Friday, July 27, 2012

Chicago's Food Truck Frenzy

> via

Chicago has an amazing food and restaurant scene – we are undoubtedly a world-class city in terms of our culinary offerings for residents and visitors. However, Chicago does make a habit of passing some baffling legislation in this area. Remember the foie gras ban? (Apparently California is going through this now. Sorry, guys!)

When I went to Austin last year to visit a good friend, I realized how much was missing from my life: food trucks! I ate breakfast tacos, kebabs, brisket tacos, cake pops, shrimp tacos… and then I went back for the genius culinary creation that is FRIED AVOCADO tacos. Chicago has long had standing ordinances making it pretty much impossible for food trucks to exist. In recent years, savvy entrepreneurs have gotten around some of this by preparing the food off-site and selling it from the trucks. Some seriously awesome eats have come from these wheels – Southern Mac & Cheese, Haute Sausage and Flirty Cupcakes are all staples in my book.

Wednesday, however, was a huge leap forward in terms of getting us up to par – though still pretty heavily regulated, Chicago passed an ordinance that allows food trucks to prepare on board. This means taco trucks are just around the corner, guys! Fried avocado tacos! You have no idea. I’ve been jipped all these years and I am hell bent on making up for it as soon as humanly possible.

Though they’ve won the battle, the food trucks have yet to win the war. Being able to cook on board is a huge coup, but there’s a few frustrating provisions that came along with this, most notably that a truck can’t be parked within 200 feet of an operating restaurant. There are provisions for dedicated truck stands in some key neighborhoods: Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North, Near West, West Town and the Loop.  But outside of that, if you’re hoping to get your paws on some late night grub, that’s going to mean walking a bit in areas heavily populated with restaurants. The restaurants argue that they’re paying taxes, so they shouldn’t have food trucks leeching off of their foot traffic. But duh, it’s a totally different experience. If I’m dressed up to go out to dinner on Hubbard Street and there’s a falafel truck hanging out outside, I’m not about to ditch my plans for a nice evening complete with an air conditioning, seating, service and bathrooms for a quick pita. It’s a totally different experience, and its disappointing that Chicago restaurants aren’t more supportive of the community as a whole.

Alderman John Arena helpfully threw out arguably the best metaphor of all time on this topic, stating, "The brick and mortar restaurant lobby got ahold of (the plan) and it was stuffed with protectionism and baked in the oven of paranoia.”

Stuffed and baked as the plan may be, I’m personally pretty excited for this step towards righteousness… bring on the tacos.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicago Riverfront Patio Roundup

I had so much fun writing the rooftop roundup, I thought I'd just continue on down the line with a riverfront patio roundup. The Chicago River cuts right through the city and only adds to the already breathtaking backdrop of skyscrapers and the lake. There aren't very many restaurants or bars right on the lake - I'm thinking that has to do with zoning (research project for later!) - so if you're a fan of waterfront dining, these riverfront establishments are the way to go... unless, of course, you're in the mood for a Miami Vice at Castaways!

>photo via

Some of these patios are up all year long and are attached to brick and mortar establishments, and others are "pop-up" style - they're usually put up by a restaurant group that doesn't have riverfront property for a few months in the summer only!

Here's some of my favorites, and any fun happy hour specials that I know of or could find advertised.

Riverfront Patio Roundup

> photo via

Smith & Wollensky

One of my favorite patios to grab a glass of wine and chat with a girlfriend after work. S&W is a Chicago staple and nothing signals the start of summer more than their famous big white tents going up on the patio. They have a fun summer menu that I'm dying to try - especially the Lobster Mango salad.

Specials: Buy one, get one free bar menu Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 6 PM in the Grill Bar

McCormick & Schmick

Okay, I'm cheating a little bit with this one, because it's not technically riverfront. But it is really CLOSE to the river, and they have incredible happy hour specials, so I'm throwing it in! Walk down the river from your job in the loop and stop in to meet a group of friends on a Friday - after a $22 bottle of wine, you'll forget you're not right on the river anyway.

Specials: Check out the full list here

>photo  via

Bridge House Tavern

In my humble opinion, Bridge House has hands-down the best atmosphere out of Chicago's River Patios. Prop yourself up on the river-facing bar with a cocktail and watch the boats float by all evening.

Specials: Drink and food specials Monday – Thursday and $5 Mimosas/Bloody Marys on the weekends

South Branch

South Branch just opened last summer in the Loop. They could go toe-to-toe with Bridge House and it'd be a pretty close match in terms of atmosphere, but I think this patio's best asset is their food. Coconut shrimp? Blackened red snapper? Yes, please!

Lizzie McNeill’s

I've mentioned before that River East is practically another planet in terms of Chicago neighborhoods - don't get me wrong, it's GORGEOUS, but its rare that I have the occasion to just end up there. But, in the instances I do, Lizzie McNeill's is a great, casual option - you're so close to the lake that you get a really unique view. A great way to spend a laid-back Sunday afternoon.

Specials: Some daily and monthly specials, check out the list here


A pop-up! This is an offshoot of O'Brien's in Old Town. Tons of space, right under the Michigan Avenue bridge. It's nothing fancy, but a relaxed, super summery atmosphere to grab a cocktail and appetizers after work or after shopping on Michigan.


An absolutely gorgeous, upscale patio off of the new steakhouse that opened in River North. A great way to start off your Friday or Saturday night with dinner from the restaurant, watching the scene inside and the boats on the river. I hear they have a $1 Oyster happy hour special - you know I'll be there before the end of the summer!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Heat Wave

Sorry we've been blacking this week.

Oh, what do I mean by that?

Blog slacking, obviously.

I've been really weird about combining words lately. Someone threw two noodles into the lake over the Fourth at Lake Geneva and I screamed, "twodles!" Ali wasted no time informing me that was prettyyyyyyyy lame. I'm pretty sure the heat is getting to me. It recently occurred to me that our world right now is as hot as a Bikram yoga studio, and I don't even like hot yoga!

I know complaining about the heat wave is lame and I've already done it like 16 times, but seriously, all we can do is eat cold food and practice dolphin flips in the pool.

So, today we're heading to Oak Street Beach for a change of scenery. I know you east and west coasters probably think we're nuts going to a lake and calling it The Beach like its Cabo San Lucas, but seriously, Chicago's beaches are incredibly beautiful.

Chicago's Oak Street Beach

Yep, we import palm trees. Via this great photo gallery.

I stumbled upon this awesome photo gallery from the Chicago Tribune archives when searching for photos to prove it to you. Pretty cool (and maybe a little humbling) to realize that my fellow Chicago residents have been doing the exact same thing Ali and I will be doing today to beat the heat for pretty much ever... just with a lot more Playboy.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turkey & Feta Burgers

I don’t know about you, but every time my windows are open and I get a whiff of that glorious grill smell from one of my 2,695,597 Chicago neighbors, I’m guaranteed to spend the remainder of the day majorly craving a big fat burger. (Sorry, veggie friends!) However, since I don’t want to be a big fat anything, especially during bathing suit season, I save the burgers for special occasions. Our mama happens to make the best burgers in the world, so it’s worth waiting for. Or, you know, that one I ate last night after a few Corona Lights at a friend’s pool. Summer Sunday night totally = special occasion, right? :)

I feel like a lot of flavor can make up for a lack of finger-licking grease pretty darn well, so I make some version of turkey burgers just about once a week with various combinations of spices and add-ins. Last week, I made turkey burgers with reduced-fat feta mixed in, topped them with green olive tapenade and served with arugula and tomato salad. They were pretty awesome, if I do say so myself, so I thought I’d share.

Fancy cell phone photo via moi

Turkey & Feta Burgers

Makes 4 huge or 6 normal sized burgers

  • 1 package of ground turkey (I use 93/7 – but do 99/1 if you’re feeling extra healthy!)

  • 4 oz. crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese

  • ½ cup finely diced onion

  • 1 tsp garlic

  • 1 tsp salt

  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

  • Green olive tapenade (optional)

  1. Combine all ingredients, mix with your hands. Form into patties. Grill over medium heat until cooked through.

  2. Top with green olive tapenade if you’re into that kind of thing.

  3. Enjoy!