It’s true the suburbs are no Chicago. There are no skyscrapers (no John Hancock Building, no Sears—I mean, Willis—Tower). Most things are spread out, so you can’t just hop on the train, and you have to get in the car to go to work, the store, even the park where you ride your bike. There’s […]
Have you ever tried Spanish tapas? You should.
I say this as someone who, after trying tapas last month when we were in D.C., liked them so much that I was perfectly satisfied to have them again the next two nights. (And we did.) Also, since I’m making commands, here’s another for those of you in Chicago: when you’re in Lincoln Park, you really ought to visit Café Ba-Ba-Reeba.
See, tapas are perfect for people like me, who like to try many new things but might not have the stomach capacity to try a lot of each of those new things. Essentially, tapas are small plates, like appetizers: reduced portions that allow you to order a little of this, a little of that, sharing them all at the table, dipping your bread and taking spoonfuls of side dishes to your dish. You get the opportunity to taste not just one entrée but lots of little ones: it is grazing at its best.
As for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, I first heard of it when I was going to school in Lincoln Park, then later when my brother visited with a friend and told me about it, and again when @CafeBaBaReeba started following me on Twitter. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually stepped inside. At around 9:30 PM on a Saturday. Because the wait that night was over an hour, we ended up at nearby Nookies instead, which, by the way, is a great place for diner food on the weekends, since it’s open 24/7 on Fridays and Saturdays. But this last Saturday night, we had the chance to try Ba-Ba-Reeba again, this time with reservations made through OpenTable.com, which was a very good thing since the place was jam-packed just like before.
Sometimes, in the middle of something, it hits me that I’ll never get it again. It happened when I came home from my run tonight and was stretching outside, when my dog saw me through the window and, after I came in to get him, jumped on the chair, my legs, the door, running to his leash when I told him to; also on Monday night, while I drove home in constant rain, after baking cookies at my brother’s apartment while the Internet guy drilled a hole in his wall; and when I overheard kids behind me on the airplane Sunday afternoon, asking their dad if D.C. was bigger or smaller than Illinois? And could all of Bethesda and all of D.C. fit inside Illinois with room to spare?
It’s like, no matter how hard or frustrating or just very good something is, you’ve got to take it, arms wide open, because it’s yours, now.
Like this last weekend. Even if I tried very hard, I probably couldn’t book a top-floor hotel room at Hotel Palomar in DuPont Circle again and, even less likely, for no charge because of the right amount of credit card rewards. I couldn’t re-create the weather, or the people we met, or the way I stumbled upon a farmers’ market on my Sunday morning jog. It’s very possible, in fact, that if you went to D.C., you’d have a totally different experience, and you’d come back saying what a crazy place that was, like I did when I went to San Francisco last year, just because of the temperatures changing so much and my getting sick on the last day.
Still, though. I feel pretty sure about one thing, and that is this: You’d like Café Bonaparte. I’d put money on it.
You’d like it, at least, if you like France, or very good food, or excellent service from smiling servers in black-and-white striped shirts, set amongst a long black bar and brightly colored walls with photos of Paris.
D.C. is beautiful, and that really can’t be overstated, especially this time of year with the cherry blossoms and bright blue skies and hot afternoons. Within a day or so of arriving, I’d decided I could live in Georgetown and find a job doing, well, anything, just to get to walk among professionally dressed people on cell phones, stunning historic architecture, brick walkways and fresh flowers.
I mean, look at this river! Walking distance from shops and old churches, it was filled with crew teams practicing, and I could have sat by the edge, my feet dangling, for hours while the sun beat down and the cool breeze blew my hair. And that was just Georgetown.
Oh, boy. I have so much to tell you.
There’s the weather, of course, which we always talk about, and how yes, it’s been rainy, but I rather like the rain, and it doesn’t at all ruin spring for me (plus, it should be 80 degrees very soon!). Then there’s Uncle Lindy, and what a gift it was that he could recognize and talk to me when I visited Friday night, when he hugged me from his hospital bed and asked if I’d been baking those pies and cookies.
I should also tell you that, actually, there have been good gifts flowing from every side—losing power for over two hours at work on Monday meant great conversation with my coworker Alicia, as well as hot dogs from the Buona Beef nearby, while we stared out the windows and watched the rain; hearing how people have been losing their jobs has shown me the grace of their needs still being provided for; and some very good messages at my church this week have centered my thoughts on what is valuable.
But the thing is, tomorrow morning, I get on a plane bound for D.C., and I still have to figure out what to bring with me, which, when you consider weather, occasion, comfort and size of my carry-on luggage, feels a lot like a difficult science project, and I was never good at that sort of thing. On top of which, I’ve decided to start running again (I can’t believe I’m typing that, which means you’ll know if I give up), beginning last night, and I’m desperate to keep up with it, meaning I’ll try to go again today.
So instead of telling you about all those other things, I’m just going to tell you about this one: an adorable breakfast place in downtown La Grange, which I visited a few weekends ago.
If you’re from Chicago, cancel your brunch plans for next weekend. (Please?)
I know I don’t often make demands around here, but in this case, it is justified—and you will thank me later, I promise. Instead of whatever you’d originally planned, you’ll be visiting The Bristol in Bucktown this coming Saturday or Sunday, and here’s why:
This restaurant—well, neighborhood eatery, as it calls itself—is beautiful, with a cozy interior of exposed brick, hardwood floors, a chalkboard menu wall, a long bar with rows of ordered glasses and a communal dining area of intimate seating. I’ve read several reviews that warn how crowded the main room will be, but on a Saturday afternoon, we walked right in and got our choice of tables.
Speaking of when we walked in: I didn’t even open my own door because they saw us coming, and this staff is friendly. That makes sense, as the way I discovered The Bristol in the first place was on Twitter, through @JohnTheBristol (John Ross), one of the partners behind this restaurant, who posts updates about the seasonal Midwestern menu. The chef is Chris Pandel, formerly of NYC’s Cafe Boloud and local TRU, and his creative brunch plates range from a duck and potato skillet to a fried egg sandwich with pork belly and Mornay sauce.
While it’s true Chicago is traditionally known for its deep-dish pizza, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: this city makes a mean Neapolitan-style. Especially at Spacca Napoli.
Back in the days when we were trying every local bakery, my brother and I were also on a months-long quest to find the best pizza in Chicago, having gotten the idea from Chicago Magazine, which did a write-up on all the Neapolitan-style pizzerias in and around the city.
What I didn’t expect from this experiment, as a girl who has been known to crave frozen Tombstones from the grocery store, was that it would revolutionize the way I felt about pizza—not that I would stop liking the cheap kinds on lazy weeknights, but that, after having the smoky, thinner style considered a trademark in Italy, I would love this other kind much more.
Here’s how it’s made: A simple, thin round of dough is topped and slid into a hot, hot stone oven (we’re talking over 900 degrees Fahrenheit) and baked for less than two minutes over an oak-wood fire. When it emerges, the result is crispy, but not like a cracker—more chewy and tender, with a swollen lip around the edges and a wet, cheesy center. If done right, the pizza will have faint hints of char from the fast heat and punches of fragrance from the tomatoes. At Spacca Napoli in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, a pizzeria owned by Jonathan Goldsmith, pizzas are baked in an oven actually made in Naples, Italy, which cooks at 1200 (!) degrees Fahrenheit, amidst light golden walls with black and white photographs.
Sometimes when you’re hungry, you don’t want fancy. You want good taste at a good price, with a lot of options, someplace where you can feel comfortable.
And around here, that means you want Omega.
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Omega has been in business for over 30 years—I grew up going there for the Mickey Mouse pancakes, which are silver-dollar sized and buttermilk, filled with chocolate chips and topped with whipped cream and cherries. Today, though my tastes have evolved somewhat (I usually order a cream soup to go with the bread basket or an omelet with a side of breakfast potatoes) this place remains unchanged. It still packs the crowds at all hours, especially weekend mornings, when groups come through for brunch and Omega-stamped balloons decorate the enormous bakery case.