the sweet part of the city (minneapolis edition)

“I started a list of potential things to do this weekend… so far it’s 15 restaurants, 3 bars, and 3 actual things to do.”

Thus began an email from Anna (mentioned here before for her Pimm’s cup skills) on the eve of our spontaneous weekend jaunt to the Twin Cities. And I’m proud to report back from an amazing tour de food in the Land of the Wind Chill Factor. We ate and we ate and we did pretty much no actual things and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Here are the highlights:

Eplegaarden:

I made a pitstop near Madison at “da apple orchard vit da Norvegian exposure” (per Eplegaarden’s absolutely hilarious website). There was a sign on the gate that said “No cell phones. Loud talking disturbs the Norwegians.” I came away with 23.5 pounds of apples. Orchards exacerbate my struggles with moderation. Applesauce recipe forthcoming.

Muddy Waters:

This cafe-by-day/bar-by-night was our first stop when we rolled into town. This place has some of the best bar food in MPLS  and the chances are good that you’ll spot a local celebrity before you finish your beer. We saw nobody famous on Friday but were consoled by Mushroom and leek pizza, pear and brie grilled cheese, and pints of Surley.

Bryant Lake Bowl:

Cozy pub/ brunch spot in the front, old-school bowling alley in the back. Lemon ginger scone + broccoli and white cheddar scramble. But it was way too beautiful a day outside to stay inside and bowl.

Common Roots Cafe:

Afternoon coffee with a view…

Jasmine Deli:

Every time I go to Eat Street, a famous row of restaurants with cuisine from all over the world, I swear I will go somewhere other than Jasmine Deli. But I always end up at Jasmine Deli because it’s my favorite. “Okay,” I think, “at least I’ll order something different this time.” And then I get the exact same thing as always, noodle salad with tofu. I can’t really imagine a trip to Minneapolis without it at this point. I’ll bear the title of creature of habit with relish.

Sebastian Joe’s:

Can’t pass up ice cream at S.Joe’s, even on a winteresque evening. With great trepidation, I forwent my favorite (banana/coffee/chocolate chip) in favor of pumpkin spice. I was not disappointed. Neither were Anna and Daniel.

Victor’s 1959 Cafe:

The upper midwest is probably the last place on earth that I’d expect to find delicious Cuban food. Joanna was not surprised. “Cubans are everywhere. We’re taking over,” she tells me. My black beans, scrambled eggs, and guava jam were gone before I could take a picture for the blog.

Isle Bun and Coffee:

Having been raised on homemade, from scratch and nothing but the best, I’m choosy about my cinnamon rolls.  Isle Bun is one of the few places I’ve ever had a roll that can hold a candle to Grandma Kay’s. The smell at this place was enough to make me want to drop out of med school and convince Joanna to open a bakery with me. But that’s probably just the sugar talking.  When I asked the bakery lady to box up a roll to go so I could take it back to my people in Chicago, she said, “you better put it in the trunk so it survives the drive without you eating it.” Sage advice.

As I hope is abundantly clear by now, you should let me know if you ever find yourself in the fine city of Minneapolis and in need of a restaurant rec. I’m your girl. If you want ideas for actual things to do, though, you’re on your own.

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Best of Chicago Eats

A year in Chicago has brought a year of fantastic food exploration. Here, we share with you some of our favorite eats of the past year.

Khandhari Naan: pistachio stuffed naan bread – India House

Smoked SalmonCalumet Fisheries

Pineapple Agua FrescaLa Chapparrita

Caldos and Churros with Homemade Soft Serve – Xoco

Carrot MuffinMedici on 57th

Down on the Farm Sandwich: goat cheese, muhammara, carrots, raisins, mixed greens, and honey mustard on french bread – Z&H MarketCafe

Birria (goat meat) with Homemade Tortillas and Fire-Roasted SalsaBirreria Zaragosa

Housemade Chorizo Taco with AvocadoCarniceria y Taqueria Tierra Caliente

Lemon PancakesKingsbury Street Cafe

Kale & Cornbread and Carrot Salad SandwichSoul Vegetarian East

Polish fare (blintzes, pierogi, stuffed cabbage) –  Podhalanka

BrisketSmoque

Rib TipsLem’s Bar-B-Q

Oatmeal Shake and Chifrijo: black beans, chicharrones, veggies, and rice served served with chips – Irazu

Brunch in general – Lula Cafe

Grilled Sourdough Bread and Housemade JamNana Organic


Tater Tots with Barbecue, Honey Mustard, and Ranch Dipping Sauces – Skylark

Late Night Tamales– The Tamale Guy

Falafel Bowl with all the toppings – BenjYehuda

Seared Scallops with Tomato Chutney and Madras Curry Oil – Sable Kitchen & Bar

Mango Sorbet & Pistachio Ice CreamPaleteria el Portillo

Big Dat Glazed DonutDat Donut

Dat’s one big donut!

Let us know some of your favorite places!

The Great Taco Tour

My sister Erica visited Chicago this weekend. Her visit was merely 36-hours short, and I wanted to show her the best that this city has to offer. To most that would probably mean hopping around Museum Campus, snapping photos at the Bean in Millennium Park, and ascending 95 floors to see the cityscape at the Top of the Hancock. But I know my sister better. Just as much as I love finding delicious eats in the most unassuming of places, she loves it more. In fact, I’d attribute most of my seeking out hole-in-the-wall establishments behavior to Erica, who is always on the lookout for new adventures.

With this in mind, the plan I hatched for our Saturday afternoon in Chicago was a no-brainer: a food tour of Little Village and Pilsen, predominantly Mexican neighborhoods southwest of downtown. Although Erica and I grew up in Miami and have were privy to as many Cuban pastelitos, Venezuelan arepas, and Colombian steak joints as any girl could dream of, Miami does not have a huge amount of authentic Mexican fare. When I moved to Chicago last year and had my first encounters with tantalizing taquerias that for $2 or less pile juicy meats and fresh cilantro into warm corn tortillas, I was enamored, and I wanted to let my sister experience these great eats herself.

Erica and I successfully ate our way through three establishments, although if our stomachs had allowed for it, we would have gladly entered the door of every charmingly decorated taqueria that dotted the streets. Here’s what we ate.

First on our list: La Chaparrita (2500 S Whipple St), a small grocery store and restaurant, and a true gem. The first wonderful touch is the delivery of fresh cut limes and radishes to each table—cool accompaniments to the hot and spicy tacos. The two sauces they provide are also delicious, the red one a smokier chipotle sauce, and the green one more of a spicy salsa verde.

We ordered three tacos: el pastor (pork and pineapple), suadero (beef shoulder), and tripa (tripe, a.k.a. pig intestines). The latter choice was made with the most hesitancy, but we channeled our father’s adventurous organ-eating spirit and boy, were we glad we did. The crispy tripa taco was by far the winner amongst the three, reminiscent of the best kind of bacon, and the one that if when I return, I will definitely re-order.

We balanced our carnivorous fare with a mushroom huarache. Huaraches are pan-fried masa cakes shaped like the sandals from which they get their name. They are topped with refried beans, green and red salsa, cheese, and a choice of meat or vegetable. The mushrooms had an unctuousness that paired incredibly well with the salsas and soft huarache. A definite must-order for vegetarians!

One of my favorite parts of the meal was the cebollas asadas, small grilled and salted onions. Erica and I joked that any high-end small plates restaurant would get away with charging $10 a pop for these, but dear La Chaparrita served us this sweet, salty, slightly soft, yet still crunchy side dish for just $1.50. I can still taste them.

To top it off, we got a pineapple agua fresca, which was simply fresh pineapple whirred in a blender to create a refreshing and frothy drink to wash down our meal.

Our next stop was just a short walk around the corner: El Milagro (3050 W 26th St). Some may know El Milagro for their brand of tortilla products that grace the shelves of Chicago grocery stores, but they also have a restaurant where they put their delicious tortillas to the finest of uses, as well as serve up some tasty tamales. I had been here once before, and I ordered us my favorites from that trip: a taco with pork in salsa verde and two tamales, one with beans and cheese, and a sweet one with pineapples and pecans. Everything was as delicious as I had remembered.

We were pretty stuffed by this point, but there was still room for dessert. The Churro Factory (2214 S Wolcott) beckoned, a small outpost off the side of Cermak Road with a no-frills menu of churros, chocolate and coffee drinks, and a wildly amusing contraption they use to stuff churros with fillings such as chocolate and dulce de leche. We ordered two churros, one plain, one cream-cheese filled, and an iced Aztec chocolate drink that was spiced with cinnamon. Even though we barely made it through half the order, it was the perfect cinnamon-sugar coated ending to an afternoon of gustatory exploration.

I can’t encourage you enough to check these restaurants out yourself, be it marathon-style like Erica and I, or by drawing your visits out over time. I dare say these are some of the best tastes of Chicago you’ll find!

On brunch

I was born at 11:28am. I’d like to think this is why I have a deep fondness for the mid-morning hours and particularly for the sweet and savory smorgasbord that is brunch. I’m almost certain that I entered the world with a keen sense of the fluffy omelettes, jam-smothered toast, and foamy lattes being consumed all around me. To this day, I find great comfort, security, and serenity in brunchtime.

Brunch is leisure. It is protected time in which the day is still young and full of possibility. Time is counted not in minutes but in the number of coffee cups that have been refilled.

Brunch welcomes everyone to the plate. Salty smoked salmon, slices of juicy fruit, drippy eggs, rich pastries, crisp salads, and bubbly champagne are merrily married.

Brunch is friendship. It is the meal over which I have shared some of the best conversations with people dearest to me, allowing sweet memories to languidly linger in pools of maple syrup.

Summertime has afforded both Kate and I the privilege to brunch at some delightful cafes around Chicago in the company of good people (hello Claire and Danielle!). My brunch philosophy: 1. Find friends who like to share 2. Order two items—one sweet, one savory 3. Split them down the middle 4. Savor it all with a big cup of coffee.

Kingsbury Street Cafe — 1523 North Kingsbury Street. The sweet: lemon pancakes with blueberries, creme anglaise, and lemon sauce (ah-mazing). The savory: goat cheese, spinach, and mushroom omelette with roasted tomatoes and homemade multigrain baguette toast.

The Bongo Room –1152 South Wabash Avenue (South Loop location). The sweet: vanilla bean brioche french toast with vanilla bean sauce, strawberries, and chocolate crumble. The savory: artichoke, pesto, roasted yellow pepper, feta, and avocado omelette with dill potatoes and multigrain toast. Pardon the mishmash of a photograph.

Medici on 57th – 1327 East 57th Street. Abandoned my philosophy and went to town on the incredible homemade pastries: carrot muffin and chocolate croissant. Side of fruit for good measure. Enjoyed on their rooftop patio.

I am always on the hunt for new brunch spots, so please share your favorites!

Wishing you many beautiful brunchtimes.