Stop 1- Nana’s
Day 5 was a triple hit of triple D. After a subway up to Wrigley field a few days earlier, I figured I’d venture past US Cellular field to at least lay eyes on the White Sox home field. That, and it was on the way to another DDD that was a cab ride from the conference centre. I shyed away from hitting up Nana’s on Sunday in an effort to avoid the brunch crowd so I figured a late breakfast/early lunch on Monday would be safer. It’s a clean breakfast and lunch nook with an open kitchen, small tables and a bar to sit at. I had a chance to talk to the owner who told me the restaurant is dedicated to his mom who, after being diagnosed with diabetes, made radical diet and lifestyle changes which got her off of medications and made her diabetes manageable. The premise is fresh and organic foods served with a Mexican flare.
There are two things which definitely draw me to a dish: I’m always intrigued by traditional dishes which are given a twist and anything that is local and in season. Today was no exception. Instead of my normal tendency to fill my veins with sausage and pork gravy, I was drawn to the nanadict, an interesting version of classic eggs benny. The english muffin is replaced with pupusas, the ham with chorizo and the hollandaise with a poblano cream sauce. The pupusa was a bit bricky and the eggs were poached American style (meaning a little too long). I loved the chorizo, especially with the poblano cream, which was rich and had a fresh flavour with a subtle bite. A little cilantro on top would have been great, The earthy potatoes and acidic greens added a nice balance to the dish.
The local/seasonal draw was the garlic whistles which were served with a sprinkle of fried cheese. They were tender and delicious. The cheese, a shot of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon recommended by the owner blended nicely with the garlic flavour. A great side dish!
Nana’s is a cute nook featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner rooted in family values and giving back. They sponsor the Benton House, a local agency dedicated to reducing hunger in Chicago through diner donations. The owner is present and proud. The menu has lots of choices, many with Mexican/South American influence and all based on local and in-house ingredients whenever possible. It’s a feel good place although I imagine too much poblano cream or chorizo may not leave you feeling too good the next day.
Verdict: 4 Guyz
Stop 2- bopNgrill
I got out the cab with a couple of colleagues only to avoid a summertime monsoon by seconds. With wind blowing and stop signs rattling, I was happy to be in the safe confines of bopNgrill, a DDD featuring burgers and bop plates. When I watched the show, I could almost smell the sizzling mushrooms through the television screen as Will Song meticulously created Americana with Asian influence. I was drawn to the umami burger that was featured on DDD and looked absolutely delicious. The Philly Bulkogi egg rolls featured on the show are only available on weekends, so that wasn’t an option. We also split the kimchi burger which featured my fave…a fried egg with bacon, cheese and kimchi. My sense of Smellivision was correct. The delicious smell of earthy mushrooms and truffles in the umami burger radiated throught the air. The burgers were cooked a perfect medium and had a dripiness which required a napkin run or two. They were well balanced and extremely flavourful. As a matter of fact, after one bite the clouds parted and the weather seemed to clear up. A coincidence??? I think not.
Verdict: 5 Guyz
Stop 3- Hopleaf Bar
After bopNgrill, I hopped in a cab and faced a dilemma. I had hopleaf, another DDD pegged for a visit, yet it was game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in the city poised to win. Did I want to venture to a place with a ridiculous choice of beer or did I want to settle for bud light and a crowd of drunkards cheering for the Hawks? Actually, it wasn’t really a dilemma. The day before, the barkeep at Haymarket raved about this place and hell, there may be a TV at Hopleaf so we could at least keep an eye on things.
The cab dropped us at the front door. After paying the fare, we were stopped by a gent who demanded ID. My dad and I have a running joke. He was asked for ID at 42 and I said I’d beat him. I’m not 42 yet but that fact I was asked on this occasion says I still have a chance. That said, it’s pretty standard practice in Illinois to ID everybody. Hopleaf is considered a tavern so nobody under 21 is even allowed in the place. We seated ourselves in the bar area and examined the multi-page beer menu. . As for a TV…not a chance. The bar staff looked like the Grateful Dead and the patrons had anything but hockey on their mind.
The beer selection is extensive, ranging from breweries down to the road to hot spots across the USA. There is also an extensive selection of Belgian and Belgian style brews as well as a few European stragglers as well.
The Snaggletooth Bandana is a great Illinois IPA from Naperville combining a hoppy punch with strong tropical fruit flavours. I was fortunate to try a Troublesome Gose from Off Color, a Chicago start-up brewery which had it’s official launch at Hopleaf that night. It was a classic wheat beer with medium spice and a refreshing finish. One can’t go to Chicago without sucking back a Goose Island offering. In this regard, I opted for a cumbersome pils which hit the spot. With three of us there, there was lots of sipping and sharing but be assured there is not shortage of choices. The staff are very helpful as well, quick to offer advice, good or bad, regarding any of the pints. For example, I ordered a pint of a cucumber beer and, at the advise of the bartender, was offered a sample first and quickly realized a pint was just not feasible.
As for the food, the menu is a concoction of dishes with most made in-house. Since I was already pretty stuffed with the combination of bopNgrill and beer, we ordered a few things to split and stuck with the signatures; mussels with frites ($13), charcuterie trio (headlined by house made head cheese) ($14) and the the brisket sandwich ($13). As a result of a camera malfunction I don’t have pictures but I can say that each dish was terrific. The mussels were classically done. The charcuterie plate was well executed and well thought out. A minor fight between the four os us almost broke out for the last smear of rilette. I was a bit reluctant about the brisket. It’s a tough cut to perfect and the fact it wasn’t a smokehouse left me a little suspicious. My opinion changed with the first bite. It was delicate and tender and competitive with some of the best briskets I’ve had.
Great beer and great food make this a great place despite the lack on television and a less than cozy atmosphere. The bar has a bit of staleness but doesn’t translate to the food and drink. The mussels, brisket and charcuterie were amazing. The service is great from a beer recommendation perspective. Otherwise, you’re on your own. The bar area doesn’t doesn’t even have a waitress. Plus, you gotta leave the kids at home and bring you ID because if you don’t have it you might as well be 12 because you’re not getting in. Despite the lack of a TV, two loud waves of screams a minute apart from a sports bar next door told us everything we needed to know. The Hawks scored twice in the last two minutes to secure the Stanley cup and the party began….
Verdict- 5 Guyz