Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Wild Brunch

Chicken and waffles at CJ's Eatery in west Humboldt Park (Photo: LTHForum)

Fried chicken. When it's crispy and flavorful and piping hot, it's more than just finger-licking good. It's like a little taste of heaven, and several Chicago spots do it better than others. And we all know that places like Harold's Chicken Shack do a fine fried chicken, but when you want to have a nice sitdown, honey, that just won't do.

If you want the soul in a quaint setting, head to west Humboldt Park's CJ's Eatery (3839 W. Grand Ave., 773-292-0990), which specializes in Latin and Southern American cuisine. On Sundays, you'll want to pair their well-seasoned wings with a big, fluffy waffle that comes with a side of homemade pecan syrup. And if that's not sweet enough for you, make sure to order a nice big glass of Southern-style sweet iced tea.

The old-school diner vibe of Stanley's Kitchen & Tap (1970 N. Lincoln Ave., 312-642-0007) somehow works for the trendy Lincoln Park crowd that comes stumbling in every weekend. Dig into all-you-can-eat portions of buttermilk fried chicken with waffles for only $11.95 per person (also 32 oz. make-your-own Effen Bloody Marys for an extra $10).

And if you can wait until 5pm on Sunday, you'll get to delight in Table Fifty-Two's (52 W. Elm St., 312-573-4000) buttermilk fried chicken with mashed roasted garlic-Yukon gold potatoes. Just make sure you leave enough room for Art's Hummingbird Cake, a generous portion of banana cake with pecans that's topped with cream cheese icing.


Rockit's rockin'

Still riding high from Rockit Ranch Productions' "Operator of the Year" award they received last night at the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas, partner Arturo Gomez talked to me about the secret of his company's success.

While out there basking in the Vegas sun, Gomez and his business partner Billy Dec spoke on panels offering valuable advice on networking, branding and integrated marketing that they've honed for the past 10 years. "We don't just hire managers to take care of the day-to-day operations," he said. "Our managers are required to fulfill certain marketing responsibilities to get the word out about our concepts."

In addition to owning Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000) and Underground (56 W. Illinois St., 312-644-7600), the trio of Gomez, Dec and Brad Young are also working on a still-unnamed, 14,000-square-foot Asian concept that will be situated in River North by the end of the summer. It will offer New Asian cuisine created by consulting chef Rodelio Aglibot—who was a former consulting chef at Los Angeles' Koi restaurant as well as Yi Cuisine—and will feature Southeast Asian, Japanese and Chinese dishes.

And by year's end, said Gomez, the team should have an idea for their next concept, but "right now, everything is focused on getting this Asian concept up and running while keeping our existing projects fresh and exciting."

KINGS of nightlife

Brad Young (from left), Billy Dec and Arturo Gomez of Rockit Ranch Productions (Photo: Rockit Ranch Productions)

You know, people can say what they want about Billy Dec and his self-promoting ways for his highly visible Rockit Ranch Productions, which also includes partners Brad Young and Arturo Gomez.

But one thing is for certain: They're respected by their peers, especially the ones who awarded them "Operator of the Year" at the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show's annual Five Star Awards Dinner last night in Las Vegas. Wow. They beat out New York, LA, Miami and Vegas!

The guys behind Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St., 312-645-6000) and Underground (56 W. Illinois St., 312-644-7600) are on their way back to Chicago now, so look out for an interview on what went down later today.

New to the scene . . .

BULL-eh-Dia's Tapas Bar (3651 N. Southport Ave., 773-404-2855) is opening soon in the old Neybours space in Lakeview. Before it was Neybours, it was Otro Mas, another Latin-focused restaurant that lasted for a few years in an area known for its sports-bar scene. Hopefully, executive chef/owner Antonio Rodriguez will have better luck with his pared-down portions of Mexican and Latin dishes. Developing . . .

Chocolate Grape (2113 W. Division St., 773-772-3990), a chocolate and wine lounge, now plans to open the first week of April.

Claiming to be 100 percent organic, Drew's Eatery (2207 W. Montrose Ave.) will serve hot dogs, ice cream and soups. It debuts March 14.

Mercat a la Planxa (638 S. Michigan Ave., 312-765-0524), chef Jose Garces' mod-Mediterranean spot in the all-new Blackstone Hotel, finally gets an opening date: March 8.

And look for MORE Cupcakes (One E. Delaware Pl., 312-951-0001) to open in the Gold Coast in April.

Is that poop on your lemon?!


This morning the "Today" show did an alarming segment on lemon wedges—that's right, the ones we put in our cocktails!—and a study testing 76 lemons uncovered some very disturbing results. It'll make you think twice about those garnishes when you go out now. Yeech!

Break out the bday cake . . . and cocktails


Today is Elizabeth Taylor's 76th birthday, and the legendary, award-winning British actress is still going strong.

To celebrate the fabulous occasion, on the day after her bday (February 28), Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club (3700 N. Halsted St., 773-525-1111) hosts a "Cleopatra"-themed party with servers in costume, ostentatious decorations, the movie "Cleopatra" playing on multiple screens and Diva Traci Ross performing as Liz's close pal, Michael Jackson. Diners are encouraged to come dressed as "Cleopatra" to win a $100 cash prize.

Also, Executive Chef Matt Stovey has created a special menu, including the Liz Tini (Absolut Kurant, Blue Curacao, fresh lemon juice, splash of Sprite), Cleopatra (roasted chestnut soup), Suddenly Last Summer (baby frisee with a berry vinaigrette, blue cheese and sliced almonds) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (slow-roasted beef loin in a cabernet reduction with baby red potatoes and hericot vert with orange zest). And you can get a bottle of wine for ONE CENT with the purchase of two entrees.

Today would've also been the 50th birthday of Nancy Spungen, the controversial girlfriend of Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious. It's also the birthday of Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of urban pop group TLC fame. Raise your glass to these ladies tonight during Manis Under the Influence, at Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-281-4989). The new girls' night out features $10 manicures from Nail Fetish (525 N. Ashland Ave.), plus $5 martinis, Cosmos and Lemon Drops. They'll also be showing the "Project Runway" finale!

And for the boys, Johnny Cash's birthday was yesterday. Head to Delilah's (2771 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-472-2771) as Psychobilly DJ Machetti spins all his hits. Specials: $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon Longnecks, $2 Ten High Bourbon.

Deal of the day . . .


Are you in or out?

Tonight's the night for the finale of Bravo's wildly popular "Project Runway," and Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club (3700 N. Halsted St., 773-525-1111), which has been hosting parties since the premiere, is doing it big.

As always, you'll get half off on a number of martinis as you watch the finalists sweat beads right down to the last second of the contest. Doors open at 5pm, and the show begins at 9pm.

Every Wednesday throughout the "Project Runway" season, guests were invited to enter their best martini "design." The favorite martini will be chosen tonight and the "designer" will be awarded a $250 Absolut vodka gift basket.

Also, dinner specials are the Nina Garcia (spicy chicken and black bean soup soup with crispy tortilla strips) for $6; Tim Gunn (cold, spicy tuna tartare on sesame wonton crisps) for $12; and Heidi Klum (slow-Braised pot roast, with saurkraut, and roasted new potatoes) for $22.

Are you in?!