Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Wild Brunch

The decadent dessert cart at David Burke's Primehouse is part of their new American Dim Sum. (Photo: David Burke's Primehouse)

In the spirit of Mardi Gras season, The Wild Brunch takes a look at some very tempting treats you don’t want to miss. This Sunday, David Burke’s Primehouse debuts an American-style dim sum with contemporary twists; Hyde Park fave C’est Si Bon pays tribute to Louisiana cuisine with some hearty dishes; and Vee Vee’s in Rogers Park offers an authentic African feast. The one thing in common? All buffets! Get on it!

C'est Si Bon (5225 S. Harper Ave., 773-363-4123). For less than 20 bucks, you can load up on this homestyle breakfast buffet with items like the Cajun fried chicken with a hot Belgian waffle; smothered pork chops served with a choice of Cajun hash browns or rice; or the New Orleans-style French toast stuffed with spicy sausage. One Mimosa included; nonalcoholic beverages unlimited.

David Burke’s Primehouse (616 N. Rush St., 312-660-6000). Former Park Avenue CafĂ© chef David Burke passes the torch for contemporary American dim sum to his executive chef, Rick Gresh, at the sweet James Hotel eatery. Servers swing by the tables with custom-designed carts filled with a staggering amount of goodies. My faves?! The comfort food cart for the Kobe beef mini corn dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese with ham hocks and the Southern fried chicken drumstick with cole slaw. Oh, and the “Brunch & Crunch” cart for the chocolate and hazelnut stuffed French toast and the almond pancakes with passion fruit butter. And, mmmmm, how can I forget the “Asian Goodies” cart for the lobster, short rib and veggie dumplings and the “Sweet Treats” cart rolling through with the infamous cheesecake lollipops, dessert shooters and baby sundaes. And finally, for an extra $7 you must order the flight of classic brunch cocktails: Salty Dog (grapefruit juice and vodka), Mimosa and a bloody Mary. American dim sum is $35 per person.

Vee Vee’s (6232 N. Broadway, 773 465-2424). Specializing in West African and Jamaican cuisine, this no-frills North Side spot hosts an all-you-can-eat buffet every Sunday for $9.99. Just some of the hearty dishes on the menu include red beans and rice with jerk chicken; Jollof rice (steamed rice cooked in blended tomatoes, onions and red bell peppers with your choice of meat); and the Vee Vee's Special, which is a traditional soup infused with dried fish, ground shrimp, ugu, ukazi spices and stockfish. One of the most popular desserts is the Chin Chin, mini donut-like treats made with flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and nutmeg that’s rolled out, cut into cubes and fried to a golden brown.

New York blog takes on Chicago dining scene

So here is Gridskipper--owned by Gawker Media Group--giving us the lowdown on Chicago's dining scene right now.

Just a taste includes an "Overrated" tag for Moto (945 W. Fulton Market, 312-491-0058) because "the novelty of those paper-wrapped rolls is starting to wear off considering the range of better expensive meals you can get in Chicago." Wow.

And also: "Best Cheap Dinner" goes to Sol De Mexico (3018 N. Cicero Ave., 773-282-4119) because "it's four miles out of the Loop, but it's worth the trek if you can make it." Much better.

A slice of Chicago pie


Here in Chicago we're obsessed with pizza. But we're not the only ones. Serious Eats whips up a list of regional pizza styles and has this to say about our beloved pies:

Deep Dish

I don't know if I need to elaborate much on deep dish, since, like New York–style, you already know what it's about. And I'm not trying to knock it here, but it is more like a casserole than, say, focaccia. It's cooked in a deep pan, with a deep, thick, buttery crust, and a chunky tomato sauce. Lots of cheese, lots of (and/or copious amounts of) toppings.

The crust is parbaked in the pan before toppings are added, usually a layer of sliced mozzarella, followed by meats and veggies, then sauce, then grated cheese. Unlike New York–style, it's eaten with a knife and fork. How 'bout a neat little clip from a story in the July 20, 1997, edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada. When partners Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo planned to open a restaurant, Sewell, a native Texan, wanted to feature Mexican food. But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely. Riccardo suggested pizza, which he had encountered in Italy--as indeed many American servicemen were doing during World War II. Sewell's complaint with pizza was that it was insubstantial, little more than an appetizer--and readily available in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood besides. Sewell wanted a substantial, meal-size pizza. After some experimenting, the partners devised something with a thick crust and plenty of cheese. Pizzeria Uno opened on this date at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue. Chicago has contributed many dishes to American cuisine, among them shrimp DeJonghe, chicken Vesuvio and the Italian beef sandwich. But none has been so widely imitated, nor so closely identified with the city, as Chicago-style pizza. Pizzeria Uno, however, was not an overnight success. In the early days, bartenders distributed free sample slices to introduce customers to the new pizza. "Fortunately," Sewell said, "we had a very good bar business."

Like Neapolitan–style and New York–style, deep dish has traveled far from its birthplace. Although, with a few notable exceptions, good deep dish is still hard to find outside Chicago.

Stuffed Pizza

Another Chicago specialty that is often confused with deep dish because of its similarity. It's assembled and cooked in a similar manner to deep dish, but it has a top layer of crust and is usually taller and more densely packed with toppings.

Chicago Thin Crust

Another form of pizza prevalent in Chicago, though it seems that folks outside the Windy City mostly overlook this style when talking about Chicago pizza. It's thinner than New York–style and crunchier, though it's also more tender and flaky. Almost pastry-like. I think this crust style of this pizza has much in common with the bar pizza or tavern pizza I've had in New York City and also with the independent pizzeria pizzas I've had in Milwaukee. The Chicago thin-crust has a smooth, highly seasoned sauce. Toppings are added under the cheese, which is typically mozzarella. Often cut into a grid of square pieces (instead of pie-shaped wedges) in what's known as the "party cut" or "tavern cut." (See also "Midwest-style," below.)


Variations, I believe, are found throughout the Midwest—from Ohio to Milwaukee to Chicago to wherever. I'd even go so far as to say that the "Chicago-style" pizza just above is really a variation of "Midwest-style." The Midwest style is round, thin, very crisp yet tender-flaky, and is party- or tavern-cut into the grid. Sauces and topping preference may differ from city to city and region to region, but this style seems to crop up often in the heartland.

Chick licks?!

Do women's taste buds differ from their male counterparts? Epicurious ponders the question and asks whether companies and restaurants are targeting women with certain foods, drinks, etc. French wine company WineSight has come up with a new vino specifically targeted to women, but it's not yet in Chicago's bars and restaurants.

Also, all those local spots selling Effen Black Cherry vodka to female patrons by the boatload figured out this trend a few years ago . . .

Deal of the day . . .

The hot chocolate at Atwood Cafe.
(Photo: Atwood Cafe)

To hell with this crazy weather. I'm going for haute chocolate today.