The Lo Down: Nonna’s

Nonna's Chicago

Hi hi! So good food news to report – there’s a new sandwich shop in town! And by “in town” I mean the West Loop (specifically the corner of Randolph and Sangamon) and by “new sandwich shop” I mean Nonna’s. Attached to the recently-opened Formento’s Italian restaurant, Nonna’s is the fancy little sidecar. It took me a minute to realize where the entrance actually was because I think I was expecting something with more seating, so on first glance I thought it was a separate carry-out area. But after Max figured it out, we were in.  The bright and modest space was accentuated with white marble countertops. Bottles of marinara sauce, balsamic vinegar and red wine stacked up all of the walls. The tiling on the floors was beautiful, and perfect for the space and vibe.

Nonna's Tile Floor

Bottles on Bottles on Bottles

Nonna's Chicago

Nonna's Chicago

Nonna's Branding

With a relatively small menu (ten sandwiches and a few sides and salads), it was easy to get a bit of info on all the sandwiches from the two helpful ladies working the counter. I went with the Mozzarella in Carrozza, which was sort of like a margarita grilled cheese? It’s basil pesto, tomato and mozzarella…deep fried. Whoops, did I leave that part out? Yeah. It’s deep fried. It was like biting into a crispy mozzarella stick the entire sandwich. Which also reminded me that I was eating something incredibly unhealthy…the entire time. I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. I do think it could have used a little bit more salt (and I’m not really one to put salt on much, either). But overall I was pretty happy with my choice, though I’m 100% going to branch out and try something new next time because there are a couple others I was torn between.

Nonna's Mozzarella in

Max went with the Chicken Parm and absolutely devoured it. I decided that it was about time I gave this whole “chicken parm thing” the benefit of the doubt, and let me tell you, I’m damn glad that I did. I have a terrible aversion to soggy foods (like what sauce would do to bread), but this didn’t bother me at all. The ciabatta that it comes on is the perfect bread, holding up to the sauce but still sopping up the flavor. The cheese was a melty delicious, too. The only thing I’d change was that the chicken was a little bit tough for my liking, but I took about six additional bites if that tells you anything. Max was less than impressed every time I asked for just a little bit more, but shared like a great boyfriend anyway!

Nonna's Chicken Parm

Nonna's Chicken Parm

Nonna’s is only open from 11-3pm (bummer, I know!), so unless you work over in the West Loop, the only time you’ll likely be able to grub is on the weekend. When we walked in there were two men waiting on sandwiches, taking up two of the four stools provided for dining there. We’d originally planned on eating there, but when we realized it wasn’t really a sit-down situation, we took it to-go.

Nonna's dessert

They’ve also got some treats at the counter that are pretty well priced (anything under $1 is a winner in my book) but the sweet girl give them to us on the house, so definitely some extra points added there. Overall, I know we’ll be back again, it just sucks it’ll only be on weekends. But weekends tend to be the time I eat the most things that I know I shouldn’t eat, so I guess it works out!  UPDATE: Nonna’s commented on my Instagram after the original post to let me know that starting 1/28 they’ll be open until 10/11pm pending the day. So rejoice, sandwiches for dinner! Enjoy the rest of your Monday and let me know if you’ve tried any new spots in Chicago that I should check out!

L

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: The Cocktail Lover

I’m back! Two posts in one day, I know, I’m as shocked as you. But as I’ve been overly-stressing, I want to give as much order time as possible, so here’s installment number two of this Sunday. I’ve been spending it finishing up the last of the gift guides and making a big batch of turkey chili in my CrockPot, I just had a bowl and it was friggin’ deeelicious. I’ll have to get a post up here with the recipe soon, I mean I am reigning champion of the Super Bowl Chili Cook Off at my office, so I don’t mess around.

Moving on to something that has nothing to do with chili – as much as I love my wine (which is a lot) and my craft beers (especially pumpkin brews), a well made cocktail is one of my favorite things. I’ve gathered up some gifts in my Holiday Gift Guide for the Cocktail Lover that I think anyone with a bar cart would appreciate. Or really anyone that likes a great drink. My favorites are those half-glass tumblers because who doesn’t love a little bit of wordplay!?

2014 Holiday Gift Guide for the Cocktail LoverLiquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail $22 | Stone Hexagonal Coasters $24| Carry On Cocktail Kit $24 | Swivel Liqueur Glasses $45 | Stainless Steel Cocktail Stirrer $4 | Owl’s Brew Tea Crafted for Cocktails Gift Set $25 | Optimist/Pessimist Glasses $25 | Moscow Mule Mug $20 | Bourbon Cocktail Cherries $16 | Guide to Cocktails Chalkboard Artboard $29

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the other gift guides that you may have missed last week, they’re kinda awesome –  The Chef | The Foodie | The Techie | The Hostess | The Coffee Addict | The BFF | The Jetsetter

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: The Foodie

When I first started working on these gift guides, I was overlapping The Chef, The Foodie and the Cocktail Enthusiast (keep an eye out for this one, my fellow liquor lovers!) all into one guide, and I realized that they are not one in the same. There are people who like to actually cook. And then there are people who really just like to eat. And then there are the people who would rather just drink their calories. So I decided to make separate gift guides for all of these people.

Which brings us to the Foodie Gift Guide. There’s a real array of presents here, from spicy pickles to DIY gastronomy kits. So take a look, if there is anyone on your list who finds food number one on their list, I’ve got ya covered.

Oh and also, if you yourself are a foodie, who happens to live in Chicago, The Infatuation (“Restaurant reviews for the people”) just came out with their Winter Hit List, a list of new restaurants you HAVE to try!

Holiday Gift Guide for The Foodie

 

1. Sriracha 2 Go
Whoever thought to put a baby bottle of hot sauce onto a keychain is my new hero. I just discovered Sriracha a few months ago and I’m so sad that I missed out on it all my life. This stuff is perfect squeezed on basically anything, if you like spicy that is! So stick it in the stocking of your spiciest friend!

2. Fondue For Two
How perfect is this lil fondue pot? My family has a tradition of doing fondue every Christmas Eve and it’s a bit of a production, trying to find all the different pots and the different colored skewers. With this couple-sized fondue situation, let your friends indulge in the cheesy goodness that is fondue on any occasion, without much searching or cleanup.

3. Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Sticks
With the temperatures quickly dropping in Chicago, a deliciously warm drink is always appreciated when you’ve come in from the cold. So these little sticks of delight are sure to put a smile on someones face, and hopefully stop their teeth from chattering.

4. Holiday 5-Bar Chocolate Gift Box
Foodies love chocolate. But foodies love fancy, exotic chocolates even more. At least that’s what I tell myself. So I came across this holiday themed array of bars ranging from Hot Buttered Rum to Candy Cane Crunch to Christmas Cookie. I know my aunt would murder these after having them in her presence for three minutes.

5. Aromafork Flavor Enhancing Kit
I’m still not entirely sure what exactly this is, but it looks awesome. The basic gist is that our senses only take in so much flavor, and our noses are what do most of the work. With flavored oils that you drop onto the forks that come in the kit, you can create your own, new, unique flavor combinations. Perfect for the geeky gourmet in your life.

6. Old Salt Merchants Products
I will admit that I haven’t actually tried any of these yet, but they’re packaged so perfectly and branded just right that I’m clearly ordering a couple for some people on my lists. Old Salt Provisions are “offering superior, natural, nautical provisions and gifts to customers who appreciate the same”. With products like Rum Soaked Sugar and Lime Latitudes Salt, I’m sure these would work perfect when mixing up drinks and apps alike.

7. Subscription to Gather Journal
While this isn’t something anyone can technically eat, it will help get those taste buds revved up. Gather Journal is a quarterly publication that was dreamed up “dreamed up due to a shared love of food and cooking”. A subscription for a foodie friend would obviously be appreciated since the recipes and photography are equally as gorgeous. If you can’t think of anyone to get it for…send me a private message and I’ll give you my address. But seriously. I die for food photography.

8. Stu’s Sour Spicy Pickles
Three words: Spicy. Garlic. Pickles.

9. Micro-Greens Kit
How fresh is this?! What a terrible pun. But for real, for that friend that loves their food fresh from the earth, gift them this Micro-Greens Kit that will let them be eating the very same greens they planted not more than two weeks before. Plus I think it adds some life into any kitchen. I know my grandma would love this, especially because I know how much she loves pulling weeds.

10. Food – A Love Story
Funny man Jim Gaffigan penned this #1 Bestseller and it’s all about food. I could read about food all day and then look at pictures of food all night if I could. How do I get that job? Honestly though, a funny book about food is basically my life, so I’ll be picking this up real soon.

Well now that I’ve finished that, I’m starving. I’ll just light up my Sugar Cookie candle that I picked up last weekend and smell the deliciousness instead of giving in and diving into the Oreo ice cream waiting patiently in the freezer. Serves me right to write about food right before bed. If you didn’t find anything in this gift guide, don’t worry, you’ll find something soon — I’ll be sharing more gift guides in the days to come! And if you missed them earlier in the week, I’ve got guides for The Chef, The Hostess, and The Techie ready for ya.

L

Green Street Smoked Meats – a BBQ review

Green Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Friends. I have news. Big news. I’ve finally found the only real rival to Smoque when it comes to BBQ spots in Chicago. And its name is Green Street Smoked Meats over in the West Loop. Last Friday for Max’s birthday, he decided to trade the typical sort of fancy sit down situation for some meat. A lot of meat. He’s a growing boy after all, ripe age of 27 and everything. So away we went. We ordered up an UberX (which are 25% cheaper now, hallelujah, only $8.50 from Lakeview to the West Loop!) and we were on our way. Note, that this place is on Green St. right off Randolph (112 N Green St), but it’s tucked away in an alley, you’ll see it because there’s an awesome mural depicting the name.

Green Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Once we arrived, Max immediately noticed the Donut Vault truck out front and took it upon himself to buy one and eat it before we even got in line. (I approved of this not only because it was his birthday, but because life is short, who knows what could happen between bites, eat your dessert first.) But, unfortunately, yes, there will be a line. It will likely be out the door. And then once inside, it will wrap all the way around the interior. So be prepared to wait awhile (I think we waited for about an hour and 20 minutes?), but DO NOT under any circumstances, let it scare you away from coming. It’s SO worth it. We passed the time by playing Dice with Friends on our phones and whispering profanities at eachother when the other one got a Yahtzee or a bad roll, because that’s the kind of people we are. Judge freely.

Donut Vault | champagneandchambray.com

 

Green Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

The wait also isn’t as bad because there’s a full bar right in the middle of the restaurant with signature cocktails, from what I understand a superb whiskey offering, and 16 beers on tap, a lot of which are local crafts. They also have old fashion beer sinks with Lone Star waiting for you on ice. I was drinking Lone Star when the Blackhawks won the cup last year, so whenever I see it, it makes me giddy. We did a birthday shot of  whiskey whose name is escaping me, but that the bartender claimed was one of his favorites. I’ll preface this with, I do not take whiskey shots. They make me gag and drool and borderline cry for like five full minutes after and basically just make me miserable. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy whiskey, just not in shot form. But this one honestly was not bad at all, sorry for sucking and not remembering the name, womp womp.

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

 

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Once we finally made it up to the counter, we ordered up the goods. Max opted for pork ribs, brisket and a Frito pie. Said Frito pie is literally a bag of Frito’s (um, gross, no thank you) covered in a brisket chili, jalapenos, beans, and cheese (but yes please to this). I ordered a pulled pork sandwich because, uh, bread, duh. This came with coleslaw on top so we ordered a side of potato salad and the spicy pickles as, what I’m going to refer to as, our “meat add-ons”. All of that came out to around $50, so not too bad for two people.

From there, you are able to find a spot at a communal picnic table either inside or outside. It was gorgeous out so of course there were no free spots outside under all the twinkle lights, but we managed to snag a table next to the huge open barn doors right inside. The decor in here is pretty minimal, with a kind of rustic, old warehouse feel. And string lights galore! I was really digging it because, I mean, who doesn’t love lights like that? This place is honestly an Instgrammers dream. I was in heaven. I don’t think I talked to Max for good 30 second increments the whole time we stood in line because I was busy taking pictures! I’m a terrible girlfiend, this has been noted.

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

But ok, the food. My pulled pork sandwich was so on point. The coleslaw on top was exactly how I like it, crunchy and NOT creamy. Made with vinegar instead of mayo, it was the perfect consistency for me and I gobbled it up. The pork itself was cooked almost to perfection, and when I added on one of the sauces, took it to another level. They did only have three sauces to choose from, which was a bit weak if you ask me. Having had Tennessee BBQ a few times, I’m used to more options than this, even around Chicago you tend to find a couple more recipes to try. But the meat made up for it. Max’s brisket was beyond. I’m ending the sentence because it was really just beyond everything. Soooooo incredibly tender and the rub, ohemgee. I swear I tasted some coffee in it, but Max wasn’t sure. So if you’ve had it before, let me know if you agree. The frito pie was only okay according to M, but the ribs were “fall off the bone” tender. The pickles seemed me like Ross Geller, yeah, you added to the group as a whole, but I wouldn’t miss you if you were gone. But the potato salad, just get the potato salad. Joey would get the potato salad. (If you don’t watch Friends, I’m sorry. But also, what?)

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

Greet Street Smoked Meats | champagneandchambray.com

All in all, it was a perfect birthday experience. The ambiance was good, but the food was even better. When I return I will 1000% be getting the brisket for myself. Perhaps a 1/2 lb to take home with me? Whoops, who said that? I would have obviously preferred a few more sauce options and a shorter wait, but what can you expect when the food is killer and it’s a Friday night in the West Loop?

Have you eaten at Green Street Smoked Meats yet? What’d you think? We will clearly be making this place a regular on our list of regulars (which weirdly just keeps growing) just maybe on a Tuesday or Wednesday when one of the guys slicing our meat told us it tends to be a bit less crowded. Oh, well lookie there, today happens to be Wednesday…and isn’t BBQ like as American as you can get? Good thing it’s America’s birthday on Friday!

L

Cinco de Mayo Celebration at Mercadito

Today marks two years of getting to date my best friend. Fun story for those of you who don’t know, Max and I were best friends in high school. I had a massive crush on him, he knew this. I asked him to a turnabout dance three times and he denied me three times. #failhard But, alas, ten years later I was able to trick him into dating me. And here we are, two years later. He likes to say he was playing hard to get, I like to say he was a dick. Regardless of who was right (me), we’re pretty happy with how things turned out.

Last week, for something fun to celebrate, I got us spots at a cooking demo at the absolutely delicious Mercadito in River North. If you love tacos and guacamole and all things mexican, get over there immediately. What we did last Tuesday was a little bit different than just getting a table and having your run of the mill dinner, so let me explain. This might be long, bare with me here.

Every month for the last three and a half years, Mercadito has been doing cooking demos. Each demo is themed, ours was Cinco de Mayo Fiesta. Turns out, Mexico doesn’t really celebrate this holiday, us dumb Americans just made up the holiday as an excuse for us to drink more. It’s not their independence day or anything. Now, I wasn’t completely listening when it was being explained because I was too busy being annoying and taking pictures of the room. But somehow France was looped in there also, so the menu for this demo was Mexican-French fusion.



When we got there, we were directed downstairs to a cute little room with four big booths (sorry some of the pictures are a little dark, there wasn’t a lot of great light down there).  There was a bar and a table set up at the front of the room.  We were introduced to Patricio, the head chef, Paul, the head bartender and Matt, the Bacardi rep. (Bacardi was sponsoring this demo, so all of the cocktails were made with Bacardi). We were given a menu that had five courses and a drink to pair with each course. Everything on it looked uh-may-zinnnnnng. And five drinks? Yes please. In addition to the menus, we were provided with recipes for each course!

Patricio talked to us and demoed how he made the first course, gave a few pointers on the second and third courses, the fourth he even came around and had us squeeze the scallops to understand how you should be cooking them. Paul talked about how he came up with the different cocktails and why he paired them with the courses. And Matt broke down the different rums they used and why. He also gave us some background on the Bacardi brand and family, which I thought would be lame and boring, but was actually incredibly interesting! He even had giveaways at the end for people that were paying attention, like mojito shakers (Max won one!) and Bacardi brand headphones and shirts.



The first course was CAMARONES A LA NIÇOISE. Which I guess means a niçoise salad with really big shrimp on top, with their heads on! I was actually really nervous about this one because I’m not much into eating heads, but Patricio told me I could cut them off. This is obviously what I did. I don’t think Max did though, real badass that one. The salad is a french staple made up of lettuce, hard boiled egg, potatoes, green beans and tomato. The charred jalapeño béarnaise sauce was stellar, as was the vinaigrette. With this first course we had a drink dubbed BUBBLES THE CHIMP. Why, you ask? That’s a question I don’t have an answer to. Sorry! But I will say it was probably my favorite of the night. Bacardi heritage, blackberry, lemon juice, and ginger root syrup, get on it! 




Second course: FRENCH DIP TORTITAS. Far and away, my favorite course of the night. This was absolutely phenomenal, and I will petition to get it on their regular menu. This guy consisted of herb-marinated slow roasted pulled chicken with crispy skin on a bolillo (fancy word for a small french baguette, there’s that french twist), with pickled onions and cilantro. Then we filled the bowl it was served in with a serrano chicken a jus. You guys, this was out of this world. I wanted like 12 more. I’m not kidding, I would have done some illegal things for another one. If max hadn’t eaten his as fast as me I would have taken some of his.  I actually asked the chef for another, he laughed in my face and then denied me. Womp womp.  The drink with this was a DECONSTRUCTED CUBA LIBRE. Paul informed us that this is what the uninformed (me apparently) refer to as a rum and coke. Paul’s version consisted of Bacardi Heritage, lime juice, mexican coca cola reduction, egg white and bitters. As with the previous libation, this was also delicious. It was a bit on the sweet side, but he called himself out on that, I still liked it! 




You had assume we’d be eating some red meat somewhere in here. For the third course, Patricio prepared us a taco. And not just any taco people, but a TACO CHATEAUBRIAND. It was seared and roasted beef tenderloin on a corn tortilla with roasted potatoes, parsley, chipotle bordelaise sauce and a whole grain mustard emulsion. I think I was finished in three bites. I think my biggest issue with this one was that there wasn’t enough of it. It was damn goooood. Are you noticing a trend here? The drink pairing with this was a VINITO. Made up of Bacardi Gold, red wine syrup, lime juice, velvet falernum, lime zest. I really enjoyed this one too. I mean you could barely detect the alcohol in any of the drinks, and I was definitely toasty by the end, which can only mean one thing, they were good. 




Fourth course was probably my least favorite of the five. But that’s only because I’m not a huge fan of scallops. I know, the only person in the world. It’s mainly just the texture/mouthfeel that I don’t really dig. So the flavors were all fantastic, scallops just aren’t my cup of tea. Max on the other hand loved them. This course was called CALLO SAINT JACQUES. It was pan-seared diver scallop, wild mushrooms with a tequila lobster sauce and manchego bread crumbs. I gobbled up the sauce and mushroom and breadcrumbs because those are all totally my jam. I could have eaten those mushrooms all day, luckily for me, Max was nice enough to share some of his. What a guy! The drink with this one was something completely new for me. It was called THE PROFESSOR AND MARY ANN. I imagine this was a Gilligan’s Island reference, but that was before my time so I don’t really get it. But. it was Bacardi select, pineapple, lime juice, morita syrup in applewood smoked glassware. Like, Paul and Matt got out a smoking gun and filled the glasses with smoke and flipped them upside down and let the the smoke settle inside them. They filled other glasses with the actual drink and we flipped the glass over then poured it in. Very hands on. I liked this one more than Max, it was a little too smokey for him, but I was totally in to it, especially the pineapple. 






Last course, dessert. Oh baby. We were presented with CREPAS SUZETTE. This was house-made crepes with goat’s milk caramel, vanilla ice cream, and an orange section and salty nuts. I was a big fan of this dessert because sometimes I feel like desserts can be overly sweet. But this was the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and the ice cream just smoothed everything out. The drink pairing here was called OCHO-ITO. I’m sure you’ve indulged in what I liked to refer to as breast milk of the gods, you might know it as Rumchata. This was the sophisticated version of that, or horchata. They make the horchata in house and added some Bacardi 8 and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Again, my only issue was that it was only a shot, I’ll take a gallon please. 


Check out the calendar of the upcoming demos here and seriously, sign up for one! It was so fun, so delicious, such a perfect way to celebrate. The next is the Ode to the Avocado, that will be pretty difficult for me to pass up now that I know about it. Anyone wanna go?

L