Category Archives: brunch

3 city & 1 ‘burbs – Spots for live music with good food

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Do you expect exceptional food when you go out for live music? Chicago has a few places that make this a priority. In the city, where you can get there by cab or public transport:

  1. Bandera, 535 N. Michigan. Jazz & blues every night. Cocktails, lunch and dinner in sexy, subtle lighting.
  2. Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Steak, 521 N. Rush St. Seafood, oysters, crab, sea bass, etc. and prime steaks. Pricey but highly rated.
  3. Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash. Rockin’ good music and down home Southern-inspired dishes. Word is, Buddy himself sits in sometimes!

And we just heard about one in the ‘burbs that’s making food a priority, too: 210 Restaurant and Live Music Lounge, 210 Green Bay Road, Highwood, IL. Co-owner and Executive Chef Jeff Tomchek Chef Jeff Tomchek KCI_0733lo resbrings 30 years of experience in several countries honing his abilities to turn fresh, high quality, locally sourced produce and ingredients into menu items that span regional and global cuisines as well as barbecue and Southern-style dishes. 

Appetizers include Hawaiian Tuna Poke with toasted Macadamia Nuts ($13 Hawaiian Tuna Poke with Toasted Macadamia Nuts 210 KCI_0537 lo res.jpg); Roast Local Corn Mexican Street Food Style ($5/$8); Korean Chicken Wings ($12); and Tomato Bisque ($5/$8). Salads include Roast Beets with Bean Hummas, Arugula & Pine Nuts ($12); Frillman Farms Heirloom Tomato with Burrata & Basil ($11); and a Crispy Chicken Chopped Salad with Chipotle Ranch ($18).

Main dishes Baby Back Ribs Dry Rub and Pit Smoked 210 a KCI_0626 lo res.jpginclude Baby Back Ribs, Dry Rub & Pit Smoked (taste $8, half $16/full slab $24); Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich with Arugula & Remoulade ($13); Roast Scottish Salmon with corn mashed potatoes and Mexican Truffle Vinaigrette ($24); and Andouille Jambalaya with Louisiana Style BBQ Shrimp ($19).

Roast Cauliflower with Thai Three Flavor Sauce 210 KCI_0718lo resThis place even lets you get your vegetables in with original presentations like Roast Local Eggplant with Moroccan Spices ($9); Miso Glazed Acorn Squash ($8); Roast Cauliflower with Thai three flavor sauce ($8) and Bacon Braised Collard Greens ($8); and Not Yo Mamma’s Mac & Cheese ($8); and Local Bi Color Corn Sautéed with Peppers & Onions ($8). Seasonal offerings and daily specials are listed on the website.

If you live in the city and want to enjoy 210 Restaurant and Live Music Lounge, consider finding a nice hotel in the area so you can stay as long as you like and not have to worry about driving home. If you live nearby, get thee hence and try it soon.

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Osteria La Madia

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Update: As of March 25, 2017, Osteria La Madia is closed. The owners are now focused on building their Firecakes brand.
Osteria La Madia, 59 Grand Ave., sits in the heart of the red-hot River North section of downtown Chicago – a great place for drinks and unique appetizers. Or try their handmade, wood-fire-grilled pizzas or a full meal from among entrees that include fresh seafood to short ribs and housemade pastas with a variety of proteins. Several salads on offer range from a selection of greens with unique dressings to a full-meal version of Ahi Tuna Nicoise.
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The bar and a small seating area form a cozy spot at the front of the divided space. Then a line of booths leads down a short path to the main two-level, large, airy dining area set with varying size tables and comfortable chairs. And the wood-fire grills are centered at the back of the space; it’s cool to watch the pizzas being made behind the protective glass shield. The overall effect is of a room that’s spacious with cozy areas. The decor is unobtrusively simple yet modern with a truly comfortable ambiance.
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Osteria La Madia's fabulous Spinach cheese fondue
Osteria La Madia’s fabulous Spinach cheese fondue

Our server happily recommended favorites when we asked. She especially recommended the Spinach & Taleggio Fondue appetizer. Picturing something oozing with oily cheese, we hesitated but decided to trust her – she said it is the restaurant’s most popular appetizer. We were amazed when she brought out a platter with a huge slab of puffy, clearly-wood-fired, pita-type bread that dwarfed a small crock of beautifully smooth and creamy-looking green sauce drizzled with truffle oil. The proper approach, she explained, was to rip off a piece of the bread, place it on your individual plate and spoon some of the green stuff over top. Wow, it was really good. Would never believe it was spinach – rich with the velvety consistency of heavy cream without betraying the slightest hint of iron, as spinach can sometimes do, or greasiness, as melted cheeses often do. The truffle oil dribbled on top gave the fondue extra pizzaz. The Sardinian bread was made of the same dough they use for their pizzas, several of which we’d tried and enjoyed on an earlier visit. They offer a wide variety of unique pizza toppings and offer several of them at bargain prices during their bar-only happy hour (currently 4:30 to 6:30 M-F). Excellent way to slake your thirst and gratify your hunger after work.

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Our other appetizer, the mussels in a tomato onion broth was simply scrumptious. The mussels perfectly cooked, the broth deeply flavored with stock and tomato and just a hint of spice. I couldn’t resist mixing some of the dark, rich, red broth with some of the spinach fondue. It turned out to be a fabulous flavor combination, although mixing the colors green and red results in a not-too-attractive shade of grayish brown. I didn’t care; it tasted SO good.
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The heirloom tomato salad was in season and just delightful. The bright range cherry tomatoes were super sweet and tasty. And the thick slice from a giant red tomato reminded us both of the tomatoes our fathers used to grow. Hard to get much better than that. The burrata was gooey and creamy and good.

Housemade ricotta-stuffed tortellacci with summer vegetables and truffle shavings
Housemade ricotta-stuffed tortellacci with summer vegetables and truffle shavings

Our entrees: scallops were nicely seared without being overdone, while the side dish of farro was a bit salty; the housemade ricotta-stuffed pasta and vegetables were all good individually without feeling quite melded in the overall dish. In any case we enjoyed both dishes, and they went perfectly with the fine, light red wine our server recommended from among the nicely rounded list of wines by the bottle and by the glass (priced as 4oz, 7oz and full bottle portions). A shared dish of strawberry gelato along with an after-dinner liqueur put a mellow ending on a nice evening. We’d gotten there early and by the time we finished, the place was hopping with diners, including several large families sharing a meal together.

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The whole experience was lovely, with wonderful service in comfortable surroundings. We’d recommend visiting Osteria La Madia any time; check their hours of operation here. In case you don’t want to fight traffic or pay through the nose for parking, get to La Madia in a snap via the 156, 36 or 22 buses or the Red Line (Grand/State station). It’s a short walk from any of those lines. You’ll feel welcome while you’re there and leave feeling glad you came.

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And by the way, the same folks who operate La Madia also operate the top-rated Firecakes bakeries. If you like donuts, do not fail to visit one of their locations. Hint: We highly recommend the coconut cream-topped cake donut. And La Madia recently started offering brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (10 – 3pm) and guess what? You can feast on Firecakes donuts there in addition to either their prix fixe brunch or lots of variety priced a la carte.
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The restaurant provided a meal to facilitate this review. All opinions are strictly those of the writer.
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Bring your appetite and relax at Nando’s Peri-Peri Wabash

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A restaurant with its own special vibe opened this summer at 22 S. Wabash on Jewelers Row near Madison Ave: the fourth Chicago location of Nando’s Peri-Peri. It’s a unique, partly self-serve but not fast-food place that specializes in delicious flame-grilled chicken with many different variations on the restaurant’s proprietary Peri-Peri sauce. The chicken is super juicy and the sauces come in shades of spiciness suited to almost any particular taste.

This place is a hidden treasure trove of delicious food served in a warm, cozy atmosphere – and it’s a great place to come when you’re hungry. You’ll notice from our pictures that we were obviously hungry; we couldn’t remember to take a picture of each course before we dove in and started eating!

Nando hummus - too good to wait
Nando hummus – too good to wait

The starter hummus benefited greatly when we poured the contents of the little bottle of Peri-Peri sauce served on the side for that purpose. Woke up the flavor of the spread and gave a nice spicy tang to the whole dish. It was served with crisp and uniquely cut vegetables – carrot discs, unusually shaped fingers of cucumber, thinly sliced strips of pepper, and little triangles of rich-doughed pita bread. Very tasty and nicely presented.

Nando peas 'n' chicken
Nando peas ‘n’ chicken

We both decided to go for the dark meat chicken quarter with two sides ($9.95 with two sides, $7.95 for just the chicken). Side choices included garlic bread – a delicious Portuguese roll nicely grilled in garlic butter – creamy smashed red potatoes, Machu peas – fresh crushed with mint and chili – and Portuguese rice. Pick your sides, then stroll over to the self-serve station and sample as many cups as you like of your choice(s) of Peri-Peri sauces, which come in a variety of hotnesses and include mild, garlic, wild herb, medium and hot. It’s a self-serve place for the most part, but helpful servers make the rounds on a regular basis. Our server that night was particularly willing to help – he got us napkins, extra drinks, and desserts, each with two spoons for sharing. We definitely felt taken care of.

The chicken was exquisitely grilled after having been marinated in their original Peri-Peri sauce, cooked to perfection, served up super juicy and just enough crisp in the skin to enhance the flavor beautifully. So tasty we found ourselves gnawing on the bones to mine the last of the juicy goodness. Our mashed potatoes and Machu peas and garlic bread were most satisfying. The Portuguese rice was quite mild until we kicked it up with some Peri-Peri sauce that brought it to life.

Nando makes its own Sangria
Nando makes its own Sangria

The choices of wines were impressive – two selections from South Africa, a couple from Portugal, and several others, as well as a sangria of the day and their regular featured red sangria, both refreshing and full of fresh fruit. My companion, who’s dined with sangria in Spain and Portugal many times, felt the big leaf of fresh basil in the mango sangria-of-the-day was an inspired touch.

The desserts were unexpectedly out of the ordinary. This visit we decided to pass on the custard tarts, a regular feature at Nando’s, so we could try some of the other options. From the super-moist carrot cake to the super-rich chocolate spoon cake, each served with a dollop of whipped cream, and the bottomless dish of frozen vanilla yogurt, we tucked in with vigor and didn’t quit until we had almost finished the three.

The place was rocking with Spanish/Portuguese music throughout the meal. It was just loud enough to liven the atmosphere without interfering with conversation. We thought they ought to pipe the music outside to let people know what a fun and delicious experience is on offer inside. The decor is fresh and original, using lots of natural wood with some unique decorating touches. Bathrooms are clean and cheerful, and benefit greatly from having the music piped in there as well.

Any time you are anywhere near State and Madison and you’re hungry, you will be very well satisfied if you make the trip over to South Wabash to meet the Peri-Peri staff and sample the menu. Friendliness and helpfulness were definitely the keys to the service kingdom at Nando’s Peri-Peri the night we were there. Sad to say, the restaurant is very hard to see from the street. No signage extends out onto or across the sidewalk. Perhaps they’ll remedy that soon, but in any case, this spot is well worth the search.

And don’t forget they have three other locations in Chicago: Clybourn, Lakeview and West Loop.

Nando’s supplied samples to facilitate this review; the opinions expressed are 100% those of the writer.

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Chicago Fire soccer team mans the grills at Nando’s

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This Saturday November 21 Nando’s PERi-PERi is christening its new 22 S. Wabash location by donating its first day two days of proceeds to the Chicago Fire Foundation, which works to enhance the lives of disadvantaged youth in and around Chicago. And five Chicago Fire soccer players will be doing the cooking. Nando’s PERi-PERi is a South African-Portuguese restaurant known around the world for its spicy flame-grilled chicken. The Wabash spot makes its fourth Chicago location.
Oh, yeah. Good chicken.
Oh, yeah. Good chicken.

The marinated-for-24-hours then flame-grilled chicken is the star of the menu – from wings to quarters to whole birds and with a variety of sauces available – but the different combination plates and sides make a wide enough variety to satisfy just about any craving. How about this creative salad combo: Butternut squash and couscous salad ($8.25), made of oven-roasted butternut and red onion with olives, grilled corn, chili and couscous, served with dressing on a bed of leaves. You can practically taste the flavors just thinking about it.

And how about the desserts? From raspberry brulee/white chocolate cheesecake ($6.25) to a chocolate/peanut butter/red velvet cupcake ($3.25) and the Four-High carrot cake ($6.25) consisting of four rich, golden cake layers with walnuts, pineapple, and raisins and topped off with cream cheese icing, they are not kidding around. Oh, and they give the calories right on the website for every item on the menu. In case you’re wondering, the carrot cake clocks in at 1136 this-is-probably-all-you-can-eat-for-the-day calories.

Chicago Fire players scheduled to appear at Nando’s include defender Eric Gehrig, midfielders Chris Ritter, Michael Stephens and Matthew Watson, and Fire great and club ambassador Gonzalo Segares. Get your special chicken served up by these guys when you stop by Nando’s on Wabash this Saturday and Sunday.

WHO: Nando’s and Chicago Fire Soccer Team
WHAT: New Nando’s opens in the Loop, with Fire players taking over the grills. All sales donated to charity this weekend
WHERE: Nando’s, 22 S. Wabash Avenue
WHEN: Restaurant opens 11am; Players on site Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22 from 11:30am to 1:30pm and 5:30pm to 7:30pm

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