Just Blocks From the Sox | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Just Blocks From the Sox 

In the Neighborhood

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Cobblestones Bar & Grill

514 W. Pershing

773-624-3630

Fifteen years ago, fresh out of the Culinary Institute of America, south-side native Lorette Vaccaro-Holley came home to open COBBLESTONES BAR & GRILL, an odd but appealing hybrid of bistro and corner tap on a rather desolate stretch of Pershing. Tables are the standard-issue tavern model, but the handsome wooden bar is backed by a warm yellow wall, and alongside the Sox posters and paraphernalia are Italian prints and decorative architectural moldings. The menu's a significant step up from typical bar food. New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp were six succulent crustaceans in a spicy beurre blanc it was hard to stop dipping bread into, and--hurrah--the menu also features a number of muffulettas (growing up, Vaccaro-Holley had family in New Orleans). There are daily specials (shrimp bisque, sauteed grouper) and a range of salads and sandwiches, but roughly half the menu is devoted to mix-and-match pastas and sauces. Vaccaro-Holley has a deft hand here: my spaghetti alla arrabiata was perfectly al dente, the piquant sauce delectably garlicky. Vegetable sides--a nice option--include equally garlicky broccoli with lemon and sauteed spinach. My friend was pleased with his steak Vaccaro, tender slices of rib eye with green peppers and caramelized onions served over penne in a light, savory red sauce. Service can be gruff in the south-side manner, but that just means they think you can take it, right? "Where's mine?" the bartender cracked when I gave my pal his birthday gift. Warning to late diners: the kitchen closes at 8 PM. --Kate Schmidt

Ed's Potsticker House

3139 S. Halsted

312-326-6898

To gain access to the amazing repertoire of delicious northern Chinese specialties at the Bridgeport Mandarin restaurant ED'S POTSTICKER HOUSE, start by asking for the leather-bound Chinese menu with English translations. Then ask about the specials hanging on the wall (written in Chinese)--and if something appeals to you don't let anyone talk you out of it. The waitstaff will make sure you get the real stuff if you display a little earnest curiosity. You could spend weeks happily exploring: House pot stickers are long cigars of crispy, porky goodness, and the complex lamb, stir-fried with dried chiles, is carried from the kitchen with great regularity. "Fish-fragrant" eggplant has nothing to do with fish and is really just a nice version of eggplant with garlic sauce that renders the fruit light and puffy with a delicate, crispy outer crust. Don't overlook the cold appetizers on the menu: a bowl of tofu with bits of preserved egg is a nice lesson in subtle textural contrasts, and the sliced pork leg with soy sauce is cut thinly in cross section so you can see the varying textures of the different muscles, each rimmed by a layer of caramelized fat. Even cosmetically challenged selections tend to be terrific: lily flowers and bean thread noodle is sort of a grayish lump of noodles studded with wilted yellow flowers, but the pale yellow buds have a satisfying snap, like lightly sauteed mushrooms. --Mike Sula

Franco's Ristorante

300 W. 31st

312-225-9566

Though within shouting distance of U.S. Cellular Field, FRANCO'S RISTORANTE is a quiet neighborhood spot, and though Italian, it's no stereotypical red-sauce joint. Instead Franco's serves some interesting renditions of old standards in an understated room of Tuscan tans and browns. Minestrone too often is a drab, thin broth of beans and vegetables, but at Franco's the prototypical Italian potage is pumped up with pork--bacon and sausage--making it much more interesting if less traditional. The mushroom soup is also very good, smooth and flavored with fennel that breaks up the richness. The baked clams have good garlicky flavor; be persistent and somewhere beneath all that breading you'll find tiny, tasty clam morsels. Grilled octopus is fresh and served on mesclun, though the tentacles we had seemed to have been cooked perhaps half a minute too long, making them somewhat tough. The gnocchi are the finest I've ever had: extraordinarily light, puffy, and not a bit gluey, in a marinara that's thin so as not to overburden the delicate pasta and garnished with freshly snipped basil. Penne, softly turned in a sauce of spicy, mustardy pesto with capers and chunks of prosciutto, is the kind of dish you have to pull yourself away from lest you gorge till you explode. Veal, the fashionably forbidden meat, is presented here in palm-sized slices lightly breaded with garlic and herbs, laced with Parmigiana, gently fried, sprinkled with the ubiquitous fresh basil, and laid over a moist pillow of rapini. The herb-roasted pork chop, served with velvety roasted potatoes, is nicely done, but the problem with an inch-and-a-half-thick slab is that the meat tends to get a bit dry. Tiramisu is on the dessert menu, along with a number of ice creams, though after a meal this rich that may not be what you need. Wine, beer (including the Italian Moretti), and mixed drinks are available, and from what I've seen, you can count on a decent pour. --David Hammond

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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