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Posts from the ‘Chicago’ Category

First Taste: Barista Parlor

Today, we checked out Barista Parlor, a great brand new artisan coffee shop in East Nashville.  Although they are just having a soft opening this weekend we instantly loved the space, decor, vibe as well as the coffee.  The site used to be a transmission center and they have done a wonderful job in converting the space. It has a large open layout with a central barista station surrounded by long reclaimed wood tables and a wall with three large garage doors. The look of place reminded us of Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco.  A nice unique feature is that their table and bar area are full service with a coffee menu describing the various coffee tasting notes.

They have carefully selected beans from a few esteemed roasters throughout the country including coffee from Intelligentsia (Chicago), Counter Culture (Durham), Slayer (Seattle), Madcap (Grand Rapids), and Sightglass (San Francisco). Baristas prepare espresso drinks and coffee is prepared using pour over brewing methods. They also sell artisan chocolates, coffee beans and coffee brewing tools. Sounds like breakfast food options may be coming soon as well as sandwiches supplied by Porter Road Butcher.  We anticipate this place will be an instant hit.

If You Build It…

…They Will Come.

We know that it takes time for cities to grow and develop. We love Nashville and have been thrilled to see so many great changes in the last 5 years. Here are some examples that we have found in our travels that we feel could help make Nashville even better.

Type of Spot: High Quality Taqueria and Dive Bar

Example: Big Star, Chicago, IL

Why: This spot in Wicker Park in Chicago was created by one of the country’s top chefs, Paul Kahan, as a cash-only place to come and grab a beer/whiskey/cocktail and a few high quality tacos. It has great outdoor seating and updated garage-type feel to the inside. Old Country music plays on a record player and the vibe is laid-back and hip. The food, though, is fantastic and despite its simple menu you want more of their chips/guac, tacos al pastor and fish tacos. Truly one of the coolest places we’ve been to in our recent travels and affordable to everyone. We know of a perfect spot for it in 12South…hint hint…the corner of Kirkwood and 12th.

Who Could Do It: Teresa Mason, mas tacos por favor with Alexis Stoler, No. 308

Type of Spot: Killer Boutique Hotel

Example: Ace Hotel, Portland and Hotel San Jose, Austin

Why: When we asked ourselves the question, “Where would we want to stay if we didn’t live here and came to visit?” and we honestly couldn’t answer. Staying Downtown is where most folks go when they visit, but really, how much do locals really go down there on a nightly basis? Even so, where would you stay? It would be a chain hotel. Hutton Hotel seems cool but its location seems neither here nor there, not really close enough to be able to navigate on foot. Two places that would be primed for a boutique hotel would be the 12South neighborhood or 5 Points in East Nashville. Somewhere where you could come if you were just visiting or if you were a hip musician and wanted a unique stay with interesting decor to hang around a cool neighborhood to get a real taste of Nashville.  It could even have a great outside bar and pool like Hotel San Jose. There is nothing here like that and both of the places listed above are hot spots that are cool and add a lot of character to their cities. It would be perfect here, especially with the number of musicians that visit our city for extended periods of time to record.

Who Could Do It: Liz Lambert, Hotel San Jose, Austin

Type of Spot: A Great Place to Run By the Water

Example: Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Tampa…basically most every other city

Why: A place where people can run/walk/bike by the water would be one of the things highest on this list. In our city you can run at Percy Warner or Edwin Warner Park (very nice but hilly), Centennial Park (pretty during the day but only a 1 mile loop), Vandy Loop (mostly traffic lights and cars), Shelby Bottoms Park (a bit isolated and honestly doesn’t feel the safest), or with East Nastys (fantastic but it involves running through East Nashville neighborhoods/streets). If you go to any of those cities listed above the water is a focal point for their cities and the water is where there is so much beauty and where locals run on their paths and trails. We have the Cumberland River, which nothing Downtown actually faces, and which is basically used for nothing. It could be used for a trail like this – somewhere where you could explore the city whether you lived here or were visiting. It would make a huge difference in our city.

Who Could Do It: The Mayor

Type of Spot: Great NY Style Pizza and Hot Spot

Example: Home Slice Pizza, Austin, TX

Why: Nashville has several restaurants with great pizzas – City House and Margot Cafe – but these are gourmet wood fired pizzas rather than thin crust NY style. We really do not have great NY style pizza here in our opinion. Mafiaoza’s is more of a 2 for 1 Tuesday bar scene. Pizza Perfect is fine but not spectacular. Five Points Pizza is closer to the right idea but the pizza is not quite there. In Austin, on South Congress, Home Slice Pizza sits with a fun, funky vibe, fantastic NY style pizza, local beer on tap and is a great hot spot for foodies, hipsters and families. The restaurant even closes briefly each year so the staff can go to NYC to sample the pizzas there.

Who Could Do It: Chef Tandy Wilson, City House and we hear rumors of the delicious Antico Pizza from Atlanta expanding to Nashville

Type of Spot: The Modern Diner

Example: 24 Diner, Austin, TX

Why: A growing dining trend in larger cities is the concept of the “Modern Diner”. These places are using local and sustainable ingredients in a farm-to-table approach and making chef inspired creative comfort food. We have legendary greasy spoons and Meat-and-Threes but these places can certainly be supplemented with something more updated and eclectic/unique. A place where you could get a roasted banana and brown sugar milkshake or a well prepared Sazerac or a Brooklyn Lager on tap.

Who Could Do It: Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Upper Echelon Bakery

Example: Huckleberry Cafe, Santa Monica, CA and Tartine Bakery, San Francisco, CA

Why: These spots make amazing pastries and breads for local restaurants as well at their cafes. They also brew high quality local coffee and serve fantastic breakfasts and brunches. They have lines out of the door and national attention. We have nothing even close to this.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Silke’s Old World Breads

Type of Spot: Casual Counter Restaurant featuring High Quality Local Ingredients

Example: Evoe, Portland, OR

Why: This counter cafe is located within a fantastic gourmet small grocery called Pastaworks. It features a wonderful chef, Kevin Gibson, using the freshest seasonal local ingredients. His menu is written on a large chalkboard wall and changes frequently. The key here is that he lets the quality ingredients shine and keeps his dishes simple. Pristine Deviled Eggs, salads and sandwiches that aren’t over or under done. A deft touch and great ingredients is all that he needs. We love the Silly Goose but we feel that a spot where “less is more” with a simpler approach to dishes would be fantastic.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Excellent New Tavern or Gastropub

Example: The Publican, Chicago or Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle

Why: In Nashville there aren’t that many places to go to get a really good beer on tap. 12South Taproom has a good selection of predominantly Southern microbrews but its vibe is definitely casual and more of a place to get a beer outside than a place to find high quality chef driven food. Flying Saucer is a chain and until recently was a smokestack. Yazoo Brewery is a fantastic spot for a Yazoo, but naturally, that is all that they have.  We have Whiskey Kitchen, which is more of a whiskey lounge with pub food and not the easiest place to get in and out of in the Gulch and Tavern which has a more creative menu but a very limited beer selection. The Publican is a European style pub with an amazing list of European beers – mostly Belgian – and a wonderful menu with mussels, frites and creative uses of pig. The Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle is a more laid back and casual spot and has a great list of local Northwest beers on tap, unreal pretzels and great quality pub food from one of the top chefs in Seattle, Tom Douglas. It also is a great spot to throw darts or play shuffleboard and has ample seating. A spot where folks who love a great selection of some of the world’s best beers and can also have even better quality food would do great here.

Who Could Do It: The Goldberg Brothers, The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat

Happy New Year! Best of 2011

We have been blessed this year to be able to have enjoyed many wonderful meals both here in Nashville and in our travels. We were able to visit Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, OR this year and thought that it would be fun to put together our own year-end list of our favorites of 2011. Despite our travels we were pleasantly surprised to say that our two favorite meals came in Nashville this year (one from a Nashville restaurant and one from a visiting S.C. chef). There were many memorable moments, dishes and restaurants and here are a few of our favorites this year.  Happy New Year and best wishes for a wonderful 2012!!

Overall Best Meal 2011:

(TIE) Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN (10/17/11) – The expectations were high in Nashville for this concept restaurant from The Patterson House team of Ben/Max Goldberg and we can verify that they exceeded these expectations. A small U-shaped restaurant perched above the Patterson House that only seats 30 people and consists of two chefs preparing prix fixe meals right in front of you is not something that you would expect to find in Nashville. However, when we sat down and had our first bite of our appetizer – a trio plate consisting of dehydrated porcini mushrooms surrounding a parmesan cream in the appearance of an Oreo, a baby radish with uni butter and a chicken skin dusted with hot powder and Wonder Bread puree – we knew that this was going to be a special meal. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson brought out dish after dish of brilliantly creative and wonderfully flavorful dishes using a variety of proteins (chicken, haddock, lamb, beef) and the drink pairings from Jane Lopes were equally tasty and creative (sake, Belgian beer, wine from Lebanon). Everything worked and we are looking forward to returning this Spring to see what they come up with next. Expect James Beard award nominations for this gem.

(TIE) Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville,TN (9/6/11) – this Charleston, SC restaurant from Chef/Owner Sean Brock hit the road this year to support the Southern Foodways Alliance and we were fortunate to be able to attend when he was guest chef at City House in Nashville. Chef Brock brought some his best dishes from his restaurant which was named the Best New Restaurant in America. this year by Bon Appetit. What we got was about 12 courses of some of the best Southern cuisine we’ve ever had and left fuller than we’d been in years. Pig ears, beef rinds, chicken skins (see below), pork ribs, cornmeal dusted catfish, and peanut butter pie were some of the highlights in this non-stop procession of food. That, coupled with communal moonshine (in grape, mango, and strawberry flavors) and the wonderful vibrant mood of City House made this a meal to remember.

Best Restaurant Atmosphere 2011:

Big Star, Chicago, IL – this cash only Taqueria-meets-Whiskey bar in Wicker Park is by no means the fanciest spot we hit all year but it was the one that we loved the most….and the one we wish was right down the street from where we live! The simple design is spot-on with an outside patio filled with bright yellow chairs surrounding metallic tables and a converted garage inside where you perch up next to the bar and listen so some Honkey Tonk playing on the record player behind the bar. The menu consists of a small selection of fantastic tacos, a good selection of quality beer on tap and one of the better selections of whiskey outside of TN/KY. On a sunny day, with it’s doors open and outside patio filled it is the place we would want to be this year.

Honorable Mentions:

Gjelina, Venice, CA

Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR

Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle, WA

Haddingtons, Austin, TX

Girl and the Goat, Chicago, IL

GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL

Dish of the Year:

Aged Pekin Duck Breast with green garbanzos, tequila braised radish, watermelon and white sesame – Blackbird, Chicago, IL – We love duck and have tried it at many a restaurant….no duck we have ever had before even comes close to this one. We aren’t sure how they did it – maybe the aging of the breast? – but the duck was perfectly cooked, tender and meaty with a wonderful crisp skin. The seemingly disparate ingredients effortlessly complemented the duck and left us in awe. We can still imagine the taste of that duck and Blackbird may have ruined us – for we know that any other duck we will have won’t likely compare.

Honorable Mentions:

Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings – Pok Pok, Portland, OR

Brisket and Pork Ribs – Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX

Fine Hand Cut Egg Pasta with ragu – Spinasse, Seattle, WA

Springer Mountain Half Chicken with Sweet Potato Soffritto, Dried Plums and Bread Crumbs – City House, Nashville, TN

Fried Deviled Eggs with Arugula and Caper Berries and Charred Cauliflower with Toasted Breadcrumbs – The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL

Bite of the Year:

Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Husk Hot Sauce and SC Honey – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN – This sinful standout was our favorite from our co-meal of the year. It sounded scary at first…fried chicken skins??…but we couldn’t believe how good they tasted. The skins were perfectly crisp with just the right amount of sweetness and heat and we had a hard time wanting to pass the dish around to others at our table.

Honorable Mentions:

Brick Oven Pretzel with Sour Cream and Crispy Onion Dip – Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA

Plain Glazed Doughnut – Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, OR

“Faux Reos” and Hot Chicken Skins with Wonder Bread Puree – Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN

Crispy Pig Ears – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Sandwich of the Year:

Midnight Cuban Press – Paseo, Seattle, WA –  There are good sandwiches and there are great sandwiches and there are good sandwich shops and there are great sandwich shops. The Midnight Cuban Press is a truly great sandwich and Paseo is a truly great sandwich shop. As the shop opens in Fremont – and artsy hippie-ish part of Seattle – lines start to form, and they form fast. I suspect that several of their sandwiches could have topped our list this year but for the winner we picked this one – a huge sandwich filled with ridiculously juicy and tender roast Cuban pork, sweet banana peppers, caramelized onions, smoked ham and swiss cheese inside of a lightly pressed baguette. If we are ever in Seattle again a return trip here would be considered a must.

Honorable Mentions:

B.L.T. with Benton’s Bacon – Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN

Pork Belly Bahn Mi – Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, OR

The Bunk Sandwich – Evoe, Portland, OR

Salami Sandwich – Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR

Dessert of the Year:

Key Lime Pie – GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL – This deconstructed and then reconstructed version of the traditional key lime pie. Arriving in a Mason jar it consists of a deliciously tart lemon-lime curd under a layer of gingersnap crumble and topped with a lightly torched meringue. Simple yet perfect.

Honorable Mentions:

Brioche Bread with PB & Nutella – Huckleberry Cafe, Los Angeles, CA

Lemon Curd Drop Biscuit – Little T American Baker, Portland, OR

Peanut Butter Pie with Antebellum Oats, Olive and Sinclair Chocolate + Cocoa Nibs smoked by Alan Benton – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Drink of the Year:

La Folie – New Belgium Brewing – on tap at Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA – We first had a sour beer (Monk’s Cafe) at our good friend’s apartment in Boston last year and we instantly became obsessed with this style of beer. Every restaurant and bar we went to became a potential chance to find a sour beer. When we first tasted this beer at Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle we knew we would have to find it when we got back to Nashville. Fortunately, we were able to find it bottled as well at specialty beer stores and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, they are all out now. Its red-brown color belies its refreshing and sharp sour apple tart taste but it also has a richness provided by the 1-3 years of French Oak Barrel aging. We’re looking forward to next year’s batch already.

Honorable Mentions:

Strawberry Sour Ale – Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland, OR

The Khing and I (Thai Mekhong Whiskey and ginger syrup and lime) – Whiskey Soda Lounge, Portland, OR

Breve and Cafe Americano – Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Portland, OR

Oak Barrel Aged Negroni – Clyde Common, Portland, OR
Mango Moonshine, Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Food/Drink Obsessions 2011:

Lemon Curd/Tarts

Sour Ales

Chicago 2.0

We like to think of this site as our hobby . We also like to think it is our ‘duty’ to try the some of the best restaurants wherever we are, so that we can pass along that knowledge to others. 🙂 Steve does a great job researching each city months before we even get there. He meticulously looks through articles, reads reviews and listens to what the locals have to say. He puts pressure on himself to come up with an All-Star line up, but we never know how it will end up until we try it for ourselves. This trip, he knocked it out of the park! Here is a day-to-day recap of our findings!


Checked in at The James Hotel

Lunch at RL Restaurant: we met up with a friend here for classic traditional American fare in a cozy spot just off of the Magnificent Mile.

Dinner at The Purple Pig:  “Cheese, Swine, and Wine” is their slogan and they nail all 3 of these in this new fantastic restaurant along Michigan Avenue.  We loved everything we sampled from their menu which consists of variations on rustic Mediterranean small plates.  Extensive and excellent wine list – including a few of our favorite wines – Juan Gil and Clio from Spain.  The Fried Deviled Egg with Arugula and Caper Berries, Charred Cauliflower with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Cornichons and Parsley as well as their Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes were some of the best dishes we’ve had in Chicago.  Voted one of the Best New Restaurants in the America by Bon Appetit in 2010. Press: Bon Appetit


Breakfast at Bongo Room: Our return to The Bongo Room was as good, if not better, than our first visit.  After a 4 mile jog from Downtown to Wicker Park our stomachs were ready for its creative takes on breakfast fare.  After downing a liter of water and 4 cups of their special Bongo Room coffee blend from Intelligentsia we were sufficiently hydrated, caffeinated, and ready to eat.  We chose a combo of savory and sweet with their Veggie Croissant Sandwich and the Red Velvet Chocolatey Cocoa Hotcakes topped with warm vanilla creme and toasted walnuts.  Yes, you read that right.  The pancakes were decadently delicious!

Lunch at Big Star: this Taqueria/Dive Bar in Wicker Park from the same team of Blackbird/Avec/The Publican instantly became one of our favorite spots in Chicago.  Their outside patio has a casual and eclectic vibe with bright yellow metal chairs surrounding reflective silver tables while the inside bar/restaurant area is like the inside of a large car garage.  Pull a seat up to the bar and enjoy some honky tonk music played on an old record player and try some of their fantastic guac, salsa, tacos, beer, and one of their rotating $3 whiskeys of the day. Cash only.

Drinks at The Publican: We wanted to make a return to The Publican a priority this trip – both to get some interior photos of this unique gastropub and to try some of their hard to find Belgian and European beers.  We were successful on both goals and loved the Bellegems Bruin – a Flanders style ale from Belgium (similar to our favorite Monk’s Cafe) and the Weihenstephaner Vitus from Germany – a Hefeweizen-Bock beer.

Dinner at Blackbird: this contemporary restaurant in the West Loop area from chef Paul Kahan has been a destination spot for foodies since it opened in 1998 and has maintained it’s creativity, reputation and high quality.  The space is surprisingly small with a clean white minimalist aesthetic that is intimate yet not cramped.  The aged pekin duck breast with green garbanzos, tequila braised radish, watermelon and white sesame as well as the duck fat poached elk strip loin with whole wheat knefla, crispy broccoli, strawberries and bergamot cream were perfectly prepared and easily among two of the top dishes we have tasted anywhere.


Coffee at Intelligentsia: We dropped in for a cup of their artisanal coffee after another 4 mile run.  Blessed with a beautiful morning, this run went down the picturesque Lake Shore Drive on Lake Michigan around the Aquarium and up through Grant and Millenium Parks – culminating in an overheated Steve jumping in front of several kids to get doused with cold water from the Crown Fountain.

Lunch at Grahamwich: re-invented classic soda and sandwich shop by Graham Elliot.  He has created tasty and affordable takes on classic sandwiches in a fun, clean, vibrant site.  Stop in for a french press coffee and pastry in the morning or stop by for one of their gourmet sandwiches from a rotating menu and some of their homemade potato chips for lunch!  We loved their Grilled Cheese and Pastrami Reuben.

Snacks at Fox & Obel: gourmet market, cafe, and bistro with a  great selection of beers, wine, cheese, breads and pastries.  The Lemon Blueberry Shortbread Bites were a yummy treat.

Dinner at Gilt Bar: well prepared classic cocktails and upscale affordable gastropub fare in this River North hotspot.  We enjoyed their Le Bar St. Germain Cocktail and Housemade Bolognese with bucatini, charred tomato and parmesan.


Breakfast at XOCO: casual Mexican “street food” from Top Chef Master Rick Bayless.  The Wood Oven Chicken Chilaquiles and Torreja (Wood Oven French toast with Bacon-Pecan Sprinkles) and Cafe con Leche were all fantastic and a better value than the food next door at Frontera Grill.  Open for breakfast and lunch.

Lunch at GT Fish and Oyster: highly anticipated newly opened seafood restaurant Downtown with absolutely gorgeous interior and wonderful food.  Clean modern interior with a wooden boomerang-shaped standing-bar in the bar area and beautifully designed chalk art on the wall in the main dining room.  The lobster roll was fantastic and the key lime pie – deconstructed in layers in a jar with crumbled ginger snaps and toasted marshmallow topping was the best dessert we have had in a long time.

Dinner at Girl and the Goat: this West Loop gem from Top Chef Season 4 Winner and James Beard Nominee Stephanie Izard is certainly one of the hardest seats in town to get –  and we can see why.  Rustic and lofty interior, friendly/knowledgeable waitstaff, and unique/delicious small plates were all top notch.  The menu is broken down into equal parts of Veggie, Fish, and Meat dishes – the latter of which not surprisingly incorporates goat into many dishes.  If you don’t have a reservation enjoy a drink (or two) while you wait and enjoy the fun ambiance.  Press: Food and Wine


Lunch at Frontera Grill: we stopped into the Frontera Grill for a quick lunch prior to heading to the airport.  Their Pork Tacos Al Carbon were fantastic and the Duck Carnitas Quesadillas were very good.

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