Three Winter Comfort Foods to Warm You Up at Six of Chicago’s Best Restaurants
Chicago winters are notoriously brutal: the snow, the wind, the ice, the pain.
There is, however, a cure for the pain of Chicago winters and, you guessed it, it’s food, warm food, comfort food.
There are three foods that we’ve found are just right to enjoy on a winter’s day: choucroute, cassoulet, and gumbo.
Choucroute is the Alsatian dish of sauerkraut, a hunk of meat and sausage; nothing fancy, just robust good flavors. Cassoulet is the French peasant dish of beans, sausage and frequently a duck leg. Gumbo is another simple, satisfying dish that warms you inside and out, made of the Cajun “holy trinity” (bell peppers, onion and celery), a strong stock, shellfish and usually some meat. Traditionally, the ingredients in all these dishes vary a little based on what the kitchen has on hand.
To try choucroute, cassoulet and gumbo, here are six of the best Chicago restaurants that serve one or more of these cold weather comfort foods.
Dusek’s Board & Beer/Punch House. Dusek’s Board & Beer is located above Punch House, next door to Thalia Hall (a beautifully restored music venue). This gastro-pub designs food to pair with an excellent selection of beers. Their fabulous choucroute is perfectly matched with a slightly sour Saison that off-sets the richness of duck done three ways: thigh, breast, and sausage. With a foundation of apple and sauerkraut, this is quintessential cold weather comfort food.
Funkenhausen. Chef Mark Steuer at his fascinating Funkenhausen, a fusion of Germanic and Southern foodways, prepares a beautiful Pork Chop Choucroute that leverages the pork protein in the traditional fashion, with the chop, sauerkraut, potato, wurst, a lush pork belly, mustard, and, as the menu notes, “love.” This dish will warm you, and it pairs well with a number of spectacular beers on the Funkenhausen drinks list.
Le Bouchon. A “bouchon” is a traditional kind of restaurant in Lyon, France. Typically, the food is filling and simple, and at Chicago’s Le Bouchon, they serve the kind of cassoulet you’d expect to find in the streets of Lyon…or Toulouse. Le Bouchon’s Cassoulet Toulousain is a thick and savory mélange of duck confit, ham, pork belly, braised lamb and beans: perhaps not what you might want to eat in the heat of summer, but during a Chicago winter, it’s just right.
Maude’s Liquor Bar. Maude’s Liquor Bar has a name that hardly reflects the richness and depth of the very thoughtful menu offered at this Brandon Sodikoff restaurant. The cassoulet, in the French tradition, is a mass of braised white beans, duck confit, garlic sausage and pork belly. No surprises, which is just the way we like it with a classic.
Virtue Restaurant & Bar. Chef Erick Williams’ new Virtue Restaurant & Bar in Hyde Park is all about comfort food, beautifully executed. One of those comfort food classics that comes out of his kitchen is gumbo, a masterful preparation of simply chicken, andouille sausage and rice. When our big bowls arrived, we weren’t sure we’d be able to finish. We did. And we could have eaten more. On a cold winter day, this is the kind of supremely satisfying bowl of food that will fortify you before you return back outdoors.
Luella’s Southern Kitchen.The chefs at Luella’s Southern Kitchen shows they’ve had a lot of practice with this Southern favorite, a dark roux, andouille sausage, creole seasonings and, here’s a nice touch, Carolina gold rice. The staff at Luella’s seems like they’re preparing the food of their heritage with understanding and heart, and you feel that soulfulness in every spoonful of their gumbo. Enough to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.