Labor Day dates back to 1894 when President Cleveland wanted to reconcile the labor movement over the Pullman Strike. I’m betting 95 % of Americans (self included) just see this holiday as the traditional end to summer, or even the start of NFL season. For me, it meant a glorious three-day weekend exploring some new restaurants I had never been to. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about dining out- so here is a collection of a few places that are worth the stop in.
Nightwood is in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. I had heard about this place because the same owners run Lula Cafe in Logan Square. There is a comfy outdoor seating area with a fireplace available, a main dining room, and an open bar area that oversees the kitchen area. What drew me to this restaurant was that the menu is written new each day based on what is local and fresh. Not to mention they make their own pasta daily. Dessert options go something like this…a plate of hot cookies or maybe a bowl of Klug Farm Concord Grapes with Oaxaca chocolate. Service was great, atmosphere extremely pleasant and the food was worth the trip! (Pictures are from their website).
How could one not go with a cup of hot cocoa from a restaurant called Hot Chocolate? Mindy Segal, owner and chef, has been nominated the past four years for Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard organization. The picture above is “medium hot chocolate;” which has a touch of dark chocolate and caramel with a homemade marshmallow. Here is a link on the Martha Stewart Show of Mindy making Banana Brioche Monkey Break with Smoked Almond Toffee Brittle. The restaurant serves contemporary-American food. Something for everyone is here. Warm brown colors and an inviting long wooden bar make for the perfect lunch spot or dessert.
I had read an article in Chicago Magazine this month that said if you haven’t heard of Stephanie Izard and her new restaurant, then get out from under the rock.” Stephanie won Top Chef Season Four. Out of the last six seasons of Top Chef, Stephanie is the only female who has won. Can I get a fist pump in the air?? It took her two years and I’m sure a boat load of money to open this place- it is enormous and beautiful! Not to mention packed to the gill. The menu is divided into three sections- ten dishes each: vegetarian, seafood, and meat. Service was stellar and was able to sample six of the dishes. Stephanie blends her own wine, her own daily sausage, and offers four unique seats overlooking the kitchen line. Book ahead if you want reservations and be sure to order the kohlrabi/fennel/blueberry salad.
To have this place only 1.5 miles from my front door- sweet bliss. The chef, Mr. Di Benedetto comes all the way from Sicily. How he landed in River Forest I don’t know. Maybe Mt. Etna was getting ready to blow, maybe he thought Americans needed some real Italian food, whatever the reason…kiss to both cheeks.. GRAZIE MOLTO.
The menu had so many choices it was really difficult to narrow down what to order. First up, zucchini flowers stuffed with melted goat cheese and topped off with a spicy tomato sauce. Then this came out of the kitchen….
That was my mushroom risotto on the bottom, with a duck breast/blueberry mixture on top, followed by a separate layer of three smoking wood briquettes all folded up in this tinfoil animal contraption. Thank god the waiter dismantled it for me. Not sure what brought that all on, all I know is that risotto was some kind of creamy goodness. Six seats overlook the kitchen and you can watch the whole production going on. Gaetano himself was there in the kitchen cooking, chatting it up in Italian, then coming over and checking in on the meal after I had devoured most of it. The restaurant was purely charming and feel like I have a place to go to when I’m not eating my Mom’s Italian food.
Jessica Oloroso recently opened her own gelato store. She has been making gelato for several years and used to work with Stephanie Izard before the win on Top Chef. There are really specialized flavors at this shop. Sesame fig chocolate chip, Mexican Hot Chocolate and Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel are just a few. There are a few seats in the store to sit at and the hot pink decor grabs your eye as soon as you walk in. After sampling a few flavors, I went with the goat cheese cashew caramel. The good part is that this store is a small drive for me, or I’d be in there a little way too much. Jessica uses fruit that is in season and this gelato is made the real old-fashion way, not from a mix.
After all that eating out, one meal had to be cooked at home. Stay tuned for Labor Day Weekend Lobster.