A's List: Audarshia's Heavy Hitters for Dining & Drinking in Chicago (April)
By Audarshia Townsend
Thumbs up to your fresh new ‘do. That added fire to your spring wardrobe was exactly what you needed for a pep in your step. And isn’t it about time you checked out something completely new and exciting for your dining and imbibing needs?
Spring means that it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and try something different. From a pop-up dinner series with an impressive culinary lineup to the latest downtown burger-focused bar, we’re showcasing some of the most buzzed about destinations in the Windy City. Here’s where you ought to be this month.
Why It's A Hit: The team behind Logan Square’s insanely popular Osteria Langhe gives us a prime opportunity to pig out on pasta at this Bucktown eatery specializing in wild game and Italian eats. At their second restaurant, Animale, diners can dive into bottomless plates of spaghetti or cavatappi topped with sauces such as ragu di carne (mix of Italian sausage and beef chuck, mirepoix, herbs, tomatoes), cacio e pepe (pecorino romano, black pepper, stock, butter) or pomodoro (tomato fonduta, fresh mozzarella, basil, chile flake). How much can you eat? You can find out for $17 per person every Tuesday.
What To Order: If you’re not feeling pasta, Animale features a burger of the month with a portion of proceeds benefiting a different charity each month. Right now, chef Craig Fass of The Bad Apple is doing a Monster Bad Apple Burger. It’s two Piedmontese beef patties with goat chili, pepper jack cheese, fresh avocado and roasted garlic crema on a brioche bun. Complement it with an aperol spritzer (aperol, prosecco, club soda and orange).
Where To Find It: 1904 N. Western Ave., 773-661-1582
When To Visit: Lunch or early dinner
Why It's A Hit: Chef Todd Stein has done a marvelous job with the menu at this lively West Loop gem. He's completely come into his own since arriving last fall, transforming the old-school Italian menu into something completely modern. The house-made paccheri squid ink pasta is amped up with lump crab, spicy red chiles, mint and garlic breadcrumbs. The pork tenderloin is also a big hit. It’s wrapped in prosciutto and accompanied by Brussels sprouts and sun-dried tomatoes, and finished in balsamic brown butter. And the bucatini carbonara features pancetta, egg yolk and black pepper. But don’t worry. Nonna’s meatballs—a surefire crowd pleaser—are not going anywhere and taste just as you remembered.
What To Order: If you’re down for dessert, don’t miss the ricotta cheesecake. It’s pretty tantalizing and topped with roasted pears, cherries and candied orange.
Where To Find It: 925 W. Randolph St., 312-690-7295
When To Visit: Thursday through Saturday
Why It's A Hit: What are you doing on Wednesday nights? Head over to this West Town eatery with a farm-to-table focus for pop-up dinners through May 10. Executive Chef Scott Shulman is partnering with local culinary stars such as Off Color Brewing Co. (April 26) and chefs Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones of Dos Urban Cantina (May 3) for some very special events. They’re $50 per person and occur at 7pm.
What To Order: Menu will be prix-fixe
Where To Find It: 1924 W. Chicago Ave., 773-332-2354
When To Visit: 7pm Wednesdays through May 10
Why It's A Hit: Think again if you believe the burger craze will ever slow down in Chicago. It’s hotter than ever, so much that Potter’s has transformed into the latest trendy burger bar. Nestled inside the historic Palmer House Hilton, the former cocktail lounge now specializes in gourmet burgers with an emphasis on local ingredients from the hotel’s rooftop garden and apiary. What’s super cool is that 12 of the signature burgers are designed to rep cool Chicago neighborhoods. Hyde Park's is topped with smoked cheddar, a fried green tomato and BBQ sauce; Logan Square gets bourbon-baked bacon; the Gold Coast offering is $49 and adorned with foie gras, seven-year aged cheddar and truffle aioli on a "gold bun;" and Pilsen comes with pickled jalapeno, salsa verde and chipotle aioli.
What To Order: There’s also a brownie burger on offer. Set between a doughnut bun is Betha’s brownie patty—betcha didn't know the brownie was invented at the Palmer House—with apricot marshmallow. It’s served with churro fries topped with vanilla sauce and raspberry coulis.
Where To Find It: 17 E. Monroe St., 312-917-4933
When To Visit: After work
Why It's A Hit: The celebrated Latin-Indian fusion restaurant now does brunch, and it’s something completely different than anything else around town. Diners may choose from traditional crepe-style dosas or frankies, also known as Indian wraps or roti rolls. They may be filled with a variety of fillings or chutneys like sundried tomato chimichurri, eggplant coconut, chorizo curry leaf, chili mint, tamarind shrimp or duck vindaloo.
What To Order: A frankie filled with duck vindaloo is right up our alley!
Where To Find It: 10 W. Hubbard St., 312-527-4060
When To Visit: Brunch occurs Friday through Sunday
Why It's A Hit: Actually, I’m quite shocked this hasn’t happened until now. Fairgrounds is pretty innovative in that its concept is set up like a craft beer bar—with a selection of cold coffee brews served on draft. The choices are from all over the country, including including Dark Matter Coffee (Chicago), Stumptown Coffee Roasters (Portland), Verve (Los Angeles), Colectivo Coffee (Milwaukee) and Irving Farm Coffee Roasters (New York). Not much of a java drinker but hanging with pals who are? An innovative tea program offers sparkling teas elixirs, specialty beverages and granitas, in addition to kombuchas and a variety of hot teas.
What To Order: Breakfast is served all day, and one standout is the Seoul bowl of brown rice, wilted kale, shaved zucchini, kimchi, a cage-free fried egg, sesame seeds and sriracha. You can also order from the seasonal taps a flight of three four-ounce pours of sparkling tea, cold brew, nitro, matcha or kombucha.
Where To Find It: 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-770-4444
When To Visit: Mid-afternoon
Why It's A Hit: This new retro-inspired lounge called The Hive is above Honey’s, located in the West Loop. It serves three market price cocktails at the bartender's discretion. There's a full-service bar of spirits, so guests may also order cocktails that are not on the menu, such as a Negroni, Manhattan or Old Fashioned. The laid-back setting is ideal for a nightcap as the music is chill and so is the crowd.
What To Order: Whatever the bartender is serving!
Where To Find It: 1111 W. Lake St., 312-877-5929
When To Visit: Thursday through Saturday
The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet (Closed)
Why It's A Hit: The snappy, three-level newcomer to the West Loop has been a long time coming, and it’s an exciting addition to the neighborhood. And, as the name suggests, there’s a multiple personality feel to the theme. The Lunatic, we presume, is the bartender whipping up all sorts of classic and original concoctions. The Lover, naturally, is the sommelier, with plans to introduce all sorts of lovely libations to guests. And The Poet is the chef. While food is not yet available, the menu looks damn good. It promises more than just polite little bites to nosh on while you’re imbibing.
What To Order: Shellfish entrées, steak and a juicy signature burger should be on their way by mid-spring. In the meantime, drink up.
Where To Find It: 736 W. Randolph St., 312-775-0069
When To Visit: Thursday is always a great night for some juice.
Why It's A Hit: Don't take your sandwich for granted! That's pretty much the message behind The Ruin Daily, which is more than just your average gourmet sandwich shop. The concept is helmed by chef Gabino “Bino” Ottoman (Longman & Eagle, Le Bernardin, Saint Lou’s Assembly) with a day bar offering a killer cocktail program of classic and contemporary drinks, plus beer and wine.
What To Order: Your mouth should be watering at the thought of the salmon Po’ Boy of roasted Atlantic salmon, a secret sauce, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickles and pickled onions. That should go down well with the Barracuda cocktail of five-year rum, pineapple-infused rum, lime and jerk spice.
Where To Find It: 328 S. Jefferson St., 312-929-2707
When To Visit: During lunch
Why It's A Hit: It’s the sort of place to completely immerse yourself into the music. No cell phone use allowed—and that’s a good thing. Winter’s is a traditional jazz club that’s been modernized. You’ll love it for its intimacy and dedication to the best of straight ahead, classic, vocal and swing. The lounge overlooks the Odgen Slip
What To Order: There’s no food, but the cocktails are plentiful. Order up.
Where To Find It: 465 N. McClurg Ct., 312-344-1270
When To Visit: There’s a happy hour session happening 4-6:30pm Tuesday through Sunday with no cover and 25 percent off drinks.