it’s a pav bun). The meat-to-bread ratio was outrageously perfect, with a hint of Amul cheese. Honestly, I loved this barbecue so much I ordered two more for the road so I could eat and eventually watch the Bulls lose a miserable game to the Knicks while in my PJs. Thinking about what Dhuaan could do with a permanent restaurant space left me with a smile, despite the Bulls’ lackluster performance. Keep your eyes peeled for the next pop-up, where, perhaps, you’ll feast on spicy mac & cheese or a Desi-style Philly cheese steak. Dhuaan BBQ, pop-ups across the city — Ashok Selvam, editor
The Horseshoe from TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop
The horseshoe, native to central Illinois, is one of those regional sandwiches that, in a more just world, would have a national following. Though to call it a sandwich may be cause for debate. It consists of a thick slice of Texas toast, some sort of protein (traditionally a beef patty, but the limits exist only in the sandwich maker’s imagination), a scattering of french fries (like nails for a horseshoe, which is allegedly how this thing got its name), and a topping of cheese sauce. Becca Grothe, who opened TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop in Avondale in early February (with support from her Honey Butter Fried Chicken cohorts), grew up in horseshoe territory — Galesburg — and wanted to share the sandwich with Chicagoans. Her rendition is a complete delight, from the toast — actually toasted Pullman bread — to crispy fries to the cheese sauce, made with actual pepper jack, with actual cheese strings that don’t come with “cheez.” For the protein, there’s a choice between a beef patty and tofu (from local purveyors Slagel Farms and Phoenix Bean); I personally had the beef, but I’m sure either one would be just as great. For an introduction into the glory that is the horseshoe, Chicagoans could hardly do better. TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop, 2949 W. Belmont Avenue, Avondale — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Sundried Tomato Sashimi at Bloom Plant-Based Kitchen
Replicas of sushi that aren’t actual sushi (or nigiri, sashimi, et. al.) usually make me nervous. From so-called “frushi” (sliced fruit served atop sushi rice) to endless Pinterest tutorials on PB&J “maki” roll-ups, the form is sometimes treated so broadly that it loses all meaning. But chef Rodolfo Cuadros — a 2022 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Great Lakes award — has surprised and won over this skeptic (and likely many others) with his entirely vegan sundried tomato sashimi (truffle avocado, kabayaki sauce, serrano chili). The deceptively simple rectangles of rich tomato manage to capture deep umami flavor and strike the luscious, satisfying textural notes of seafood sashimi. Wisely, Cuadros skips the rice component entirely, substituting the base component with an impossibly delicate puffed potato: a crisp vehicle for the tomato sashimi that melts away on the tongue. Cuadros has proven his skill with meat and seafood at Amaru, his lively pan Latin restaurant, but omnivores and herbivores alike should be sure to explore his impressive assortment of animal-free dishes just around the corner on Milwaukee Avenue. Bloom Plant-Based Kitchen, 1559 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Wicker Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Earl Gray and Sea Salt Caramel Pancakes at Hanabusa Cafe
One important question to ask before choosing an item from a breakfast menu is, “Do I want to spend $15 on something I could just as easily make at home?” Japanese souffle pancakes fall into the definitely-order-this-at-a-restaurant category because making them at home requires special equipment (pastry rings) and ingredients one might not ordinarily have on hand (cake flour, half a dozen eggs). At Hanabusa, a Toronto import in the Loop, every souffle pancake is made to order, and since souffle pancakes are what Hanabusa does best, on a busy day, one should be prepared to wait a while. But they’re worth the wait. The Earl Gray and sea salt caramel combo is a lovely combination of sweet and salty, with a slight touch of bitterness from the tea. The pancakes are warm and fluffy, and the custard is just slightly heavier, smooth and cool. The whole plate feels extremely luxurious. If you ate them in bed, you would feel like the world’s most well-cared-for invalid. But eating them out at a cafe isn’t so bad, either. Hanabusa Cafe, 29 E. Madison Street, Loop — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Percebes at Porto
In February, even adventurous Chicago diners can find themselves in a culinary rut. Over time, the reliable siren song of carbs and lure of hearty stews can end up making one meal seem much like another, just as winter days have a way of blending together in a blur of grey skies and bare branches. The seasonal doldrums, however, don’t stand a chance against the roaring fire and oceanic delights of Porto, West Town’s Michelin-starred restaurant that specializes in the seafood of Portugal and Galicia. This narrow focus means patrons can sometimes find unusual offerings — some so wild and weird they could pass for a creature dreamed up by artist H. R. Giger. Over the weekend, chef Marcos Campos and his team got their hands on just such an ingredient: percebes, or goose neck barnacles. Galician delicacies known for being difficult to harvest because they live deep between the rocks along the Atlantic’s sometimes treacherous coastline, percebes are in high demand in Europe and overseas. Despite their appearance, tubular with a craggy “foot” which could leave one wondering if a member of Gwar somewhere is missing a digit, the barnacles are juicy and briny, tender without a hint of rubbery texture. Campos pairs his with a small bowl of dashi-like broth that hints at seawater without coating the mouth in salt. Porto, 1600 W. Chicago Avenue, West Town — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Michael’s S&M at George’s Deep Dish
George’s Deep Dish has been open for less than a year — since last May — but already it has earned itself a reputation as one of Chicago’s best, not just for deep dish, but for pizza in general. George Bumbaris builds his pizzas on a fermented focaccia-like crust with a thin layer of cornmeal baked on the bottom and a thin layer of cheese baked on the edges. He puts the cheese, meat, and vegetables on the very top, above the sauce, so they get a good roasting. These pizzas are labor-intensive, and Bumbaris makes only a limited number every night, so customers have to reserve their pies in advance. Which means that ordering from George’s requires more planning and forethought than I, raised on Dominos, usually put into pizza. Nonetheless, one Saturday, I finally got my act together and ordered the Michael S&M: Michael because all the pizzas are named after famous Georges — Halas, Orwell, Clooney, McFly, Weasley, etc. — and S&M for spaghetti and meatballs. From a lesser pizza place, this might be a stunt, resulting in slimy, sauce-coated noodles everywhere. But here, it just tastes like really good baked pasta, improved by the cloves of roasted garlic scattered over the top and especially by the thick crust that, like the best fresh-baked bread, is crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle. George’s Deep Dish, 6221 N. Clark Street, Edgewater — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Chicken Parmigiana at Club Lucky
There’s a kind of merry madness that seems to burst out of Club Lucky as soon as one opens the door. Modeled after a ’40s-era Chicago Italian supper club, the 32-year-old Wicker Park institution carefully toes the line between tribute and theme park, managing to evoke a romantic version of the past without resorting to dancing servers in poodle skirts. It’s a badly-needed antidote to the winter blahs, especially in a pandemic-weary world where small joys take on extra importance. Such an atmosphere — complete with mammoth martinis — is ideally suited to diners looking for an indulgent classic: chicken parmigiana, a crispy-cheesy-saucy melange that can brighten any icy winter evening — and in my case, induced an early bedtime. Club Lucky, 1824 W. Wabansia Avenue, Wicker Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter