The 20 Best Things We Ate And Drank In 2013
We could have made a list containing a great dish or cocktail we ate or drank for every week of the year but that would have been overkill. Instead, we looked back at our archives and polled the Chicagoist staff and came up with an even 20. It's a much more manageable list and one that holds up to our particular scrutiny.
Parson's Chicken & Fish's much-hyped Negroni slushy. (Image credit: Lisa White/Chicagoist)
Negroni Slushy at Parson’s Chicken & Fish
This year was the summer of the slushy thanks to my favorite new machine located behind the bar at Parson’s Chicken & Fish. I’ve spoke about my love of noshing on their hush puppies before but what I left out is the fact I always have a slushy by my side when I’m at Parson’s. Although they offered up a variety of delicious specialty batches throughout the summer season (including an amazing take on a Dark and Stormy) I keep coming back to the original Negroni recipe. It offers just the right balance of tart and sweet with just a pop of bitter. And the consistency of the slushy is perfection. No chunks of ice or instantly melted mess, Parson’s have fine-tuned the art of slushy production. The combination of flavor and texture works wonders together to create possibly my favorite frozen drink around town. Even staring out the snowy window of my office now, I’m craving to be on their back patio slowly sipping round after round of slushies as I let the afternoon slip by. Summer and slushies can’t come soon enough. — Lisa White
Parson’s is located at 2952 W. Armitage Ave
Jet Pilot at 3 Dots and a Dash
Of the dozens of truly wonderful drinks at 3 Dots and a Dash, most of which, as all my friends will tell you, I have drunk on several occasions, the Jet Pilot is probably my favorite. A bewitching mixture of multiple rums, juices, and spices, it’s everything a classic tropical drink should be: it’s complex, it’s refreshing, and it’s fucking strong. Though the recipe for the Jet Pilot is freely available, Paul McGee and company must be doing some supplemental voodoo behind the bar to make the drink taste this good. When I pair it with an order of Thai Fried Chicken, I’m pretty much in paradise. — Rob Christopher
3 Dots and a Dash is located at 435 N Clark St
The Savoy's Winter Vegetable Salad
A version of this masterpiece has been on the Savoy's menu since opening (it's currently called "Burrata With Crispy Vegetables") and all iterations are worth the price of admission but my personal favorite was one called Winter Vegetable Salad. Creamy burrata and crispy fried kale formed the basis, with a rotating cast of other hearty veggies like cauliflower, sweet potatoes and carrots rounding out a salad that was perfectly comfortable playing the starring role in my meal. The brown butter vinaigrette was rich and tangy, combining with the luscious burrata to wake my umami buds out of their winter slumber. —Lizz Kannenberg
The Savoy is located at 1408 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Pommes Frites at Wood
The crispy, salt-studded fries from Wood are so good that they actually make a compelling reason to go out drinking in Boystown. The trick is to time your evening so that it’s winding down around 10:30 or 11 p.m., shortly after Wood’s walkup window “Back of the Woods” is open for business. I can tell you from personal experience that there’s something glorious about sauntering home with a cone of hot pommes frites in your hand, dipping each shoestring potato in your choice of sauce before popping it in your mouth. — Rob Christopher
Wood is located at 3335 N Halsted St
Old Fashioned at The Charleston
In an era of drinks served next to velvet bags whose scents you’re supposed to inhale in order to appreciate the full experience, it’s refreshing to find a bar that just makes a solid yet unexpectedly tasty classic cocktail. The Charleston is not the first (or fiftieth) place I’d expect this from, but it’s become my go-to when I want a great drink at a reasonable price in a bar with low levels of pretension. An added bonus is that even though the drink does take the dexterity of a mixologist, the staff has got it down pat so you’re not waiting 15 minutes before enjoying that first sip. — Jim, Kopeny / Tankboy
The Charleston is located at 2076 N Hoyne Ave
Pizzeria Da Nella's Funghi Pizza
As regarded as Nella Grassano is as a game changer for Chicago pizza you aren't taking advantage of the third-generation pizzaiola's talents by having her make the same margherita pizza over and over. Grassano's funghi pizza, with portobello mushrooms, garlic, mozzarella and a mushroom puree, is rich enough to fight the cold weather chill while Grassano's Neapolitan crust is able to handle the mass of ingredients while still retaining the chewy texture of the dough. —Chuck Sudo
Pizzeria da Nella is located at 1443 W. Fullerton Ave.
Photo via Longman and Eagle's Facebook page.
I am late to the game on this one, but I avoided Longman & Eagle’s brunches for years since I didn’t want to deal with the wait times. That changed this year when I went there on a whim on a lazy Sunday I didn’t have to be anywhere and a 90-minute wait seemed like no big deal. I order the chicken and waffles based on a friend’s recommendation and because of that I found myself returning to Longman & Eagle’s brunches semi-regularly throughout 2013. The chicken breading has just enough of a kick to play against the syrup on the waffles and the only thing wrong with the plate is that I wish it came with a full chicken, and not just a few pieces. And if you get there early enough on a day when they’re selling maple bacon donuts, grab one of those as well; they create a perfect precursor to the second half of the meal.— Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Longman & Eagle is located at 2657 N Kedzie Ave
PB&J at Elaine’s Coffee Call
If there’s one thing I thought I could say for myself, it’s that I would never be lazy enough to buy a PB&J. Fortunately the new year is nearly here and I’m ripe for self-reinvention. Anthony reflected a few months back that this little toasted sandwich—which the folks at Elaine’s will kindly cut into halves or fourths for you—shepherds you back to childhood. But Elaine’s iteration of this after-school classic has planted a firm foot in my present tense. Theoretically, I could make one almost as yummy myself at home, but when did theory enter into this? The fact is no, I never could, never ever—because I don’t stock fresh oat bread in my pantry and I don’t make my own jam with Green City Market fruits flush from the vine. I also don’t juggle and I don’t swallow fire, and I definitely don’t wield the same wizardry as the Perennial Virant kitchen supplying the all but magical pecan butter. And then sometimes it’s nice to eat your PB&J out too, even if your Jif does go to waste. —Melissa Wiley
Elaine’s Coffee Call is located at 1816 N. Clark St.
Sweet Potato Pone at Big Jones
Full disclosure: I’m not from bayou country and I dislike brunch, which cheats you out of a full breakfast and oft evinces no more than anemic culinary creativity. But I hardcore heart all things Cajun, including the food. So brunch at Big Jones places me right at home even if such luxuries as voodoo greens at 11 a.m. technically remain as exotic as pin-pricked voodoo dolls. Plus, “gumbo ya-ya” and “biscuit and debris gravy” are fun to say as well as accurate, slightly musical descriptions of some of your tastier options. Over time, I’ve lapped up the whole brunch gamut, but the sweet potato pone really takes the johnnycake. Mixed with bourbon-soaked bacon, it leans toward the savory side, though the corn crust could also serve as some solid tart material should the cooks find themselves in a pastry-making pinch. The only problem is that this best of all possible pones appears on the menu only occasionally, making Louisiana look more attractive the longer time in the north country passes without it. —Melissa Wiley
Big Jones is located at 5347 N. Clark St.
Mushroom and Squash Blossom at The Portage
This classy-yet-comfy neighborhood staple in the heart of Portage Park could easily have another item or two on this list, but the Mushroom & Squash Bourguinon was the most surprising and memorable dish I had all year. The totally vegetarian dish was as rich and hearty as a traditional beef bourguinon, using caramelized pearl onions and red wine to bring out the most sumptuous and earthy elements of the crimini mushrooms and butternut squash. A creamy, cheesy polenta formed the perfect starchy base for sopping up every last drop of the beautiful, balanced sauce. Even Julia Child wouldn't miss the beef in this classic. —Lizz Kannenberg
The Portage is located at 3938 N. Central Ave.
The Sleeper at Scofflaw
During the hot, blazing days of summer, personal cocktail choices tend to skew more towards the bright and refreshing than brown and moody. There was none more refreshing this year than "The Sleeper" cocktail at Scofflaw. It's made with Gates of London Gin, lime, honeydew, and Escorial, a German herbal liqueur similar to Green Chartreuse but with more pronounced mint flavors. All the flavors were complimentary, yet were able to "speak up" for themselves in the drink. The cocktail is served in a Collins glass with a cucumber ice spear. The slowly melting cucumber flavor made a refreshing cocktail even more refreshing. —Paul Leddy
Scofflaw is located at 3201 W. Armitage Ave.
The Weston at The Berkshire Room
This drink packs a wallop, but it's so smooth it feels like being hit with a brick wrapped in cotton balls. The drink is modeled on mixer Ben Schiller's day off—it has flavors of coffee, Thai food, whiskey and tobacco. Yup, tobacco. Schiller macerates pipe tobacco in high proof spirits for months to make the final ingredient in the drink. Go order one right now. — Anthony Todd
The Berkshire Room is at 15 E. Ohio St.
Potage (Consommé of Roasted Mushrooms) at Next
When ranking the favorites of the nine released menus at Next restaurant, there will always be the menu that ranks the lowest. For me, the Bocuse d'or was that menu. I found some of the theatrics involved (the presentation of the show pieces, the audio from past Bocuse d'or competitions broadcast on the speakers) to be a little silly. While the food was cooked flawlessly, it felt too similar to dishes from previous menus. Despite those gripes, I had one of the best dishes from all the Next menus during that meal. When the bowl came to our table covered in a dome of dough, I wasn't sure what to do. Breaking through the shell, an incredible aroma of earthiness was released that I wished I could have bottled. The consommé was the definition of umami and the broken up bread dome ensured that not a drop of soup was left. —Paul Leddy
Next Restaurant is located at 953 W. Fulton Market
BellyQ's Tea-Smoked Duck Breast
Here's what I wrote about this dish in March: "This is (Bill) Kim’s idea of comfort food: perfectly crispy on the outside; tender on the inside; the faintest hint of smoke peeking through. Served on a bed of Chinese broccoli and a side of steamed buns, I threw table manners aside and made the messiest sliders from this dish. Most important for me is how comforting this dish me feel eating it." It still stands months later. —Chuck Sudo
BellyQ is located at 1400 W. Randolph St.
Atlas Shrubbed at Vie Restaurant
Bill Anderson has crafted a cocktail program at Vie that, like the restaurant, is one that is unjustly overlooked by Chicago diners (I'm looking at you, Michelin man). In this cocktail, Anderson pairs Death's Door Gin with Rare Tea Cellar's Southern Decadence Magnolia Shrubbery, a magnolia-scented Oolong tea that is mixed with Steen's Louisiana Cane Vinegar. The result is a balanced but complex cocktail that is a perfect aperitif for Chef Virant's cuisine. I'm a sucker for a cocktail name that is witty but still incorporates the "spirit" of the drink. The "Atlas Shrubbed" cocktail wins the “Cocktail Name of the Year” award from me, hands down. —Paul Leddy
Vie Restaurant is located at 4471 Lawn Avenue, Western Springs
Hokkaido Ramen at Ramen Misoya
While ramen has surged in popularity recently, there still don't seem to be the number of options available in Chicago that the coastal big cities have. And some of the area's best bowls require a trip to the suburbs. But it's worth a trip to Mount Prospect for Ramen Misoya's Hokkaido-style kome ramen. The full-bodied broth has a rich flavor and the soup comes overflowing with toothsome noodles, ground pork, veggies like scallions and bean sprouts as well as some uncommon to ramen like corn and fried potato wedges. The version to order includes thick slices of grilled pork. Go ahead and add the optional miso-marinated soft boiled egg, too. In addition to the kome ramen, Misoya also offers mame, shiro and tonkatsu miso that we're anxious to get back and try. — Benjy Lipsman
Ramen Misoya is located at 1584 Busse Rd, Mt Prospect
Halibut at Schwa
Schwa continues to impress despite it’s infamous for its inaccessible reservation “system” and offbeat chef but lauded for the surreal cuisine and cool atmosphere, Chef Michael Carlson is an artist, creating bite-size masterpieces with simple, high quality ingredients. Dinner at Schwa is always a unique evening, but among the caviar truffles and uni ice cream, there are a few old school gems that really hit the spot. The menu changes seldomly yet unexpectedly. Earlier this year, I enjoyed seared, encrusted halibut brightened with orange and cradled by a Cointreau bread pudding steeped in butter. The dish showcases Chef Carlson’s knack for unexpected combinations of the savory and sweet. It’s a presentation you’d expect for a rich center, like foie gras, but the halibut held it’s own and swept me off my feet. — Erika Kubick
Schwa is located at 1466 N. Ashland Ave.
The Violet Hour's "You'll Never Have Me" Cocktail
Of the overwhelming selection of swank craft cocktail lounges in Chicago, The Violet Hour is unmistakably the OG and this summer I enjoyed a sophisticated little drink deemed You’ll Never Have Me, whose whimsical ingredients evoke poetry and magic: Maraska Pelinkovac brandy, lemon, Death’s Door gin, yellow chartreuse, honey syrup and lavender tincture. The flavor is more rich than sweet, haunting in its herbal qualities. It’s like a slug in the garden, sliding off your tongue with a smooth, earthy trail. — Erika Kubick
The Violet Hour is located at 1520 N Damen Ave.
Chicken Buttermilk Biscuit Breakfast Sandwich at The Roost
Since my college days I’ve been well educated in the healing powers of a good biscuit sandwich after a night of heavy drinking. Scores of students with bleary eyes would crowd my dorm cafeteria shoving the weekend biscuit sandwich special into their mouths with hopes of curing all headaches and regret. As a grownup, my good friend/ex-coworker Kristine and I bonded over our mutual education in the McDonalds chicken biscuit breakfast sandwich that cured all our adult hangover needs. McDonalds got rid of this miracle sandwich (damn you, McDonalds) and one dreadful morning at our old job we took our chances on the offerings from local food truck The Roost. Fireworks went off, choirs sang and things have never been the same since. The Roost offers a variety of breakfast sandwich options but the spicy chicken biscuit is what heaven is made of. A massive hunk of spicy yet subtly sweet fried chicken shoved between two salty buttery slabs of biscuit. You can add cheese, but that is just too perverse for my taste. Everyone has their limit. The chicken is juicy and the biscuit crumbles and makes a mess all over your desk but who cares? It is worth every office stare. My friend and I have actually discussed trekking back to our old employer when The Roost is there early in the morning just to buy one of these biscuits, we’re craving them so badly. Check their website for their morning locations and snag your own as you head into the office. Hangover or not, it is worth every last bite. — Lisa White
Red Lights on Archer at Maria's
As I mentioned in our Best Cocktails in Chicago in July Maria's cocktail menu doesn't get near the love of its exhaustive beer selection but it's an inventive mix of of classic mixed drinks, recipes created by local notables and tributes to the neighborhood it calls home. As with the Bubbly Creek that made the best cocktails list, I was re-acquainted with the hard liquor side of the menu this year and the "Red Lights on Archer" is another simple cocktail emphasizing flavor and balance over behind-the-stick trickery and strength. This drink (a tribute to the rub-and-tug massage parlors that dot the South Side's answer to Clark Street) contains Old Overholt rye, Punt e Mes, Luxardo Maraschino Liquor and a brandied cherry. Drinking a couple of these will have you not feeling a care in the world. — Chuck Sudo
Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar is at 960 W. 31st St.