Chicago: Day 6: White Palace and Black Sabbath

My final day in Chicago was a race to see how many DDDs I could hit before my 2 pm flight.  After a strategic session with a map, I determined a route that would allow me to hit three; two within walking distance and one on the way to O’Hare.

Having spent most of my time in Chicago on either the Magnificant Mile, the convention centre or West Randolph, it was nice to get off the beaten path a bit.  My first stop was the White Palace Grill.  Opened in 1939, this place is the traditional 24 hour American diner. It has all the classics, from eggs to waffles to Mexican breakfast platters.  I sat at the counter and joined the show as one of the many cast and characters of the Chicago scene.  A very pleasant waitress quickly came to my rescue, offering me the large menu and a newspaper which I much appreciated.  It’s amazing how out of touch one falls when stuck in a conference for 4 or 5 days.  I scanned the menu and ordered a coffee, some strawberry banana french toast with a side of bacon and some grits to try.

The banter in the place  was primarily focused on the Hawks Stanley cup win the night before.  People were walking in and out proudly donning T-shirts and jerseys.  There seems to be a trend among couples to walk around Chicago wearing matching shirts…it’s rather endearing. I was rather amused when another waitress checked in to start working.  I think her name was “Happy” or something like that. If so, the name fit her personality and I quite enjoyed listening to the conversations and laughter that erupted during my breakfast.

Without much of a wait, breakfast arrived. The strawberry sauce was on the side, so some assembly was required. It was classic french toast with classic toppings.  I love grits and I wasn’t disappointment by the Palace’s butter laden offering.

Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry
Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry
Strawberry Banana French Toast
Strawberry Banana French Toast
MMMM...bacon and grits.
MMMM…bacon and grits.

My Take

White Palace grill is an all American 24 hour diner.  It has all the attributes of a good experience; good food, good service and good decor. Although it may not  top the Zagat guide, it’s a place where you eat lots and leave feeling happy, happy, happy.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

White Palace Grill on Urbanspoon

Stop number two was Panzanno’s Italian Market which was about a 10 minute walk from White Palace.  During this time, I got to admire some of Chicago’s downtown architecture from afar while walking over the West Roosevelt bridge. The bridge itself is quite interesting. I snapped a pic of one of the numerous icons which lined the street.  I did a quick internet search to find out the meaning of these depictions but came up empty.

Despite the name, I wouldn’t call Panozzo’s a market.  True, they sell a small array of pastas and Italian staples, but the main attraction is the deli and take out sandwiches.  There are a few “old school favorites” but the signatures are the crescentine sandwiches.  Like the name suggests, they are crescent shaped sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of delicious fare.

I ordered two sandwiches to go; the porchetta crescentine and the meatball sandwich. It was hot as hell outside, so I was also drawn to the ice cream freezer which was sporting an array of Zarlengo’s Gelato.  There was an article hanging on the wall touting the frozen treats, so I grabbed a Rum and Raisin  for the walk back to the mile. It was smooth and creamy with lots of raisins and lots of rum flavour filled the cup.

Porchetta Crescentine
Porchetta Crescentine
Meatball Sandwich
Meatball Sandwich
Zarlengo's Rum and Raisin Gelato
Zarlengo’s Rum and Raisin Gelato

I like when thought is put into things, even simple things. Sometimes the difference between a good sandwich and a great sandwich is one ingredient.  There is always the opportunity to push the boundaries just a little and I feel Panozzo’s does that.   Both sandwiches were delicious. I think the pickled fennel and chilis  in the porchetta and meatball respectively added enough to make these sandwiches stand out.  The bread was fresh and the fillings were ample.

My Take

Although the decor is a little barren and the vibe a little flat the sandwiches were delicious. The offering of Zalengo’s at Panozzo’s is another example of the comradery that exists between restaurants and other vendors in Chicago.  Like Metropolis coffee and Graham Elliot’s eateries, it’s a win-win and refreshing concept.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Panozzo's Italian Market. on Urbanspoon

Zarlengo's Soft Serve on Urbanspoon

After I devoured the gelato I walked through the park, took a few pictures of Soldier field from afar, made a wish in a fountain, admired some more Chicago architecture and got soaked in a short but intense downpour.  I did a quick change into some dry clothes, repacked, hailed a cab and proceeded to my third DDD of the day, Kuma’s Corner, which is located on the way to O’Hare.

Kuma’s corner prides itself on a fantastic concept;  the fusion of burgers and head banging metal.  This is not a superficial claim.  Everything from the decor to the staff to the name of the burgers scream the theme.  I see metal this way….stubborn and abrasive on the outside but with a core of justice and determination in the middle.    Take their beer philosophy for example.  One may attribute the “No Bud and Miller” philosophy to a pretentious and elitist attitude.  Consider the possible lyric:

“Drink no Bud, drink no Miller,

I’m a commercial lager killer.”

Sounds a little nasty, but the foundation in rooted in supporting the small guy, a concept as important to the brewing industry as it is for food. To this point, I started with a Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce Scottish ale on tap and was later hypnotized by a bottle of  Apocalypse Cow  housed within one of the the many bar fridges and brewed by the same Indiana brewery.  Although it came with a $20 charge, it was a fantastic IPA . Rich and citrusy, almost sour and intensely hoppy , it was a wonderful complement to the burger.

The menu itself is burger-centric with a spattering of bar food available as well.  The three guys beside me were indulging on an order of mac and cheese which looked divine (mind you when does mac and cheese not look divine).  There are almost 20 burgers available, each with a combination of standard and not so standard toppings such as avacodo, smoky and spicy cheeses, wing sauce, poached pears and yes, a fried egg.  I went Ozzy and ordered the Black Sabbath burger which was a patty seasoned with blackening seasoning, spicy jack, chili and red onion.  I chose a salad as the side which turned out to be pretty good.  My colleague went with the burger of the month which in this case was the Stranglehold, an 8 oz buffalo patty garnished with aged cheddar, arugula and habanero mustard.

Kuma's Side Salad
Kuma’s Side Salad
Black Sabbath burger
Black Sabbath burger
Black Sabbath burger..Take 2
Black Sabbath burger..Take 2

There’s a whole lotta burger.  The bun was delicious and the toppings worked well together.  I had a nibble of my colleagues bison burger which hit the mark as well.  If anything, I wish there was a little more liberty to choose the wellness of the burger because a patty cooked medium would have been over the top.  Instead, the patty was a bit on the dry side although far from inedible.

My Take

Kuma’s concept is a fun one.  I may have seemed out of place hauling a week’s worth of luggage into this tiny joint and sitting among biker types and foodies who were embryos or twinkles in their father’s eyes when the majority of the metal playing in the background came out.  Needless to say, I received the same rugged yet considerate service despite the fact I don’t sport a tattoo, two inch spacers or a permanent chip on my shoulder. The food was good, the gimmick works and the beer selection was amazing.

The first line of Metallica’s Fuel is “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire”.  Big burgers, plenty of local beer and whisky on tap do just that.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 5: Nana-nana-nana..I was bopping and hopping all night long

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.

Nana's Nanadict
Nana’s Nanadict

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!

Garlic Whistles
Garlic Whistles

My Take

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

Nana on Urbanspoon


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.

Kimchi and Umami Burgers
Kimchi and Umami Burgers

Verdict: 5 Guyz

bopNgrill on Urbanspoon

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.

My Take

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

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon