Sunday, December 20, 2015

Oak + Char - Brunch

As I mentioned when I came the last time, it is interesting to see a familiar address in a different guise.  I came t, and really enjoyed Oak + Char for dinner, I decided to come and see how their brunch stacks up.  I will first state that while the dining room has a large window on one side, as it is on the south side of the dining room, if it is daylight, it makes little difference whether it is morning or afternoon/evening because the reflected light is about the same either way.    The menu had a variety of small plates and larger plates, they don't have as much an international flair as the dinner menu does.  The menu would not look unfamiliar to anyone that is familiar with brunch places.  They also don't have a lot of sweet on the menu.  They do have coffee, juice, and breakfast cocktails.  I had both a coffee and a cocktail.  Their coffee is Colombe and is very good.  I prefer my coffee black, so when I drink coffee, I would prefer if to be good and flavorful.  This is very much so.  For my breakfast cocktail, while they did have a Corpse Reviver #2 which is my favorite breakfast cocktail, I decided to go with a Beermosa, a beer and orange juice mixed drink, in this case, the beer was a New Belgium Snapshot, which is an unfiltered wheat beer with natural citrus flavors, and the beer was freshly squeezed.
For my main course, I went with Biscuits and Gravy, which used a biscuit that was crusty on the outside and very fluffy on the inside.  It was topped with perfectly cooked and seasoned Scrambled Eggs, and surrounded with Sausage Gravy.  Everything was very good individually and together and while I might have preferred a little more pepper in the gravy, that was a very small issue because if I had thought I could have gotten away with licking the pan, I would have.

I enjoyed brunch here, the food was very good, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the space looks nice.  Having said that, if I had to choose between going for brunch and going for dinner, I would choose dinner.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Club Lucky

In order to talk about this, I need to tell a story.  When I was growing up in Michigan, there was a really good Italian restaurant one town over from where I grew up, Terry & Jerry's O Sole Mio.  It was so good, as a matter of fact that it was recognized in the Michigan Mobil Travel Guide (the Zagat Guide of the time).  It was a great thing because we got to know some really good Italian food, but it was also kind of sad because when the owners retired and it closed, there really was no other Italian restaurant anywhere close.  We have visited the few Italian restaurants, in the Mid-Michigan area and have been disappointed, so I decided to look in Chicago for an Italian Restaurant that was similar in style.  There are a lot of really good Italian restaurants in Chicago, I wanted to find a neighborhood restaurant that felt like a family run place with a good menu and really good food.  I had heard about Club Lucky in Bucktown, a while ago, a friend, also from Mid-Michigan, lived around the corner from it and really liked it.  A coworker recently recommended it as well, so I finally decided to try it out.  As it's located in the neighborhood, it's a bit off the beaten path, and unless you are going there, it isn't somewhere you will pass by everyday, so it's pretty easy to slip your mind.  Located on a corner, it is easy to find, but it is a block off the main drag.  Arriving there, I had a small annoyance.  I am a cyclist and I like to lock up close to where I am going.  There were no bike racks in the area and the street signs around the building had "no bike parking" signs on them and there didn't look like there were any other street signs on that side of the street.  I ended up locking up across the street.   Entering the restaurant felt like going back in time.  Club Lucky was apparently a dance club in the 1940's and they have seemed to have kept the style.  (The bar side of the club was also a hardware store that hid a speakeasy during prohibition). The entrance is in the lounge area and you have to walk through the lounge to get to the dining room.  I sat in the lounge, which has the same menu as the main dining room because I didn't want to take up a two top with just myself in a busy restaurant.  While I didn't dine in there, I did take a look.  There were booths on one side and two tops on the other with larger round tables in the middle of the room.  The floor was tile, the walls were wallpapered, and the furniture was wood.  Everything had an old style to it.  As I was eating, I noticed that the restaurant had a lot of regulars that the staff knew and many of whom could order without looking at the menu.  While the menu was pretty classic and I probably could have picked a classic Italian dish that was on the menu, I wanted to see the breadth of what they had.  I started things off in the lounge with a cocktail, The Pamplemousse, the French word for Grapefruit.  It started with Creme de Pamplemousse and mixed with it, Hendrick's Gin, St. Germain, Lemon, and a fresh Thyme garnish.  As might be guessed, the drink has a strong grapefruit flavor.  It was very refreshing and I liked it.
For my appetizer, there were a few things that interested me.  There was calamari on the menu prepared three ways, but they were all for two.  While I was interested in them, if I had ordered calamari, I wouldn't have had room for anything else.  I decided to go with an Italian classic, Sausage and Peppers.  The sausages were large and were served with Red and Green Peppers and Tomatoes in a White Wine Brodu (Vegetable Broth).  There were also pieces of garlic that were so tender that chewing was pretty unnecessary.  It was flavorful, the Italian sausage was spicy (although one was a little overcooked) and the vegetables were tender, sweet and flavorful.  It was also a pretty large serving which made me wonder how I was going to feel at the end of the meal.
The standard Italian menu is set up in four sections, the antipasti (appetizers), pasta, the entrees that aren't pasta, and dessert.  I knew going in that I wasn't going to get something from every section and while the pasta is supposed to be handmade every day and very good, I was interested in what they did other than pasta.  I was hoping to find something that wasn't pasta, but had pasta served as a side.  I succeeded.  I went with the Veal Francese, Breaded Veal Cutlets served with Mushrooms and Butter in a White Wine Sauce over Pappardelle Pasta.  I like veal in any case, but this veal was very good.  It was very tender and flavorful in the buttery wine sauce and there were a lot of very good mushrooms.
When I was ordering, I thought, I've ordered 2 orders of meat, I should probably get a vegetable, so i ordered a side of Broccoli.  What I didn't expect was to be served an entire bush.  It was very freah and green and lightly coated in melted butter.  It was also a lot bigger than I expected.  I did eat it all, but at this point, I knew that dessert was going to be an effort.
 Frequently with dessert, if a restaurant has a good Amaro list, I will frequently order an Amaro as a digestif.  As Amaro are Italian, it shouldn't be a surprise that they have a good Amaro list.  I decided to go with Averna.  It is sweet, thick, and has a gently herbal bitterness, with a caramel finish.  It went down very smoothly and went well with dessert.
While most people think of Tiramisu or Cannoli when they think of Italian desserts, and these were on the menu, the dessert that I chose was a classic in it's own right.  I went with Profiteroles which were filled with Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream, topped with Hot Fudge, and sprinkled with Powdered Sugar.  Profiteroles are basically cream puffs.  The pastry was light and airy, the ice cream was sweet, with a good vanilla flavor, and what more can be said about hot fudge.  I finished very full and satisfied.  I enjoyed my meal here and would definitely keep it in mind for classic Italian fare. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spritzburger - Brunch

I would say that I had been to Spritzburger before, but that is not precisely true.  I had been to its predecessor, Hearty for both brunch and dinner (while I did take pictures for brunch, I didn't actually blog about it.  Spritzburger is in the same location as Hearty was and has the same owner/chefs, the culinary team The Hearty Boys, but they have added an award winning Pastry Chef, Gale Gand, and their dinner menu has become more burger and housemade soda, instead of comfort food, focused.  Walking into the new restaurant, I noticed that while there were a few changes, it was still very similar to Hearty.  The color scheme is still light blue although the wallpaper on the back wall has changed and a large image of a chipmunk drinking a soda was added.  The wallpaper actually creeped me out a little.  It is a classic design that is either a bee or a flower, but if you look at it a certain way, it could also be an evil clown.  The white tablecloths that had been on the tables are now removed.  The classic bar is still in the dining room and, in addition to the sodas, the cocktails are also bubble based.  They also list a carbonated Malort shot on their menu which I think would be about the worst way that you could serve Malort because it would allow the flavor to linger, but that's me.  The brunch menu has not changed monumentally (the chocolate french toast is no longer on the menu), but that was kind of expected because there are some standards that are expected on a brunch menu.  We started things off with some Cheese Curds which were White Cheddar and breaded with Cornflakes and served with a Red Pepper and Artichoke Dipping Sauce.  The cheese was good and the breading had a nice crunch to it.  The curds themselves though, did not squeak when you bit into them.  This is a minor point because they did taste good, but the best cheese curds squeak even after being fried.  The dipping sauce though was perfect and I would have eaten it on its own.  It had a nice pepper flavor with a slightly tart finish from the artichoke.  There was also a pronounced garlic flavor and a chunky texture which very much complemented the artichoke and pepper flavors.
For my "main course", I had a spin on a shepherds pie called, surprisingly enough, the Shepherds Pie Redux.  It included a Cheddar Scallion Scramble, Sausage Gravy, and Root Vegetable Hashbrowns.  It was also served with a Biscuit and some excellent Strawberry Butter.  The hashbrowns were crisped and finely shredded, so I really couldn't tell if there was more than root vegetable in the hash.  I could definitely say though, due to the sweetness, that there was definitely sweet potatoes in it.  The cheddar scallion scramble was like an omelette buried under the hashbrowns and the sausage gravy added some meaty flavor.  There was, however, very little actual sausage in the gravy which would have been an improvement.  It was good, it could have been better.  It was nice to see the transformation of the space.  The food was still good and the staff was friendly and I will definitely make back for dinner.