Musician wins a spot in the heart of New Eastside

by Mat Cohen

In New Eastside’s version of American Idol, there’s no Ryan Seacrest or dimming of lights,

but there is a pretty great deal for the winner. Musician Justin Elliott has reaped the rewards after winning the competition Magellan Development Group puts on each year.

Elliot, a solo artist as well as frontman for the band Honeystone, has been living at the Aqua since the summer in exchange for being the real estate developer’s in-house musician.

The performance venue includes the Drunken Bean Coffee and Wine Bar every Sunday from

10 a.m. to noon.

“I like it, it’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “Sunday morning people are coming before football or after exercising. There’s a lot of traffic and I hope some people stay a little longer than normal because they like what they hear.”

Elliott also played in the park during the summer and throughout the neighborhood in other Magellan Development properties. “I am grateful for Magellan and the whole Lakeshore East community for being so supportive,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of work in creating this solo business so I can have events like the Drunken Bean. Same goes for the band, they’re some of my closest friends in the city and it’s been an irreplaceable experience.”

Elliott, originally from Connecticut, moved to Chicago in 2015 with a goal of using music to make a living. He said it took about two years to become financially sustainable.

Creating the band was an integral part of his Chicago success. Honeystone formed in fall 2016 with members David Koslovsky, John Nordquist and Adam Hatcher. The band released a new album at the end of October, but will be splitting when Elliott moves to Charlotte, N.C. in January for “a dream opportunity” and the next challenge in his music career.

But before then he will be playing his guitar and soothing vocals at the Drunken Bean every Sunday through December.

“I’m hoping to soak in the last few months here,” he said. “But I’m also excited to move onwards.” He’s happy with how far he’s come in his career, his time in Chicago and what the community has done for him.

“For this opportunity I am so grateful for how amazing Magellan has been to me,” he said. “Overall, I’m super happy with the fact I’ve been able to make a living off of something I love to do while living in a city that I love.”

Chocolate, tea a perfect pairing for Chicago fest

By Elisa Shoenberger

Ever wondered if Earl Grey tea should be paired with milk or dark chocolate? Or how to make a cocktail infused with matcha or other green teas? These are two of many lectures set for the Chicago’s International Tea Festival.

Taking place Nov. 1-3 at Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 W. Mart Center Dr., the festival will bring 35-40 vendors from around the world, including vendors from Nepal, Japan, and Sri Lanka, as well as local tea vendors. Tickets start at $25 for a one-day consumer pass.

The show will be Chicago’s first tea festival, started by Festival Director Nicole Burriss and six founding board members. 

Burriss, a Kansas City structural engineer, was inspired by the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, now entering its 11th year. She created the Midwest Tea Festival in Kansas City five years ago. 

“We tried to convince Nicole to come here and organize a festival because Chicago is such a diverse city,” said Agnes Rapacz, President of TeaGschwendner and a founding board member. “We believed this location would be successful for the tea festival.” 

Burriss agreed to run the fest as long as she got help.

The tea festival is open to both consumers and people in the trade. The first day is meant for people in the tea trade, though dedicated tea fans can come, and the second two days will be open to everyone.

For the price of admission, people will get a ceramic tea cup and a tote bag and will be able to taste teas from the many vendors. Burriss said people could try up to 100 teas. 

It’s also a great place to deepen knowledge about tea. People can attend more than 80 lectures or classes for an extra fee. Classes will include “Tea & Chocolate” by Sheila Duda and “Tea Cocktails” by Rapacz. There will also be a free lecture room and people can talk to the vendors.

For the “Tea Cocktails” lecture, attendees will taste cocktails and learn how to mix alcoholic drinks with tea. TeaGschwendner has also hosted chocolate and tea pairings. Rapacz recommended pairing chocolate with an opposite kind of tea, like dark chocolate and white tea, or complementary flavors such as pairing a pumpkin spice truffle with chai tea.

Filini introduces lobby sushi as part of plan to revamp its kitchen

(Published 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Longtime fans of Filini Bar and Restaurant may have noticed some recent changes.

Since April, Filini, 221 N. Columbus Drive, has been helmed by executive chef Leonard Ventura, a veteran chef with experience in Texas and California.

Ventura added a sushi station to the Radisson lobby and introduced dollar oysters on Friday and Saturday with half-off martinis as well as a sundae cart during the summer months.

The sushi bar moved into the lobby in July and Ventura said it’s been a hit with visitors who enjoy watching the proverbial sausage get made.

“It’s something I always did at different hotels,” Ventura said. “I saw it was always successful.”

The sushi bar has something for everyone and Ventura said he’s not through tweaking the menu. He plans to add new breakfast items and he’s making an effort to source more local produce.

“We’re always looking for more local and sustainable food,” he said.

This can be hard in the Midwest, with long, cold winter months, but Ventura said he’s sourcing what he can from nearby farms.

“Towards winter I do more pickling and add more heavier items,” he said. Ventura is also looking into local meats, and said he plans to add a smoker in January.

“We want to get beef and different types of meat like lamb,” he said. “I’d like to start to make my own sausage as well. In Texas, I did my own bacon and sausage and smoked hams.”

Ventura is looking to beef up the craft beer selection. In the coming months, he said the restaurant will unveil a 20-tap craft beer selection featuring 18 local beers in addition to standbys like Budweiser and one signature beer.

“We have a company that’s brewing a craft beer for us now that will be featured here,” Ventura said. “Brickstone Brewing will make the beer.”

Ventura said he’d also like to get a rotisserie oven in the kitchen and he has plans to hire a baker, so all the breads will be done in-house.

These are long term plans, but in the months since Ventura has taken over, changes to the menu have drawn more diners.

“Since last year we’ve more than doubled our reservations,” Ventura said.

For more information, visit Filini online at filinichicago.com. 

Signature Room launches signature beer

(Published July 31, 2019)

The Signature Room, the restaurant located on the 95th floor of the former John Hancock Center, announced in July the launch of its first exclusive beer label, Top View Brew. The beer is a result of a partnership with suburban brewery Crystal Lake Brewing, currently offered exclusively at The Signature Room.

“We have been fans of Crystal Lake Brewing for quite some time—and their Beach Blonde has been a top seller for years—so partnering with them on a custom beer was a no-brainer,” said The Signature Room’s VP of Sales and Marketing, Tricia Bryant. “We hope Top View Brew will be a beverage that guests want to enjoy not just during the summer, but all year-round.

Top View Brew is a golden wheat ale with smooth malt sweetness, low bitterness and a bright lemon aroma at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. The brew pairs well with salads, along with light fish and chicken dishes and can handle spicy foods and cut through heavier dishes.

Taste to offer De La Soul, 82 food vendors from across the city

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

With July comes the annual Taste of Chicago, a celebration of all that’s great to eat in the city.

This year’s Taste will be held July 10-14 in Grant Park and will feature 82 restaurants and food trucks and 300 menu items. The event also offers live music including headliners De La Soul with Taylor Bennett and Courtney Barnett with Sunflower Bean among others.

Mary May, a spokesperson with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the event will offer something new even for longtime Taste of Chicago veterans.

“We have a number of new restaurants this year,” she said. “We have more restaurants than we’ve ever had.”

However, not all restaurants and food trucks will be available through the entire festival, so attendees should check schedules on the website TasteofChicago.us. While the general admissions area is free, the music performances are ticketed events and food tickets begin at $10 for 14 tickets. Visitors can purchase those online. In addition, people can also purchase tickets to the Taste Oasis area. This is a new area which provides attendees with exclusive access to music and seating and dining options. Those tickets are $50.

May suggested visitors try the new entrants and try restaurants that are unfamiliar. Often, Chicagoans spend most of their time in their neighborhoods, places they’re already familiar. She said Taste aims to shake that up and break people out of their habits.

“One big thing about the Taste of Chicago is it is an appeal for people to get out and try a new restaurant,” she said. “After Taste is over, we want people to go out and see a new part of the city and to spread their wings.”

In addition to the food and music, the festival will also offer chef-led demonstrations and other specialty events. On July 10, the Best Lists event will recognize award-winning chefs and restaurants listed on “best of” lists. On July 11, the City Streets event will feature chefs from around Chicago. July 12 will feature a Healthy Eating event will spotlight dishes that are vegan or vegetarian. On July 13 the Spicy Hot demonstration will highlight cuisines that bring the heat and sample the all-time American favorite Mac N Cheese on July 14 at the Mac N Cheese Smackdown.

The new restaurants include: 90 Miles Cuban Café, A Place by Damao, Bar Takito, Barangaroos Aussie Pies, Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue, Big Wang’s Chinese Street Food, Black Dog Gelato, Brazilian Bowl Inc., Buscia’s, Bacon Buns, Coastline Catering, Da Pizza Dude, Dmen Tap, Dog Haus, Egg Rolls Etc., Frönen, Gordo’s, Homemade Ice Cream Bars, Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls, Jason’s Deli, Jeannie’s Flan Inc., Jeni’s, Splendid Ice Creams, Josephine’s Cooking, Jus Sandwiches, Kitchen 17, Lao Sze Chuan, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Madame VanderKloot’s Weiner Emporium, Mr. Quiles Mexican Food, Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes, Nourish Catering, Pink Flamingo (Flamingo Rum Club), Pink Taco, Seoul Taco, The Cookie Crate, The Slab Bar-B-Que, Three Legged Tacos, Whadda Jerk and Yvolina’s Tamales.

Grilling tips from the pros: III Forks, Southern Cut chefs share their secrets

(Published May 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The weather is warm and the coals are hot.

But what to grill? And how?

Grilling doesn’t need to be complicated, but it takes some planning.

Shane Timmons, the executive chef from Southern Cut Barbecue in Streeterville, said the best cooks are prepared cooks.

“Always be prepared and always have a destination for everything,” Timmons said. “When it comes off the grill, it will go off the grill and go onto this plate with these tongs. I always keep tongs and plates that handle raw and cooked meat separate. … The more organized you are, the quicker and better your grilling will be. It’s the same thing with any restaurant, they call it mise en place, which means everything in its place.”

Timmons said especially if cooks are grilling vegetables, they need to have one cutting board for raw meat, one  for cooked meat and another for vegetables. All of these need to be set out ahead of time to avoid confusion, contamination and possible illness.

Timmons said depending on what is being grilled, cooks should come prepared.

“Obviously when you are grilling steak you want a nice hot grill. No matter what you’re using, it has to be hot enough to give it a quick sear,” he said. “You don’t want the temperature to be too low or it will end up chewy. I like to pull it out of the refrigerator an hour or so before I grill it to get to room temperature.”

Timmons said he likes to season steaks with salt, pepper and some garlic and onion powder, though he said steak seasoning is mostly up to personal preference. While cooks are waiting for the steaks to get to room temperature, he recommends working on the sides, like baked potatoes.

Cruz Almanza, the grill chef at III Forks in New Eastside, said he doesn’t generally season a steak until after it’s off the grill, and a good cut doesn’t need seasoning.

“If you pair a nice cutlet with a side of mash potatoes, you don’t need anything else,” he said. “But if you want to put a crown on the steak, we offer king’s butter so that puts a little extra on it.”

King’s butter is foie gras, truffles with a touch of honey, but outside of III Forks, Cruz said he doesn’t use it.

“At home I just grill a nice cut of meat,” he said.

Marinating, too, requires forethought. Timmons said it’s best to marinate overnight, though at a minimum, cooks should marinate chicken and shrimp for four hours. He recommends wiping off any oil used in the marinate before grilling the meat, otherwise the open flame will ignite the oil and burn the mean unevenly.

Besides meat, vegetables go well on the grill and work great as sides. Corn is a standard go-to, but other vegetables can be grilled with good result, Cruz reports.

“There’s something I love about grilling onions,” he said. “I grew up in central Mexico and if we’re doing a carne asada or barbecue at home we have hot grilled onions.”

Cruz recommends cooking them in a very hot cast iron skillet with beer or even whiskey to flambé them until  they’re caramelized, maybe adding a pinch of brown sugar and salt or Worcestershire sauce.

He also recommends grilling peppers.

“I love the grilled serrano peppers and banana peppers grilled are fantastic,” he said. “It’s not a big thing until you taste it, and sometimes we stuff them with cheese too. Some grilled banana peppers with some chihuahua cheese, that’s a great pairing with your steak.”

Egg Harbor Cafe to open in Streeterville

By Jesse Wright | May 1, 2019

Optima Signature, a residential and retail building at 220 E. Illinois St., announced Egg Harbor Café, a restaurant specializing in breakfast, brunch and lunch, will be the open its first Chicago location this fall.

There are 20 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Georgia.

Egg Harbor Café’s Streeterville restaurant will be occupy 4,905-square-feet of space on upper Illinois Street, steps from Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River.

Egg Harbor Café is the latest retailer to lease space at Optima Signature. Existing businesses include GoodVets Streeterville, a full-service vet clinic; Guidepost Montessori at Magnificent Mile and RUNAWAY fitness. In addition, Bedazzled Nails & Spa will open a 1,530-square-foot salon this spring. With these leases, Optima Signature will have only one 490-square-foot retail space remaining.

“Retailers have selected Optima Signature for many of the same reasons our residents have – its prime location off Michigan Avenue and modern design aesthetic in the heart of Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood,” said Tara Hovey, president and COO of Optima, in a press release. “With Egg Harbor Café, we’re continuing to curate businesses that enhance the building’s distinctive mixed-use community and help it serve as a destination to live, work and play. More residents than ever have made Streeterville home in recent years, and a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant perfectly complements the other neighborhood restaurant offerings serving our Optima Signature residents as well as the community as a whole.”

Restaurant Week extended for a week

For the News

Choose Chicago and its partner restaurants announced today that Chicago Restaurant Week has been extended through Feb. 12. 

More than 235 restaurants will participate in the extension, which will continue to offer specially designed prix fixe menus, starting at $24 for brunch and lunch, and $36 and/or

$48 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity).

“We are excited to offer locals and visitors an extra five days of dining deals at some of the city’s best restaurants,” said David Whitaker, Choose Chicago President & CEO. “There’s no better time to get out and enjoy some incredible meals at equally incredible prices and catch a show or two during Theatre Week.”

Chicago Restaurant Week’s extension coincides with the 7th Annual Chicago Theatre Week which kicks off on February 7 and runs through February 17, allowing diners to combine an amazing culinary experience with a night out at the theatre.

Presented by the League of Chicago Theatres in partnership with Choose Chicago, the 7th annual Chicago Theatre Week will again provide visitors and residents the opportunity to choose from more than 120 productions and sample the extraordinary range of theatrical offerings in Chicago.

“This year, Chicago Theatre Week kicks off The Year of Chicago Theatre, reminding people of the rich theatre tradition in Chicago. Certainly, in this city of innovators, risk-takers and big hearts, the standard of excellence by both the theatre and restaurant scenes set Chicago apart from other cities,” said Deb Clapp, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres. “With the overlap of Theatre Week and Restaurant Week, audiences will once again be able to take advantage of both of these great deals to create a quintessential Chicago experience.”

For a listing of restaurants participating in the extension, visit EatItUpChicago.com. To learn more about Chicago Theatre Week shows, tickets and venues, visit ChicagoTheatreWeek.com

Getting the hottest summertime seats

Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

It’s patio season and restaurants and bars across the city are opening up their sidewalks, decks and outdoor spaces for sunshine seating. 

City Winery at 11 W. Riverwalk South. Photo by Taylor Hartz

When it comes to a good view, City Winery at 11 W. Riverwalk South can’t be beat. Situated right on the water, start off with a view and then enjoy the Italian burrata made with marinated tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and toasted ciabatta before diving into a menu filled with salad and sandwich options.

There’s a variety of win, but the best is the pink rosé, a generous pour of a watermelon, peach, strawberry and cantaloupe flavored wine.

For something more summery, get a frosé. This icy pink wine is served with a striped straw and fresh raspberries and will beat the heat.

The bar features six house wines including Riverwalk Red, a blend that will be available all summer. The bar also offers Goose Island beers and a variety of seasonal cocktails. The waterfront spot is located on Marina Plaza between State Street and Dearborn Street and will feature live music on weekends. City Winery is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, weather permitting.

Gibson’s Italia, 233 N. Canal St., has a great view of the river from its third floor patio. Enjoy angus steaks, sirloin and a selection of fresh seafood. 

Bar Cargo, 605 N. Wells St. Photo by Taylor Hartz

One of River North’s newest outdoor hotspots is Bar Cargo, 605 N. Wells St., a roman style pizzeria.

The restaurant has about eight tables on its sidewalk patio, but they plan to add to the outdoor seating soon. In addition, a beer garden is in the works on the back patio, which will seat at least 60.

Bar Cargo offers a variety of cocktails including the strong Tuscan Sunset is a bit strong. For something more mild, try the limoncello, a refreshing frozen lemonade.

The calamari is perfect and the the pizza was a great option though it’s not Chicago deep dish or thin crust. The Queen pizza includes a classic red sauce, basil and mozzarella, though for something a little more meaty, try the Chicago, a meat covered pie with sausage and peppers.

Point and Feather, 113 W. Hubbard St., offers refreshments, food and entertainment. 

Bar Cargo, 605 N. Wells St. Photo by Taylor Hartz

The patio isn’t open yet, but the inside offers a fun variety of bar games and eats like pretzel bites, chips and cheese curds, Detroit-style deep dish pizzas, or sandwiches

House favorite cocktails include the Queen of Thorns made with beefeater gin, pineapple, dried rose and lemon. They’ve also got a bunch of craft beers, ciders and cocktails and with boozy shakes.

For a fiesta fix the tiny patio space at Fat Baby Tacos, 109 W Hubbard St., is worth the wait. This River North spot has a small but mighty outdoor area that is first come first serve, so get their early.

In addition to margaritas and sangria by the pitcher, there are made-in-house agua frescas in cucumber chia, hibiscus ginger lemonade and horchata de coco.

Guests can design their own taco burrito or bowl and choose chicken, steak, carnitas, shrimp or veggies.

Get any dish in classic, American, street or spicy style and add extras for flavor.

For late nights out, they have a special menu after 10 p.m. that highlights tamales, tacos and tequila shots.

Dining out during the dog days of summer

By Kathleen O’Connell | Loews Chicago Hotel

Summer is in full swing in Chicago—the days are long, the temperatures are high, and al fresco dining is a must. Whether wanting to enjoy the season’s freshest ingredients from juicy peaches to sweet corn, or feast on dishes that scream summer like a seafood boil, Streeterville Social is serving some of the city’s best summer dishes.

Executive Chef Kevin Atkinson, inspired by the season’s produce and flavors that taste like summer, created a menu best enjoyed on a long summer evening, sipping on a refreshing beverage and enjoying the sweeping city views while delighting in the company of friends or a special someone.

The Marinated Peach Salad is bright, light and refreshing. This dish combines ripe, fresh, juicy peaches with marinated peaches, providing both a sweet and slightly savory base. The creamy burrata provides the perfect decadent element to the dish. The coppa adds a bit of spice, and the pea tendrils and basil vinaigrette bring the dish together with a bright pop of herbiness.

The Midwest is known for its corn, and the Summer Corn Flatbread really allows this ingredient to shine. The sweet summer corn is blended with cheese and herbs to create a slightly sweet and savory base on the flatbread. It is then topped with smoked fontina, fresh corn, red onion, pickled peach and basil for a unique dish that highlights the sweetness of this Midwestern vegetable. The result is sweet, savory and delectable.

For many, summers evoke fond memories of seafood boils. Chef Atkinson’s rendition is nothing short of spectacular.

Designed to be shared by two people, the Seafood Boil combines perfectly cooked king crab legs, jumbo shrimp, mussels, hot links, potatoes, and corn with his home- made streeter spice blend. The streeter spice adds just the right amount of flavor while allowing the ingredients’ natural sweetness to shine through. The grilled bread is the perfect way to soak up the flavorful broth.

Whether wanting to savor the season’s freshest flavors or feast on a seafood boil, Streeterville Social is the ideal place for al fresco dining during the dog days of summer.

Streeterville Social
455 N. Park Drive
Chicago, 60611
(312) 840-6617

Published August 2, 2018

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