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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can a Division Street cocktail bar truly capture the spirit of Nelson Algren?

Posted By on 06.13.18 at 06:00 AM

Algren on Division Street - ART SHAY
  • Art Shay
  • Algren on Division Street

Eater Chicago recently broke the news that, to quote the headline, "A Nelson Algren-Inspired Bar is Coming to Wicker Park from Bar Deville's Team." The story details how the new place, the Neon Wilderness, to be located near the Polish Triangle, the convergence of Division, Milwaukee and Ashland, will serve high-end cocktails such as the Polish Broadway, an old-fashioned with Żubrówka vodka. The mixologists behind the plan are award winners, and Eater Chicago's Ashok Selvam seemed upbeat about this addition to the near northwest side's high-end cocktail possibilities. I imagine it would lend some much-needed balance to the stroller corridor/brunch-spot and bro-sports-bar scene that thoroughly gentrified Wicker Park/Bucktown has degenerated into.

But this Algren scholar could only groan at the thought of an "Algren-inspired bar."

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How a mead that hasn’t yet hit the market exploded in popularity

Posted By on 06.12.18 at 06:00 AM

Boneflower's award-winning Cherry Apple Inception - COURTESY BONEFLOWER MEAD
  • courtesy Boneflower Mead
  • Boneflower's award-winning Cherry Apple Inception

Boneflower Mead, located in northwest Indiana, has a rating of 4.7 out of a possible 5 on Untappd, a social networking app for beer aficionados that allows them to rate what they're drinking. The rating is impressive for a fledgling meadery—but so is the fact that Boneflower, which has yet to sell a single bottle of mead, has more than 150 reviews.

Aaron Schavey, who cofounded the meadery with Geoff Resney, a friend and former colleague in the air pollution testing business, has been making mead for about two years and giving it away for almost as long. After being introduced to what he calls "the first mead that really blew me away" a couple years ago he started looking for quality mead to buy and, finding limited options, decided to make his own. For guidance he bought a book on mead-making by Ken Schramm, whose eponymous Michigan meadery had made that first fermented honey beverage that impressed Schavey, a boysenberry mead called Madeline. Online forums for mead-makers and talking to meadery owners also helped him learn.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Gas station pork rinds and scotch? Watch this week’s Cocktail Challenge

Posted By on 06.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Laura Kelton (Sportsman’s Club) and Carley Gaskin, who co-owns a cocktail catering business called Hospitality 201, are known for their love of snacks and for always carrying some in their purses. A couple years ago they were driving back from a bachelorette party in Nashville, "feeling not so great," Gaskin says. "We stopped at a gas station and got two huge bags of pork rinds. Before we even got back on the interstate, both bags were gone." It’s been a running joke between the two ever since, so when it came time for Kelton to choose an ingredient that Gaskin would need to make a cocktail with, she naturally chose pork rinds—and specified that they had to come from a gas station.

That didn't limit Gaskin's selection: she found 12 different flavors at a gas station not far from her apartment. "I picked a mesquite barbecue that I think will go really well with Dewar’s White Label," she says. "[The whiskey has] some nice citrus and honey notes." She steeped the mesquite pork rinds with the scotch for half an hour before straining out the solids to create pork rind-infused whiskey, which she made into an old-fashioned by adding a little honey syrup and smoked chile bitters.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

The return of the great Cafe Marianao to the north side

Posted By on 06.03.18 at 05:00 PM

The Cubano at Bia's Cafe Marianao - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • The Cubano at Bia's Cafe Marianao

When the late, great Logan Square loncheria Cafe Marianao mysteriously  shut down and the property went on the market in the summer of 2016, it was like the unexplained disappearance of a loved one: shocking, brutal, and offering no closure. For decades, stoic countermen at the Milwaukee Avenue sandwich shop plied a steady but disordered scrum of adherents with cafe con leche and Cubano, steak, and medianoche sandwiches. And suddenly, without warning, it was all over. News reports were vague—the owners listed the spot for $1.39 million, and not surprisingly it sold a month later.

But who were the original owners? And why shut down? Was it a cold and calculated abandonment of tradition in the face of gentrified real estate prices?

Don't be so cynical. It was because founder Manuel Basilio "Bia" Santiago had gone to his great reward. That's the word from his grandson Marcos Santiago, who assembled sandwiches in the basement when he was growing up before going on to college and embarking on his own career.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

When craft beer went corporate: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out tells how Goose Island's sale transformed an industry

Posted By on 05.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press
  • Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press

"There wasn't a single moment when the chummy, jovial craft beer industry became a battlefield of 'us versus them,'" Josh Noel writes in Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business (Chicago Review Press). "It happened slowly. And then, seemingly, all at once."

The line isn't an introduction to his subject matter (it actually comes near the end of the book), but it does encapsulate it fairly neatly. Noel happens to be discussing the attempts of the Brewers Association to define craft beer—which has become an increasingly thorny question as more craft breweries have been bought by global beverage companies (often referred to as Big Beer). In the early years of the craft brewing renaissance, he says, the term was never really defined. "Craft beer was the underdog. It was flavor. It was creativity. It was peace, love, and collaboration. Everyone was included—except for Big Beer. There were no wrong answers. But when there are no wrong answers, there are no right answers, and the Brewers Association sought to correct that."

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Friday, May 25, 2018

McDonald’s new West Loop HQ is ‘perfect’ location for protesters to get their messages out

Posted By on 05.25.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the building in the former Harpo Studios space at 110 N. Carpenter, which they labelled the "Headquarters of Cruelty." - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Protesters held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the building in the former Harpo Studios space at 110 N. Carpenter, which they labelled the "Headquarters of Cruelty."

Two separate protest groups lined the sidewalk outside of McDonald's new West Loop headquarters at 11 AM Thursday—the day of the fast-food giant's annual shareholders' meeting.

As a handful of Chicago cops and a cluster of curious pedestrians watched from behind temporary metal barriers placed in front of the 6,000-square-foot flagship restaurant and corporate offices on Randolph Street, ten people representing the grassroots Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund demanded that the company use antibiotics-free beef.

Meanwhile, 15 members of various animal rights groups and volunteers (one dressed as a creepy Ronald McDonald and another in a diseased chicken costume) rallied to complain about the fast-food chain's suppliers' treatment of its poultry. At noon they held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a Golden Arches-shaped installation of yellow balloons covered in fake blood to christen the massive nine-story building at 110 N. Carpenter as the "Headquarters of Cruelty."

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

DIY designer Joe Freshgoods takes Chicago streetwear out of town with McDonald’s partnership

Posted By on 05.24.18 at 03:30 PM

A T-shirt from Joe Freshgoods's new capsule collection in collaboration with McDonald's - COURTESY OF MCDONALD'S
  • Courtesy of McDonald's
  • A T-shirt from Joe Freshgoods's new capsule collection in collaboration with McDonald's

Joe Freshgoods is a king of authentic Chicago DIY street fashion. A cofounder of the FatTiger Workshop, Freshgoods has gone from selling his designs out of his garage in Pilsen to heading a leading streetwear brand in Chicago. 

A notable moment for the designer came in 2017, when Chicago native and longtime friend of Freshgoods Chance the Rapper accepted the Grammy for best rap performance while wearing a hoodie from Freshgoods’s “Thank you Obama” collection, which dropped on the former president’s last day in office. Although the category wasn't featured on the televised broadcast, the moment has lived on through GIFs and other popular digital formats. Freshgood’s Chicago-area partnerships with Nike, Adidas, and the Chicago Bears came around the same time.  

Now Freshgoods has another opportunity to bring streetwear and the spirit of the Chicago DIY scene to national attention. Earlier this week, the designer announced via his label’s Instagram that he will launch an exclusive capsule collection to celebrate McDonald’s collaboration with Sprite on the new exclusive Mix by Sprite Tropic Berry beverage. Starting at 2 PM on Friday, May 25, patrons at select McDonald's restaurants in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago will have the chance to receive an item of clothing from Freshgoods's capsule collection with the purchase of any soft drink as long as supplies last. The collection will drop alongside an exclusive track and music video by multiplatinum rapper Kyle. Freshgoods says the opportunity to create the capsule collection was offered to him through a phone call, and no doubt inspired by his recent collaborations with other companies.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore poaches fish in the world's most expensive edible oil

Posted By on 05.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Argan oil—which comes from the kernels of the Moroccan argan tree—is the most expensive edible oil in the world, but it’s more widely recognized as a hair and skin care product. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore, challenged by C.J. Jacobson (Ema) to create a dish with the oil, says, “I didn’t even know it was edible.”

Tasting the argan oil didn’t impress him much. “It tastes like dried Sicilian cured olives. Imagine that meaty fruitiness you get, the salinity, but then this weird—it kind of reminds me of plastic and cardboard with undertones of olive oil,” he says. Papadopoulos compares the smell to Limburger and funky blue cheese and the flavor to petrol and burnt plastic. “Personally, I don’t really care for it,” he adds.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

How Mordecai chef-owner Matthias Merges helped transform modern fine dining

Posted By on 05.17.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Courtesy Folkart Management
  • Matthias Merges

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

This week Mike Sula reviews Mordecai, the new fine-dining restaurant that has joined Big Star and Smoke Daddy in the Hotel Zachary, across from Wrigley Field. According to Sula, it's another hit from chef Matthias Merges and his hospitality company, Folkart Management. Merges has been busy lately—it's just six months ago that he and celebrity chef Graham Elliot (Top Chef, MasterChef, et al) opened the Randolph Street spot Gideon Sweet. But Merges, who for many years was Charlie Trotter's right-hand man, has long been an entrepreneurial sort. In fact, as recounted in Sula's 2014 feature "What happens when all-star chefs get in bed with Big Food," he's partly responsible for the popularization of one of the techniques that have come to epitomize modern fine dining: sous vide cooking.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Get wet at the first Thai New Year Water Festival

Posted By on 05.16.18 at 03:00 PM

The problem with celebrating Songkran, the Thai New Year, in Chicago is that it's too cold for a water fight in mid-April. One of the popular features of Songkran in Bangkok originated as a ceremony offering blessings to your elders by anointing their hands with scented water, but the custom's evolved into a friendly no-holds-barred mass water fight, a euphoric respite from the withering heat that essentially takes over the city this time of year.

Dew Suriyawan, owner and chef of Uptown's great Immm Rice & Beyond, was so intent on hosting a water fight at the inaugural Thai New Year Water Festival that he pushed the date up more than a month so that he could hold it on a (hopefully) warm May weekend: this weekend, that is.

He also bought 1,000 water guns.

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