I felt like I’d walked into the secret love nest of Hugh Hefner and a crazy old bird lady. I know that sounds crazy. Like why would Hefner shack up with a bird lady? But, the dude loved quaaludes, so anything is possible. And even if he never did, Bellemore restaurant’s interior design looks like what would have happened if he had. Advertisements
On the weekends, when the bankers flee to the ’burbs, filching swigs of liquor on the Metra, the LaSalle Street canyon goes dark. The corridor between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street becomes a lonely hearts club, inhabited by scant hotel dwellers and a few stragglers purged from revelry at The Berghoff or Miller’s Pub. It’s precisely the kind of noir landscape you’d expect Batman might perch above on a skyscraper cornice, contemplating his existential doom.
Not so long ago, the West Loop was known as one of America’s most notorious skid rows. Madison Street west of the Kennedy was a maleficent mile of burlesques, flop houses and sleazy taverns. I moved to the neighborhood in 2003 into a building that held an annual progressive Christmas party called The Taste of Skid Row.
In the last few years, “dad rock” has been used as pejorative shorthand for critics to dismiss bands or music of a certain ilk. Such music is usually plaintive, nostalgic, seemingly simplistic, maudlin or sometimes just fringe complex and weird.
Pepe Barajas, chef/owner of La Josie, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the West Loop, was practically born into the hospitality game. As a little kid in the ’80s, he was popping the tops off Jarritos and Coke for patrons at his grandfather’s Mexico City taco stand. When he was 7, he immigrated to Chicago and watched his single mother waitress for her brother, founder of the local Los Comales chain of restaurants. Seeing her struggle financially, Barajas dropped out of high school and helped his mom open her own taqueria, Los Comales No. 8.
Like George Clooney, cocktails get better with age.
4 Star Restaurant Group (Dunlay’s, Smoke Daddy, Crosby’s Kitchen, Tuco & Blondie, Frasca, The Windsor, Remington’s, D.O.C. Wine Bar) always seemed like an aspirational name. They purvey solid American neighborhood fare like roast chicken, BBQ and burgers, but I’ve never seen 4 Star as a gourmet destination restaurant group. If I was going to see a flick at the Music Box, I’d stop in at Crosby’s Kitchen for the tasty chicken and biscuits, but I wouldn’t make an appointment just to dine. Their newest spot, Ella Elli, seems poised to change that notion
Ronero, a new Latin American/Cuban restaurant in the West Loop, is the kind of place where I’d imagine dictators or Scarface spending a night away from the rigors of managing a cartel. You could easily picture Fidel Castro hunkered down in one of the rattan peacock chairs, smoking a Cohiba and regarding the glass chandeliers while stroking the straggly tendrils of his prodigious beard.
The good news is the restaurant ceiling didn’t fall on my head. When I dine at chef Iliana Regan’s restaurants, weird things happen. When I reviewed Regan’s Elizabeth, I went to the restroom, and when I closed the door, ceiling tiles fell on my head. I didn’t mind. The tiles were soft and I was so buzzed on the foraged pre-fixe meal (and, to be honest, a little too much Hermitage blanc wine), I wouldn’t have felt pain anyway. That night, Regan and her crew were very gracious and apologized for the mishap. Regan and I had a good laugh about this when we spoke last week about her new spot, Kitsune, a Japanese-skewing restaurant in North Center. “I think the bones of this place are much more solid,” she said
All-encompassing menus are generally the province of Greek diners and recent culinary school grads who somehow fumbled into an executive chef role. As such, I had my suspicions when I saw the menu at Income Tax, a new Edgewater restaurant from chef Ryan Henderson (Maple & Ash), owner Nelson Fitch and GM Collin Moody. The dishes here are broken down by four countries: Spain, France, Italy and Germany. I also noticed that the Income Tax guys dubbed themselves a “neighborhood restaurant,” which is often shorthand for “Yeah, we have dry roast chicken, a mediocre burger and some beers on tap.” Things didn’t look good