Breakfast and Brunch, Lunch, West Town, Wicker Park

Hash

Hash
Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
Address: 1357 N. Western, Chicago, IL 60622
Phone Number: (773) 661-2964
Website

Price Range: $7-11
Our Rating: 4 out of 5

What We Tried: Pork Bubble and Squeak, Truffle Hash

Our Take: Another weekend, another brunch. But actually this wasn’t brunch, it was breakfast. This is an important distinction because it allowed us to go to lunch that afternoon. Ideal, if you ask me.

I digress. Hash is a cheery little spot in the heart of West Town with all the charm  of a classic 70s diner, the neighborhood vibe of your favorite childhood post-Church breakfast spot, and the “chalkboard-cool” aesthetic of a hip urban café. Though the place is small, we were seated right away. Hash uses an efficient order-at-the-counter system so even if you do have to wait, they move diners in and out pretty quickly so it won’t be long before you’re seated.

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nestled on a cozy corner in the heart of west town

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order-at-the-counter = less wait time

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yes, cookies before noon seems unhealthy, but it’s vegan sweets don’t count, right?

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avocado on the side will cost you extra, but not much at this ultra-affordable spot

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drizzle anything in truffle oil and i’m sold

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post-breakfast walk was on point

Carolyn and I decided to try one of the namesake dishes – a hash. Each hash comes with potatoes and other mix-ins topped with either one or two eggs, your way.

I opted for the Truffle Hash – perfectly crispy potatoes over sautéed kale and carrots drizzled with truffle oil and topped with two eggs, scrambled in my case. The truffle oil was definitely the key to this smooth, full-flavored dish, but the finely chopped sautéed kale and carrots were surprisingly welcome, if not traditionally desirable in an egg and potatoes dish.

Carolyn’s Pork Bubble and Squeak reminded me of pot roast with the addition of brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes – which is convenient because those are two of our favorite things. The pork shoulder was fall-apart-on-your-fork, while the mustard cream sauce added the perfect tangy zip to the otherwise classically flavored dish.

We both left satisfied, but more breakfast-full than I-can-go-without-eating-until-7pm-full – the ideal way to fuel our 5+ hour city walk!

This isn’t the place to go for your 3-hour bottomless mimosa brunch rolling 15 people deep, but if you’re looking for a fun spot to grab a quick (and cheap) breakfast, brunch, or lunch and a little piece of neighborhood in your big city life, Hash is the call.

-Meredith

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Breakfast and Brunch, Dessert, Dinner, Lincoln Park, Lunch

Summer House Santa Monica

Summer House Santa Monica
Brunch (Sat, Sun), Lunch (Thurs, Fri), Dinner

Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
Address: 1954 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: (773) 634-4100
Website

Price Range: $15-30
Our Rating: 4 out of 5

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go ahead, get Acai Basil Smashed

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there was no appropriate way to photograph this squash

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lobster orecchiette is a top Maine course at Summer House (heh)

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I love you an enchilada

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bae

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grilled salmon, I sea you

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come to mama

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vanilla bean is key

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♥ ♥ ♥

What We Tried: Fresh Burrata, Hot Mess of Fries, Spicy Calamari, Caramelized Butternut Squash, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Maine Lobster Orecchiette, Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Wild Mushroom Enchilada Stack, Grilled Chicken Tacos, Pork Shank (a special), S’mores Cookie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookie with Brown Butter Ice Cream, Caramelized Pan Perdu

Our Take: I think we can all agree that winter in Chicago can get pretty brutal. Luckily, Summer House Santa Monica is here for us. The restaurant takes us to the sunny beaches of Santa Monica with its sky lights, life guard chair bar stools, white walls, and pockets of greenery around the restaurant. Summer House gives off an open-air vibe without opening a single window (because even though it doesn’t feel like it, we are still in Chicago). While themed restaurants run a high risk of feeling tacky and contrived, Summerhouse keeps things subtle and genuine.

Our wait was longer than expected (okay with us because it gave us time to stop at the Marquee Lounge for drinks), but the host staff felt terrible and offered us complimentary appetizers and a round of drinks as an apology. Totally unnecessary but definitely a way to win us over right off the bat, especially if you make drinks like the Acai Basil Smash (originally a “zero-proof cocktail” but best with the addition of vodka or rum, in my humble opinion).

We started with the fresh burrata, the spicy calamari, and the “hot mess of fries” because who can turn down al pastor, pico de gallo, queso fresco, and a sunny side up egg all piled on a stack of fried potatoes? Not these kids (and one mom), and we would recommend that you don’t either. I’m not typically a seafood girl (or a spicy girl for that matter), but the calamari was also stellar.

Being the sharers that we are, everyone tried a little of everything and unanimously decided that the Pork Shank with Roasted Fennel and the Maine Lobster Orecchiette were the winners of the entree category. The extremely tender and oh-so-succulent pork fell right off the bone (and was promptly devoured). I’d say it even rivaled the pork shank at Girl & the Goat, which is saying a lot. The pasta was just as rich, and the lobster was incorporated generously.

My friends, mom, and I will likely never settle the debate over what was better: the Sea Salt Chocolate Chip cookie or the Caramelized Pan Perdu with roasted local apples, cinnamon custard, and brown butter ice cream. The Pan Perdu was my personal favorite (think a giant piece of French Toast) with its crisp, caramelized exterior and soft, pillowy interior that somehow evaded the sogginess trap. Even my mom, who usually doesn’t bother with dessert unless it involves chocolate, was infatuated. The cookies are a house specialty, though, and worth a trip in their own right. Carolyn and I have considered Ubering all the way up to Lincoln Park just to grab one (or five), if that tells you anything.

As fantastic as Summerhouse was for dinner, I’ve heard their brunch is just off the charts. We’ll surely be back for that, ya know, for the blog (#ftb).

Note: I’ve heard that if you check in on Yelp, you get a free cookie a la mode. Just sayin.

-Meredith

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Dinner, Lunch, Market, The Loop

Christkindlmarket

Christkindlmarket
Market, Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: The Loop
Address: Daley Plaza between Dearborn, Washington, and Clark
Website

Price Range: Pure, Unadulterated Joy is FREE!!!
Our Rating: 4.4 out of 5

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bliss.

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lighting up you your life this christmas season

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the clocks you didn’t know you needed

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o christmas tree, o christmas tree

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coming soon to your christmas tree

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i call this one, “christkindlmarket perfection”

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bringing us back to our travels in peru!

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so precious

What We Tried: Bratwurst, Cinnamon Roasted Almonds, Gluwhein

Our Take: Christmas Spirit is the Christkindlmarket. The Christkindlmarket is Christmas Spirit. Seriously, if I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought that Buddy the Elf commissioned this thing. Recommended to me by a native Chicagoan friend, the Christkindlmarket has been a tradition for his family and many others since its inception in 1996. Each year, the Christmas Market is put on by the German American Chamber of Commerce and pays homage to the traditional Christkindlesmarkt held in Nuremberg, Germany. Vendors from all over the world come to bring you hand-crafted goods, traditional German food, and lots of holiday cheer.

I met my friend Molly at the market after work, and we couldn’t stop smiling. Our first stop was the gluwhein stall because gluwhein is German mulled wine so, obviously. The wine itself was delightful and surprisingly smooth, but the real winner was the decorative ceramic mug that the wine came in because GUESS WHAT?! You get to take it home!! Hot chocolate is also available for the kiddos and wine-averse in the same adorable mug.

While we were stationed by the food stalls, Molly grabbed a brat. This is when I found that Germany and Chicago have yet another thing in common, both prefer their encased meats SANS ketchup. That’s right, German mustard all the way here folks! (Traditionally, Germans also go heavy on the sauerkraut, but we’ll give you some wiggle room on that one). Other traditional food options include strudel (sweet and savory (either is dinner-acceptable)), crepes, döner, pretzels, schnitzel, potato pancakes, and much more.

While many of the craft goods, some from nations as far-reaching as Nepal, Switzerland, and Peru, are quite pricey, you really can’t put a price on authenticity. Okay, maybe you can, but in that case, just look around and admire the handiwork. The market hosts some truly incredible artists!

Finally, be sure to stop by the sweet shop and listen to the carolers sing (in German)! Don’t wait in the dastardly line to snag your candied nuts, though; there is an even bigger and much less crowded nut stall near the corner of Washington and Dearborn.

If at all possible, I’d highly suggest spicing things up and bringing out the Christmas joy on a weekday. My mom and I tried to stop in on a Saturday and were so packed in I felt like one of the encased meats mentioned above.

The Christkindlmarket only lasts for 4 weeks each year, so make sure to get there before Christmas! You will probably walk away with a hand-carved cuckoo clock, glass blown ornaments for everyone you know (and their mother), and twenty pounds of cinnamon roasted almonds, but you won’t care a smidge because you will be in an incredibly holly, jolly mood.

Frohe Weihnachten to all, and to all a good night!

-Meredith

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Dinner, Lunch, River North

Maxwell’s at the Club

Maxwell’s at the Club
Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: River North
Address: 1500 N Kingsbury St., Chicago, IL 60654
Phone Number: (312) 527-5800
Website

Price Range: $20-45
Our Rating: 3.8 out of 5

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grilled shrimp, mushroom soup, grilled artichoke

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blackberry sauce on fleek

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a+ for presentation

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but this salad was the real winner

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macaroons.

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i scream, you scream

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tres leches

What We Ordered: Coconut Snowball cocktail, Red Wine Flight, Lemon Drop, Wild Mushroom Soup, Grilled Shrimp, Grilled Artichoke, Kingsbury Salad with the addition of Seared Ahi, Asian Soba Noodle Salad with Glazed Roasted Salmon, Turkey Breast Medallions, Roasted Butternut Squash (side), Bananas Foster, Tres Leches Cake with Ice Cream, Chocolate Fondue

Our Take: Sometimes, choosing a restaurant in Chicago feels a little bit like having a closet full of nothing to wear. A place is too crowded, too fancy, too casual, the menu is too big, too small, too standard or too experimental, they either don’t accept reservations, or you needed to make a reservation six weeks ago. Where we live in River North, there are very few restaurants in the immediate vicinity, and we usually end up walking a mile or more to dinner. It’s not that we mind the exercise — especially when it is warm, we will walk around the city for hours — we just have to put more effort into researching a destination. Until recently, we had yet to find a go-to restaurant in the area.

Enter Maxwell’s. Maxwell’s at the Club is the ‘sophisticated yet casual’ restaurant inside the East Bank Club. Though the East Bank Club is members-only, Maxwell’s is open to anyone. We had no problem making a reservation for 6:30 pm on a Friday, when the restaurant was filled with families, groups of girlfriends, and couples enjoying the Italian buffet.

We were tempted by the buffet (make your own pasta station, several types of salads, whole cloves of roasted garlic, gelato bar), but decided to order off the regular menu to “get the full experience.”

Feeling fancy, we began with a few of the signature cocktails. The coconut snowball had a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in it that was rolled in toasted coconut…any girl’s dream, right? As a bonus, our wonderful waitress filled our martini glasses table side, and left us with the carafe so that we could keep on going through appetizers. It was like the adult-version of getting a milkshake at Red Robin. Which is not a bad thing.

The Grilled Shrimp was the clear winner of the appetizer course. The shrimp were juicy and flavorful, and the roasted oyster mushrooms and leeks added a delightful woody flavor to the dish. The grilled artichoke was cooked perfectly, but could have benefited from some aioli or a little seasoning. The Wild Mushroom Soup was good, but nothing to write home about.

Ordering the Turkey Breast Medallions was a leap of faith. There is a reason you don’t see this dish often: Anyone who has ever cooked a Thanksgiving turkey can tell you that keeping this bird from drying out is a challenge, especially in medallion form. While juiciness wasn’t the dish’s star quality, the blackberry sauce really saved it. The roasted sweet potatoes, though, were perfectly cooked and deliciously seasoned.

The Kingsbury was definitely the superior of the two salads – think Cobb salad but more inventive. Adding the seared ahi made the salad more substantial, and the portion was generous. The Asian Soba Noodle Salad was pleasant as well, but pretty run of the mill, and rather small.

Maxwell’s boasts an impressive dessert menu, and we really loved that they offer mini desserts for those nights when we’re feeling closer to “go home” than “go big.” On this particular night, though, we were going big. As was kindly suggested to us by the manager, Charles, bananas foster is Maxwell’s best dessert. The bananas and caramel are served warm in a gravy boat, so that you can let your ice cream achieve your exact desired meltiness before diving in.

Maxwell’s has live music almost every night of the week, too—when we went, a jazz band was playing Christmas music. The band was incredibly talented, and added the perfect ambience to our meal. With its country club vibe, Maxwell’s is the perfect place for a casual-yet-classy meal with the family on a weeknight, or girlfriend’s on a Saturday. We will be back!

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Bars, Breakfast and Brunch, Dinner, Lunch, The Gold Coast

Hash House A Go Go

Hash House A Go Go
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: Gold Coast
Address: 1212 N State Parkway, Chicago, Illinois 60610
Phone Number: (312) 202-0994
Website

Price Range: $7-12
Our Rating: 3.8 out of 5

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Fresh Mushroom, Artichoke Hearts, Sundried Tomato and Fresh Spinach House Hash

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Blackberry Granola Pancake

What We Tried: Blackberry Granola Pancake; Fresh Mushroom, Artichoke Hearts, Sundried Tomato and Fresh Spinach House Hash

Our Take: Before trying out a new spot, Carolyn and I like to check out the restaurant’s Instagram to get a feel for what we’re in for. Our first observation after looking up Hash House A Go Go is that they like to pierce a large number of their meals with steak knives. Maybe it’s to keep these massive meals together? Or maybe it’s the chef’s stamp of approval? Either was good reason enough to check the place out. So we did.

The interior of Hash House has more of a bar-ish vibe (i.e. dim lighting, stainless steel, ironically not ideal for Instragramming), but was pleasant none-the-less. Our wait on a Sunday at primetime (11:45 am) was about an hour, which was okay because we’ve come to realize that wait time is positively correlated with deliciousness (If you don’t believe us, just know the wait at Big Star at 5 pm on Saturday was already upwards of 1.5 hours. And we all know of the deliciousness that is Big Star.). Also, wait time is an opportunity to scope out what other people ordered (an underrated but essential brunching activity).

For as large as my pancake was (and it was large), I was surprised that it wasn’t too dense. It was heavy, sure, but not that undercooked, I-think-I-just-ate-a-small-brick kind of heavy. Regardless, though, I was lucky to take down half of the thing. Bonus points for fresh blackberries and not blackberry sauce because fruit sauce always ends up tasting like medicine.

When you do go, though, I’d recommend going with the namesake dish: a hash. Carolyn’s house hash was positively delicious and led to major order envy. The biscuit was as perfect an accompaniment as the random green sprig coming out of it (the homemade jam wasn’t too shabby either).

tldr; Go for the food not the atmosphere, order the hash, don’t question the steak knives.

-Meredith

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Breakfast and Brunch, Bucktown, Dessert, Dinner, Lincoln Park, Lunch, O'Hare, River North

Goddess & Grocer

Goddess & Grocer
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: Bucktown, River North, Lincoln Park, O’Hare
Address: Multiple
Phone Number: Multiple
Website

Price Range: $7-12
Our Rating: 5 out of 5

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Love this Bucktown location

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Perfect people watching post

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Yes, it’s impossible to choose

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So much yes

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Yes, THAT Jeni’s

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Cutest seating upstairs

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Carolyn ❤ al fresco dining

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Homemade granola bars

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Tofu never looked so good

What We Tried: Too many things to try to remember

Our Take: Living around the corner from a Goddess & Grocer is both a blessing and a curse. Ex: It is a blessing the morning after you had a little too much fun at Big Star (not speaking from experience or anything). It is a blessing when you’d rather avoid a night like the one at Big Star and just want to eat dessert and watch a movie with your roommate. It is a blessing when you host a dinner party and forget to defrost the chicken (Again, not speaking from experience). It is a blessing when you and your roommate decide to go on a 5 hour walk without any particular food stops planned. It is a curse when you lose all motivation to cook anything ever (which we do. Cook, that is. Just so you know.).

Anyway, G&G is a mecca for delicious prepared, made-to-order, and packaged foods. Their sandwiches are to die for. The make-your-own options are unique (read: not your typical Subway fare), and they don’t charge you an arm and a leg for each individual topping. The prepared foods are just as inventive, like the aforementioned Lemon Thyme Chicken. The packaged options, like granola bars, are also awesome and usually artisanal, all natural, or locally made (like pints of JENI’S!!!!). All of the locations are well-decorated and trendy, but we’d especially recommend the Bucktown spot for its knockout salad bar (think Whole Foods level) and rooftop dining. Basically, you’ll be mad you didn’t know about this place sooner.

-Meredith

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Dinner, Lunch, The Loop, Vegan, Wicker Park

Native Foods Cafe

Native Foods Cafe
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Neighborhood: Wicker Park, the Loop
Address: Multiple
Phone Number: Multiple
Website

Price Range: $5-15
Our Rating: 5 out of 5

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Kale is Kool at Native Foods Cafe.

What We Tried: Jamaican Kale Salad, Sweet Potato Fries, Kale Macro Bowl, Roasted Vegetables Side, Oatmeal Cream Cookie Pie, Blueberry Hibiscus Iced Tea

Our Take: They say kale is the new black. My great aunt Mary was eating it before it was cool—and she was still playing tennis at age 92!—but I must admit that I’ve also jumped on the cruciferous bandwagon.

Enter Native Foods Cafe, an entirely plant-based restaurant. Though Native Foods is a chain with locations across the country, each restaurant features a regional menu. They use organic, sustainable ingredients, made fresh every day, and all the restaurants are energy-efficient. Namaste!

Last Sunday, I stopped at the Wicker Park location for a quick lunch. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’m not vegetarian, but after living in Nepal for a summer and trying to cook on a budget, I don’t have to eat meat every day. And if the opportunity to try some fancy vegan creation presents itself…it’s like that time my friends suggested we continue our night at a dueling pianos bar…”I live for that ish!”

You order at the counter, where I guarantee your server will be reallyreally nice. Either they’re all from Canada, or the whole “you are what you eat” thing actually works. **INSIDER TIP**~~ if you give them your phone number, you get a free drink on your first visit. And then if you fill out the survey on the follow-up email they’ll send you, you get a free dessert! I told you they were nice!!

My meal was equally delicious and beautiful, and you get a lot of food for a good price. And it doesn’t require any strategizing like a trip to the Whole Foods salad bar. The menu is large enough that I could go back again and again without eating the same thing twice, and diverse enough to satisfy whatever craving I have at the moment.

Native Foods, consider me a regular! In the meantime, I’ll be in the kitchen massaging my vegetables.

-Carolyn

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