Monday, November 30

Recent Foodie Finds

Welcome back from the Thanksgiving holiday! I know I've been a little MIA with the holiday break, but I'm back today with another round-up of recent foodie finds.

Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.
Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

First up is a fantastic BBQ spot in Evanston that's well worth the trip North. Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. makes their own beers (a given) as well as some great BBQ and pizzas. I stopped by on a Friday night and the place was packed. It's a huge restaurant though, with an outdoor patio and upstairs dining room. The beers were pretty great--I tried the IPA which paired nicely with my BBQ pork sandwich, as well as the farmhouse ale which was easy to drink.

Craft Beer
Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.
Evanston BBQ
Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.
What pairs better with beer than a homemade soft pretzel with gouda and farmhouse ale fondue, and housemade beer mustard? Yes, it was pretty delicious.

Evanston BBQ
Pretzel with Smoked Gouda Dip & Mustard
I had to try the house-smoked BBQ, which surely did not disappoint. The BBQ pork sandwich and brisket sandwich were excellent, as were the fries that were totally addicting. You can also order ribs, chicken, or hot links.

Evanston BBQ
Smoked Beef Brisket Sandwich
Evanston BBQ
Pulled Pork Sandwich
Evanston BBQ
Pulled Pork Sandwich
Smylie Brothers also offers pizzas, and seasonal specials including this spaghetti squash with root vegetable and tomato ragu, toasted pine nuts, balsamic, and basil.

Evanston BBQ
Spaghetti Squash
While I didn't think we had room for dessert, hearing our server describe the dessert options made us want some. We tried the sweet potato bread pudding with blood orange marshmallows, and cinnamon bourbon ice cream. Holy crap, this was amazing. Save room for dessert!

Evanston BBQ
Sweet Potato Bread Pudding
I'm giving Smylie Brothers 4 ghosts out of 5!


Avec
Avec Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

There are way too many restaurants in this city to try, but there's been one on my list for a long time, Avec. Oddly enough I've been to pretty much every one of Avec's sister restaurants (The Publican, Blackbird, Big Star, Dove's Luncheonette, etc.), just not to Avec! 

I stopped by on Halloween (yes, in costume) and the tiny dining room was overwhelmingly crowded. In fact, I hid behind the entrance because that was the only place to stand. After a 30 minute wait, we were seated in the back. If you haven't been to Avec, you should know all seating is communal. This is not your spot if you don't like sitting in small spaces. 

Avec started out as a wine bar, but they are so much more than that now. Plates are shared here and they recommend 2-3 dishes per person. Everything on the menu looks incredible, making it hard for someone like me who will eat practically anything. We tried one of their signature dishes, chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. These are the best bacon-wrapped dates I have ever eaten and they are the size of your face. The crusty bread served on the side is the perfect vessel for soaking up that smoky and spicy sauce.

Avec
Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates
The second small plate we enjoyed was the chicken liver crostini apple mostarda, mint, parsley, and red onion. This was incredible as well! The freshness of the parsley and mint was wonderful with the rich chicken liver.

Chicken Liver
Chicken Liver Crostini
Our final shared plate was a large one, the branzino with harissa, chickpea, carrot, pickled red onion, currants, almond, and parsley. The fish was perfectly tender and flaky and there were so many flavors playing out in harmony.

Roasted Fish
Branzino
Roasted Fish
Branzino
It's not often when every single bite I take is truly fantastic, but that's how I felt at Avec. The service was great and so was the wine! 

I'm giving Avec 4 ghosts out of 5!


Caffe Umbria
Caffè Umbria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My new favorite coffee shop is Caffee Umbria, in River North. The shop, which also has locations in Seattle and Portland, opened earlier this month and features European coffees, as well as baked goods from Caffe Baci and La Fournette. I had the best almond milk latte and almond croissant on a recent visit. Seriously, it was dangerously delicious! I encourage you to stop by for a morning coffee or afternoon pick-me-up!

Caffe Umbria
Caffe Umbria Roasts
Caffe Umbria
Espresso Machine
Caffe Umbria
Almond Milk Latte & Almond Croissant

Latinicity Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

If you haven't heard, Latinicity Food Hall + Lounge recently opened at Block 37 on State Street. The Richard Sandoval Restaurants’ concept features 10 innovative eateries, a tapas restaurant, café, wine bar, fresh market, event space and lounge – all of which represent the food, flavors and wares from the regions of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. 

I checked out the space during the media preview and was impressed with the sheer size of the location, as well as variety of foods. There's definitely something for everyone. From empanadas and tacos, to sushi and soups, you can pretty much guarantee a different experience on each visit. The space and design is unique and colorful, and I hope it will breathe life back into Block 37.

Latinicity
Latinicity
Latinicity
Latinicity Entrance
Latinicity
Latinicity
Block 37
Gift Shop
Block 37
Latinicity
Block 37
Latinicity
Block 37
Empanadas
Block 37
Tacos
Happy Camper

Happy Camper in Old Town is the second restaurant from the folks who brought us Homeslice in Lincoln Park. The laid-back pizza spot stays true to its outdoor/camping theme throughout its large space on Wells and Division. There are even Airstream campers inside, as well as a mirrored selfie room (!), neon signs showing love for the Great Lakes, and of course, Chicago, and a bar covered in bullet casings. That's what I loved about Happy Camper. It's fun, unique, and they make a tasty pizza pie. 

Happy Camper
Happy Camper
Happy Camper
Happy Camper
Happy Camper
Happy Camper
I stopped by on opening night with the BF and we tried two of their pizzas, as well as their house wine, and some brews.

Happy Camper
Happy Camper
Pizzas are broken up into meat or veggie and many are named after friends and family of the owners. This made it fun to order ("I'll take one Linda, and one Curt!"). Linda featured roasted red peppers, spinach, mushroom, red onion, feta, Parmesan, oregano, garlic, and olive oil, while Curt included pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, and marinara.

Happy Camper
Linda
Happy Camper
Curt
I'm giving Happy Camper 4 ghosts out of 5!



One of my favorite events each year is LuxeHome's CHILL event at the Merchandise Mart. The ninth annual event features the best in food, drink and design to benefit three local charities, The Lynn Sage FoundationSaturday Place, and the Respiratory Health Association. CHILL takes place in the LuxeHome Boutiques on the first floor of the Merchandise Mart and features over 150 excellent wines from global winemakers, paired with cuisine from distinguished Chicago chefs. Definitely put this event on your radar for next November, and check out some of the sips and bites from this year's event below!

LuxeHome CHILL
LuxeHome CHILL
LuxeHome CHILL
Tuna from Cape Cod
LuxeHome CHILL
LuxeHome CHILL
LuxeHome CHILL
Stags' Leap
LuxeHome CHILL
Cheeseburger from 25 Degrees
LuxeHome CHILL
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber
LuxeHome CHILL
Dessert Presentation
LuxeHome CHILL
Lobster Rolls
LuxeHome CHILL
Chicory & Shrimp Salad from The Commons Club
Zoom Pizza Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Zoom Pizza Factory opened in Lincoln Park this month and Founder, J.R Werner, believes pizza has an untapped power to be a force for good. He and his team, lead by Chef Paul Guerrero (formerly with Wolfgang Puck and Wildfire), have created a formula to unlock that power by challenging traditional pizza conventions.  

Zoom Pizza Factory
Zoom Pizza Factory
There is no menu—you choose from three square pizza shells; Zoom’s original, ancient grain or gluten free, then choose your sauce, regular or premium cheeses, proteins, and produce. There is no limit on the amount of toppings you can choose and Zoom Pizza Factory encourages guests to compliment traditional items with more adventurous ones, like butternut squash, figs, and Brussels sprouts. If you need help deciding on your toppings, your personal pizza concierge, the Pizzarista, will escort you through the creation process. Also available is Zoom Pizza Factory’s pizza salad creation, the Zalata. A Zalata includes a square shell brushed with olive oil, seasonings and then piled high with fresh greens, toppings and a choice of dressing. 

Zoom Pizza Factory
Premium Ingredients List
Zoom Pizza Factory
Regular Ingredients
Premium Ingredients
Zoom Pizza Factory
Pizzarista Topping My Pizza
Zoom’s stone conveyor oven, lovingly named Lucille, is the first of its kind in Chicagoland. The oven uses natural stone, adjustable airflow and continual movement to ensure guest’s pizzas are cooked just right in a matter of minutes.

Zoom Pizza Factory
Stone Conveyor Oven
There is also a Water Bar with purified water from the Vero Water System, a sustainable countertop water filtration system. You can infuse your still, sparkling or ambient water with an assortment of fresh fruits, like strawberry and lime. Pricing includes $6.75 for a cheese pizza/zalata, $7.75 for unlimited traditional toppings, $8.75 for unlimited premium toppings and $1.25 for the Water Bar. 

I tried several pizzas during my visit to get a feel for all of the options. I topped my pizza with spicy tomato sauce, basil, cremini mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, feta, and a balsamic drizzle. I was worried I put too many toppings on, but it was pretty tasty.

Zoom Pizza Factory
Zoom Pizza Factory
We also tried the gluten-free pizza shell with sausage, pepperoni, and basil. The crust truly was tasty, but definitely very different than the standard shells. It was much sweeter and slightly chewier.

Zoom Pizza Factory
Gluten-free Pizza
The BF joined me at Zoom Pizza Factory and he made a totally different pie. He topped his traditional shell with spicy tomato sauce, pancetta, blue cheese, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and a balsamic drizzle. As you can see, the combination of toppings are endless.

Zoom Pizza Factory
Zoom Pizza Factory
We also tried the Zalata, with feta, pancetta, olives, peppers, and mixed greens. I loved how you could break off the dough and scoop up the salad with it.

Zoom Pizza Factory
Zalata
Zoom focuses on responsible sourcing of their ingredients and composts 98% of their waste. They also have affiliated with non-profit organizations like Chive Charities and Water.org to connect their guests to people in need. 

Give Zoom Pizza Factory a try the next time you're in Lincoln Park (they are also conveniently located near the Regal Webster movie theater if you're looking for a quick meal before or after a movie)!

Note: my meals at Caffe Umbria, Latinicity, LuxeHomeCHILL, and Zoom Pizza Factory were complimentary; however, all opinions expressed are my own.

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