Monday, April 18

White Oak Tavern

Chicago Restaurant Review
White Oak Tavern
I finally had the chance to check out White Oak Tavern in Lincoln Park for brunch last weekend and it was divine! The restaurant is located in the former John’s Place location near my favorite Chicago bakery, Sweet Mandy B’s. Not only is it a restaurant, they also have an inn upstairs with a four bedroom apartment that you can rent!

When I stopped by around noon on a Sunday, I was immediately impressed with the ambiance. The dining room is split into three rooms, each with its own vibe. The kitchen is partially open to the main dining room which features exposed brick and neutral-colored furniture. The interior design was very well done. I was seated in an adjoining dining room with a beautiful fireplace while I waited for the two fellow foodies who I was dining with. Thank goodness I arrived first because it allowed me to peruse the menu which instantly had me craving everything on the menu. 

Restaurant Review
Dining Room
Restaurant Review
Dining Room
Restaurant Review
Dining Room
The brunch menu is medium-sized I’d say, with 12 entrees, plus a selection of sweet and savory side dishes. It’s not often I find myself wanting literally everything on a brunch menu. Luckily Chef Tom Van Lente (TWO, Big Star) came out to our table and we were able to pick his brain on what to order. Ultimately, we decided on five dishes and one side…you know, a light brunch. Chef’s favorite dish on the brunch menu (it was really hard for him to pick just one) is the chilaquiles. I’ve had some bad chilaquiles in my day, and let me tell you, it’s a huge buzzkill. Fear not, the chilaquiles at White Oak are the real deal. A heaping pile of tortilla chips are topped with salsa verde, cilantro, onion, queso fresco, crispy pork, and two fried eggs. The eggs were so perfect, I had to take a video of the “twerking” egg yolks. Can we get #EggTwerk going please?

Chicago Brunch
Chilaquiles
The other savory dishes we tried included avocado toast, which sounds basic, but had a very fresh touch. White Oak uses bread from neighboring bakery Floriole, so you already know this is not ordinary avocado toast. They slightly mash the avocado and top it with pickled red onion, feta, arugula, radish, cilantro, a ton of citrus, and bacon. Tell me that’s not a killer combo. I loved the fresh preparation of this dish, as well as the beautiful plating. 

Chicago Brunch
Avocado Toast
Chicago Brunch
Avocado Toast
The next savory dish was the White Oak burger which is always available on the menu. The burger is topped with butterkase cheese, aioli, pickles, and your choice of an egg or bacon (we opted for an egg). It’s all held together with a shiny brioche bun which did its job not getting soggy. Nobody likes a bun that gets soggy with the bloody grease of a patty. Like any good burger, it’s served with tavern fries and a side of smoked chili ketchup. The fries had a lovely crispy and not greasy texture. 

Chicago Brunch
White Oak Burger
The last savory dish was one of my favorites, a unique take on chicken and waffles with buttermilk waffle segments sandwiched around crispy chicken topped with maple butter, fresno chili puree, pickles, arugula salad, and pimento cheese on the side. If you’ve never had pimento cheese, you haven’t lived. I loved spreading the salty cheese on the waffle which acted as a savory contrast to the maple butter. The presentation of this dish was also pretty awesome. 

Chicago Brunch
Chicken & Waffles
I loved the two sweet menu items we tried (pretty much a given with the size of my sweet tooth). The first was a cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting. It's funny this is listed as a side because it’s so large it could feed a family of four. The dough was flaky and dense like a biscuit, but tasted light when you bit into it. They slapped that cream cheese frosting on generously and it tasted heavily of cream cheese. If you love cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake, you’re gonna lick your fork clean. 

Chicago Brunch
Cinnamon Roll
Our second sweet dish was the French toast made with sliced brioche which effortlessly soaked up the egg mixture. The toast triangles were topped with coffee cream and chai maple syrup. The coffee cream was the cream to my coffee! So decadent, creamy and rich. It was heaven on a plate and I was the lucky one who got to take this dish with me (I ate it for dessert that night—divine!). 

Chicago Brunch
French Toast
I had a wonderful time at White Oak Tavern, so much so I was there for three hours! It’s the type of place you can gather with friends and enjoy a casual and leisurely meal. I can’t remember the last time I went to brunch and wanted everything on the menu, and everything I ordered was delicious. White Oak Tavern is raising the brunch bar! Our service was fantastic, and I felt the price point was comparable to other Lincoln Park brunches with entrees ranging between $10 and $15. 

Note: My meal at White Oak Tavern was complimentary; however, all opinions are my own.

White Oak Tavern
www.whiteoakchicago.com
1200 W. Webster Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
773.248.0200
White Oak Tavern & Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, April 15

Rojo Gusano

Rojo Gusano Review
Rojo Gusano
Rojo Gusano, (“red worm”) a Mexican spot in Albany Park is making waves for good reasons. The spot is helmed by Chef Dudley Nieto, a Mexican restaurant vet that was brought in to open up a casual and eclectic restaurant with the Morenos family who purchased the restaurant space. The restaurant is a shiny storefront on a stretch of West Lawrence that features a McDonald's, a barber shop, and countless other local stores. Needless to say, it stands out. 

I stopped by with my +1 Shelley on a Monday night and the place was actually pretty crowded. The restaurant makes you feel like you’re in California, it’s bright, open, and features a large garage door in the front, as well as a surfboard on the wall. The owners completely revamped the space which used to house Mexican restaurant Mayan Sol, even stripping away the walls to reveal exposed brick. They also tap into the Albany Park community, offering discounts for neighbors, as well as movie nights, and encouraging patrons to bring in a sticker for their “sticker wall” for 10% off their meal. It’s a cool space, that makes you feel welcome the moment you walk in.

Rojo Gusano
Dining Room
Rojo Gusano
Dining Room
Rojo Gusano
Dining Room
Rojo Gusano
Sticker Wall

As far as the menu goes, the drink list relies heavily on mezcal and features several mezcalitas, as well as bottled beers, and pours of tequila, mezcal, and bourbon. Looking for a strong cocktail? Rojo Gusano has you covered. The Mango Beach featured mezcal, sweet vermouth and mango puree, served in a martini glass. The drink was on the sweeter side but I didn’t mind because I loved the mango puree so much. The mezcalita was less sweet, mixed with mezcal, lime, and agave nectar. We also tried a new cocktail coming to the menu called Chipotle Passion which was a spicy drink with mezcal and mango. 

Rojo Gusano
Mango Beach
Rojo Gusano
Mezcalita
Rojo Gusano
Chipotle Passion
The food menu is just as extensive. The best course of action is to order across the menu and share each dish. From house made guacamoles and salsas, ceviches, salads and soups, to tacos, bowls, and smaller plates like empanadas and quesadillas, you’re going to want to order a lot. Good thing for you, we did just that.

We started with the trio of homemade salsas and guacamoles to get a feel for each of the flavor combinations. The guacamole trio included:
  • Spicy pumpkin seeds with chipotle and caramelized pineapple
  • Fiery habanero with radish and mango
  • Serrano pico de gallo with serrano pepper, onion, tomato, and cilantro
The salsa trio included:
  • Charred chile morita with tangy tomato
  • Thai with roasted tomatillos, garlic, and  cilantro 
  • Habanero with roasted tomatillos and lime
Rojo Gusano
Guacamole Trio
Rojo Gusano
Guacamole Trio
Rojo Gusano
Salsa Trio
The guacamoles were more like mashed avocado topped with various toppings, which we didn’t love. We both agreed the texture of each was a little on the soft side and could have used some cilantro. It just didn’t seem like guacamole, more like an avocado dip. The salsas fared a bit better, and we were partial to the Thai and habanero salsas. We didn’t find any of them to be terribly spicy though (we love spicy food!). The Thai salsa is just one example of the subtle Asian influence on the menu which features Thai and Korean flavors.

Next up was the octopus and shrimp ceviche which had a Peruvian twist with aji amarillo tamarind leche de tigre, red onion, cilantro, sweet potato, and toasted corn. The seafood was fresh and well prepared but I thought it could have used more acidity overall. It was more on the sweet side due to the tamarind leche de tigre.

Rojo Gusano
Octopus & Shrimp Ceviche

From the small plates menu section, we tried the empanada portobello per our server’s recommendation. This ended up being one of my favorite items of the evening. The crispy dough was stuffed with farmer’s cheese, epazote, and portobellos, with a side of chimichurri. The mushrooms and filling overall was very tasty. 

Rojo Gusano
Empanada Portobello
Our last round of savory foods included a selection of tacos. All tacos range from $2.95-$3.75 but are only $2.50 on Tuesdays. You can also order a small or large tray of chef-selected tacos complete with sides, guacamole, tamales, and salsa. This is a great option if you’re indecisive or just want to try a variety of tacos. We tried six tacos overall:

  • Pork with achiote, pickled red onions, salsa, cilantro, and radish
  • Mixed mushroom with tomatillo salsa and Oaxaca cheese
  • Brussels sprouts with yukon potatoes, Oaxaca cheese, and arbol salsa
  • Korean beef with marinated kimchi, cilantro, sesame seeds, and radish
  • Arrachera steak with relish, onions, and morita salsa
  • Green curry shrimp with Asian cabbage, radish, and cilantro
Rojo Gusano
Assorted Tacos
The tacos were presented beautifully on a tray and were so colorful with all of their toppings. Rojo Gusano makes their own tortillas, and you could really tell. Each had a thicker, smoother texture than store-bought tortillas, and sopped up much of the grease of the tacos. My favorite tacos included the green curry shrimp, pork, and mixed mushrooms, which I felt packed the most flavor. Make sure to grab extra napkins because these tacos are messy!

We finished our meal with both desserts on the menu, because ¿Por Que No? The first was chef Dudley’s chocolate tamale, a Mexican and Belgian chocolate cake served inside a corn husk with vanilla bean ice cream. The cake smelled incredible, but unfortunately was on the dry side. However, our other dessert, the house churros made up for it. The homemade churros were so light and crispy, and not at all greasy. They were like little fried pillows. The churros are served with two dipping sauces on the side, raspberry, and chocolate bourbon. I could definitely taste the bourbon in the chocolate sauce which instantly made it my favorite. 

Rojo Gusano
Dudley's Chocolate Tamal
Rojo Gusano
House Churros
To wrap things up, I definitely think Rojo Gusano is worth a trek to Albany Park. The restaurant has such a fun vibe (they were blasting techno and the Beach Boys), and it’s going to be even better once the weather warms up and they open their front garage doors, and sidewalk cafe. I can appreciate the variety of menu items, and mixed international flavors, but I do think some of the food could have been improved. I will say, a meal at Rojo Gusano is extremely affordable and the passion the staff have for the restaurant shines through. As an FYI, they also serve weekend brunch from 11am-3pm on Saturday and Sunday. Lastly, just this week, Rojo Gusano announced it is opening a second location at 3131 N. Central Ave (Central and Belmont) that will be about half the size of the original restaurant. 

Note: my meal at Rojo Gusano was complimentary; however all opinions are my own. 

Rojo Gusano
3830 W. Lawrence Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
773.539.4398
Rojo Gusano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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