Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Winchester - Brunch

The saying goes that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.  To paraphrase, you shouldn't judge a restaurant by it's outward appearance.  I went to The Winchester for brunch recently and with the exception of the unusual sign (It's stenciled in blue on a off-white painted brick wall and overlaps to make 4 rows), it looks pretty plain.  It is a square brick building painted off-white.  It has a nice patio off to the side under some trees, but it is not really obvious.  The interior continues the plain look with more brick walls painted white.  The dining area is divided into two rooms with the coffee bar on the left with several wall mounted high tops with light wood for the table and the bar stool seating.  The main dining area (again more white brick and light wood furniture has a few paintings on the wall and curtained windows.  There is a large communal table in the center of the room with tables for smaller parties around the room.  We were a party smaller than 12 and were seated in one corner of the main dining area.  The menu was not huge with everything on one page and while I will generally get something sweet to share with the table, there really wasn't anything that fit that bill.  While the menu was small though, there were some gems on the menu.  I started out with a side of Bacon which was thick, crisp, chewy, sweet, and brought a smile to my face.
My main course did not precisely fit the definition of American unless you define it as a mixture of things from all over the world, none of which are precisely classic ethnic dishes.  I had Fried Black Rice with Butternut Squash, Coconut Curry, Peanuts, and a Fried Egg.  I have noticed that when I go out for brunch, I will frequently have a hash of some sort.  While I didn't think about it when I ordered it, this was also a hash.  It didn't have the meat that a hash generally does, but it did have pan fried starch (rice and squash) with protein (peanuts) and the egg.  It was crisp and savory with a lot of flavor and a little spice.  It was really good and has taken its place among my favorite dishes.

I really liked brunch here.  The staff was friendly and the food was very good, I would easily recommend it to friends, warning them not to be put off by the plain appearance.   

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dusek's

If a restaurant is outside places that I normally travel, it can sometimes take some time to get there even if it's a place that I really want to got to.  I was interested in Dusek's when I first heard about it.  Owned by the group that also owns Longman & Eagle, Parsons Chicken and Fish, and The Empty Bottle, I knew that it was going to be a hit, but it's in Pilsen, which while in Chicago, is a little farther than I normally like to bike.   I decided one nice summer evening however, that it was a place I wanted to visit and the weather was great, so it was time to visit.  Dusek's Board and Beer was originally founded by John Dusek in the 1890s as a bar and boarding house in Thalia Hall.  It was refounded after several years dormant at the same location as a three part operation, Dusek's, a beer focused restaurant influenced by the original German, Czech, and Eastern European settlers in Pilsen, Punch Room, the basement Cocktail Lounge, and Thalia Hall, the music venue.  The restaurant space is divided into two large rooms, with hardwood floors, brick walls, and prints and photographs from the 1890's.  The big windows in the front provide a lot of natural light with additional light provided by chandeliers with Edison lights.  The bar serving beer and liquor is at the bar in the front room, but there is an additional bar in the other room which is used for preparing charcuterie and cheese boards.  I was seated next to this bar in an area with a lot of natural light.  While the ham plates and the cheese plates both sounded really good, I started things off with Chicken Fried Veal Sweetbreads which were served with Blue Cheese Gnocchi, a Barigoule (a vegetable dish from Proven├žal, typically made with artichokes, braised in a seasoned broth of wine and water) of Carrots and Celery, Aerated Ranch, Hot Sauce Gel, and Dill Pollen.  Many people are put off by the idea of eating sweetbreads, which are an animals' thymus glands.  I have little fear of trying something new, but I remember once, a waitress comparing them to chicken nuggets.  With the fact that these sweetbreads were breaded and chicken fried, the comparison was very apt.  In fact, with the hot sauce, the ranch and the blue cheese, this was like boneless buffalo wings.  The carrots and celery added a vegetable flavor to the dish which also enhanced the comparison of the sweetbreads to chicken.  The ranch was aerated to thin it somewhat and the hot sauce was gelled to thicken it so that the sauces had similar consistencies.  Everything worked together very well and it was a great starting dish.
I decided, with my entree, to try a dish that honored the ethnic background of the original settlers of the neighborhood.  I ordered Choucroute, the Alsatian version of Sauerkraut and Sausage, which was served with Sauerkraut, of course, but also with a Duck Confit Leg, Pork Belly, House Garlic Sausage, Confit Red Potatoes, Caraway Pickled Apples, and a side of Country Mustard.  I like sauerkraut and sausage, but this went one step beyond with the addition of the additional meats.  It was all very tender and flavorful and I liked the fact that it was served on an antique-style plate.  Everything was very good, but the surprise of the dish was actually the apples, which were served as little balls.  The pickling added a sour flavor to them, with a little nuttiness from the caraway, but their flavor was completely unlike a normal apple.  The texture of the apple, however,  remained which added some textural variation to the dish.
While my entree honored the original settlers of the neighborhood, my dessert honored the people who are here now.  I ordered  Roasted Chili Churros with Dulce Cream, Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet, Candied Mango, Sweet Chili Lime Oil, and Mango Gel.  The churros were served warm which provided a hot-cold juxtaposition between them and the rest of the dish.  They were sweet and spicy while the sorbet was bittersweet, and the dulce cream was sweet and sour with a little spice with the candied mangoes and the chili lime oil.  It was a great dish that was well presented, tasted great, and honored the history of the neighborhood.

While it is a little further than what I normally like to travel (on my bike) for dinner, it was very good and I really enjoyed the space and the food.  I will definitely have to return in the future.
 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Breakroom Brewery

As many of my friends know, I like beer.  Generally though, I like to eat when I am drinking which makes a brewpub with good food ideal.  There are several breweries in the Chicago area that fill that description.  A brewery in Albany Park, Breakroom Brewery,  aims to add to that number with good beer and the opening chef from The Gage, Dirk Flanigan, a gastropub that I also really like. Built out of the front of a woodshop that specializes in building bars, Heineman Bar Company, the space really shows it with a beautiful wood bar, barrel high tops, communal tables, and wood booths.  The space has high unfinished ceilings with a stair leading to a catwalk where you can overlook the bar and brewery.  There are windows at the back of the dining area that look into the woodshop over which hang a couple of carved and stained wooden flags.  The brewery is located on either side of the dining room and the kitchen is semi-open and located in the rear corner.  Even the logo of the brewery emphasizes the wood shop, using a large circular saw blade.  There is a chalkboard on the wall listing the beers that are on tap.  Since this was a new brewery to me and they offer tasting portions, I decided to try several to try and get a feel about what they were about as a brewery.  While they did have a couple of high gravity beers (high alcohol), it seems that they emphasize beers that are drinkable, most falling in the 5-6% ABV range.  I ordered Alise, a farmhouse ale, Mo' Psyche, a rye IPA, and Galactic Dream, an American pale ale made with Galactic hops.  They were all pretty good, but I preferred the Rye IPA.  It was hoppy, as IPA's are supposed to be, but it was not a hop bomb and was very drinkable.
Looking at the food menu, the first thing that I noticed was that the prices were lowere than I would expect.  This implied to me that the dish sizes were on the small size so I thought I should order an extra course to make sure I had a full meal.  I found, when everything arrived at once, that I was mistaken and the prices were just low.  I started things off with Pork Rinds which were served with Sea Salt, Pepper, and Malt Vinegar on the side.  I am generally not terribly impressed with pork rinds (or Chicharones, depending on where you are), but after having the pork rinds at The Publican, I am willing to give them a shot when I see them on the menu.  These pork rinds were served in a lunch bag and were pretty warm.  They were curled up as you would expect from pork rinds and were of all different sizes, some pieces being pretty big.  They were also crunchy and melted in your mouth.  The salt and pepper added a little spice to the porky flavor and while it was good on its own, the malt vinegar added some tang.
I also ordered a Scotch Egg, which is one of Chef Dirk Flanigan's signature dishes.  Normally a Scotch egg consists of a Hard Boiled Egg wrapped in Sausage, Breaded, deep fried, and served with some country mustard.  This was essentially an Asian vegetarian version.  It was served on a cutting board over salad greens.  The hard boiled egg was wrapped in Lentil Falafel and fried.  It was topped with country mustard, but also had a dish of Sambal, a Southeast Asian condiment made with Chili Peppers, Shallots, Garlic and Shrimp Paste.  I like lentils in any case, but I think that the falafel made a good substitution for the sausage that is normally used and while the country mustard did add a little spice, the sambal added as much fire as you might want.
My main course made me question my sanity.  I got a Roast Pork Shank with Blue Cheese, Stout Polenta, and Salad Greens and it was enormous.  The Shank was fall off the bone tender, the stout polenta added a richness with a little bitterness from the stout with paired well with the bitterness from the salad greens. and the sweet bitterness from the blue cheese went well with everything else.  With the size of all of these courses, I ended up taking home leftovers which rarely happens.
While I was full by the time I got to dessert, I couldn't pass up dessert and they luckily had something that I thought might be easier to eat after all I had already eaten.  I ordered what they called their House Root Beer Float with Stout.  As they were not presently making a Stout, they substituted a Dunkel, the dark lager version of a Stout, which is an ale.  It also had their House Root Beer and Vanilla Ice Cream.  It was really good.  The dunkel and root beer went together well and with the ice cream, was a perfect combination of sweet and herbal. 

I really liked my time here and I know that I will return, because I have already returned once while they were serving brunch since the first time I came.  The space is beautiful, the staff is friendly and the food and beer are really good.      

Monday, September 7, 2015

Q-tine

I have to admit that I am a fan of poutine.  Poutine, for those that aren't familiar, is comfort food that originated in Canada and, at the most basic level, consists of French Fries topped with Cheese Curds and Brown Gravy.  While it is generally thought of low food, there are several gastropubs in the Chicago area that offer their upscale versions of it, and there was a restaurant, in Chicago, Badhappy Poutine, that has unfortunately since closed, whose menu contained several different types of poutine.  Now, there is a restaurant in my neighborhood that combines poutine with another food with low origins, barbecue.  Q-tine is a restaurant that combines poutine and barbecue, both literally with dishes combining the two dishes, and figuratively with a menu that features both poutine and barbecue.  The restaurant plays up the low origins of these foods by building the order counter out of an old Airstream trailer.  They are also located amidst several popular bars and remain open late to cater to the late night after bar crowd.  
The space is narrow with steel tables and brick walls, one of which is emblazened with an elaborate and faded sign reading Memphis Meets Montreal, noting the hearts of the respective cuisines.  The trailer counter is at the rear of the restaurant. The condiment table follows the low end/retro theme as it is built out of a trailer that might be found being pulled behind an Airstream Trailer.  While much of the restaurant is decidedly retro, there are a few things that are definitely high tech.  The cash register that the counter service uses is a tablet and the menu looks like a huge (about 7 feet by 4 feet) vertically mounted computer screen.
On the menu, you can order barbecue with the standard sides (beans, cole slaw, cornbread) or one of 12 different types of poutine.  You can also though, substitute a Classic Poutine (Fries, Cheese Curds, and Brown Gravy) for the other sides that you would normally get with a barbecue order.  This is the way that I went because, with a restaurant featuring barbecue and poutine, I wanted to try both.  I ordered a Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs, the Classic Poutine, and a Deep Fried Snickers Bar to finish things.  The ribs had the sauce roasted on, but you could get more to add more from the condiment table.  The sauce was slightly sweet with a peppery finish.  There is an argument in the barbecue world about how tender the meat should be.  It shouldn't be fall off the bone tender, but how much pull should it have is the argument.  The rib meat tasted good (as did the sauce), but the ribs were a little stiffer than I normally like.  The Classic Poutine was very flavorful with enough gravy to coat everything, but not enough to leave it swimming.  I am always a little nervous, when I get a standard poutine, because I have had some really bland gravy and cheese curds on unsalted fries.  This was not the case here and it was very good.  The Deep Fried Snickers Bar, a county fair standard, was decadent.  It had a light shell sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with caramel.  The Snickers Bar inside was melted.  It was sweet and gooey with all of the flavors you would expect from a Snickers Bar:  Chocolate, Peanuts, Caramel, and a Peanut Butter Nougat.  It could potentially have been very messy, but I made sure to eat it carefully and enjoyed it a lot.  Located around several popular bars, I don't imagine that it will have a hard time maintaining business and it is definitely a place that I will return to when I have an urge for comfort food.