Food & Dining -: Pub honors its inner Brit

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Pub honors its inner Brit
Jul 28th 2011, 07:00

Owen & Engine is a 10-month-old gastropub with charming British decor, a beer list bulging with British-style ales and a menu that includes dishes such as bangers and mash and hairy taddie. But chef de cuisine Charles Burkhardt would rather not call the place a British pub, thank you.

"It's definitely got British inspiration," Burkhardt says, "but I wouldn't call the food British. To me, the term gastropub just means using the freshest ingredients I can find and preparing them very simply."

And so the menu boasts a whole grilled trout, which, accompanied with frisee and haricots verts in a sherry vinaigrette and brown-butter sauce, is a dish one might expect to find on the other end of the Chunnel. There's also a pan-roasted chicken with pattypan squash and a delectable pan jus, which would be welcome in any bistro or American restaurant.

But what makes Owen & Engine worth a trip to its uncharming, edge-of-Logan-Square location is the craft that Burkhardt applies to everything that emerges from his kitchen.

The charcuterie platter, for instance, is one of O&E's absolute must-order dishes. Served on what appears to be a circle of tree trunk, the varying selection typically offers slices of intense, pistachio-studded lamb-liver pate, an even better lamb sausage, thick and juicy Polish sausage and the sinful, spreadable rillettes that Burkhardt accurately terms "pork butter."

And except for the occasional slice of imported prosciutto, all the meats are made on the premises, as are the bread-and-butter pickles, the stout-infused beer mustard and the brown bread and lavash that accompany them.

Similar attention is paid to the fish and chips, which is perhaps the best or second-best fish and chips in the city (I give a slight edge to The Gage's version). Burkhardt has his haddock flown in daily, and the pristine character of the fish shines through its golden, crispy batter crust. Along for the ride is a contemporary turn on mushy peas, here a smooth puree of peas and creme fraiche inlaid with chopped whole peas.

Then there is the hairy taddie, which sounds like the name of a first-year Hogwarts student but is actually a Brit brandade of salted cod cakes (haddock, specifically) seasoned with tarragon and chervil and displayed against a backdrop of red pepper and sweet-corn salsa. They resemble crab cakes so closely that the inattentive diner will be surprised by that first bite.

Bangers and mash feature house-made sausages and mashed Yukon golds with a sturdy onion gravy. Bubble and squeak, traditionally a rescued-leftovers dish of mashed potatoes and root vegetables, is made fresh here and oh, what a difference.

Elsewhere you'll find gnocchi, a bit on the firm side but agreeable, especially with soft dabs of goat cheese providing contrast; and a novel surf-and-turf pairing of seared scallops, separated by a peas-and-mushrooms ragout, alongside a towering cube of pork belly â€" a sort of culinary version of Jack Spratt and his wife.

There's also a high-quality burger on the menu (heavenly with English cheddar on a baked-in-house potato bun) and an even better sirloin sandwich with horseradish creme fraiche and rocket greens on a grilled baguette. And on a previous visit I had a very flaky meat pie (think Cornish pasty) stuffed with rabbit. All of these, plus the tasty chicken wings jazzed up with espelette peppers, are also on the pub menu, which is available after 10 p.m.

Crystal Chiang adds solid desserts to the mix, among them a delicious frozen Black and Tan souffle, with a chocolate spongecake base, crisped-rice crown and espresso syrup all around; the sour tang from the beer component sets this dessert off just right. I loved the rhubarb crisp, whose season has sadly passed; that dessert has been replaced by Eton mess (yep, that's the name), a British layered confection of cooked berries, honey meringue and spiced whipped cream.

Beer is a huge part of the experience, no surprise there, and thankfully the servers can discuss the subject intelligently, or defer to O&E's in-house cicerone. Included in the lengthy list of suds are four cask-style beers, which are held at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees), contain no additional carbonation (natural fermentation adds some) and is hand-pumped to your glass (the "engine" part of the pub's name).

It's an acquired taste, no doubt, but I find that the reduced carbonation and warmer temperature makes the beer particularly food friendly. Try the cask-style Dragon's Milk (an American stout from Michigan) with that pork belly-scallops combo before you contradict me.

Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine" and on CLTV.

Owen & Engine

2700 N. Western Ave., 773-235-2930

Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Saturday, brunch Sunday

Entree prices: $14-$21

Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V

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Food & Dining -: He's got legs (he knows how to serve them)

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
He's got legs (he knows how to serve them)
Jul 28th 2011, 07:00

If one trend came to define restaurants during the last decade, it's the rise of the locavore movement: the artisanal, small-batch concept of eating sustainable foods grown locally.

The idea is that by supporting area farmers, diners invigorate the local economy while reducing the carbon footprint that comes with transporting produce for long distances.

Bob Chinn's Crab House, bless it, does the exact opposite.

"A lot of restaurants only serve seafood that's indigenous to the area. They're not all that good," said Bob Chinn, who at 88 is as sharp as a man a third his age. "I have some real good product in Australia, in South Africa, Hawaii. So we buy the best from each area â€" 3,000 pounds, every single day."

Then he adds: "We don't serve nothing out of Lake Michigan."

Bob Chinn the restaurant is a lot like Bob Chinn the man: brassy, gregarious, outsize personality, operating with the subtlety of a punch to the solar plexus. Whatever your notion of "large" in relation to " restaurant" was heretofore, multiply by powers of 10 and add a gift shop. This Mother's Day, the restaurant served 4,700 customers.

And yet, the 800-seat restaurant and bar operate with remarkable nimbleness, like watching an offensive lineman pull off the bolero. The moment we entered Bob Chinn's Crab House on a recent Saturday night, we were shuffled from one waitstaff to the next, four total, each leading us through his or her respective territory in the massive dining room.

Finally we were seated by a tall, goateed, convivial fellow in a short-sleeve Hawaiian shirt. He looked so happy. He was a song and dance away from parody.

Immediately, Mr. Jolly Crab Waiter dropped off a basket of olive oil; inside were three crisp rolls topped with enough minced garlic to wallop your sinuses from 5 feet away. With that, you have entered the Bob Chinn Experience: a kitschy ride to the aloha shores via Epcot Center, where you can spend $50 a person without haricot vert emulsions or yuzu foams.

And when you're on the precipice of crying uncle, you look up to see the waiter grinning ear-to-ear, asking with all sincerity: "How about a slice of Luau cake?"

Sometimes it's Chinn himself. He's in the restaurant most nights, the noble patriarch presiding over his kingdom. Born in 1923, Chinn is the son of Chinese immigrants who moved from Minnesota to Chicago during the Depression. The family owned a restaurant in Uptown called New Wilson Village. Chinn delivered Chinese food on foot as a teen when war broke out overseas.

He left high school and joined the Army, serving three years in Europe as part of an artillery unit during World War II. Chinn returned to the restaurant business upon his discharge: restaurant supplies, Chinese carryout, Hawaiian catering. His 14th venture, opened in Wheeling two days before Christmas 1982, was the one that stuck.

To say Bob Chinn's Crab House has since achieved success is like saying Mrs. Paul has sold a fish stick or two. According to the trade publication Restaurants & Institutions, among the highest-grossing independent restaurants in 2009, Bob Chinn's ranked 15th in the country, raking in more than $18 million in sales. Now the restaurant will ship seafood overnight anywhere in the country.

The greater feat is how everyone, once through the doors, transforms into giddy children, compelled to wear plastic bibs that read "I've got the best legs in town" without an ounce of embarrassment. This place is Zoloft via crustaceans. Maybe diners are loosened with Chinn's signature Mai Tais, served in keepsake tiki cups, the drink so strong it could strip paint off siding.

Maybe it's the faux-wharf setting (look left, it's nautical bric-a-brac, look out the window, it's an office complex). Maybe it's that 20 cooks push out food with startling speed. Or the precision of the front-of-house staff members, who empty shell bowls and refill iced-tea glasses with quiet ninja swiftness.

But I have a grand theory. It's in the restaurant's name. There's a reason why it's called Bob Chinn's Crab House, not Bob Chinn's Meatloaf Emporium.

Crabs have the world's highest hassle-to-output ratio among foodstuffs, about three minutes of de-shelling for 15 seconds of yield. You work hard for your money, $55.99 for the tactile, thorny pains of being poked by king crab legs. When the edible portions are finally extracted, it's a moral victory. You have set a goal and you have achieved it. Well done. You shall thusly be rewarded with crabmeat the size of a cigarillo.

Here, the more an ingredient is cooked, prepared or augmented, the less successful the result. Some dishes, such as the Chinese black bean garlic ribs, were downright sloppy. The Hawaiian poke â€" the state's classic raw tuna salad â€" came with only a half-dozen chips, an error in proportion judgment.

Which is why I've never been to Bob Chinn's and not ordered crab legs. There's no reason otherwise. Defrost, serve, butter, happy.

Bob Chinn's Crab House

393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, 847-520-3633
Open: 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday through Saturday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Established: Dec. 23, 1982
Known for: Crab

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang

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Food & Dining -: Phil Vettel recommends

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Phil Vettel recommends
Jul 28th 2011, 07:00

Among the things that say "summer" to me, from a dining point of view, are fresh berries, peaches and soft-shell crabs.

Soft-shell crabs are blue crabs that have shed their old shells (a prerequisite for growth) and are developing new ones. Before the shells have fully formed, the crabs are wholly edible â€" sweet and luscious, with a gentle crunch.

Soft-shell season usually lasts until mid-September, though seasons can be tragically short or generously long, and supply fluctuates throughout the summer.

Which means that even though the following restaurants are among my favorite destinations for soft-shells, there's no guarantee that these gems will be available on any given day. In other words, call ahead.

Big & Little's: Soft-shells don't come much better, or any less expensive, than this counter-service restaurant's superb soft-shell crab po'boy ($9), which nestles the crab in a toasted Turano bun with shredded lettuce, a squirt of lemon juice and a Tuscan chili aioli that adds a persuasive jolt of spice. 939 N. Orleans St., 312-943-0000

Hubbard Inn: Yes, the soft-shell crab sandwich ($18) sounds pricey. But chef Bob Zrenner packs two crabs into this baby, along with spicy slaw. Comes with fries, packed upright into a tin cup. 110 W. Hubbard St., 312-222-1331

Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House: At the original Gold Coast location, chef Daniel Huebschmann likes to keep his preparations simple. "Nothing too overwhelming," he says, "because you do not want to kill the sweet flavor of the crab." A little garlic butter for the pan-fried beauties (Huebschmann buys only whales, the largest size designation) and that's it. Available as an appetizer (one, $16) or entree (three, $48). In Naperville, a trio of hotels (the next-largest size) are pan fried and almond crusted, served with baby arugula, cherry tomatoes and lemon caper brown-butter sauce ($27). 1024 N. Rush St., 312-640-0999; 55 S. Main St., Naperville, 630-548-3764

Naha: Chef/owner Carrie Nahabedian gets creative with her soft-shells; at lunch, there's an appetizer portion of crispy crab in a light gazpacho of "freshly juiced" tomatoes infused with lemongrass and basil ($14), and at dinner, an entree portion arrives with warm spinach, red quinoa and white peaches in a brown-butter vinaigrette ($33). 500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242

Prairie Fire: Chef/partner Sarah Stegner offers a soft-shell crab appetizer on her dinner menu, lightly dusting and frying a single crab with capers, tomatoes and Nichols Farm potatoes ($12). 215 E. Clinton St., 312-382-8300

Shaw's Crab House: These city and suburban seafood specialists offer soft-shells sauteed with lemon butter or garlic butter, or tempura-fried with avocado-mango salsa (two for $32.99, three for $46.99). 21 E. Hubbard St., 312-527-2722; 1900 E. Higgins Road, Schaumburg, 847-517-2722

Sunda: If you like your soft-shells spicy, head here for the Devil's Basket ($18), which sets wok-fried soft-shells amid dried chili peppers, shallots, scallions and toasted garlic. 110 W. Illinois St., 312-644-0500

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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Food & Dining -: British cooking gets its good name back

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
British cooking gets its good name back
Jul 28th 2011, 07:00

Justified or not, somewhere along the way the reputation of British food took a sharp left turn. The stereotype was bland, gray, one-textured food, dreadful when compared to the rich gastronomy of its French neighbors.

This, of course, is now rubbish. Marco Pierre White, Fergus Henderson and Gordon Ramsay redefined and elevated their country's cuisine during the last 20 years. Earlier this year, Heston Blumenthal of three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck, opened Dinner, a London restaurant reviving historic British cooking (spiced pigeon and the English-sounding Savoury Porridge are on the menu).

Still, this doesn't explain how British food got its bad name. When I asked my English friend Charlotte, she said: "We largely have a culture that focuses on food that doesn't come from this country, and there are few places that strive to make high-quality British food."

Take chicken tikka masala, an Indian-inspired curry dish so ubiquitous in England that the country's late foreign secretary Robin Cook once proclaimed it "a true British national dish."

My other friend from London, Mike: "The majority of our grub is designed to be eaten when it's (pouring down rain)," he said, using a salty British term. "It isn't sexy, it's practical."

How does this relate to Chicago? The English/Irish/British Isle-approximate food here lacks any seductive qualities, veering down the greasy, hearty path taken by fish and chips and shepherd's pie. The food's role is to absorb the stouts and lagers the diner is drinking before the booze enters the bloodstream.

Enter the husband-and-wife team of Art and Chelsea Jackson, here to rescue us from cliches. Their 3-month-old restaurant, Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, fills a void you didn't know needed to be filled, offering a classically trained chef's take on blue-collar British cooking. It is my favorite new restaurant of 2011.

Like all kitchen grunts, Art Jackson yearned to become his own boss. He worked at Les Nomades and ran the kitchen at Bijan's Bistro for eight years, but he was always working for someone else. Last year, Jackson and several partners purchased a vacant lot near 18th Street and Racine Avenue, transforming the space into an urban garden in the heart of Pilsen.

He called the garden The Pleasant House, named for a home in Northern England's Yorkshire County where his family once lived. The Pleasant House in Britain evoked only pleasant memories for Jackson, with the memories revolving around his grandmother's country orchard and the large wooden kitchen table where Sunday roasts were served.

For the Jacksons, opening their own restaurant, sourcing ingredients from their urban garden and reconnecting with Art's English roots â€" it all seemed so obvious. And no chef in Chicago had taken on the challenge of workaday British food.

I have no basis upon which to judge authenticity. But my friend Charlotte said there's one question to gauge whether it passes the British purity test.

"I need to know … do they serve pork pies?"

Indeed they do, a puck of country pate floating embryonically in congealed pork consomme, baked in a pie crust and served cold ($10). It's perfectly round and portable, designed for factory workers to get their fill of hearty meats without silverware. Here, with the benefit of fork and knife, you cut through the pie's equator and see three defined layers â€" first butter, then pork jelly, then spiced pork patty, like rings inside a tree.

The accompanying mustard is quite spicy, though still one level below Colman's, the venerable weapons-grade hot British mustard. It's delicious and filling, like an entree-sized version of an hors d'oeuvre.

The pie crust is the common thread, managing to stay both sturdy and flaky when served hot. The Jacksons' take on the pasty ($7.50) follows Cornish tradition â€" steak, potatoes, rutabaga, onions â€" but could've benefited from more aggressive seasoning. But a winner was the terrific chicken balti pie ($7.25), a nod to England's Indo-Pak culture: tender chicken and tomato hunks with garam masala spices of coriander, cumin and Nigella seeds. One taste of Pleasant House's coriander chutney, and I was sitting inside Uruswati on Devon Avenue. Could've fooled me.

Same buttery pie crust, different filling: steak, carrots, gravy and ale, crowned with mashed potatoes, will soothe come cold-weather season ($7.50). It's wholly satisfying to break up the pie, letting it collapse unto the beef gravy, then combining all that richness and textures â€" don't forget the buttered mint peas â€" on one fork.

Friday is fish and chips night ($12). The fish changes weekly, but on my visit meaty Lake Superior whitefish was fried golden and grease-free in a shell as thick as a winter's glove. Touches such as Meyer lemon tartar sauce remind you of Jackson's culinary training. The chips are thrice-cooked, isosceles triangles of fried potato, improved by malt vinegar or a dab of HP brown sauce.

Then there are the Scotch eggs ($4), the hard-boiled egg encased in sausage, breaded and deep fried. They are, and I mean this in the best sense, a glorified Sausage Egg McMuffin.

Word of warning: passersby will easily miss the storefront, which looks like nothing from the outside, as many best-kept secrets tend to be. (It's to the left of Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar.) Once inside, you notice the kitchen is larger than the six-table dining room. This is the first of many good signs.

Pleasant House Bakery

964 W. 31st St.; 773-523-743; pleasanthousebakery.com

Open: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang

facebook.com/cheapeater

The cheap eater

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Food & Dining -: Grand clams

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Grand clams
Jul 28th 2011, 07:00

Sharon Cohen walked through the door of Fish Bar and immediately I regretted asking her to meet here. Fish Bar has a large painted fish on its brick facade; and the smell of fried squid inside catches in the wind outside and carries across Sheffield Avenue.

And yet Lakeview doesn't smell like the ocean, the sweet sting of salt doesn't hang in the air. This is no clam shack. Fish Bar is super fancy. It has air conditioning. We sat beneath an expensive canoe suspended from the ceiling.

Fish Bar was not really evocative of the unpretentious, roadside fried-seafood temples I was promising.

Cohen wore a look of suspicion.

I had told her that Fish Bar made good fried clams, that it was possibly the only restaurant in Chicago that served decent fried clams, which means, fried clams with their bellies still attached and a coat of breading nuzzling its contours so lovingly the bivalve emerges from its hot-oil bath resembling a gnarled semicolon. Cohen is a New England transplant like me, and those are the clams we crave in vain each summer â€" whole belly fried clams.

She tried to rectify this: A decade ago she opened a restaurant in Bucktown named Glory. Her thing was Northeast specialties, fried clams, johnnycakes, coffee milk. Chicago magazine said her lobster roll was the best sandwich in Chicago in 2003. But then Glory closed in 2004.

She brought Shaun Duffy to Fish Bar. Duffy is her chef at Macy's Seven on State, where she's now the general manager. They slid into the booth across from me, and she looked down at the Fish Bar menu.

Eastern belly clams $9, it read.

We got two orders. While we waited, Cohen said she occasionally puts fried clams on the menu at Macy's. "But they're expensive to ship." At Glory she flew in whole belly clams every other day from Massachusetts, battered them in yellow cornmeal, served them in a paper boat. They didn't sell. People didn't understand. But that's an honest fried clam, Chicago.

Howard Johnson lied. So did your neighborhood shrimp hut. A fried clam is not a skinny strip.

A fried clam has a gut.

As we discussed this, and how hard it was to find a real fried clam in the Midwest, and how we had always wondered what Chicago offered in the way of fried clams â€" and how Fish Bar was actually not the only local restaurant that served this elusive whole belly fried clam â€" the waitress arrived with our order.

"Wow," Cohen said. These clams looked like the real thing and even came in a red and white cardboard boat. Yet they didn't overflow the container, as is traditional. "Wow," she said again. "My clams were like three times the size of this! This is … crazy small. I'm out of business? I'm shocked."

She took a bite.

"Hmmm. Small, but good." She reached for the tartar sauce. "If they fancy this up, I'll be angry." She dipped a clam. "Not sweet. But not bad. The clams, though â€" pretty good. You can actually taste ocean."

Duffy, from Texas, made a face: "But this ocean tastes like a million miles away."

"Yeah, but there's no ocean in Chicago."

"So why make them at all?"

"They're not the real thing. It's not like being at a clam shack in summer, eating fried clam bellies at the beach, next to the ocean. But at least they're not clam strips."

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Food & Dining -: How to sidestep extra dining-out calories

Friday, July 22, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
How to sidestep extra dining-out calories
Jul 22nd 2011, 07:00

You know the drill. Go to a restaurant. Order what looks good. Salivate. Have bread. Have olive oil. Have a drink. Have a steak. Eat. Eat a lot. Eat way too much. Fall into a food coma for the rest of the night. Render yourself useless in front of the television.

Get up and do the same thing tomorrow. Gain 5 pounds. Gain 10 pounds. Blame the restaurant. Buy bigger clothing. Go on a diet. Stop going to restaurants. Get on the wagon. Fall off the wagon.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Even though people are becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies, a lot of the rules about healthy eating go out the window when dining out because diners have little control over the ingredients.

Not to fret. There are ways to order tasty, low-calorie vegetarian dishes even if they're not on the menu. Not only are plant-based dishes healthier, they usually are cheaper too. Many chefs can create vegan dishes, either on request or with a little advance notice.

So plaster on a smile, and get ready for the possibility of healthy eating every time you dine out.

As we get deeper into summer, and a plethora of fruits and veggies become available, chefs usually put more vegetable items on the menu. For instance, chef David LeFevre of LA's new M.B. Post (Manhattan Beach Post) supports veggies being treated as main dishes, and not just sides. He explains that most chefs can make great vegetable dishes from common staples in the back. All you have to do is ask.

"If the chef isn't excited to cook for you and accommodate your special request, you are at the wrong place," he says. "No guest should feel as if he or she is a burden. In my experience, letting the chef be creative is the best way to ensure a great meal. That being said, be specific about your likes and wants when it comes to ingredients, but leave the technique up to the chef. For example, if you say you don't like pastas or heavy carbs, but you love green vegetables, fresh herbs and mushrooms, you are more likely to get items you like and the chef will have some parameters to work within."

So what healthy staples are usually on hand?

"You can find potatoes in just about every restaurant kitchen; it is a great vegetable that goes well with others. If you take the potatoes and some onion, carrots and celery, and cut them all to 1/16 of an inch, you can cook them like risotto and the natural starches will thicken the mix."

At his restaurant, guests are encouraged to peruse the "Eat Your Vegetables" section of the menu, which offers 13 different plant options. Among these options are grilled sweet corn with chili and lime; shishito peppers; roasted poblanos stuffed with quinoa; grilled summer squash with in-house farmer's cheese; cumin-spiced grilled zucchini; and sweet corn semolina with chives and Parmesan.

Even if there's not a large vegetable section on the menu, there are still tips that will help you get what you want.

Acclaimed chef Cindy Wolf of Charleston restaurant in Baltimore suggests the following:

Be informative: If you're a vegetarian, say what type of vegetarian you are. If you eat chicken stock, if you're a vegan, if you have a food allergy, etc. The more information you can give, the more likely it is that the kitchen will be set up for success, ensuring a better experience for you.

Talk to your server. Wolf adjusts her menu according to what it is the guests might be eating. "If someone is concerned about dietary needs, that's what my servers are for," Wolf said." They are there to guide them. They know every item and ingredient on the menu."

Be reasonable with your requests. Ask yourself: Does the restaurant have the product? How busy is the restaurant? "We're going to do whatever we can to make the guest happy," Wolf said.

The bottom line is that in many restaurants, it's not hard to get vegetables or opt for low-fat fare. Seek out restaurants that offer fresh food. As Wolf says, "What I believe in is really pretty, fresh product. And that in itself is healthy. I like for things to be as natural as possible. When you talk about healthy food, you talk about healthy product."

How to order healthy dishes

Call ahead: If you are a strict vegan or vegetarian, check with the restaurant â€" before you're seated and studying the menu â€" and ask what items might be compatible with your diet.

Alert your server to special needs: If you're sensitive to oil or salt or have any food allergies, speak up.

Inquire about vegetarian specials: If there aren't specials, peruse the menu to see what vegetables come with the main dishes, so you might center your meal on some of those side dishes or grains.

"Supersize" your order: Whatever entree you order, ask if you can double the veggies.

When meat's on your mind: Look for lean cuts of beef, fish specials, bison, lean ground turkey or chicken. Inquire about the meat's preparation, and see if you can get a smaller portion.

The backup plan: If you don't see anything on the menu and the server isn't being overly helpful, ask if you can get a side of brown rice (or another grain) and beans. Many kitchens have these items on hand and can easily throw something together for you as a decent side dish. Pair with a large salad, and voila â€" a healthy meal.

Be patient: If you make a special request (such as a vegetable risotto or beans and rice), realize that it may take a while to prepare. The chefs want to make the diner happy, but understand that the kitchen can get backed up.

Flavor minus some fat

Fresh herbs, such as cilantro or parsley, and garlic or shallots can enhance flavor with little to no calories.

High-end olive oil, especially infused versions, can add an intense flavor with a dose of healthy fats.

ctc-dining@tribune.com

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Food & Dining -: Eat This!

Friday, July 22, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Eat This!
Jul 21st 2011, 20:14

3:14 p.m. CDT, July 21, 2011

Roast chicken: Jeff Pikus, one-time Alinea hand, now runs the kitchen at Maude's Liquor Bar in the cooler-by-the-minute West Loop. His menu is no-frills Parisian bistro â€" salade Lyonnaise, steak tartare, pommes frites â€" served in a dark, slinky room you'd imagine Edith Piaf would retire to after a set at L'Olympia. Maude's roast chicken ($16) is a dish simple to cook but tough to execute well. Here, it is exquisite. With meat this moist you'd swear it was brined; it's actually seasoned overnight with salt, sugar and Espelette peppers. The half chicken from Gunthorp Farms is roasted gold, served with a spring onion jus you'll drink out of the plate when no one's looking. 840 W. Randolph St., 312-243-9712, maudesliquorbar.com; closed Mondays.

â€"Kevin Pang

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Food & Dining -: The Cheap Eater recommends

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
The Cheap Eater recommends
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

A roundup of recently reviewed inexpensive restaurants and dishes.

Troha's: What began as a saloon in 1917 that offered "a stein of beer and a bowl of chili for 5 cents" is now Chicago's classic shrimp house. Five generations of Trohas have run the family business for 94 years. The turning point was shortly after World War II, when Joe Troha visited New Orleans and returned with a recipe for deep-fried shrimp. Now their three-flour battered shrimp emerges from the hot oil as smooth commas, greaseless with the occasional crispy protrusion. The flavors are surprisingly neutral, which mean you taste the clean flesh of the Gulf white shrimp and not a mouthful of garlic powder. 4151 W. 26th St.; 773-521-7847

Tank Noodle: Our knowledge of the vast and colorful Vietnamese cuisine, let's face it, is likely limited to pho (beef noodle soup) and banh mi (the country's national sandwich). If you want to graduate to Vietnamese 202, Tank Noodle â€" or just pick a place along Argyle Street â€" makes for a fine classroom. Start with bun bo hue (No. 93 on the menu), the spicy beef shank noodles with a tinge of lemongrass. Com tam bi suon cha (No. 98) is pork three ways: grilled pork chop, a ground pork "cake" and braised sliced pork and skin that has the texture of vermicelli. The revelation is heo ram man (No. 189), caramelized slices of fatty pork cooked in a clay pot, bubbling hot with fury, wondrous over rice. 4953-55 N. Broadway; 773-878-2253

Hot Doug's: Who hasn't heard of Hot Doug's? It's not as if it needs more publicity. But I'm making the case that it is the quintessential Chicago restaurant of our time. It's the one place that imbues the humble foods of Chicago's yesteryear with a fine dining ethos. Owner Doug Sohn could lay claim to being a pioneer of the low-foods-high-appreciation movement, taking the simple hot dog and elevating it with pork sausage, curry mayonnaise and a cocoa-powder-rubbed aged goat cheese. Or, add four lobes of creamy foie gras atop a Sauternes duck sausage. At Hot Doug's, you can track how the Chicago hot dog has evolved, and the path it's heading down. 3324 N. California Ave., 773-279-9550

Skylark: The corner bar at Halsted Street and Cermak Road in Pilsen opened eight years ago and somehow became known for one item: its tater tots. Side-by-side with school lunchroom versions, these tots appear to have been fried an extra 30 seconds. They bear a hue one shade east of golden, approaching orange. Bite in, and a high-treble crunch emanates from the molars, then a mellow hit of salt-and-pepper-seasoned potato. You can't help but eat every last one. So are they worth a long drive? Well, that depends on how important tater tots are in your life. 2149 S. Halsted St.; 312-948-5275

Podhalanka: This Noble Square mainstay has been serving Polish food for 28 years, with no signs of emerging from its time capsule anytime soon. Highlights are aplenty: house-made kompot is a refreshing juice of plums and grapes. Zurek is a white borscht with half moons of kielbasa: warm, delicious, tangy through the dill prism. Stuffed cabbage is like Polish boudin, filled with pork and rice in tomato cream sauce. My favorites, though, were the cheese blintzes, the finest version I've tasted: soft blinis crisped on both ends, fluffy farmer cheese with the vaguest savory notes, powdered sugar and a dollop each of sour cream and applesauce. It's a perfect bite. 1549 W. Division St., 773-486-6655

Big Daddy's BBQ: In the restaurant desert that is Gary, Gordon Biffle is barbecuing rib tips and more â€" with an Asian twist. Biffle spent his high school years working at a Chinese restaurant. One day he crossbred barbecue with sweet and sour sauce, and he liked his vaguely exotic concoction. Biffle's dream of opening his own restaurant was born. Now he's the owner/chef at Big Daddy's BBQ, and what's more, last August it was awarded "Best BBQ joint" by Steve Harvey's Hoodie Awards, a nationally televised ceremony honoring black-owned businesses and organizations. 4213 Cleveland St., Gary, 219-888-9592

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang

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Food & Dining -: The Cheap Eater recommends

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
The Cheap Eater recommends
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

A roundup of recently reviewed inexpensive restaurants and dishes.

Troha's: What began as a saloon in 1917 that offered "a stein of beer and a bowl of chili for 5 cents" is now Chicago's classic shrimp house. Five generations of Trohas have run the family business for 94 years. The turning point was shortly after World War II, when Joe Troha visited New Orleans and returned with a recipe for deep-fried shrimp. Now their three-flour battered shrimp emerges from the hot oil as smooth commas, greaseless with the occasional crispy protrusion. The flavors are surprisingly neutral, which mean you taste the clean flesh of the Gulf white shrimp and not a mouthful of garlic powder. 4151 W. 26th St.; 773-521-7847

Tank Noodle: Our knowledge of the vast and colorful Vietnamese cuisine, let's face it, is likely limited to pho (beef noodle soup) and banh mi (the country's national sandwich). If you want to graduate to Vietnamese 202, Tank Noodle â€" or just pick a place along Argyle Street â€" makes for a fine classroom. Start with bun bo hue (No. 93 on the menu), the spicy beef shank noodles with a tinge of lemongrass. Com tam bi suon cha (No. 98) is pork three ways: grilled pork chop, a ground pork "cake" and braised sliced pork and skin that has the texture of vermicelli. The revelation is heo ram man (No. 189), caramelized slices of fatty pork cooked in a clay pot, bubbling hot with fury, wondrous over rice. 4953-55 N. Broadway; 773-878-2253

Hot Doug's: Who hasn't heard of Hot Doug's? It's not as if it needs more publicity. But I'm making the case that it is the quintessential Chicago restaurant of our time. It's the one place that imbues the humble foods of Chicago's yesteryear with a fine dining ethos. Owner Doug Sohn could lay claim to being a pioneer of the low-foods-high-appreciation movement, taking the simple hot dog and elevating it with pork sausage, curry mayonnaise and a cocoa-powder-rubbed aged goat cheese. Or, add four lobes of creamy foie gras atop a Sauternes duck sausage. At Hot Doug's, you can track how the Chicago hot dog has evolved, and the path it's heading down. 3324 N. California Ave., 773-279-9550

Skylark: The corner bar at Halsted Street and Cermak Road in Pilsen opened eight years ago and somehow became known for one item: its tater tots. Side-by-side with school lunchroom versions, these tots appear to have been fried an extra 30 seconds. They bear a hue one shade east of golden, approaching orange. Bite in, and a high-treble crunch emanates from the molars, then a mellow hit of salt-and-pepper-seasoned potato. You can't help but eat every last one. So are they worth a long drive? Well, that depends on how important tater tots are in your life. 2149 S. Halsted St.; 312-948-5275

Podhalanka: This Noble Square mainstay has been serving Polish food for 28 years, with no signs of emerging from its time capsule anytime soon. Highlights are aplenty: house-made kompot is a refreshing juice of plums and grapes. Zurek is a white borscht with half moons of kielbasa: warm, delicious, tangy through the dill prism. Stuffed cabbage is like Polish boudin, filled with pork and rice in tomato cream sauce. My favorites, though, were the cheese blintzes, the finest version I've tasted: soft blinis crisped on both ends, fluffy farmer cheese with the vaguest savory notes, powdered sugar and a dollop each of sour cream and applesauce. It's a perfect bite. 1549 W. Division St., 773-486-6655

Big Daddy's BBQ: In the restaurant desert that is Gary, Gordon Biffle is barbecuing rib tips and more â€" with an Asian twist. Biffle spent his high school years working at a Chinese restaurant. One day he crossbred barbecue with sweet and sour sauce, and he liked his vaguely exotic concoction. Biffle's dream of opening his own restaurant was born. Now he's the owner/chef at Big Daddy's BBQ, and what's more, last August it was awarded "Best BBQ joint" by Steve Harvey's Hoodie Awards, a nationally televised ceremony honoring black-owned businesses and organizations. 4213 Cleveland St., Gary, 219-888-9592

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang

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Food & Dining -: Heartland Cafe powers a neighborhood

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Heartland Cafe powers a neighborhood
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

On a Sunday night, as a lingering July sun set and the soft glow of patio lights twinkled on, here is everything that could be seen or heard from a sidewalk table at the Heartland Cafe: a waitress, a bored camp-counselor type with a Dorothy Hamill haircut, saying "I'm not quite a Buddhist or whatever." A plate of sweet potato fries, looking baked and hand-cut.

A woman in yoga clothes eating by herself, sipping a large glass of red wine. Seven or eight regulars seated in the dark, wooden "Buffalo Bar," watching a baseball game. A pair of elderly couples discussing why their credit cards never work in Rome. A couple with long, matching dreads, the hair so thick it resembles blond PVC pipe.

Also: Fluttering flags representing the United Nations, gay pride, Mexico and others. And a man in flip-flops and a Cubs hat bumming a cigarette off his girlfriend, walking outside the fenced-in patio, untying a pit bull, then strolling with the dog, which sniffed at a small religious statue.

The view from one table.

There are many more views at Heartland, which opened in 1976. "The bicentennial," reminded Katy Hogan, the co-owner, suggesting, … revolution? A gathering of arms against the status quo?

All of it suits the politically minded Heartland, which is on Lunt Avenue in Rogers Park, though fittingly for such a beloved, hard-to-explain, neighborhood-defining joint, its address is Glenwood Avenue, the alleyway that runs alongside the building and borders the Red Line. Asked to explain, Hogan said Glenwood sounded much nicer than Lunt.

Four decades passed.

During that time, the Heartland Cafe, a restaurant in theory, became a community center in practice, though one that still looks like a restaurant â€" a screwball, ramshackle, hastily assembled pastiche of one. Or perhaps, better yet, a neighborhood home among neighborhood homes.

In the fall, a field of pumpkins is scattered on its doorstep, for neighborhood Halloween shopping; after Thanksgiving, in the courtyard, a forest of Christmas trees arrives for sale ("I just like seeing people walk down the street with a tree on their shoulder," Hogan said); during election years, if your politics veer to the left, and you are running for office and have not hit Heartland, your campaign director hasn't been in Chicago long enough.

Harold Washington shook hands here a couple of days before being elected mayor; Barack Obama shook hands here when he was running for the U.S. Senate. What remains of Jefferson Airplane recently played the Heartland's tiny dining-room stage; on her application for work as a waitress, Crystal Bowersox put, under goals, "Winning 'American Idol'"; and Tina Fey, who, in her Second City days, lived around the corner, mentioned Heartland in her memoir.

When I spoke to Fey last spring and said that Heartland had been struggling , she sounded quite c'est la vie. Which is a pragmatic, mature response â€" still, I took it personally, as a little heartless.

Because I live in Rogers Park, and here the ballad of the Heartland is a familiar, bittersweet dirge: Last year Hogan and co-owner Michael James found themselves so mired in money problems â€" from a 20 percent revenue drop, to countless licensing fees coming up for renewal, to a mountain of overdraft charges â€" they put a plea for financial help on the menu. And they raised, through loans from neighborhood regulars, gift card sales and a benefit concert, $50,000. But it was a stopgap, and the pair own a virtual Heartland ranch.

Meaning, they also own the nearby No Exit Cafe and Red Line Tap. When you pay your check, you notice: Heartland has a (very) general store, probably the only place in Chicago where you can buy sardines, whoopee cushions, Paris Review, party lights and toothpaste.

"The realities of the world have forced us (to be) petty bourgeois business people," James said.

Hogan and James met over politics.

She, a member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, raised on the Southwest Side. He, a leader in the '70s activist group Rising Up Angry, from Connecticut, son of a showbiz family (his father co-produced the original Broadway "Man of La Mancha") who would later gather a dozen minor roles in locally shot action movies.

Oh, the food.

The food, which I like, is classic hippie, more a vague, loose translation of what you ordered than what the menu describes, as though someone in back were using pictures of food instead of recipes. The cornbread, taste-wise, has more in common with a chewy rice cake, and yet it's hard to leave alone. The buffalo chili ($9), which has beans and chunks of beef, feels like a dorm meal; the barbecue seitan sandwich ($6) is a dark cranberry-colored alien.

Though Heartland has never been strictly vegetarian, red meat didn't appear on its menu until the '90s.

In '76, it was a "healthy alternative." Now the counterculture has been neutered and folded into the culture-culture, and the former novelty of Heartland's menu (gluten-free, ethically-raised meat, etc.) is the norm. And so nothing lasts.

As Hogan says, "We always found a way in the past. These days, there seem to be fewer ways." Next month, Heartland will celebrate its 35th anniversary. It's smoother than a decade ago, the food is smarter, and at the moment, Heartland lives. It's still the kind of place where nobody wears a new shirt. But when it does close, if it ever closes, Rogers Park should just change its name. What do you think of "Evanston"?

The Heartland Cafe

7000 N. Glenwood Ave., 773-465-8005; heartlandcafe.com

Open: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Established: 1976

Known for: Sweet potato fries, buffalo chili, firebrand politics, sincerity

cborrelli@tribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

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Food & Dining -: Food in jars clearly pays homage to the past

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Food in jars clearly pays homage to the past
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

Lured by nostalgia, chefs are serving food in wide-mouthed glass jars traditionally used for preserving food.

French-born Martial Noguier, chef/partner at Bistronomic (840 N. Wabash Ave., 312-944-8400), who remembers the pate his grandmother used to make in jars, might serve rabbit rillettes in a jar, or house-prepared olives or a more contemporary creation of tuna tartare topped with diced avocado and garnished with chives, basil and mache salad layered in a jar. On the sweet side, he sometimes puts creme caramel or lemon tart in the glass container.

"The jar makes people feel that the food is homemade, which is true, and makes them feel as though it was made just for them," Noguier said. The jars at Bistronomic came from France and are slightly smaller than the American ones.

Noguier said, "It's almost impossible to find Mason jars in Chicago now because a lot of restaurants are using them."

That's true at Hoyt's (71 E. Wacker Drive, 312-346-9870), a new spot in Hotel 71 where executive chef Gabriel Kolofon decided to put food in jars as a tribute to the restaurant's namesake, William M. Hoyt, who had a successful food distribution company in the late 1800s where the hotel now stands.

"I started thinking about this gentleman's coffee and spices that were probably in jars," said Kolofon, who fills screw-top glass jars with a caprese salad of organic, heirloom cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella topped with fresh micro basil leaves.

For the full effect, the server opens the jar at the table and offers to add freshly ground pepper. A small jar of house-preserved pickles is set on the table to garnish hamburgers. Kolofon also serves a contemporary take on chocolate pudding made with sophisticated bitter chocolate combined with caramelized nuts, mixed berries and whipping cream in an old-fashioned jar.

Jimmy Bannos Jr. said he and his dad, Jimmy Bannos Sr., co-partners at The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Ave., 312-464-1744), were just brainstorming when they came up with the idea of serving pork rillettes in a jar.

"My grandmother and great-grandmother had Mason jars in the pantry, but that wasn't why I use the jars," said they younger Bannos. "I use them because I like the presentation that lets you see the rillettes from all sides and the thin fat film on top. The top is open and you stick a little knife in it and â€" boom â€" it looks cool."

Jars are a triple threat at GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St., 312-929-3501). Chef/partner Giuseppe Tentori's New England clam chowder is warmed up and put in a jar that is closed with a metal latch.

"We looked at beautiful two-piece and three-piece vessels in china to serve the chowder, but they looked too refined, so we decided in put it in a jar because it's more casual, not because it's trendy but because the chowder will stay warm. When the server puts the jar down and opens it up, the aroma of the clam chowder is released and you get the wow factor," Tentori said.

For a key lime pie in a jar, pastry chef Kady Yon assembles lime curd sprinkled with a fine dust of crumbs from ginger snap cookies and adds a thin layer of Swiss meringue that is torched just before serving. The lids for these jars have been removed.

"We had to remove the whole metal ring off the jar, and the people responsible for taking them off were not psyched about doing it," Yon said, "but the key lime pie looks beautiful."

Tentori also thought it would be a good idea to serve a summer cocktail in a jar and eventually found someone who could cut a hole for a straw in the glass tops with a laser. Mixologist Benjamin Schiller created a light herbal drink called garden varietal that combines Nolet gin and Dimmi, an Italian liqueur, both of which have floral notes and fresh sage and basil leaves that are gently bruised to release their essential oils.

"In the jar, the cocktail looks like something that has been preserved," Schiller said, "and if you want to put your thumb over the hole and shake it up, you will get more of the flavor of the herbs."

ctc-dining@tribune.com

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Food & Dining -: Our beer glasses runneth over

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Our beer glasses runneth over
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

A year ago, new and exciting things were happening in Chicago beer.

Revolution Brewing had recently opened its doors and Haymarket Pub & Brewery was on the horizon. Half Acre was finding its groove. Metropolitan Brewing was introducing the city to the joy of crisp craft lagers.

They're all old news.

The world of Chicago-made beer is expanding so quickly â€" at a rate unseen in the lives of modern-day beer lovers â€" that new entries arrive almost monthly. What follows is the latest crop of upstarts, which will no doubt remain upstarts only until the next round of breweries arrives.

Pouring now

Finch's Beer Co.: Brewery founders usually come in two shapes: the home brewer who wants to share his beer with the world and the savvy marketer who enjoys craft beer and sees a burgeoning market. Ben Finch is the latter.

Finch, 31, co-founded a marketing and design firm after graduate school at the School of the Art Institute, but wanted to move into a less client-based business. After reading an article on a craft brewery he can't quite recall â€" he thinks it was Goose Island â€" he was struck by craft brewing's independence, popularity and creativity. He started writing a business plan the next day.

His father, who still lives in Finch's hometown of Norfolk, Va., signed on as a co-owner; Finch hired Richard Grant from Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery to be his head brewer; and he signed a lease on a former custom frame shop on the Northwest Side.

Finch plans to can two beers that already can be found around town on draft: Golden Wing blond ale and Cut Throat pale ale. Threadless India pale ale, made in collaboration with the T-shirt company of the same name, recently debuted on drafts around town and will be followed by other one-offs and specialties. Finch's beers so far are not particularly complex or demanding â€" Half Acre's pale ale, for instance, seems to have twice the hop character of Finch's â€" but Finch says that is the idea.

"We make beers that can convert gateway drinkers," he said. "We want to be in bars where someone can say, 'Instead of a Stella, why don't you try a Golden Wing?'"

It's a fair point: One taste of fresh Golden Wing and a Chicagoan will have little reason to drink Stella again.

Try it: Threadless IPA stands out for being a more accessible IPA than most.

How to find it: Finch's beers are available on draft at about 80 bars around town, and soon will be sold in 16-ounce cans. The brewery (4565 N. Elston Ave.) also hosts periodic tours, which include samples of the beer. The next tour is 3 p.m. Saturday; cost is $10. Reservations available at finchbeer.com

Lake Bluff Brewing Co.: Open since March, this tiny brewpub in an idyllic stretch of suburban brick storefronts grew out of a love of home brewing between friends Dave Burns, 38, and Rodd Specketer, 41.

"People were always asking, 'Where can we get more of this?'" Burns said. "There was so much interest that we thought it could be good for us and good for Lake Bluff. And it's a fun job."

Lake Bluff Brewing has been more than fun; it has been busy. Within months the friends ordered two more fermentation tanks to double capacity.

"We were almost out of beer a week after we opened," Burns said. "Our place was packed pretty much nonstop."

Both men still have other jobs as well â€" Burns is at Abbott Laboratories in information technologies, and Specketer is a banker at JPMorgan. But with standing-room occupancy several days a week, there's no telling how long that will last. Burns was the sole brewer until May, when they hired Mike Dorneker, a recent graduate of the Siebel Institute brewing school.

Lake Bluff Brewing pours its beer only at its handsome, wood-heavy pub for now â€" which includes growlers to go (glass jugs filled with draft beer) â€" but eventually plans to keg its beer for distribution. Lake Bluff's eight draft beers are generally true to styles, albeit a bit bolder.

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Food & Dining -: Phil Vettel recommends

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Food & Dining -
Headlines from
Phil Vettel recommends
Jul 21st 2011, 07:00

Phil Vettel recommends
Owen & Engine:
British-influenced comfort food served in a pubby atmosphere, with British Invasion music playing in the background. There are 20 beers on tap, a loooong bottle list and a rotating selection of four cask-style brews, which are lower in carbonation and maintained at cellar temperature. And the servers know their beer. 2700 N. Western Ave., 773-235-2930 Longman & Eagle:
Chef Jared Wentworth likes to refer to this Logan Square hangout as a "whiskey bar," but that description does justice neither to Wentworth's remarkable cooking nor the restaurant's solid list of craft beers (especially attractive to Bell's aficionados). And the list isn't too snooty to offer Old Style as well. 2657 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-276-7110

Old Town Social:
So many reasons to visit here. The house-made salumis and hand-made pastas on the menu. The late-evening eye candy. The abundance of TVs when there's an important game on. And last but certainly not least (likely first, come to think of it), the massive craft beer list. 455 W. North Ave., 312-266-2277

Leopold:
The Belgian-accented gastropub offers eight craft beers on tap and several dozen by the bottle; given the menu, you'd expect a good number of Belgian brews on offer, and you'd be right, but there's much more to the list than that. 1450 W. Chicago Ave., 312-348-1028

Gilt Bar:
This fashionable and affordable River North hot spot is probably better known for its cocktails (especially in its downstairs, cash-only lounge), but this small-plates specialist has a compact but thoughtfully chosen beer selection, including nine large-format (650-750 ml) options. 230 W. Kinzie St., 312-464-9544

The Publican:
"Oysters, pork and beer" is how Paul Kahan sizes up this Market District spot, which looks like a European beer hall and has a cultish brew selection to match. The list is heavily Belgian but wide-ranging and even playful at times; I had a beer-based bloody mary at brunch here once, and it was terrific. 837 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-9555

philvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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