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Aug 7, 2000 03:09 PM

Road Warriors Chicago Eating Guide

  • s

Road Warrior Chowhounds have multiple challenges: find good food, keep within the travel budget (except if you have clients along), find new places, replicate that at-home feeling with familiar surroundings wherever you go while sleeping in strange hotel beds.

We go to Chicago quite a bit. As a native New Yorker, I actually prefer eating in Chicago than Manhattan.

Here are our Chicago favorites:
Cutting Edge: Blackbird, outer loop. (see elsewhere on this board). Not fusion, not French, maybe new American--although the skill of preparation and ingredient combinations are far more than any other place that calls itself New American. but skip dessert (pricey, small portion, although tasty). I haven't eaten anything so fresh or well prepared since Paris and Barcelona last year. moderate portion sizes, expensive, good value.

Breakfast--Tempo Cafe, Chestnut and State, 24 hr. The place to eat if your hotel is in the River North area. Not just fresh OJ, but fresh squeezed to order. Beats the hell out of Lou Mitchell, hands down, except no real maple syrup, and cash only. owned by the same people as own...

Santorini's in Greek town. Upscale Greek. moderate price. most everything is good (they do overcook the grilled squid). An absolutely incredible value is the high end cabernet from Greece at about $28--this is an extraordinary steal. portions are huge. share stuff. And they take reservations. Great soups change daily.

French: Savarin. Only one visit, but pretty darn good std French. The staff advised us to avoid weekends

Italian: There's so many, we've focused in on these few:

La Scarola, Grand Ave, outer loop. good to vg homestyle Italian, huge portions, moderate prices, small, make a reservation.

Johnny's Italian Beef--out in Elmwood Park, North Ave west of N. Harlem. there is a line every minute they are open, but it always moves fast. Worth the trip from downtown (or on the way in from O'Hare) for Italian Sausage, Italian Beef, and transcendental Lemon Italian Ice--those 3 things, thats all they sell--suggested by the folks at...

Domino's Bakery, 1700 block of N. Harlem, great Italian cookies and pastries. Owners are elderly, and keep limited jan-feb hours while in FL. We were steered there one night when eating at...

Palermo's, 95th st just west of Cicero, in Oaklawn--10-15 min south of Midway. moderate prices. It was St.Joseph's day, and Palermo's gave us complementary St. Joseph's cakes after dinner. They were so good, we asked who made them, and that's how we discovered Domino's Bakery, above. Back to Palermo's. If you are NY pizza person, forget the pizza. Takeout all day, dining room dinner from 4:00 PM. (hey--its only ten minutes into Indiana and the Eastern Time Zone). vg veal & pasta. Try the Pasta Cristina--fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and cappelini baked briefly together; veal milanese, broccoli rabe, sausage & polenta. About the Palermo's begat story: Several years ago, we were stopped at a traffic light on Garfield near the interstate (a very very rough neighborhood between Midway and I-90 to Gary)... Bob--my partner, peruses the road map. The truck driver stopped next to us shouts down and inquires "Are you lost? D'ya need help?" Bob looks up and fires back "Where's a good Italian restaurant?" Meanwhile the light changes. The truck driver shouts "95th and Cicero" and hauls ass away. We see from his tailgate that he's driving a restaurant supply linen truck!

J.C.'s--Cicero Ave, Alsip, 15-20 minutes south of Midway. Huge, inexpensive homestyle Italian businessman's lunch, good for stoking up before going for often delayed Midway outbound flights

D'Agostino's, Diversey and N. Harlem, Elmwood Park. moderate prices. Small, great, slightly upscale (no pizza) neighborhood Italian in an old house, husband and wife chefs. make a reservation. You will be the only non-heighborhood folks there, as is true of Palermo's, Johnny's and J.C.'s .

Gianotti's, Cumberland and Lawrence (actually two locations, this one is less than $10 taxi from O'Hare). Italian steakhouse, exc prime steaks and veal chops, sausage and broc rabe, decor like a 1970's Vegas hotel, not cheap, reservations wise at lunch or dinner. If you feel oppressed by the decor (as some Zagat readers do), then admit that you don't understand the reality that births the concept of "Camp". Quintessential Chicago experience. forget dessert. Go hungry, or make sure you have a frig' in your hotel room.

The most helpful articles at the Chicago Tribune site are the recurring series about "Where the Chefs Eat". They tell you a lot about a particular Chef, valuable info about evaluating his/her own restaurant, and yield up chef's leads to other good places.

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  1. Wow.

    What a nice list of places that I've never been! Thank you.


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      Seth Ditchik

      Try the Savoy Truffle (1466 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago;(773)772-7530). A real chowhound find--$26 6-course prix fixe. No menu; Chef Wendy Gilbert tells you what she's cooking, and you eat it (she'll accomodate vegetarians if asked). And you'll be glad you did. The place is only open Wed.-Sat., and tiny, so reservations are essential. BYOB. Friends took me here last time I was in town on business, and I'm definitely going back next time I'm in Chicago.


      3 Replies
      1. re: Seth Ditchik
        Steve Drucker

        I'm intrigued about the Savoy Truffle.

        Any more info? what do they serve?

        1. re: Seth Ditchik
          Steve Drucker

          Below is a link to a review describing Savoy Truffle.
          On the next trip we make when my wife is with me (she has more enthusiasm than I do for fusion in general), we're going to try it.

          Read this review...

          I won't know about the food itself until we try it, but The Savoy Truffle Chef (Wendy) has got so many other things right, I've got to see for myself what's going on there.

          Thanks again for the tip.


          1. re: Seth Ditchik
            Clifford Abrams

            Yikes! Was hoping the Savoy Truffle would not be revealed. Oh well...

          2. Great message, Steve. And yes, chefs (even ones who try to project a hoity-toity image for themselves) do tend to be chowhounds fer sure. Lots of chefs come by this site, in fact.

            hey, for breakfast, my friend Jesse is always raving to me about Lou Mitchell's (the branch at Jefferson and Jackson). I've not tried it...comments, anybody?

            other breakfasts recommended on my chicago sheet are:
            Walker Brother's, valois in hyde park, and the ORIGINAL Original Pancake House near Lincoln Park

            2 Replies
            1. re: Jim Leff

              Lou Mitchell's is pretty darn good. You'll have to contend with a wait, though. Their toast is fab, and they make their own marmalade. The most popular items are the "skillets," but I prefer simpler fare.

              I'm biased when it comes to Valois. During my 4 year sentence at the University of Chicago Penal Colony, I was the first customer of the day, on a regular basis. [Some Hyde Park old-timers have 3 squares a day, here.] Its definitely worth a visit. [N.B., not for the food, necessarily.]

              In the Tritown Area, I'd recommend Leo's, Bite, and Flo. [In no particular order.] Bite, at least, has brunch specials that change regularly.

              Oh, I almost forgot. The Wishbone on Washington is worth a visit. "Southern Reconstructionist" fare. [Chicago laments the loss of the original.]


              1. re: Erik M.

                I agree with Wishbone, Bite, and Leo's. Across the street from Flo's is Bialy's cafe--much cheaper (much less trendy atmosphere)and better food (at least the french toast is). Watch out for the fresh squeezed o.j. though unless you are a hard-core pulp lover--it's juice you can chew. I would also add Hilary's Urban Eatery (HUE) to the breakfast list (good for lunch and dinner too).

            2. bad news. I believe that Savarin just closed, before I ever had a chance to go. (a friend works at Blackbird, and i believe they had a large going away party for john savarin last night, with other chicago chefs in attendence.)

              if you want really good french food when you hit the city, try the often overlook Aubriot in Lincoln Park. It's well worth the price, and the soufle is topnotch. It's fairly traditional, though, so be prepared for strong flavors no excess garnishes.

              The best, lowkey breakfast, as far as i can tell, is at Sweet Maple on Taylor street. Limited menu, not gourmet but not plain diner food. Everything I've had there has been excellent.

              1. j
                Jane Benkendorf

                Hi Steve:
                This is a question actually not related to any comment
                on the board, but I thought you might know. There is
                a fresh fish market down around Canal Street that all
                the Chicago Chefs go to purchase their fish....Do you
                know what the address/phone/hours are by any chance?
                Thank you.
                PS Looking for Lobster for my birthday and won't
                be back in New England!!!