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Jun 4, 2013 04:55 PM

Itinerary critique, please (for example, to Ruxbin, or not to Ruxbin, that is a question)

Two of us are lucky enough to have a few days in Chicago shortly, and really looking forward to eating up the city. Wondering what you think might be missing from my itinerary, or swapped out for something different. Note: Drinks are unimportant in my decision-making. We like counter seating to watch food prep. Not looking for overly fine/pretentious dining. We're adventurous eaters (bold flavors, ethnic influences, offal, etc. welcomed), but not feeling a need to eat Asian food this trip, though curious about trying Fat Rice.

So, with 4 b'fast, lunch, and dinner slots available, here's what's in play:

Breakfast (keeping this fairly light):
1. Xoco
2. Hendrickx
3. Southport Grocery
4. Toni/Do-Rite/Intelligentsia

1. Publican Quality Meats [edited to clarify]
2. Sepia
3. Blackbird
4. ?

1. Storefront Company
2. Purple Pig
3. ?
4. ?

On the consideration list are Ruxbin (?) and Nightwood (?). And, as mentioned above, Fat Rice. (I'm not interested in a long wait there, so if that happens, any back-up places in short walking or public transportation distance you'd recommend?)

And to be squeezed in, either as snacks or meals: carefully selected Italian beef, hot dog, and a deep dish pizza, of course.

With thanks, I ask: Thoughts?

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  1. >> Wondering what you think might be missing from my itinerary, or swapped out for something different.

    Well, you have question marks for three of your meals, so those are missing, LOL!

    I would advise doing two of your lunches at Portillo's (for excellent Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs) and at a deep-dish place (Lou Malnati's, Pizano's). They're really more than snacks, so you may as well plan accordingly.

    You don't have any of our unusual, delicious contemporary Mexican cuisine. Xoco really doesn't count. I'd consider a dinner at Mexique, or Frontera Grill, or Salpicon.

    Hendrickx is not worth a stop, IMHO, unless it happens to be convenient to where you're staying. I've found their baked goods rather disappointing. If you're willing to go a few miles from downtown for great pastry, check out Floriole, our very best bakery for pastry as well as wonderful breads. Also worth checking out is Vanille Patisserie, which has two locations, one a few blocks from Floriole, the other in the French Market just west of the Loop. Toni, which you mention, is worth a stop and very convenient to the Loop location of Intelligentsia. Chicago has some excellent French pastry!

    The Publican is not open for lunch, although they serve brunch on weekends.

    I've never heard of the Storefront Company. If you go there, please report back on how you liked it!

    I would not plan on the Purple Pig for dinner, because the waits to be seated are absolutely horrendous (2+ hours). Now, *that's* a place you might want to squeeze in for a mid-afternoon snack, to avoid the long waits at traditional mealtimes.

    I'd consider another of our small plates places for another meal (dinner or lunch); the best include Sable, GT Fish & Oyster, Perennial Virant, Province, and Mercat a la Planxa.

    >> On the consideration list are Ruxbin (?) and Nightwood (?).

    I haven't been to Ruxbin, although I've heard lots of praise from others. (It's near the top of my list of places to try.) Nightwood is very good, although it may be geographically inconvenient and there may be places that are equally good but more convenient to where you're staying and/or spending time. Which you didn't mention, so there's no way to tell whether it's close by or far away. ;)

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      nsxtasy, thanks (as always) for your helpful commentary.

      Question marks deliberate to have flexibility and leave room for suggestions.

      We'll be staying in the Mag Mile area, but unafraid to take public transportation for excursions, especially as we enjoy seeing different neighborhoods. (Will travel for food!)

      Purple Pig is the only place mentioned I've previously tried, and loved it. Definitely planning to try to go during an off-hour.

      My mistake: lunch planned for Publican Quality Meats.

      I'm concerned that Sepia, Storefront Company, Ruxbin, and Nightwood might overlap too much in approach. That's partly why Fat Rice appeals to me...but not a potentially long wait there.

      Friends who know my dining preferences well say I'll find Bayless' restaurants to be overrated (or just not to my desire), so Xoco will be the baby step.

    2. I really like Ruxbin—I'm constantly impressed by the how delicious and inventive the ingredient combinations are. If you are willing to go a bit early, you can get in line and be assured a table in the first seating.

      2 Replies
      1. re: W42

        Very much agree. They are creative, delicious, and well priced.

        1. re: W42

          >> If you are willing to go a bit early, you can get in line and be assured a table in the first seating.

          As another option, if you go there on a Sunday, you can make a reservation in advance. (They only accept reservations on Sundays.)

        2. Consider Doughnut Vault or Firecakes over Do-Rite and also consider Little Goat for a breakfast - not light, but really excellent imo.

          I had an off experience at Nightwood but should probably give them a second chance - Ruxbin is excellent, otoh.

          Publican is a must. Blackbird's lunch is also good. Agree that Sable is also quite delicious and Au Cheval is probably my favorite lunch/brunch in town.

          Hendricks, imo, is the best croissant in town, but I find Chicago's French Pastry scene severely lacking.

          1 Reply
          1. re: uhockey

            Thanks, uhockey. I value your perspective as well. You and I have "crossed paths" in travels a lot, including places in Paris.

          2. I would skip Toni. I went to their original location in Hinsdale and while the pastries were good, I wouldn't consider them memorable. Close to Ruxbin is a pie shop called Hoosier Mama. If you go there on Fridays, they serve 3 pies for less than 10 bucks. Last summer, it was 7 dollars for 3 of them.

            If you don't mind the wait, Ruxbin is a delicious place to visit. It's not particularly Asian but does incorporate Asian ingredients in their cooking.

            As for Fat Rice, every time I pass by their place, there's a long line waiting outside. It might be different on a weeknight.

            7 Replies
            1. re: sunbrace

              I would skip Hoosier Mama Pie Shop. I found their pies to be nothing special whatsoever, except for the prices, which were exorbitant.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Nonsense. Hoosier Mama's pies are outstanding, quite possibly the best in the U.S. at the moment, not only because the Alinea-trained Ms. Haney does extraordinarily fine butter pastry, but because they use excellent fillings and offer many unique and interesting styles based on their historical research into classic pie recipes from the midwest. It's a fantastic shop whose prices represent the quality that goes into them. It would be most unfortunate to take one minority opinion as gospel in this case.

                1. re: Morton Arthur Eaton

                  I'm not impressed with their pies; apparently you are. My opinion is not gospel, but neither is yours. It would be most unfortunate to take ANY opinion as gospel, including yours as well as mine. Each of us can choose to buy and try them, or not. Those of us who have tried them can then decide for ourselves whether or not we like them and whether or not we think they are worth their high price. I've tried them and I've found that, despite the high prices, they're no better than the pies found in neighborhood supermarkets. Others are welcome to agree or disagree.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    No opinion is gospel; some, however, are definitely outliers.

                    But I heartily endorse your idea of the OP trying them for him/herself.

                    1. re: Morton Arthur Eaton

                      I liked Hoosier Mama. I liked Bang Bang Pie, as well. Tough call as to which is better, though I'd tend towards Bang Bang for the Biscuits.


                  2. re: Morton Arthur Eaton

                    Couldn't agree more, Morton Arthur Eaton. Vinegar chess pie! Espresso cream! Banana cream! Rhubarb! I've never gone wrong with an order there, really. Paula Haney is a huge talent and her pies are worth every penny.

                    1. re: mcgeary

                      Hoosier Mama also does very well with savory pies and quiches.

              2. Fat Rice is pretty close to several other options -- though some will be just as crowded/reservation averse as Fat Rice. You may also want to avoid them on account of their style of cooking with respect to your dining preferences/existing plans. Still, they include:
                Yusho (accepts reservations and would probably be necessary on a busy night; you already said you're inclined to pass on Asian)

                Longman & Eagle (no reservations; expect crowds and long waits; great, meat-centric small plates, though, with a stellar cocktail program)

                Cafe Lula (accepts reservations and would probably be necessary on a busy night; the 'sister' restaurant to Nightwood and as equally focused on farm-to-table cooking)

                Masa Azul (accepts reservations, though they're probably not necessary; Mexican with lots of small plate options)

                Owen & Engine (accepts reservations, though probably not necessary; great British food in a really nice setting; probably a cab ride away from Fat Rice)

                1 Reply
                1. re: danimalarkey

                  This is very helpful, thanks! I've got L&O and O&E on my list as potential back-ups.