Tacit Endorsement #4

Tacit Endorsement explores a selection of things I consumed this week that didn’t fill me with rage. In this installment, I make zero friends by denigrating both bacon and Chicago deep dish pizza. 

1. Hutch

So many new restaurants have popped up in Lakeview this summer. Top on my list to try has been Dryhop Brewers on Broadway, because, well, beer. But I have not yet tried Dryhop Brewers on Broadway, because, well, bacon. If you look for a menu on their website, the first thing you’ll read is ”Bacon is good. That’s really all you need to know.”

It’s true that, as a Vegetarian-American, this is all I really need to know. I’m not so sure, however, if it’s true that bacon is good. Beyond the obvious veggieprop arguments about health and the environment and the animals, there’s the aesthetic one: isn’t bacon just an overplayed and under-nuanced food trend that somehow passes itself off as clever and interesting? Hey foodies, did you know they serve bacon at McDonald’s? Did you know that the crappy free breakfast buffet at every hotel in the nation includes bacon? Always has. Bacon is not innovative.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: I had a fantastic meal at Hutch this week, a new restaurant in Wrigleyville that evolved from what once was Socca. Crispy artichoke hearts for an appetizer, a roasted mushroom flatbread, some perfectly balanced cocktails, a very summery dessert (I believe it was a riff on strawberry shortcake, but there had been these cocktails, you see, and the dessert disappeared so quickly…). The waitress was exceptionally friendly and helpful. The aesthetic of the place gestures toward the upscale, but with no stuffy pretense. If you must, you’ll find bacon on the menu—but the important thing is that it isn’t required.  

2. Great Lakes @ Town Hall

A pint or two of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Burning River Pale Ale, on tap at Town Hall Pub, Boystown’s favorite not-at-all-Boystowny, basement-rec-room-esque dive bar. Dreams come true. 

3. Wings

Native [chicken-free] Chicken Wings from Native Foods. I have no idea what’s in these things, but it’s tasty stuff. Not bad with a bottle of Two Brothers Prairie Path Ale. 

4. S'mores

The first and last s’mores of summer, at a chill (and, frankly, a little chilly) Labor Day grill-out. Dark chocolate. Homemade Marshmallows crafted by my friend Josh. Summer is complete. 

5. Deep Dish Dash

Chicago people are, I think, supposed to tell you that they don’t care much for Navy Pier—too crowded, commercial, touristy, gross, etc. All that is true. But there’s something out there I find kind of amazing: Connie’s Pizza, one of the iconic names in the Chicago pizza world, has managed to produce a personal-sized, fast-food version of their Chicago deep dish pizza, available in the Navy Pier food court. Ok, taking a notoriously very slow food and making it food-court-friendly is almost always a terrible idea. And truthfully, I find Chicago deep dish pizza sort of absurd to begin with (the word “casserole” comes to mind). It’s entirely possible that Connie’s Navy Pier deep dish—a doubly parodic pizza, it is a too-fast imitation of a too-slow, too-thick mutation—is terrible. But I dig it, for several reasons.

  • First reason. It is a technological marvel. Chicago deep dish is supposed to take approximately forever minutes to cook; these things take only three minutes. The Connie’s kiosk uses this magical little oven from TurboChef that “precisely coordinates independent top and bottom impinged airflow with microwave to deliver superior quality, throughput, and speed.” Ooooh. (Think: Back to the Future, “Hydrate level four, please.”) It appears that the pizza starts out as a frozen dough bowl, which a caring pizza professional then fills with your desired toppings (or more appropriately: innings?). After a quick zap in the TurboChef, your pizza is golden and crispy and bubbly and ready for boxing. It’s an abomination, to be sure, but it is impressive. 
  • Second reason why I love this pizza: I only ever eat it in the middle of a really long bike ride up and down the Lakefront Trail. After a few hours dodging dogs and children and runaway skateboards on the trail, stopping at Navy Pier and replacing the 1,200 calories I just burned with a tiny pizza is not just a pleasure, it is a physiological necessity.
  • Final reason: Navy Pier is the home of WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. I like to imagine that while I’m siting there among the Navy Pier masses, my hair devastated by sweat and bearing the impress of my bicycle helmet, Ira Glass or Peter Sagal or some other beloved on-air personality might just be there on a lunch break and, finding all the tables occupied by out-of-towners, might just ask me if I couldn’t spare a place at mine. We’d become quick friends and dash off for an impromptu architecture boat tour or something before it was time to get back to the station. Someday….

6. Summer Cocktails

One can’t drink beer all the time; sometimes one must drink summery cocktails that go down as easy as iced tea. Indeed, this was a week infused with boozy tea and tea-zy booze. There was "The Nora Jones," from The Matchbox Bar at The Silver Palm, described by the menu as “Buffalo Trace, Mint Tea Syrup, Lemon, Peach, Bubbles,” and described by myself as “yummy.” There was the "Summertime Tea Martini" from Hutch (see above): “sweet tea vodka, lemoncello, lemon biters.” And finally there was a park-friendly cocktail of my own creation, my contribution to the chilly Labor Day fete (see above): a jug of store-bought sweet iced tea, from which 1 cup of tea had been removed and replaced with bourbon. I used to be classy and make this Bourbon Mint Iced Tea recipe from Martha Stewart (via The Bitten Word). Now I buy a plastic jug and pour some out. How I’ve grown.  

7. Wings. Again.

More Native [meat-free] Chicken Wings from Native Foods, with another bottle of Two Brothers Prairie Path Ale. Whatever is in those wings is addictive. 

8. Drinking Buddies

One can’t drink beer all the time; sometimes one must watch a movie about other people drinking beer all the time. Fortunately, the very charming film Drinking Buddies is playing at the Landmark Century. The film works as a portrait of some generally likable and amusing young people living their (Chicago!) lives, working at a (Chicago!) craft brewery. The characters feel real and recognizable (maybe because they drink beer and live in Chicago?); their drama is ordinary and for that reason it’s the kind of thing that’s important to see on screen but also easy to forget once you’ve seen it. It’s certainly on par with and at home among the other summer flicks this year like In a World and The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now. If not exactly challenging, these films nevertheless work by evoking a world in which there are challenges that are subtle and slow-burning, where resolution is always deferred not because the deferral of resolution is particularly artsy or profound, but because that’s what happens.  

9. Cultivate

I don’t really know what to make of Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival, which happened in Lincoln Park this weekend. The event is sort of a cross between a farmers market and an infomercial, with hints of music festival and theme park, suitable for bobos of all ages, colors, and creeds (read: there were lots of white people). There were bands and celebrity chefs and informational kiosks about avocados and non-GMO sunflower oil. People brought their dogs. There was lots of good beer (shocking) and (no joke) artisanal cream puffs. I felt a bit slimy enjoying myself so much at this giant brandstravaganza, but did I mention there was good beer? A highlight for me was trying some tacos made with braised tofu Sofritas™; Chipotle hasn’t brought their proprietary meat alternative to the midwest yet, so my burritos are generally all about the black beans. It’s like what I was just saying above about some of life’s challenges being, you know, subtle. Does tofu braised with peppers and spices provide resolution for my dilemma? We’ll have to wait and see.