Full disclosure: I think about food all the time. So much so that I try not to admit to the frequency in which it circles my brain. But it's time I face the noise and embrace it. Just ask my husband... I live in constant fear that we will someday have to move away from the city and not be surrounded by the bounty of options we are blessed with (thank god he is an eater like me). I grew up in a small town a couple of hours south of Chicago, and I think I have PTSD from the lack of options there (sorry Morton friends, I still love you). I love that I can walk a few blocks and grab a "depression dog" at Red Hot Ranch for $3.50 or can splurge on French fare at Le Bouchon if I jaunt a little east.
So that brings me to my first blog series: Bucktown Eats. Ya know, the Bucktown in my blog name. I want to start an ongoing chat with you guys about my favorite spots to hit up in my beloved hood. I am going to include Wicker Park in my analysis because the two neighborhoods are both so tiny, very often confused with one another, and most likely merged in people's minds. So I will use that to my advantage here. We have lived here for almost five years, so a lot of food has been consumed. Saddle up!
First up: a few of my go-to favorites.
Brunch is the best. If that makes me a "basic bitch," I'll take it. I will walk my ass to brunch in my leggings and oversized sweater, drink a much-needed mimosa, and wait at least 30-minutes to be seated, because I enjoy it that much. My favorite spot to be "basic" at in the neighborhood, and arguably the whole city, is Birchwood Kitchen. The staff in here makes you feel like old friends they've known for years (shoutout to my girl, Laine). Everyone is so friendly and the space is inviting. They have a changing seasonal menu and always highlight daily specials, so check their menu online to see what is featured that day. This place is BYOB and there is a liquor store on the neighboring corner, so grab a bottle of bubs and order some fresh-squeezed juice to toss it in.
My favorite brunch item on their menu right now is the smoked salmon salad. It's a mouthful, both literally and figuratively. The delicious salmon, smoked in-house, is served on a sesame bagel that is perfectly buttered and toasted and it's all topped with peppery arugula. It comes with a cute little salad on the side, so it's healthy. They always have a breakfast sandwich prep on the brunch menu, which I just got recently. This time it's a fluffy brioche bun with a cheddar spread, onion jam, roasted tomato and a fried egg + bacon. As I was eating it, I was upset with myself that it was my first try. (Perhaps I should live in the moment, yes?)
The croques (glorified grilled-cheese sandwiches topped with sunny eggs) are menu standards and always delicious. Opt for the monsieur if you are crouque'ing because it involves ham. Duh. My favorites for a more lunch-centric route are the club, tuna melt, and pot roast sandwiches.
No matter what you order there, everything is always really fresh and tastes like elevated homemade food. The price point is really fair for the quality of food, and frankly, they could charge more. They just started a monthly Saturday Supper, so check their website for dates and menus and grab a reservation. Their patio is a glorious hidden-gem tucked behind the restaurant. Unfortunately for us, they were on Check Please recently and the word is out. So don't sleep in too late and grab a seat on the patio for your next warm-weather brunch (fingers crossed that this will, in fact, happen).
Goddess is a counter-service shop on Damen that has made-to-order sandwiches, prepared foods, salad bar, grab-n-go snacks, wine, cheese, and much more. They recently moved across the street from their old shop and made some serious upgrades. There is a ton more space, product and seating and they added a patio for when the sun is shining. I work from home a lot, so I go to their salad bar at least twice a week for lunch. It is always well kept and fresh and there are a ton of toppings to choose from. For a snack, I love to grab their adult lunchables. This is a phrase I am coining now, but I bet if you went in and asked for one, they would know where to point you. I always like to grab one of these snack packs while I'm out and about because I can never survive from brunch to dinner without a little something (read: cheese).
If you are feeling lazy and don't feel like preparing a meal for dinner, stop in there and grab a rotisserie chicken, a few sides, and a bottle of wine (or two) then head home, heat it up and relax.
This place is so good. It's nothing unexpected for a French Bistro - it just does French Bistro super well. It's cozy (ok, tight), always bustling and the food is phenomenal. Le Bouchon has been around for a long time and I can see why it has such staying power. Although you might bump into the neighboring table when you sit down, you will quickly get over it once you read through the menu. Start with the escargots. They are steaming hot, garlicky, buttery little guys and they are perfect. Do not leave the remnants behind. Dip your bread into the vessels of goodness and soak it all in. You should always order the Lyonnaise salad as well. It's the classic, rich prep of frisée and escarole tossed in a mustard vinaigrette and topped with lardons (fancy word for bacon), croutons and a poached egg. Mix it all up and get in there. If you are with a group or are feeling super hungry, the brandade is hearty, but worth it. They sometimes have a different version on special, but their normal concotion is whipped smoked whitefish crusted in a cast iron with buttery crisp toast squares and various accoutrements. Their steak tartare is good, but I still like Maude's rendition the best. I have also had their Mussels à la Normandie and the broth is uniquely made with cider and is creamy and rich while staying light, if you limit your bread-dunking.
We rarely have a meal here without ordering the steak frites. It's simplicity at it's best - a perfectly grilled top-sirloin topped with parsley butter and a huge side of thin, crispy french fries. I always ask for the side of aioli to dip them in, for good measure. The cassoulet is the best version my husband has ever had, and he is a tough critic. If you have never had cassoulet, it is meat heaven. Break through the caramelized crust to find duck confit, pork belly, corned beef, pork sausage, and plenty of white beans. Their version is Toulouse-style because it showcases the duck confit and boudin blanc. Fun fact: it's called "cassoulet" because of the terra-cotta dish it is served in: a cassole. If you aren't averse to eating bunnies, the rabbit over spaghetti squash is a nice choice as well. It's not earth-shattering never-forget-it, but it's well cooked and flavorful.
If you want to get the most boudin for your buck, pretend you are in France on a Tuesday. They offer their full menu (with just a couple understandable exceptions) on prix-fixe for $30: an appetizer or salad, an entrée, and a dessert. WHAT?!? Most entrées themselves are around $25. This is a steal. You will leave with excess, but it makes for a great lunch tomorrow. With that said, when John and I go on the weekends, we walk out of there for a reasonable cost. We typically split an appetizer or two, the Lyonnaise salad, and an entree. No leftovers, but no food-babies either. Who wants to go back with me and order the whole roasted Pekin duck with duck-fat spaetzle?
There are many more gluttonous posts ahead, but let me know what you think of my first selections. What Bucktown/Wicker Park spots can you not live without? What other neighborhoods challenge what Bucktown has to offer?
2211 W North Ave
Goddess & Grocer (Bucktown Location):
1649 N Damen Ave
1958 N Damen Ave