• The bourbon shortage is bad, says Buffalo Trace, via Chuck Cowdery.
• Mennonites were the first to produce Chihuahua cheese in northern Mexico, says Eating the World
• The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance is holding an heirloom recipes contest.
• Louisa Chu runs down some of the region's classic diner specials.
We'd picked a rainy weekday night when the Cubs were on the road, and we were off to an auspicious beginning, with ample parking and a dearth of drunken dudes. Still, we wondered why Sweet Baby Ray's had chosen this of all neighborhoods to settle in. It may not be a shithole these days, and obviously there are tourists and ticket holders to cater to, but what happens in the winter? Will a chain draw the rest of us, particularly with independents Wrigley BBQ and the kosher Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed nearby?
The motto here is "Smokehouse, Bourbon & Beer," which sounds promising enough. Upon entering, you're greeted by the bartender, a "Wall of Bourbon," and multiple ribbons and trophies attesting to the prowess of the team manning the restaurant's Southern Pride smoker. They might as well have added "Sports Bar" to that tag line—the front is dominated by bar stools and hightops, and there are nine TVs inside, one on the patio, and one in the men's room (never miss a moment!)
Mostly, though, people have been talking about Jeppson's Malort, originally made in Chicago by Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson and now manufactured in Florida but sold only in Chicago (and soon Wisconsin). Since New Year's, though, Letherbee Distillers has been making a Malort for the Violet Hour that, until now, has been available only at the bar. R. Franklin's Original Recipe Malort, named for Violet Hour beverage director Robbie Haynes (his middle name is Franklin), who developed the recipe in collaboration with Letherbee distiller Brent Engel, was released for retail sale this week.
There's one category you won't find on the ballot. Like last year, we're asking you to vote for Chicago's Best Chicagoan to Follow on Twitter . . . on Twitter. Tweet your suggestions using the hashtag #boctwitterer. The deadline for that category is the same as the ballot, so tweet away!
Apropos of nothing, here's a 14-year-old girl owning Eddie Van Halen's solo on "Eruption."
The restaurant's blues-bar theme is, frankly, a little silly, particularly since the place looks way too new and clean to be in any way authentic. This is, by the way, absolutely fine with the clientele, who, at least based on a sample observed last Saturday night, appears to be comprised of Portage Park residents in their mid-30s who just want a place where they can take their toddlers and still get a decent meal and, therefore, have sacrificed their need for authenticity for clean floors.
"To get ahead in that culture," Samuelsson writes, "you have to completely give yourself up to the place. Your time, your ego, your relationships, your social life, they are all sacrificed." The best thing a young chef can do is to remain invisible.
Until, of course, he's ready to step into the spotlight. When he was 23, Samuelsson took over as the chef at Aquavit, a Swedish restaurant in New York. Less than six months later, Ruth Reichl, then the restaurant critic at the New York Times, awarded it three stars. Ten years later, in 2003, Samuelsson won a James Beard Award for best chef in New York City. Then he won Iron Chef. Then he was selected to cook President Obama's first state dinner. Then he opened Red Rooster, his signature restaurant in Harlem. Now he's the sort of celebrity chef people recognize on the street.
Earlier this month, Yes, Chef won Samuelsson his second Beard award, this one for writing and literature. It could be argued that anybody with a life story like Samuelsson's could write a kick-ass memoir. But give the guy some credit for doing more than just connecting the dots.
This Saturday's first-ever Beer Classic, which took place over two sessions at Soldier Field, was as enormous as the venue demanded: there were more than 100 breweries, from small, local outfits to huge national ones like Sam Adams, plus a few cideries and one meadery. My one complaint about the otherwise well-organized event is that the program listed the breweries, but not the beers they were serving, which made strategizing difficult. Still, all the breweries had their offerings posted on signs on the tents, so it was pretty easy to see what they had.
One exception was Recital, a collaboration between Perennial Artisan Ales and Deschutes Brewery that Perennial was pouring out of growlers and hadn't advertised. Unfortunately, the citrusy, hoppy Belgian double IPA isn't available in Chicago, because it was one of my favorites of the festival—despite the fact that it smells oddly like durian. Argus Brewery's wild rice ale (yes, brewed with wild rice) was another winner that you probably won't be able to find; the brewers said they don't sell it but brought it along for fun. I was also really impressed by Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery, which I don't think I've tried before: their Fixed Gear red ale, Rendezvous biere de garde, Fuel Cafe coffee stout, and Chad barleywine were all excellent. Below are a few other favorites.
Tap This! Drink Local III (6 PM, Fischman Liquors & Tavern, 4780 N. Milwaukee): It doesn't have quite the lineup of Beer Under Glass, but with 16 local breweries, it's not bad—and there'll also be live music and food trucks.
Founders tapping at Northdown Taproom (5 PM, 3244 N. Lincoln) The list of Founders beers here is relatively brief—Doom, Bolt Cutter, KBS, Old Curmudgeon, Breakfast Stout, Pale Ale—but I'd go out of my way for even one of the first three on that list (though they range from 10 to 15 percent ABV, so good luck trying all three of them).