Smoque’s brisket and other barbecue dishes have lines snaking out the door

Barry Sorkin, a lanky, clean-cut, former IT guy, proves you don’t need to be a grizzled, soulful sage to make great barbecue.  With lines snaking out the door at Smoque, Sorkin and his crew have quickly established themselves as generals of Chicago’s ‘cue guard. While traveling around the country, the Kendall College grad garnered a trove of tips from some of the best pit masters around; his smoked meat, including a moist brisket that recalls the legendary version at Ruby’s in Austin, Texas, achieves smoky nirvana. While he’s not afraid to break rules, Sorkin is committed to honoring classic techniques and synthesizing his lessons into his own take on barbecue. Q. What do you wish you could change or pickle about the Chicago restaurant/food scene? A. Chicagoans have an appreciation for food at all levels.  There’s an understanding that food doesn’t have to be fancy or exotic to be great. Q. What would your last meal be? A. I think I’ve had enough barbecue in the last six months to hold me over into the afterlife.  If I were going to die tomorrow, I might just go for a couple of Chicago-style hot dogs — natural casing. Q. Where do…

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Shin Thompson

For most Chicago chefs, “fresh from the sea” means an overnight FedEx package from a coastal fisherman.  For chef Shin Thompson of Bonsoirée Cafe and Delicacies, it means the fish is still flopping.

This American (plant) Life

Welcome to the jungle baby…err, Nagrant Family Farm. I’ve killed more plants than a Detroit auto executive. Everything, from finicky herbal seedlings to hearty tomatoes, has met the reaper that is my green, or maybe more appropriately, gangrenous, thumb. I once grew the tallest plant in a junior-high biology contest, but only after my father introduced me to Miracle Grow, and I juiced that bad boy like an agricultural Barry Bonds. That was a lifetime ago. Last month, despite their legend for weathering biblical droughts, two cacti in my living room recently developed a feathery mold.

Bill Dugan

Standing behind pearlescent bodies of stuffed sailfish and ice-packed cases filled with troves of fish fillets, Bill Dugan mans the counter of Fishguy Market like Ahab in the wheelhouse of the Pequod. Like Ahab, he has a single-minded quest:  not to kill a whale, but to procure and share the best bounty of the sea with his fellow Chicagoans.

Movable Feasts

Call them “underground,” “unofficial,” or “occasional.” Whatever the name, restaurants that don’t have a permanent address and that eschew traditional licensing are popping up all over town. Eating at one is the dining equivalent of choose-your-own adventure: diners, who exchange hushed e-mails to get on the list, show up where they’re told and eat whatever the chef feels like preparing. It’s fun, sure. But at $25 to $100 a pop, are they any good? Chicago checked out a few to find out.

Au Revoir Ambria

Indeed while our aldermen are still insufferable gas bags, Chicago is, for the most part, no longer windy, second or the hog butcher to the world. We’ve left those monikers behind, because of the one label that still applies. Chicago is now, and as it was in 1951 when Nelson Algren wrote his essay, a “city on the make.”

Adding oomph to regular fare works for Mindy Friedler and Mark Bires: Now they’ve opened a second Jerry’s

Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler, owners of Jerry’s Sandwiches and Cafe in the West Loop, have more degrees than a thermometer.  She’s a former lawyer, and he’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago School of Business and, “almost,” the University of Chicago Law School. That’s probably why Jerry’s is such a smart take on the common sandwich.  They derisively refer to Jerry’s as a “Super Subway,” but their attention to detail — using a blend of iceberg and arugula lettuce for crunch and flavor, smoking meats and fish in a log-burning smoker and whipping up homemade condiments like chipotle chutney — make Jerry’s a palace of sandwich craft. A new Jerry’s has a more sophisticated design, with chandeliers handcrafted from serving spoons, a flagstone-style fireplace, a community gathering space and a few anticipated additions to the menu: plated desserts and American craft beers. Q. What do you wish you could pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/food scene? Mindy: I think there’s a real lack of pretension from both Chicago diners and restaurateurs.  They don’t take themselves as seriously as other places. Even at the fine dining restaurants in Chicago, they understand that if you’re…

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Mindy Friedler & Mark Bires

Monday, July 9th, Jerry’s Wicker Park (or as we’re calling it: Jerry’s 2:Electric Bugaloo) opens. While owners Mindy Friedler and Mark Bires derisively refer to Jerry’s I as a “Super Subway,” their attention to detail—like using an iceberg and arugula lettuce blend for both crunch and flavor, smoking meats and fish in a log-burning smoker and whipping up homemade condiments like chipotle chutney—make Jerry’s a palace of sandwich craft. Located at 1938 W. Division St., the new place features a more sophisticated design, with handcrafted chandeliers made from serving spoons and a flagstone-style fireplace, a community gathering space and a few anticipated additions to the menu: plated desserts and American craft beers.

Noah Bekofksy

Growing up in the hippie confines of Eugene, Ore., Aria chef Noah Bekofsky was weaned on a macrobiotic diet consisting of brown rice with miso soup and watercress.  He didn’t even start eating meat until he was 14.