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Casual Gems in and just outside Chicago

Lately my husband and I have been over the "big" restaurants in Chicago...we've been to a lot of them (Au Cheval, Purple Pig, girl and the goat, Publican, frontera/topo, Nico, etc- you know the drill) and are a bit worn out on the super done up, polished fine dining restaurants. The small plates. The use of Malort and Fernet.


On the other hand, we've done a lot of the "great food but little atmosphere" places (lots of ethnic food, the like).

what I find more difficult is unearthing those smaller gems that are cozy and genuine. I find myself thinking about a place near Michigan City, IN called "Stop 50" (, a little pizza place tucked just off the lake. Great pizza, decent wine, warm service-- no fuss, just lots of locals and great service.

Do these places exist within the city limits? If so, I want...NEED to know where they are! Also, others that are just a short distance from Chicago would be fun too.

Sep 06, 2014
Adriane in Chicago Area

OK, Ready for Feedback: My Heavily Researched Chicago Itinerary

Frontera, meh. Urban Belly, super meh. You could really do a lot better. If you're up for going outside the Loop (and I assume you are, considering you eyed UB), head up to Tank Noodle. It's worth the hype. Lunch is a very relaxed time of locals and Vietnamese families. It's happy place! Order a giant Pho, order the roasted quail, order the lemon cubed beef. It's all huge and so amazing and fresh. The servers are super friendly. It's such a great introduction to the city and everyone I have brought there has loved it.

Au Cheval is ridiculously delicious but prepare yourself for a long wait and make a late dinner res!

If any of your dinner plans change or you are thinking of something else, I urge you to consider Owen and Engine. I'm never sure why this place is under the radar...the food and drinks and ambiance is delicious.

Sep 06, 2014
Adriane in Chicago Area

The Prince and The Pauper, Woodstock, VT

Meh I hear what you're saying-- P&P used to be stellar now it just seems average. Listen, next time you're in town do yourself a favor and book a res (way in advance!!) at Pane e Salute. It's so, soooo worth it. Why? Classic, rustic Italian osteria by people who know food, love food, and love Italy (I'm pretty sure they make a trip there every year). Been multiple times and I am never disappointed. A true gem.

Jan 15, 2013
Adriane in Northern New England

Hanover, NH Area

Double thumbs up for all the suggestions from Madisoneats except Dirt Cowboy-- great location but their coffee is lacking-- Just down the street from Tip Top is Tuckerbox-- fantastic place serving VT Coffee Company.

A few other suggestions is Allechante just across the bridge and Umpleby's Bakery right in the thick of it on South St.

Jan 15, 2013
Adriane in Northern New England

Brattleboro, VT

Belated but worth noting, take the time to go a little out of the way to Walpole, NH and eat at LA Burdicks. Amazing food, great service, warm decor....literally one of my all-time favorite restaurants.

Jan 15, 2013
Adriane in Northern New England

Vermont Vintage Paper Placemats

Here is an esoteric one for you all--

For our wedding we were considering using vintage Vermont paper placemats similar to something like this:

Yes, clearly it looks like they could just be bought online, but I was hoping someone out there might know of any restaurants or diners that still USE these so we could collect a few different ones, inexpensively or for free, without going through the trouble of buying one online and having to replicate them ourselves.

Please help! Any thoughts or ideas are welcome.

Jan 15, 2013
Adriane in Northern New England

Balut in Chicago.

Yes, I second this location...I was there just a couple weeks ago and they had tons of balut. I was astonished to see it there since I've only read about/seen it on food shows...but its there!

Feb 25, 2012
Adriane in Chicago Area

Best Ice Cream Available at Whole Foods?

Ciaobella is delicious! Both their sorbet and gelatos are worth every penny and they have a nice assortment of "base" favors (tahitian vanilla, lemon sorbet) but then some really awesome nontraditional types. The ones I've tried; Malted Milk Ball, blackberry cabernet, Key lime graham, are all insanely good.

Sidenote: Steer clear from Talenti brand....looks delicious and actually icky flavored with a gummy texture. Not worth the "premium" price tag.

Feb 25, 2012
Adriane in Chicago Area

Late night recs Bucktown: urgent!

Where in Bucktown are you staying? If you are within Wicker Park distance (most likely a short cab ride away) I suggest going to Big Star, the Taco outpost from the same people heading up the likes of Publican and Avec. It's not particularly veg friendly, per se, but they do have veg options and oh- you could die on their guac alone. Great beer list, $3 whiskey shots, delicious and dangerous margarita pitchers....
They are open late and also have a to-go window.

Feb 25, 2012
Adriane in Chicago Area

Visiting from San Francisco -- Need a couple of more "Must Do's/Eats"!!

Okay so clearly you're getting a ton of feedback here so I will try to be brief on the items already covered and hopefully add some new bits

-Skip the idea of Aviary, because it's going to be a nightmare of a madhouse esp. on Memorial Day Weekend!...there are so many other great cocktail places. I second the Drawing Room and Violet Hour (also a wait, but not as nuts). I would also add Gilt Bar which has a speakeasy-type feel and excellent cocktails.

-Do a "two-for-one" and go to the trump tower. I don't know if the 19th floor terrace will be open, but if it is, do yourself a favor and go have a cocktail while viewing the sunset splashed all across the gorgeous River North buildings --and get a peek at Lake Michigan, too--drinks are pricey but solid and the view makes it worth it.

- XOCO is tasty but odd in general. Not a place I'd say you absolutely must visit.

-Purple Pig is amazing. If you are into the sharing, talking about food while eating it, and a general convival/hip atmosphere throughout the place, go. Food is fantastic. Not Stuffy. Our long wait was mitigated by the bartender-runner literally taking orders and bringing them to us as we waited outside. Hello? Talk about great service. Also check out Longman and Eagle. I have not been personally but have heard great things.

-Giordano's is not worth the feels sooo....contrived. It's full of tourists. Blech. If you're going to be up near Wrigley/Lakeview for the game, I suggest Art of Pizza- So good!!

-In that same vein, check out Julius Meinl on Southport for brunch (okay i work there but this is so not a plug! I promise!) We are right down the street from Wrigley and have a pretty large menu with breakfast until 3pm every day, also open til midnight on fri-sat. Solid Vienna coffeehouse will all the added awesomeness of a full menu.

To Dos (keepin' it brief, please google the recs!
)-Definitely Art Institute-- Terzo Piano if your hungry?
-Garfield Park Conservatory, beautiful...awe inspiring...serene...
-Millennium Park..Beach, cityscape behind you? Perfection.
-Architecture Tour!!!
- Glessner and Clark House Museums...for a taste of Chicago from the turn of the century. A little gem...celebrating it's 125th and 175th anniversaries, respectively

Ok ok- I think you have a huge host of items to sort through- good luck and have fun in our city!!

The Drawing Room
937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

Art of Pizza
3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Violet Hour
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

Terzo Piano
159 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603

May 18, 2011
Adriane in Chicago Area

Vermont to Chicago...good restaurants along the way??? Cleveland area?

My boyfriend and I are heading back to Chicago after the holidays...driving back! We're really sick of the Highway stops and the cold fast food- disgusting. We decided we wanted to have a real dinner and think we'll be in the Cleveland area around dinner time. Does anyone out there have any suggestions of good restaurants in that area not TOO off the beaten path? Or even a little before or after Cleveland would be okay...I just assumed that is where the highest concentration of good restaurants were. I was thinking some cozy bistro-type place but we are open to all suggestions. Thank you!

Dec 29, 2010
Adriane in Great Lakes

Spiked Cider Recipe

Has anyone ever heard of an alcoholic cider drink called "Lady Clarice's Golden Horn"? We used to make it every Christmas at my house and the recipe went missing a few years ago!

Any leads would be appreciated. Thanks!

Nov 19, 2010
Adriane in Spirits

Bitters - sources, recipes?

Wahooty-- Chow has some great bitters recipes!

I have tried the orange and grapefruit bitters and they were both delicious and easy to make. They do indeed take some odd ingredients-- but I also come from small town non-ethnic and a trip to the healthfood store scorec me all the more difficult to find items. (albeit a long trip- but worth it!) Or consider calling a friend who might live closer to where items are available and ask them to send it to you?

Nov 19, 2010
Adriane in Spirits

Suggestions of where to grab a first date drink...

For a first date I would have to say the Trump Tower outdoor rooftop bar... Well, it's not actually rooftop, but rather the 16th floor. It does have a little scene but my boyfriend and I went once soon after relocating to Chicago and we were in awe. With the weather so nice, it's a great place to sit outside and admire the lights, the architecture, etc etc. It's romantic/sexy without being fussy.

They have a full bar so of course they have your typical martinis and whatnot but also have some delicious in-house recipes.
If you do go, just note that the two bars adjacent to one another (one inside, and the deck) are different bars and don't allow you to take the drinks to the different areas (kinda lame).

Oct 08, 2010
Adriane in Chicago Area