Thursday September 27, 2012
Some claim that they've never had a bad piece of pizza. And though my childhood memories of roller rink concessions prevent me from agreeing wholeheartedly with that sentiment, I'll concede that it's difficult to make such a great food truly bad. Not only that, but decent pizza can be found in just about any town, big or small. But for our pizza obsessed nation, finding a "decent" pie is not good enough. Countless blogs, forums and sites across the interwebs are dedicated to the discovering the best new pizza parlors and upholding the merits of the most legendary pie purveyors. Of the latter, there are a few places held with particular reverence. Some combination of obscurity, eccentricity, meticulousness, and (usually) undeniable quality makes these places irresistible to pizza pilgrims willing to wait in long lines, put up with odd hours or venture off the beaten path for transcendent pizza. I've waited out the line at Frank Pepe in New Haven for ultra-thin crust tomato pies and the white clam pizza from the coal-fired ovens. I've made the trek to Midwood (Brooklyn), only to arrive at Di Fara during Dominic DeMarco's naptime (when the restaurant closes for 2 hours). I waited. It was worth it. My latest pizza adventure with a high degree of difficulty/obscurity took me to Burt's Place in Morton Grove, a suburb northeast of Chicago.
Just a few quick words on the Burt behind Burt's Place. That would be Burt Katz, the white-bearded septuagenarian who has been in the Chicago pizza making racket since the 1960's (his beard dates back almost as far). Most notably, he started Gulliver's and Pequod's before selling them and opening Burt's Place in 1989. Katz and his friendly wife Sharon by and large run the kitchen and dining room with the help of a few others.
There was no line spilling out the door at Burt's Place. If you aren't looking for it, you might not even notice it, tucked away on a relatively quiet suburban street. There was no line because Burt's Place is reservations only (a week in advance is suggested). And if you think that's peculiar pizza protocol, they take it a step further: you're supposed to place your order in advance as well. From a practical perspective, Chicago-style pizza takes an eternity to cook, so this merely cuts down on the customers' waiting time. The procedures in place do add to the mystique and slightly exclusive feel, though. This theme continued as the host shot us an incredulous look at the door when we incorrectly guessed the name under which the reservation was made (the guy who secured our reservation came late). Mercifully, we got it right on the third try, and the man allowed us to proceed into the small, dark dining room and to our booth. The walls are covered with old telephones, clocks, microphones and ancient radio equipment. Only 7 or 8 booths line the walls with a couple of tables in the middle where no one sat. After a round of beers arrived, as well as a large salad for the whole table, our pre-ordered pies arrived a mere 10 minutes after we had been seated. After the server doled out slices, he placed the pizza pans on the tables in the middle of the room, where he could access them whenever he spied an empty plate. As for the pizza, it's not quite like any other Chicago-style pie you'll encounter. Sure, the caramelized crust shares some similarities to that of Pequod's (which I'm still a big fan of, for the record), perfectly browned around the edges and medium-thick. But it's less buttery than your average pan pizza, and it retains its delightful spongy texture, unlike some Chicago-style pies which collapse under the weight of toppings piled high. They also don't cover their pies with layers and layers of cheese. In fact, there might have been more sauce than cheese on any given slice - no complaints here: I'm a sauce guy. Toppings were also top-notch, from pepperoni and fresh cut vegetables to their superior sausage. Perhaps the best part: this hefty Chicago-style pizza did not result in a food coma or regret. Though certainly a hearty meal, the members of my dining party and I did not leave feeling like we required a nap or wouldn't be able to eat for days. This is a testament to their superior ingredients and light touch with the butter and cheese.
Needless to say, there are plenty of great pizza joints in and around Chicago. You might find a pie you like as well or better than the ones you'll find at Burt's Place. And if you want to watch a Blackhawks or Bears game while sharing pitchers and pizzas with a large, rowdy group of friends, Burt's is not your place. But for a pizza pilgrim, it's well-worth at least one trip for the slightly bizarre but nonetheless delicious experience.
Thursday August 16, 2012
Bon Appétit's 10 best new restaurants in America, the no cell phone discount, and considering the Sidecar on today's web roundup.
Today in food items that no one asked for: alcoholic sandwiches.
There can be only one: Chicagoland burger enthusiasts were baffled by erroneous internet rumors that Kuma's Corner would open a second location in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumberg, reports Serious Eats.
Esquire interviews the barkeep at Hollywood institution Musso & Frank Grill. Among topics covered: the virtues of the Sidecar, celebrity guests from Rock Hudson to Harrison Ford, and dolts who order cognac with coke (they exist).
Know your classic cocktails. The Sidecar: brandy, triple sec, sweet and sour, and sugar rimming the glass.
Tuesday May 8, 2012
The much anticipated 2012 James Beard Restaurant
& Chef Awards dropped last evening. Taking home top honors
(San Francisco) for Outstanding Restaurant, Tom Douglas for
Outstanding Restaurateur (Dahlia
Lounge and Etta's in
Seattle) and Daniel Humm of Eleven
Madison Park (NYC) for Outstanding Chef (national). The
regional winners are listed below. Follow the link for the complete
list of 2012 James
Best Chef: Great Lakes
Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic
Best Chef: Midwest
Best Chef: New York City
Best Chef: Northeast
Best Chef: Northwest
Sitka & Spruce
Best Chef: Pacific
Best Chef: South
Hot and Hot Fish Club
Best Chef: Southeast
Five and Ten
Best Chef: Southwest
Best New Restaurant
Tuesday May 1, 2012
Restaurant magazine has announced its annual list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants. Taking top honors again is Noma of Copenhagen. The US doesn't possess a restaurant in the top five, but it does boast the most restaurants on the list with 8 total. They include …
Per Se, NYC (6)
Alinea, Chicago (7)
Eleven Madison Park, NYC (10)
Le Bernadin, NYC (19)
Daniel, NYC (25)
Momofuku Ssam, NYC (37)
The French Laundry, Yountville, CA (43)
Manresa, Los Gatos, CA (48)
Not a lot of burger bars, doner kebab stalls or barbecue joints on this list, but who are we to argue with "the opinions and experiences of over 800 international restaurant industry experts." For the complete rundown, follow the link.
Monday April 16, 2012
We all love finding a great restaurant off the beaten path. There's the thrill of discovery, and with great obscurity comes greater street cred (or internet foodie cred, at least). And though many famous restaurants can rest on their laurels and rely on a steady stream of tourists, some restaurants are iconic and well-loved for good reason. And sometimes there's no better way to acclimate yourself with a new city than eating the most obvious indigenous foodstuff. With Eating the Obvious series, I'm taking a look at these restaurants and foods. This week's entry: deep dish pizza from Pequod'sin Chicago.
Neapolitan pizzerias are spreading like wildfire across the country. The nation's trendiest pizzerias are shipping in their ovens from Naples and refuse to slice your pizza (as it will comprise their integrity and bring shame to their Nonna). But with all due respect to Neapolitan-style pizza in general (which I'm a fan of), when I'm in Chicago, my first priority is deep dish. Whereas you can find great wood-fired thin crust pizza just about anywhere, it's damn near impossible to locate a quality molten-hot, multi-layered pan pizza outside of the Windy City.
On my last trip to Chicago, my gracious hosts were kind enough to fulfill my deep-dish desires by chauffeuring me to the Lincoln Square Pequod's. (There's also a Morton Grove location that looks, in the best way possible, like your parents' basement circa 1975). With a couple of obligatory inches of snow on the ground, the Bears playing on the many TV's and pitchers of Leinenkugel, it was shaping up to be a sufficiently Chicago-y evening. After ordering and enduring a moderate wait - this ain't no cracker-thin, brick-oven affair that's done in 3 minutes - our sizeable pizzas made their way to the table, nearly bubbling out of their hefty cast iron pans, which were lowered onto whale-shaped cutting boards. (It's called Pequod's for a reason, folks. Who said pizza joints can't have high culture?) Toppings are top-notch, with thick-cut pepperoni and real-deal sausage that'll make you wonder why you ever bothered with the rubbery mystery meat from your average delivery place. The unquestioned star of the show, however, is the signature "caramelized crust," and the deliciously charred cheese around the edges. It's every bit as good as advertised. Slipping into a deep food coma after attempting to polish off 3 pieces, I can't decide whether it's a curse or a blessing that I lack regular access to something as wonderful as legit Chicago-style pizza.
Wednesday April 11, 2012
USA Today recently released their list of the Top 10 Steakhouses in USA. Their choices include the likes of Bern's Steak House (Tampa), Bob's Steak & Chop House (Dallas), Bobo's (San Francisco), Carnevino (Las Vegas), Chicago Cut Steakhouse (Chicago), CUT (Beverly Hills), Elway's (Denver), Emeril's Delmonico (New Orleans), Peter Luger Steak House (Brooklyn) and The Precinct (Cincinnati). Read the full article here.
Quite an impressive selection of meat museums there. Just for fun, let's compare it to our own list of America's 10 best steak houses. There's some overlap, but a few of our differing selections include The Angus Barn (Raleigh), Bone's (Atlanta), Cattleman's Steakhouse (Oklahoma City) and Charley's Steak House (Orlando). You can also browse our picks for the best steak houses in the country in our top 50 cities.
Raining on the steak parade, Josh Ozersky explores The Problem with The American Steakhouse in a great article for Time magazine:
"Steakhouses are not really restaurants, in the strictest sense: they are closer in spirit to strip clubs or spas, places to which people repair for rites of costly self-indulgence, Dionysian revels in which stressed businessmen or harried wives vent their hypertension."
Agreed that the hefty pricetag at some steak houses is more for the nostalgia and the "No Girls Allowed" clubby atmosphere than the actual quality of the beef.
In case you missed it, our resident chef, Dixie Wong, posted a fantastic Beef Wellington recipe to celebrate the return of Mad Men.
When manning the grill, always ask yourself: What would Hank Hill do?
Thursday April 5, 2012
The results are in! Food and Wine has named its Best New Chefs of 2012. With only 10 winners, all of whom boast impressive culinary credentials and white-hot restaurants, this ain't no Daytime Emmys or insiders' awards club. This year's recipients of the prestigious honor include:
Erik Anderson & Josh Habiger, The Catbird Seat (Nashville, TN)
Danny Grant, RIA (Chicago, IL)
Dan Kluger, ABC Kitchen (New York, NY)
Corey Lee, Benu (San Francisco, CA)
Jenn Louis, Lincoln (Portland, OR)
Cormac Mahoney, Madison Park Conservatory (Seattle, WA)
Bryant Ng, The Spice Table (Los Angeles, CA)
Karen Nicolas, Equinox (Washington, DC)
Rich Torrisi & Mario Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties (New York, NY)
Blaine Wetzel, Willows Inn (Lummi Island, WA)
For full bios of this years winners, stroll on over to Food & Wine.
Monday February 20, 2012
Happy Presidents' Day! The magnifying glass on the commander-in-chief has allowed us much insight into the dietary habits of our presidents over the years. For instance, there's Bush Sr.'s hatred of broccoli, LBJ's love of Fresca, Obama's chili recipe and Reagan's obsession with jelly beans (even the much-maligned licorice ones). In honor of Presidents' Day, here are a handful of links on presidents and dining.
Eater NY maps out the restaurants visited by U.S. presidents in " The Guide to Presidential Dining in New York City." Obama and Clinton seem to have a lot in common (Red Rooster, Il Mulino), as did Reagan and Nixon (Le Perigord). Rugged individualist Teddy Roosevelt did his manly dining at Delmonico's. Other restaurants of presidential pedigree rounding out the list include Blue Hill, Daniel, 21 Club and Gabriel's.
Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice ranks " America's Five Greatest Foodie Presidents." Somewhat suprising: wiry and generally unpleasant Andrew Jackson's love of cheese and lavish banquets. Less suprising: Taft was into food.
Serious Eats Chicago gives a thorough rundown of " How to Eat (And Drink) Like President Obama in Chicago." The commander in chief's favorite spots include Manny's Deli, Rick Bayless's Topolobampo and Valois Cafeteria.
David Faries of The Dallas Observer conducts a fictional foodcentric interview with former presidents.
And for your viewing edification, Bill Clinton (played by the late Phil Hartman) takes a few moments to mingle with the people at McDonald's near the White House on Saturday Night Live. INTERCEPTED. WARLORDS!
Friday February 10, 2012
With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, the internet is saturated with romantic recipes, alleged aphrodisiac foods, swanky restaurant suggestions and bizarre heart-shaped edibles of all varieties. Enjoy these deliciously romantic (or romantically delicious) links.
John Mariani of Esquire compiles a list of the The Restaurants to Take Her On Valentine's Day. Romantic restaurants making the cut are Daniel (New York), The River Cafe (Brooklyn), Picasso (Las Vegas), Azul (Miami), Jean-Louis (Greenwich, CT), Fleur de Lys (San Francisco), Spiaggia (Chicago) and Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford, CA).
For heartless bastards looking to go in the opposite direction, Eater Chicago scouts restaurants ideal for breaking up in, preferably before Valentine's Day. Among their choices: Kuma's Corner, Carnivale, Violet Hour and White Castle. On the contrary, White Castle has gone out of their way to promote romance with their Share the Love Valentine's Day Photo Contest. The winner gets a romantic dinner for two -- and hopefully a proposal involving a chicken ring.
Food Republic gives sound advice on How to Eat and Drink on Valentine's Day, categorized by relationship status. Single? "Bar. Bar. Bar. Bar. Bar. Bar. Bar. Go to a bar. It will be filled with other single people."
It wouldn't be Valentine's day without slightly off-putting heart-shaped food items. Slice (Serious Eats) illustrates How to Make Heart-Shaped Pizza and Heart-Shaped Pepperoni. If you feel compelled to make heart-shaped hard-boiled eggs (how sensual!), Bon Appétit has you covered. And finally, here's heart-shaped Nutella ravioli from Recipe Girl.