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Re: “Lou Mitchell's

Take a step back in time at Lou Mitchell's--to a time when cholesterol was unknown, when coffee only came one way, and when people felt a need to eat breakfast.

Despite the "I'll grab a latte and scone at Starbucks and eat it on the train" mentality that pervades our dining culture, Lou Mitchell's still packs 'em in. Go early or late in the morning to avoid the big crowds, but if you get stuck at a peak time, the free Milk Duds and donut holes are a nice touch.

But the big draw is the food. Nothing extraordinary here, just a good old, greasy American breakfast. Eggs arrive, cooked to order, still in the pan accompanied by terrific hash browns and thick Greek toast round out the extravaganza. Upgrade with topnotch sausage links.

As Ms. Shatkin correctly notes, the coffee revolution seems to have passed Lou Mitchell's by, a fact, which, in the eyes of this Rater, is cause for celebration. Forget the double half-caf skim latte surprise--simplicity carries the day at Mitchell's, from the no-nonsense decor, to the highly efficient waitstaff.

Granted, $9 might seem like a lot for breakfast, but when it's so hearty you can forget about lunch, Lou Mitchell's seems like a regular bargain. Just try not to eat there everyday...

Posted by Charles A. Hafner on 08/24/2000 at 5:50 PM

Re: “Adobo Grill

Say what you want about Rick Bayless, but at the very least, he has raised Chicagoans' (and now, through his TV show, the nation's) awareness of Mexican cuisine, such that it is now respected for being as artful and regionally varied as French or Italian regional cuisine. No longer does the mention of "Mexican food" automatically conjure up images of tacos, burritos, and fajitas.

It is this mini-revolution that has brought the Adobo Grill to Piper's Alley. Nestled in between Second City and the Piper's Alley Starbucks, the location virtually guarantees a booming business. However, a general uneveness pervades the Adobo Grill; the highs are indeed remarkable, but are unfortunately vitiated by the lows.

Take for example the decor and general atmosphere. A marvelous old storefront with exposed brick shines with the addition of an intricately carved, antique mahogany bar. The space is light and airy, with a smattering of Mexican pseudo-artifacts. But all that brick merely serves as an echo chamber for the deafening noise level. Why the management insists on such overpowering music volume eludes me; it even overshadowed the hostess' voice-when I made a reservation on the phone. Forget about conversing with your tablemates, and if you have the misfortune to be seated in the lower level dining area, just tell yourself you'll get used to the musty odor. I don't know if this smell was the result of the exposed brick, or the shabby carpet on the floor, which did little except expose to the naked eye a vast array of discarded tortilla chips, but it should be immediately investigated.

Then the there's the food. You can't blame the chef for a lack of authenticity or innovation, but you certainly can take issue with the puny portion size-to-price ratio. For example, a starter of Guacamole con Totopos shines: prepared tableside to your desired degree of heat in a traditional molcajete (a kind of lava stone mortar-and-pestle), it exhibits the perfect blend of lime tang, cilantro herbaceousness, and creamy avocado. But entrees disappoint: a grilled pork loin served with Xico mole, swiss chard, and epazote rice showed potential but simply fell flat. And at $16.95 for five thumb-sized pieces of meat, I have to admit that my disappointment was heightened. Chicken enchiladas suffered the same deficiency; there was nothing wrong with them, but then again I wasn't wowed by their taste, and certainly didn't feel as though they were a value at $12.95.

Credit must be given for the impressive selection of tequilas and mezcals, as well as good advice on pairing them with the food, but if you're not fond of these agave-based spirits your options are pretty limited. The standard Mexican beers make their appearance, as well as a few wines, but you'd be better offer with the ubiquitous shaken margarita or one of the other specialty cocktails.

Service is fine, if a little pushy at times but simply adds to the feeling that Adobo Grill is not all it could be. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I can't say with any authority that Adobo Grill is leading the charge into the vast, uncharted expanse of upscale Mexican restaurants.

Posted by Charles A. Hafner on 08/14/2000 at 4:41 PM

Re: “Ranalli & Ryan

A bustling outdoor patio, outstanding selection of bottled beers, and fantastic thin crust pizza saves Ranalli's from just-another-pizza-joint anonymity. Notables: the appetizer chicken fingers appears to be made fresh, from real chicken, and are not overly greasy; a good bet for a larger party is the bucket of 6 ice-cold beers, one of which is free. Expect long waits at the usual times, but service hustles.

Posted by Charles A. Hafner on 07/31/2000 at 11:05 AM


Posted by Charles A. Hafner on 07/25/2000 at 10:03 AM

Re: “Harmony Grill

Not expecting all that much, I was pleasantly surprised by Schuba's Harmony Grill. A fine outdoor patio, and attentive, if somewhat harried, service complimented the hearty pub grub. Sandwiches arrived on thick slices of whole grain bread, with surprisingly fresh lettuce and tomato, and a generous portion of crispy, thick-cut french fries. The triple-decker club was especially good, favoring real sliced turkey breast over the pressed-into-a-perfectly-round-slice stuff that you too often find in club sandwiches. Add to that the great people watching on Southport, from the tragically hip to the 1.8 kids crowd, and Harmony Grill makes a nice addition to the neighborhood lunch options.

Posted by Charles A. Hafner on 07/25/2000 at 9:44 AM

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