If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2020, it’s that even the best-laid plans can veer wildly off course. As the end of a tumultuous year draws closer, many have found themselves finding joy and comfort in the small things: a bite of expertly-made chocolate, an animated discussion about cheese, a sip of a perfectly-stirred cocktail. These treasures become all the more special when they come from fellow Chicagoan — a chef, food entrepreneur, designer, or craftsperson, all struggling to stay solvent during the pandemic.
Eater Chicago has below compiled an assortment of excellent food-related gifts at a range of price points, from a $5 documentary about an iconic Chicago nightclub to a $295 curated assortment of gourmet ingredients. Those who are still stumped as to the perfect present for a loved one can check out a merch roundup from the spring or this comprehensive list from Eater.
Winter charcuterie kit from [AltEcon]
Acclaimed chef Jennifer Kim (Snaggletooth, Passerotto) spent two months putting together this unusual and enticing winter charcuterie box as a part of her latest endeavor, AltEcon. It features treats including Slagel Farms pork loin lonzino, Maple Leaf Farms duck breast prosciutto, a hunk of parmesan Sarvecchio, umeboshi-and-honeycomb butter, and more, plus an ingredient list and assembly guide. Kim suggests adding a soft cheese and loaf of good bread or crackers for maximum enjoyment.
“Ugly, boozy, holiday sweater” from Jeppson’s Malört
“It’s tacky. It’s festive. It’s ho-ho horrible.” Thus begins a captivating and singularly Chicago-style pitch for a sweater that’s sure to garner strong reactions from friends and strangers — one that celebrates the Windy City’s infamous bitter liquor. This treasure is a limited edition, so interested parties should act fast.
Bikini bananas glass from Lost Lake
Hang onto dreams of warmer days to come with the help of tiki bar Lost Lake’s playful double rocks glasses screen printed with bikini-clad bananas. Illustrator Kristina Micotti whipped up the design exclusively for the Logan Square bar.
Buy: Lost Lake ($20 each)
Gin 3-Pack from Koval Distillery
For those of us who plan to hail the end of this bonkers year with a drink (or several), family-owned distillery Koval in Ravenswood has a neatly packaged trio of gins. Fans can keep their options open with dry, barrelled, and cranberry versions that lend themselves well to both seasonal and year-round cocktails.
THC-spiked chocolates from Mindy’s Edibles
Chef, pastry wiz, and edibles expert Mindy Segal (Mindy’s Bakery) is featuring a new line of stoner-friendly chocolates for a smoke-free lift. Flavors include dark chocolate almond toffee, dark chocolate peppermint bark, marshmallow graham, and milk chocolate peanut brittle — and all are dosed with 100 mg of THC. Segal also features a slew of fruit-flavored gummies, plus chewy and hard candy edibles.
Embroidered wool beanie from Lao Peng You
Chicago restaurant veterans and brothers Daniel and Eric Wat put out some of the city’s most unusual and sought-after Chinese dumplings, earning legions of fans that trek to West Town for bowl after bowl. Now fans can broadcast their adoration with a cozy wool beanie that’ll help keep ears and heads toasty despite howling winter winds.
Buy: Lao Peng You ($20)
The Parachute Bing Bread Cookbook
James Beard award-winning chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute, Wherewithall) are sharing the recipe for their bing bread — a chewy, crunchy, bacon-and-cheesy delight that’s been a mainstay on the Parachute menu since it opened in 2014. Learn the secrets of this obsession-worthy creation that marries Korean and Midwestern sensibilities with the couple’s adorable and in-depth cookbooklet.
Buy: Wherewithall ($12)
Hope tote bag from Virtue
Everything that chef Erick Williams does is executed with intention — including the name of his decorated restaurant Virtue in Hyde Park. Willams embraces and promotes the virtues of hope, helping, aiding, and caring for others, and highlights those values on the restaurant’s line of merchandise. The sleek tote provides an unexpected and appealing reminder that hope is a discipline to practice during every season.
Buy: Virtue ($22)
Japanese-style cold brew subscription from Kyoto Black
2020 has felled many giants, not the least of which is humankind’s internal clock. Days drag on, yet weeks and months become compressed, ultimately creating the experience of lurching through the calendar. No matter the hour, locals can put a serious spring in their step with a dose of Justin Doggett’s impossibly smooth small-batch Kyoto-style cold brew coffee, sold in pouches with a built-in spigot. Caffeine freaks can expect a real charge out of this super-strong brew, which can be tempered with milk or ice. Doggett operates a flagship location in Edgewater and offers delivery.
Forever Friends ice tie-dyed apron pair from Jim and Reuben
Tired: friendship bracelets. Wired: Friendship aprons. Fortunately, Chicago clothing producers Jim Dye and Reuben Kincaid are on top of this cutting-edge trend with extra-groovy ice tie-dyed submissions. There’s also sweatpants, jumpsuits, overalls, and more — often modeled by Ed Marszewski of Marz Community Brewing in Bridgeport. The aprons come with a handy chest pocket for pens, forks, whatever you want.
Buy: Jim and Reuben ($65)
Hand-made chef’s knife from Sam Goldbroch Sharp Co.
Chef, teacher, and knife maker Sam Goldbroch hammers out high carbon steel knives with eye-catching handles in everything from Tasmanian blackwood to ironwood burl in suburban Evanston. At once artistic and utilitarian, these are pricey but special tools for those who are serious about kitchen knives. Treat them right and they’ll last a lifetime.
All Together Now At Home gift boxes
Lauded Ukrainian Village restaurant, market, and bottle shop All Together Now has put together a box of delectable treats for sharing or hoarding. Available in two sizes, the boxes feature several hard cheeses, Saucisson Sec Salami from Wisconsin-based Underground Meats, a jar of raw honey (also from Wisconsin), house-made Seedy Oat Crackers, Crunch Party mix (candied almonds, pecans, cashews, quicos, crispy favas, rosemary, Aleppo pepper), and malted chocolate Oreo cookies.
‘Cutie Pie’ door knocker earrings from Justice of the Pies
Local pie maven Maya-Camille Broussard is best known for her dreamy oven-made creations, but it turns out the popular baker is stylish, too. The gold bamboo door knocker earrings read “Cutie Pie” — a sentiment that never goes out of fashion. Broussard named the business to honor her late father, a criminal defense attorney who loved baking (and eating) any pies, cobblers, and any treat with a crust. She continues to partner with and raise funds for legal assistance non-profit Cabrini Green Legal Aid.
Curd Nerd Club membership at Beautiful Rind
Randall Felts, the owner of Logan Square speciality cheese shop and restaurant Beautiful Rind, designed his business to spread the gospel of “cheese joy,” educating novices and thrilling aficionados across the city. Cheese can even be a hobby, thanks to Felts’ Curd Nerd Club: customers can pick a monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly plan (with our without wine) with monger-curated cheese selections and accompaniments, member-only videos, class discounts, information sheets on selections, and more.
2350 Last Call: The Neo Story DVD
Legendary Lincoln Park nightclub Neo — a beloved gathering place for Chicago goths, punks, New Wavers, and more — may have closed in 2015 after 36 years, but fans and aficionados can relive late-night revelries past with 2350 Last Call: The Neo Story. The documentary details the history of the famed “sanctuary for misfits, weirdos, and outcasts and ground zero for an explosion of fashion and music trends” that supposedly inspired the Wachowski’s protagonist in their Matrix trilogy.
Buy: 2350 Last Call ($5)
Limited Edition Gourmet Collection from Rare Tea Cellar
Fine tea and gourmet ingredient vendor Rare Tea Cellar in Ravenswood has earned a reputation for sourcing a treasure trove of culinary delights that are featured in restaurants across the city. The team has compiled a special (and spendy) assortment of some of its most popular and sought-after offerings in a limited edition gourmet collection, including sardines with lobster oil by Groix & Nature, Acquerello seven-year rice, Belazu preserved lemons, and much more.
Vito & Nick’s 100th Anniversary T-shirt
Perhaps 2020 is the year where people outside of Chicago finally come to grips that the city has more than deep-dish pizza. Vito & Nick’s — one of the city’s best sellers of tavern-style pizzerias — just celebrated its 100th birthday. The shirts take that Old Style logo and make its their own.
Buy: Pick them up in person at Vito & Nick’s, 8433 S. Pulaski Road.
12-Piece Signature Collection Chocolat Uzma chocolate box
Chicago chocolatier Uzma Sharif has earned a reputation for making some of the city’s most sought-after and unusual chocolates, infused with South Asian flavors like Kashmiri Chai (black tea cardamom), Zeera (honey cumin), and Kala Namak (black salt caramel).The world’s largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery that opened downtown last year has even tapped Sharif as its official chocolatier.
Buy: Chocolat Uzma ($32)
@chicagobars Chicago Drinking shirt
Prolific and anonymous local Twitter personality @chicagobars, a passionate, at times snarky advocate for the city’s watering holes and music venues, is raising funds for drinking establishments that are struggling to stay solvent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most proceeds from sales of a navy-and-white t-shirt that reads “I support drinking beer @chicagobars” will go toward local businesses. “Actual font is a little bit prettier than the picture,” the website promises. A new design is more dynamic with “over 60 of your favorite tavern licensed Chicago spots tastefully word clouded into a classic Chicago six-pointed star.”
Tomato thokku and zucchini achaar from Thommy’s Toddy Shop
Thommy’s Toddy Shop aims to bring modern South Asian flavors into Chicago kitchens with jars of pickled and preserved local seasonal produce. Professional chefs and amateur cooks tout the brand’s tomato thokku, an heirloom tomato pickle with garlic, ginger, jalapeno, kari leaves, mustard seeds, and Kashmiri chili. Fans also adore the zucchini achaar, which marries a more traditional style of pickles to an ingredient that’s not common in India.
Shaken//Stirred virtual cocktail class at Kumiko
At-home imbibers can take cues from the experts at Kumiko, the West Loop drinking den that’s also one of Chicago’s (and, arguably, the world’s) best bars. Attendees will get a thorough evaluation of the ever-present question — shaken or stirred? — through the lens of a classic cocktail. Classes range from 30-45 minutes and come with a recipe card, as well as ingredients and garnish for two cocktails (one shaken, one stirred).
Buy: Kumiko ($60)
Harold’s Chicken Shack face mask
Fans of the wildly popular South Side fried chicken chain can boost the brand — beloved by celebrities like Chance the Rapper, Hannibal Buress, Kendrick Lamar, and many others — with 2020’s favorite accessory: the face mask. Though it doesn’t bear Harold’s name, those in the know will instantly recognize the embroidered logo of a hungry, hatchet-wielding man chasing a chicken. Wearers are sure to impress their friends and be the envy of their rivals.
Epic Spices gift card
This West Town spices store is where many restaurant get their seasonings. The store is where to go when that sad supermarket chili powder won’t do it. Call ahead for spices to be ready for a quick pickup. This is the place to go for home cooks who want a well-stocked pantry.
Buy: Epic Spices gift card, available in-store, 1725 W. Chicago Avenue.
Visual Measuring Cups from Welcome Industries
The seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of this year has done a number on the brains of many, especially those who are juggling work, children, and cooking at home. For those who’d rather not rummage around measuring tools or peer at minute labels, Chicago-based design brand Welcome Industries created Visual Measuring Cups — intuitive kitchen tools shaped to resemble the amount they contain: a one-half cup looks like a cup sliced in half, rather than a smaller version of a cup measure, for example. Simple and smart.
Indo Gift Box from Bumbu Roux
Bumbu Roux, currently operating out of a ghost kitchen in Goose Island, is among Chicago’s most unusual restaurants — a vehicle for chef Chris Reed to explore the culinary legacies of his Louisianan father and Indonesian mother. It’s also the city’s sole remaining Indonesian restaurant, but with the help of Reed’s Indo Gift Box, fans can bring the joys of acar kuning (yellow pickled vegetables), sambal bajak (Indonesian chili sauce), bumbu kacang (peanut sauce), and serundeng (toasted spiced coconut flakes) into their own kitchens.
Buy: Bumbu Roux ($50)
Green dad hat from the Hideout
Inimitable performance space and dive bar the Hideout has an ideal lid to mask pandemic outgrowth, awkward amateur dye jobs, and at-home haircuts: a no-fuss forest green dad hat with a logo embroidered in tan stitching, and adjustable strap. There’s plenty of other hip Hideout swag too, from bandanas and baby onesies to stickers and totes.
Buy: The Hideout ($18)
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