19 July 2011

30/66 Chicago: Part 1

My 30th birthday, celebrated in 66 hours in Chicago, get it? Moving on. Our flight departed at 9pm and we arrived with about 30 minutes to kill so we checked out the bar at Phillips Seafood right next to our gate.

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I ordered a MM Manhattan neat, and apparently to this bartender neat means warm. I guess I have in the past said chilled, neat, but I never expected to be served a warm Manhattan.

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After I got over the fact that it was warm, the Manhattan itself was pretty good, similar in strength to the ones I make at home. The Mrs. ordered a glass of Sutter Home White Zin which I couldn’t help but laugh at. That’s the wine my mother used to drink.

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Fast forward to 10pm Central time and we were in Chicago. Our other friend was flying into O’Hare and his flight was delayed so we decided to take a cab and meet them for dinner.
We arrived at Longman & Eagle at exactly the same time and after throwing our bags into my friend M’s trunk, we made our way into L&E and were (surprisingly) seated immediately.

My mentality going into this meal was to take pictures, but ignore voice memos so I could enjoy my first night in Chicago unburdened by my blog. Well when I asked the Mrs. for the camera, she sheepishly informed me that it was still in her carry-on, in M’s trunk, a block and a half away. So, our first meal went completely undocumented, so I will do my best to recount the details.

The four of us decided to split two small plates, two sandwiches, and one entree. We ordered the Porcini Agnolotti with Sweet Corn, Crispy Chicken Skin, Pea Shoots, and Grana Padano and the Slagel Family Farm Goat Sausage with Eggplant Baba, Compressed Apricot, Basil, and Black Olive Caramel. For our “main course” we split the Slagel Family Farms Burger topped with Aged Windmer’s Cheddar, Neuske’s Bacon, on a Brioche bun and a side of Beef Fat Fries (it looked like this) and the Wild Boar Sloppy Joe, Crispy Sage, Onion, Pickled JalapeƱo, also with Beef Fat Fries (it looked like this) and finally the Slow Roasted Cauliflower, Beluga Lentils, Caramelized Onion, Golden Raisins, Pickled Mango, and Cucumber Raita (it looked like this [although with much less pickled mango]).

Well I will say that we thoroughly enjoyed every dish, and with the exception of the burger, were quite stellar indeed. The sweet corn served with the agnolotti must’ve been flash fried for it had this great crunchy popping texture. The eggplant baba served alongside the goat sausage really enhanced the meats natural smokiness while rounding out its gaminess. The entire table raved about the beef fat fries, but I felt slightly less impressed. This was probably due to the fact that I was utterly enamored with the wild boar sloppy joe which proved to be one of my favorite bites of the weekend. The crispy fried sage really elevated the dish, but it was no surprise that, as a person who loves both sloppy joes and gamey meats, I couldn’t shovel this into my mouth fast enough. I even used the fry scraps to mop up every bit of sloppy joe from the plate. The cauliflower itself was great, but I had a few complaints. There were far too many lentils and not enough cauliflower. They also skimped heavily on the cucumber raita, there was barely a drizzle. I loved both the pickled mango and the golden raisins, but the raisins were far more plentiful. I guess I didn’t really have any problems with the components themselves; it was more of an issue of ratios.

I noticed they had a spin on the Mint Julep listed on their cocktail menu. It was the Julep de Chambly (Old Taylor Bourbon, Fresh Lemon, Mint Syrup, Ephemere White Ale.) Not being a fan of white ale, I asked our very nice waitress if I could order a run of the mill Mint Julep. She assured me she would inquire at the bar. Moments later I had my drink. The drink itself was fine, but my qualm with the beverage was that most of the negative space in the glass was crammed with crushed ice so that the cocktail itself couldn’t’ve been more than a 1.5 ounces. It also wasn’t served with a straw so everytime I took a sip I came away with a nasal passage full of crushed ice. I slurped it down and after trying M’s stellar Cane & Ebel brew by Two Brothers Brewery I ordered up one of those.

We caught up on current news and reminisced about old times for a spell, but it wasn’t long before the long day started wearing on us all. We paid our check and made it back to M’s swanky new (to me) and much larger pad in Roger’s Park, about 3/4ths of a mile from his old place. We passed out shortly thereafter.

Having never been a huge fan of Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza, I was kind of hesitant to spend one of my precious meals on it, but after my wife expressed interest in trying it I decided to give Burt’s Place a call to reserve us some pies. I’d researched Burt’s for my last trip, but never committed to it. I called a few days ahead and after reading this article on Slice, I decided to go with their suggestion of opting for double cheese and extra sauce. For our first pie my wife wanted pepperoni and half black olive. For the other pie I decided on sausage and fresh garlic and I asked Sharon (Burt’s wife who takes all of the phone orders) for a recommendation of either mixed bell peppers or mushrooms. She suggested mushroom.

We had a few minutes to kill before we headed out, so M took the opportunity to show us the little beach on Lake Michigan roughly 5 blocks East of his house. It was the first time I’d been close to the lake and the water was surprisingly beautiful. It made the Chesapeake Bay and the water at Ocean City look like raw sewage.

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After a short ride through Greater Chicagoland we arrived at Burt’s Place in Morton Grove exactly 10 minutes prior to our 11:30 pie reservation.

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I was extremely surprised to find that we were the only eat-in diners, and aside from two men who picked up to-go pies, we were the only patrons we saw throughout the entire duration of the meal. After Sharon greeted us and showed us to our table she quickly produced water for the table and a salad to start.

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I asked for garlic vinaigrette, and it turns out that they were two different dressings. The garlic dressing I could only compare to an aioli, so I quickly reached for the vinaigrette which was much more palatable. As she scurried back into the kitchen I took the opportunity to walk around and flash a few shots of the famously kitschy collection of knickknacks adorning the walls.

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After only a few bites of salad Sharon brought out our pies and there was much rejoicing. She set the pies on a central table and after asking which pie we preferred she served us our slices. First up was the sausage, mushroom, and garlic.

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Immediately the freshness of the ingredients transported me to Di Fara in Brooklyn. The garlic was so fresh and abundant that it burned my tongue. The mushrooms were slightly caramelized, retaining their natural earthy funk. Even when doubling up on sauce and cheese they still played back fiddle to the toppings and the crust. The cheese was soft, smooth, and creamy, although I would’ve preferred a bit more. The same goes for the sauce, while it was beautifully savory and spiced (not spicy, mind you) with all of the other strong flavors it was kind of lost in the mix.

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The other dominant flavor was the cornmeal crust, the best part being, of course, the caramelized outer crust. I alternated bites from the point and the crust just to make the most of that addicting crispy blackened edge. Burt applies his sausage so that there is one large central hunk for each slice.

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When I bit into it I looked across at M and said that it was the best fennel sausage I’d ever tasted. He wasted no time in agreeing with me.

We brainstormed the idea for the perfect addition to Burt’s menu: A circle of caramelized crust covered in sausage with a side of sauce for dippin’. It’d be the best-seller, of that we have no doubt. After Sharon offered seconds I realized she taken my order down wrong. The second pie turned out to be black olive half-pepperoni instead of the other way around. Luckily, no one minded, and I was able to secure a slice with both toppings for myself.

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It seemed Burt was a little sparse with his application of the pepperoni for I only found two on my slice. Overall I preferred this slice more, however, because it was apparent that there was more cheese and the sauce. Not only that, but the sauce appeared more spiced, as you can see from this photo:

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At this point my friends started glazing over and rubbing their stomachs, signalizing that they had had enough. I wasn’t quite defeated just yet, so I asked for half a slice of the sausage pie, which put me down for the count.

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Sharon quickly wrapped up our leftovers and saw us to the door. She actually went on at length about Chicago and the crime and gentrification of neighborhoods, all the while we were slowly creeping out the door. Eventually we got out the door, and headed back to M’s place to chill out for a minute before heading to the beach.

After watching a few episodes of Parks & Rec on Netflix, which we streamed through his PS3, we piled into the his car and headed down to Foster Beach for our first taste of the most addicting and fun beach game I’ve played in years: Spikeball. It’s basically just like volleyball (which I hate) except you have to bounce the ball off of a circular net on the ground in order to change possession.

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We were all pretty evenly matched (alright, I was the weakest link) and we played for hours. It required the perfect amount of physical exertion—diving for the ball, running for stray hits, but without really wearing us out. It was the perfect way to work off our lunch and prepare us for our evening downtown...

So, do you think my new camera was worth it? I sure do. Aside from using the low-light setting, every one of those photos was shot using the auto function. Pretty sweet, eh? Stay tuned for part 2.


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Burt's Place on Urbanspoon

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theminx said...

What about the Black Olive Caramel?

Those pizzas look gorgeous - would love a blackened crust like that.

And yes - camera is definitely worth it if those are non-flash low-light photos!

Mr. Micro said...

The Black Olive Caramel was just a decorative smear across the plate. I would've liked more of it though because it was basically a briny salted caramel and it was quite good.

If you ever make it out to Chicago I can't recommend Burt's Place enough. Just remember to call ahead to reserve your pie.

And yes, those are low-light non-flash photos. Money I definitely consider well spent.

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