John Kelly Chocolates—Salted Caramel Truffle Fudge Bars—johnkellychocolates.com
I know that recommending $5 two-ounce chocolate bars in this economy is a lot like telling you to invest all your money in real estate or stocks right now, but trust me, when things go south on those other two investments, these bars will save you from jumping into the Chicago River. Due to a pretty bare bones Web site, I can’t tell you if these bars are organic or local. But, then again, these bars are so good, I don’t care if they’re made by an army of oompah loompa’s chained to a molten chocolate machine in the middle of a balmy rainforest. Also, while I’ve always scoffed at the notion that chocolate can make women orgasm, this bar is the most food-porntastic eat this man has ever had.
Sweg’s Restaurant Style Salsa—Treasure Island Grocery Stores
In my experience, restaurant-style salsa usually means preservative-laden metallic-tasting glass-bottled abominations. I haven’t even really been that excited about Rick Bayless’s Frontera salsas which generally taste really salty (save for the tomatillo which makes great chilaquiles). Sweg’s on the other hand is preservative-free and balanced with a nice jalapeno heat. Throw it in a sauce pan with some tortilla chips and then mix that with scrambled eggs, and you’ve got a great five-minute meal in huevos rancheros (take that Rachael Ray).
Hash Browns with caramelized onions, duck-fat powder and foie gras supplement—160 Blue, 1400 West Randolph, (312)850-0303
Former Charlie Trotter right-hand-man Michael McDonald and his brilliant pastry chef Stephanie Prida are making Charlie Trotter irrelevant (if he wasn’t already) in this bad economy by offering a la carte Trotter-quality food at a fraction of the price. Exhibit A in the case against Chuck is this comfort-food gem: crispy spuds so rich, you didn’t really need to add the foie gras. Then again you can’t buy as much foie as they give you here at Fox and Obel for the $8 supplement price.
Melted Spanish Blue Cheese Fondue—Province, 161 North Jefferson, (312)669-9900
I dream of bathing in this rich cheese Jacuzzi cut with the sweetness of smoky caramelized onion. When I ran out of the herb crisps served alongside the fondue, I started spooning the stuff straight in my mouth.
Abalone Mushroom Spinach Pierogi—Eve, 840 North Wabash, (312)266-3383
Though I think most of the dishes at Eve, which average at least five or so main, sometimes confusing ingredients, need more restraint—this beautiful light pierogi filled with a mix of funky mushroom and briny sweet-sea-perfumed abalone is so tasty, you won’t be able to hold yourself back from ordering another round. It’s like my Babcia (polish grandmother) had a culinary love child with Eve’s top toque Troy Graves and no one told me.
Very Old Barton Bourbon 100 Proof—Binny’s
I think the first rule of Bourbon Club (which I imagine is a group of very burly bewhiskered dudes holding court in the back of a roadside BBQ shack) is that you don’t make bad bourbon, ever. How else to explain that this $9.99 bottle of whiskey is a beautiful amber elixir filled will all kinds of caramel and a touch of grassiness. While it probably won’t replace the Pappy Van Winkle, the more I spend on $5 chocolate bars, the more I’ll be buying this stuff. I started with the 80 proof, but the 100 proof is a lot sturdier, especially if you like it on ice. And even at $11.99, you can still drink twice as much as your favorite bottle of Maker’s Mark for the same price.
Sander’s Milk Chocolate Hot Fudge—Steve’s Deli Restaurant Store, 354 West Hubbard, (312)467-6868
The best part of this Michigan-based deli coming to Chicago has nothing to do with their mediocre corn beef, but rather the trove of Detroit- and Michigan-based food products available in their small adjoining grocery. While I despair the lack of Better Made BBQ potato chips (way better than Vinter’s), the Sander’s (often pronounced as Saunders in Detroit, though there’s no “U” in sight) milk chocolate hot fudge is the best dessert topping in a jar (save their Bittersweet fudge flavor—but that’s not available) ever.
This article first appeared in Newcity in a slightly different form.