Best Summer Bites
Best Summer Bites:
You may not want to hear this, but summer will be over soon. August is the last full month of summer, and with Labor Day right around the corner, we'll be in full-fledged pumpkin spice latte mode in a matter of weeks. Before that harsh reality sinks in, now is an apropos time to look back at summer's best bites so far. Here are the greatest dishes of summer in Chicago 2014:
(The Publican BBQ Carrots)
BBQ Carrots at The Publican: summer is all about the 'cue, but when was the last time you had (or even heard of) barbecued carrots? The Publican continues to wow with innovative takes on pristine local produce with one of the greatest veggie dishes of the year, barbecued carrots. This revelatory dish tasted like a rich, smoky cookout that you're vegetarian gourmand might cook. You don't miss the meat one bit thanks to the heady, intense depth of the dish, featuring a mound of carrots imbued with herbs, spice and char.
(Ellies at Elle on the River)
Ellies at Elle on the River: I hereby declare the Ellies the dessert of summer 2014. Not only are they lustrous and adorable, but these pudding-like parfait cups at Elle on the River utterly steal the show from the Mediterranean-inspired tacos and punches. Available in a few different flavors such as German chocolate and strawberry shortcake, these saccharine little cups are luscious, creamy, and riddled with layers of texture, frosting, and color.
(Fried black rice at The Winchester)
Brunch Fried Rice at The Winchester: fried rice appears to be the new brunch hotness, and I am right on board. Especially when said rice is handled with such meticulous care as at The Winchester. The Ukrainian Village eatery manages to re-invigorate the brunch template with its fried black rice, adorned with a fried egg and flecked with nuts and coconut curry. It flies in the face of brunch standards and serves to prove that it's safe to think well outside the box on weekend mornings.
(Whiskey and Wine Cocktail at The Whistler)
Whiskey and Wine at The Whistler: If sangria were to get addicted to steroids, the results would be the Whiskey and Wine cocktail at The Whistler, easily the best al fresco cocktail of the season. This hefty libation is as purple as a people-eater and as intoxicating as a bowl of punch. It's got it all: Malbec, Syrah, bourbon, sage, blackberry, orange, lime, and black walnut bitters, ideally enjoyed on the tranqul and casual back patio.
(Fried chicken at Gemini Bistro)
Fried chicken at Gemini Bistro: Fried chicken is a dime a dozen these days in Chicago. You can't splash fryer oil (please don't do that) without hitting a hot new fried chickenstaurant. But often, some of the best birds are found at neighborhood stalwarts that have proven their mettle in terms of wholesome, consistent cookery. So when Gemini Bistro rolled out fried chicken suppers, I took heed. The great thing about this fried chicken is the slight sweetness imbued in the cooking process, which curates a subtle synergy of savory and sugary in each succulent bite. They're super plump too, almost like gorgeous gourmet chicken nuggets.
Grilled Corn at Roka Akor: Corn on the cob is essential eats in the summertime. It's especially exemplary when it's prepared with aplomb a la Roka Akor. The grill-adept River North restaurant has a way with grilled corn skewers, achieving just a bit of toasty char along the exterior of the cobs. Said char serves to draw out a bit more innate sweetness from the corn kernels as their natural sugars caramelize. Buttery, sweet, and amusingly messy, this is what summertime dining is all about.
(Sno Kone at Punch House)
Sno Kones at Punch House: With Sno Kone variations popping up on menus all over the place, summer of 2014 will go down in the books as the summer of the boozy Sno Kone. But none can hold a candle to the ones being served at Punch House. Any cocktail on the menu can be ordered as a Sno Kone, which is expertly made from a Sno Kone machine and mounded into custom-emblazoned paper cups and holders. My favorite is the American Orange Punch made with whiskey, orange, baking spices, Curacao, lemon, and porter. The heaviness and richness of the cocktail are nicely tempered by the crisp shaved ice.
(Apricot poppers at ROOF)
Apricot Poppers at ROOF: ROOF may be maligned as a sceney destination for slender people and beautiful glitteratti, but don't overlook the inventive food and drinks happening up here. One of the best examples of which is the apricot poppers, a fun and seasonal riff on the peppery norm. These sweet-and-savory morsels are made by breading and deep-frying apricots (why hasn't anyone else thought of this?!) and serving them with herbed goat cheese, sriracha honey, almonds, and snap peas. It's the summery bar snack of champions.
- Matt Kirouac