Local hotels freshen menus, decor for spring

By Gianna Annunzio | Staff Writer

Spring is a time of renewal and two local hotels are taking advantage of the season’s spirit by unveiling new food and interior decor initiatives. Loews Chicago Hotel, 455 N. Park Dr., has introduced a mouthwatering program, “Flavor by Loews Hotels,” a food and beverage experience providing guests with rich local fare. The initiative is built on partnerships with artisan food and beverage vendors.

One vendor is the agricultural cooperative, The Chicago Honey Co-op, whose honey is made in chemical-free beehives right here in the city.

“Chicago Co-op has three apiaries in different locations in Chicago, including in the Back of the Yards area,” said Kelly Kroyer, the marketing and social media manager for Loews Chicago Hotel, adding that the honey in your drinks may not have been made too far from home. Loews incorporates the honey in cocktails at their terrace bar and restaurant, Streeterville Social. An exclusive beer has also been crafted through a partnership with Revolution Brewing to produce, “Zephyr”—a low ABV golden ale with a mild and crisp taste.

The partnerships in Loews’ Flavor program are further reflected in the culinary style of Loews Executive Sous Chef, Matt Lange, of ETA Restaurant + Bar. With his focus on seasonal and refined cooking, the menu includes additions such as cold-pressed juices from locally-grown fruits and veggies provided by local food program, Here. Flavors include a beet, apple and ginger blend as well as pineapple, celery and apple juice that combines notes of turmeric and basil.

ETA Restaurant + Bar at Loews Chicago Hotel is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and Streeterville Social will open for the season on May 25.

A mural of Chicago’s skyline at The Palm restaurant. Photo by Gianna Annunzio

While Loews has expanded their flavor palate, Swissotel’s The Palm Chicago restaurant, 323 E. Wacker Dr., has revamped their entire look from the inside out. The restaurant re-opened on April 16, after a $2.5 million renovation. When the restaurant’s remodeling began, manager Phil Jahnke said the priority was to clean up the space and provide more modern amenities. “This particular location has always had the feeling of a hotel restaurant,” he said. “We’re trying to revitalize it.”

The restaurant has also re-incorporated unique wall paintings into the space, including work by Marlene Goodman and Zach Byrd, who has created city murals at Palm locations across the country. “I paint with acrylic paints on the wall and work more from looking at photos and just doing my thing,” Goodman said. “Since we’ve been around for so long, people might forget about us,” said Nicole Boston, the Palm’s sales and events manager. “But with this renovation we’re making a statement that we’re really here to stay.” The Palm Chicago now serves breakfast as well as lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Published on May 3

New Eastside coffee guide

By Jon Cohn | Community Contributor

Our highly caffeinated journey begins with a tour around Lake Shore East Park, with stops at The Drunken Bean 400 E. South Water St., Eggy’s Diner, 333 E. Benton Pl. and the 24-hour Subway, which also offers decent coffee.

Of course, Mariano’s grocery store serves up the java hot and fresh every morning, offering its Red Eye and Black Eye specials, with one and two shots of espresso respectively.

Radisson Aqua Blu coffee shop ‘Blu Bar’. Photo by Stephanie Racine

Additionally, Bockwinkel’s grocery stores, one located at the Harbor Point building and the other at the corner of Stetson and South Water Streets, offer up delicious Papa Nickolas brand coffee. The Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus Dr., has a neat little coffee stand right in the lobby featuring coffee, cappuccinos and lattés, as does Radisson Blu hotel at their
“Blu Bar,” which is open every morning.

Another great spot geared toward lovers of coffee is Swissotel, 323 E. Upper Wacker
Dr., which features The Amuse Bar and offers Valentine brand coffee. Moving on in our caffeine saturated venture, we head over to the lower plaza of the Aon building, 200 E. Randolph St., where the selections are nearly endless.

Coffee bar at Mariano’s Lakeshore East.

Just follow your nose down the stairs to find a food court inundated with coffee selections, including Sopraffino’s Italian blend coffee, Au Bon’s 100% Arabica beans, Market Thyme’s Intelligentsia brand, and the standard Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.

Keep this list handy, folks. When the freezing winds blow off the lake,
you’ll be glad you have it.

 

Published Jan. 5, 2018

Stan’s Donuts opens new flagship in New Eastside

By Taylor Hartz, Staff Writer

January 2, 2018

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee unveiled their new Loop store Willy Wonka style – but with golden donuts instead of golden tickets.

The new sweet shop, located at 181 N. Michigan Ave., opened on Dec. 23 and hosted its grand opening celebration on Dec. 30 at 6 a.m. Donut-lovers wound their way down Michigan Ave. in freezing temperatures the morning of the celebration, hoping for a chance to win a sweet prize. Each of the first 100 customers who lined up for the grand opening received a box with a donut or other prizes inside, but two lucky winners found a gold-plated donut that meant they would have unlimited Stan’s Donuts for life.

For employees of the new store, the highlight of the grand opening was getting to celebrate with Stan’s Donuts’ biggest fans.

Employee Jon Becker said “it was amazing to see so many people willing to line up in the freezing temperatures for a shot at winning donuts for life.”

In addition to those lucky grand prize winners –Michael Fiorini and Cordelia Bella – Becker said all 200 people there when the store opened got prizes of their own.

“All of the customers in line received a  free donut, and everyone received Stan’s Donuts hats and t-shirts, coffee mugs and gift cards at random,” said Becker. Two customers also took home Stan’s signature pink Kitchen Aid mixers.

In a Dec. 30 Facebook post, the doughnut shop thanked “all the brave souls who weathered the weather” for the grand opening and congratulated the two winners. Temperatures were below zero the morning of the celebration.

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee, 181 N. Michigan Ave., held a grand opening for its first Loop store on Dec. 30. Photo courtesy of Stan’s Donuts.

The grand opening also featured free High Brew Coffee, one of many types of cold brew the shop offers. With 10 tap lines of cold brew, the new shop will appeal to coffee lovers just as much as donut fanatics.

Just after the grand opening, Stan’s also announced a surprise special for the new year – croissant donuts. Stan’s described the special as a European-style croissant dough with a granulated sugar coating, a pastry cream filling and a thick vanilla glaze. The square frosted donuts were available limited edition from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1.

One of the first 100 customers at the grand opening of Stan’s Donuts, looks inside their box to see if they won a golden donut and free donuts for life. Photo courtesy of Stan’s Donuts.

Donut-lovers who visit the new shop will find Stan’s usual light pink and white decor, with a fun new feature on the ceiling. Above the seating area, which fits 50 customers, rows and rows of pastel colored doughnuts line the ceiling.

The new flagship store is the first Stan’s to be located in the Loop, giving New Eastsiders easy access to all the doughnuts and coffee they could want.

 

 

Salad chain ‘sweetgreen’ opens new location near New Eastside

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

November 15, 2017

Salad chain sweetgreen’s newest location is now open in the Crain Communications Building at 150 N. Michigan Ave.

Area residents line up for free food at salad chain sweetgreen’s Community Day on Sunday, October 22. The new Loop location at 150 N. Michigan Ave, officially opened October 23. Photo by B. David Zarley.

Manager Margaret Doherty said sweetgreen is a farm-to-table, from-scratch restaurant. “We do everything in house every day, from our dressings to our drinks,” she explained. Sustainability is a primary concern for sweetgreen. All its products are compostable and biodegradable, and local produce arrives daily. “We try to use all growers from Illinois and the Midwest region to source all of our product in store to help sustainability in the Midwest and our region,” Doherty said.

The local ingredients are used in an array of salads, called “warm bowls.” Ingredients such as wild rice, kale, tofu and mushrooms, or quinoa, corn, chickpeas and chicken, are offered in a build-your-own salad bar. Seasonal salads rotate through out the year, highlighting what is in season in the Midwest.

Cristian Villalta, a Washington, DC, sweetgreen manager, was in town to help with the launch. “Since right now we’re in the fall season, we’re featuring brussels sprouts, curry cauliflower and the apple pear cheddar [salad]—all fruits and vegetables that are harvested in the fall,” Villalta said.

The branch officially opened on October 23, with a charity initiative marking the occasion. Proceeds from opening day went to Chicago-based charity Growing Home, which assists people with employment barriers—including homelessness, mental health issues and criminal records—and helps them learn job skills via paid, on-the-farm training.

“Come try us,” Doherty said. “We’re super awesome, very fun and eclectic. You’ll have a good time here and hopefully a great salad.”

Renovations complete at local Chinese restaurant MingHin

By Stephanie Racine | Staff Writer

November 15, 2017

Renovations transformed the interior of MingHin’s Grant Park restaurant, 333 E. Benton Pl. with updated blue and gold decor and an addition of an exterior door. MingHin has been a staple in New Eastside since 2015, drawing customers from all over the Loop with consistently delicious Chinese cuisine.

“The remodel includes new chairs and new tables. We will continue to get more new chairs and tables in a month,” said manager Leo Ho. The newly added tables and chairs are of a contemporary, but classic style, using both dark and light wood. New blue leather booths are paired with works of red and gold wall art that were commissioned from Chinese artists. Complementing the blue seating are fresh light fixtures adorned with classic blue Chinese drawings.

New MingHin updates include gold sculptur-al frames and blue leather booths. Photo by Stephanie Racine

“The remodel was completely for style,” Ho adds. “We designed the paintings here ourselves, but they were made in China.” Ho said. The artwork includes a vivid painting of red Koi fish set against a silver background that is hung in the main dining room. There are also geometric works made of a golden metal throughout the newly decorated dining room, in both framed paintings and structural designs.

As part of the renovations, a new revolving door on the south side of the restaurant was added, and glass barriers surrounding the exterior of the restaurant were opened to allow better access to customers.

New paintings, tables, chairs and artwork adorn the renovated MingHin. Photo by Stephanie Racine.

MingHin

333 E. Benton Pl.

Suite #300

Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

minghincuisine.com

Food trucks of New Eastside

Residents of New Eastside have a lot of choices when it comes to food. There are plenty of restaurants and markets, but there is also an underrated op- tion—food trucks. Here we profile two of our favorites that can be found on weekdays in New Eastside.

La Cocinita

A truck serving Venezuelan cuisine and famous for its arepas parks on Upper Columbus Dr. across the street from the Park Millennium (222 N.Co- lumbus Dr.). “We are the only food truck in the city that serves arepas,” says La Cocinita Food Truck Manager, Victor Reyna. La Cocinita’s delicious arepas consist of cornmeal patties

that have meat inside, along with pico de gallo and cheese. They also have vegetarian and vegan arepa options, along with plenty of other Venezuelan delights. La Cocinita’s food truck visits New Eastside twice a week—either Monday or Tuesday and Wednesday or Thursday. They also have a brick- and-mortar location in Evanston, two blocks away from Northwestern’s cam- pus and will be serving arepas at this year’s Taste of Chicago. To learn more about La Cocinita, visit their website, www.LaCocinitaRestaurant.com, or visit their Twitter or Facebook pages.

DönerMen

One of the founders, Shawn Podgurski, describes their cuisine as “German street food, inspired by Turkish immi- grants and British soldiers post-World

War II.” Podgurski and some of his fellow founders were in a rock band and often traveled around Europe and saw how popular döner kebabs were, so they decided to start a food truck that sold them with other culinary options, such as currywurst. In fact, they recently added a poutine to their menu; their version includes cheddar curds and chicken gravy. There is also a brand-new brick-and-mortar location at California and Belmont, called DMen Tap. To learn more about DönerMen, visit their website at www. donermen.com, or visit their Twitter or Facebook pages to check the truck’s serving locations.

If you’re in the mood for a different cuisine, be on the lookout for The Ca- jun Connoisseur, which serves classic Cajun dishes like jambalaya and po boys. There is also 5411 Empanadas, which serves empanadas with modern twists—including one with Nutella. Bop Bar is also a great choice for Ko- rean cuisine, including kimchi dump- lings. And last but not least, try The Fat Shallot for gourmet sandwiches, like the truffle BLT.

The Cajun Connoisseur: www.thecajunconnoisseur.com

5411 Empanadas: www.5411empanadas.com

Bop Bar: www.facebook.com/BopBarTruck

The Fat Shallot: www.thefatshallot.com

— Stephanie Racine, Community Contributor

Fresh salad vending machines thrive in New Eastside

Sitting at the base of the 111 E. Wacker Pedway escalator, a teal-colored nook holds a culinary surprise: A five-foot-wide box dispensing recyclable jars filled with salad.

“It’s very transparent what’s in the actual salad,” said Paul Williams, who, like many Farmer’s Fridge fans, visits the wood-pan- eled vending machine multiple times a month. The kiosk, installed in 2016, was the first of two to open in the area. A second opened in Lake Point Tower (505 N. Lake Shore Dr.) earlier this year.

“These machines have been solid for us to date,” says Farmer’s Fridge Marketing VP Nadine Rich. “People have been receptive and happy to have wholesome [meals] conveniently located nearby.”

After spending months on the road as a traveling salesman, Farmer’s Fridge CEO

Luke Saunders longed for healthy, fresh food at his fingertips. He founded Farmer’s Fridge in 2013, with the philosophy that “eating well shouldn’t be hard.”

“It’s easy, [and] it’s cheap,” says Herbert Wennink, who stumbled upon the 111 E. Wacker machine a year ago. Wennink was especially impressed the machine gave him credit when a salad slot was empty.

Salads are made fresh each morning at a Fulton Market facility and are distributed to more than 60 kiosks across the region. At the end of the day, each fridge sends a produce order to the kitchen, over a cloud-based wireless network.

“Our menu is dynamic, day-to-day,” says Rich. Salads include fresh-cut vegetables like carrots, avocado and asparagus, which are stacked underneath layers of greens and a carton of dressing. Customers punch in orders on an extra-wide touchscreen, and pay by cash or credit card. A vigorous shake is all it takes to combine the ingredients in the jar. According to Rich, a typical transac- tion takes between 30 and 45 seconds.

The menu includes a selection of about seven salads, ranging from about $8 to $12, along with snacks, a handful of breakfast items and LaCroix water. The 111 E. Wacker kiosk offers bags, plates, napkins, forks and spoons, though supplies can run low at lunchtime.

According to Rich, the future for more Farmer’s Fridges in New Eastside looks bright.

“We are constantly looking to expand our locations,” says Rich.

— Tricia Parker, Staff Writer

Little truck, big dreams

Big World’s Tortas joins growing Aon food truck scene

His truck may be tiny — the smallest in the lunchtime brigade — but that doesn’t stop AJ Castillo, 26, from having Aon-sized ambition.

img_0095web

Big World boss AJ Castillo (photo: Patton)

“I envision having my own restaurant, with a patio area and a food truck outside,” says Castillo, owner of Big World’s Tortas, which began serving up Mexican specialties outside the Aon Center in August. Big World’s is the latest addition to a burgeoning number of food trucks on an otherwise culinary barren strip of Columbus, from Randolph Street to the CVS.

Growing up near Midway Airport, Castillo says he was inspired by his father, who was both a police officer and Laundromat owner. Castillo’s space galaxy-themed truck, with its painted-on stars and picture of the Chicago skyline, represents what he calls the “in between” state.

“I’m somewhere in between Mexican and what’s around me — American society,” says Castillo, who claims he’s “100 percent Mexican” but was born in the US. “‘Big World’ was my nickname growing up — I liked to eat a lot, and was chubby.”

Two to three times a week — Castillo can’t always predict which days — Big World’s wedges itself in between bigger competitors like Bop Bar and Tamale Spaceship, where it dishes up five kinds of torta sandwiches. His number-one seller is the $9 steak sandwich, which smothers steak, sautéed onions, and tomatoes in between fresh bolillo bread from Nuevo Leon bakery in Pilsen.

Castillo admits it’s a “little messy,” but that sandwiches on Mexican-style French bread are a fun departure from typical desk-to-Pedway fare.

“I’ve never been an office guy, but I can imagine being stuck in the office,” he says. “Here, you aren’t going to get the same thing everyone’s used to. There’s always something new opening up.”

img_2837bTo Castillo and the city’s 54 other licensed food truck vendors, Columbus Drive represents new daytime opportunities — and challenges.

“The Aon Center isn’t a super developed truck stop yet,” says Castillo. “We want to start going there more often and building a customer base.”

“A lot of the businesses don’t know that the food trucks are down here,” added Deanna Liberty, manager of The Cajun Connoisseur, as she glanced upwards toward the Aon building at the end of a recent lunch hour.

According to CDOT spokesperson Susan Hofer, the city will put increasing pressure on the Loop’s major food truck zone to move elsewhere this fall, which could mean even brighter possibilities for local truckavores.

“A large dining space containing more than a dozen restaurant options opened on the west side of the block,” she said, referring to the 100 block of S. Clark. “We are working with the City Council to introduce an ordinance this fall to relocate the zone.”

— Tricia Parker, Community Contributor

Blackwood BBQ heats up Pedway

Have I been transported to Alabama? Or perhaps Kansas City? No, I’m still in the Windy City, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. That’s because I’m at the newly opened Pedway location of Blackwood BBQ, which features slow cooked barbecue from around the U.S. in one convenient stop. Blackwood BBQ is located in the Illinois Center (233 N. Michigan Ave) and replaces a shuttered Great Steak & Potato eatery. It is the Chicago mini-chain’s fourth location and joins other outposts in the Loop, West Loop, and Lakeview.

black001aThe 14-seat restaurant in the Illinois Center is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for breakfast and lunch and serves the BBQ joint’s signature smoked meats, according to Stephanie Simpson, a Blackwood partner. The Illinois Center location’s meat is smoked at a separate facility Downtown and trucked in multiple times per day, Simpson explained.

In terms of ambiance, Blackwood BBQ blends industrial and rural influences, with a mix of painted black and white woods adorning the walls; metal and exposed air ducts; as well as lighting wires above, overlaid with a sleek, big city shine.

The ordering system falls into the “fast-casual” assembly line style of food, popularized by Chipotle, with a focus on fresh ingredients that gives diners the ability to choose what they want as their food moves down the line. Speaking of lines …the ones at Blackwood can seem daunting during the lunch rush with guests often out the door. This was the case on my recent Friday visit; however, I was pleasantly surprised that it took only a few minutes to get through the ordering line and from there only about a minute to the cashier.

A key factor that ensures the line moves like a well-oiled machine is that Blackwood BBQ keeps it simple. Diners can choose from three meats: pulled pork, pulled chicken, or beef brisket. The brisket can be sliced lean, with fat, or in-between. The meat can be ordered as a platter (which includes one side), on a sandwich, or as a salad. The next step is to choose a sauce. These are regionally-influenced and include a signature Chicago style (a blend simmered with Old Style lager); a tomato-based Memphis style; North and South Carolina styles (vinegar- and mustard-based, respectively), and a spicy Kansas City style sauce, which I overheard one worker tell a customer is the spiciest of the sauces. Lastly, diners can add on pickles, some housemade sides, a drink (lemonade, sweet tea, or unsweetened tea), or a bottle of craft soda.

During my visit, I sampled the pulled pork sandwich ($7.49) with the Chicago style sauce. The pork has been hand rubbed and mustard brined, raised without antibiotics or hormones. The meat is very tender and has an authentic, smoky flavor that transported me from the heart of Chicago to a barbecue shack in the south. Unlike a lot of pulled pork sandwiches, this one wasn’t too messy. There was a good amount of sauce, although those who prefer their barbecue saucy might want to ask for extra when ordering.

The side dishes are served in cups, rather than slopped on the side, which makes to-go orders tidy. Corn bread fans will enjoy the freshly-baked honey cheddar corn bread ($1.29) studded with kernels of sweet corn. The three-cheese mac ($1.79) features a mix of aged gruyere and two cheddars, topped with a crunchy breadcrumb crust. The signature apple coleslaw added a refreshing touch to my plate. Other sides include smokehouse beans and an Elote corn salad.

Breakfast is another option at Blackwood BBQ. Served from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., breakfast items include a brisket, egg and cheese wrap; buttermilk biscuit sandwich; and briskets and gravy-a riff on the traditional biscuits and gravy. Catering is also available, with a minimum 30 minute call ahead required.

All in all, I was impressed with Blackwood BBQ’s focus on fresh ingredients, slow cooking, and straightforward approach to tasty, affordable barbecue. The aroma of smoking meat wafting in its storefront space can soothe even the longest lunchtime wait, and the convenience makes it a must for barbecue loving New Eastsiders.

Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Mon-Fri; 233 N. Michigan Avenue;
(312) 487-4802,
www.blackwoodbbq.com.

Dining out for Thanksgiving

Don’t want to cook the turkey this Thanksgiving?

Let the chefs of the New Eastside do it for you

SPACER03-01

img_7752i-copyThanksgiving is all about traditions, and first among them is the custom of gathering around the dinner table with family and friends for a delicious feast. You could spend the week leading up to November 24 preparing the big meal, or you could let someone else do the cooking ­— and the cleaning up afterward.

Several New Eastside restaurants have special menus planned for Thanksgiving so you won’t have to travel far for a holiday meal. Even better, you’ll be back home in time for that other hallowed tradition — non-stop football on TV.

Stetson’s menu includes French onion or cream of mushroom & chestnut soup and two salad choices, the Plainville Farm all-natural turkey with Stetson’s mashed potatoes and gravy, chestnut herb stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberry relish. Dessert is a choice of pumpkin pie, Chantilly cream or cranberry compote.

151 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 239-4491

Hoyt’s Chicago will be open and serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal during dinner hours. Call for details.

71 E. Wacker Drive · 312-346-9870

McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks traditional holiday feast includes a variety of side dishes, desserts and plenty of TVs at the bar, all of which are likely to be airing football.

$26.50 – adults; $9.99 – children · 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. · Reservations recommended.
1 E. Upper Wacker Drive · 312-923-7226

Morton’s the Steakhouse will be the place for diners who prefer beef. The full menu, as well as a nearby TV, will also be available.

1 to 9 p.m. · regular menu · Reservations recommended.

65 E. Wacker Pl. · 312-201-0410

img_5256i-copyMing Hin Cuisine will serve their famous dim sum on Thanksgiving.  Regular Happy Hour discount will be suspended for the day, but the signature Asian cocktails flow until closing.

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. · regular menu · Reservations recommended.
344 E. Benton Place · 312-228-1333

The Palm at the Swissotel will present a three-course Thanksgiving dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. It begins with lobster bisque, roasted butternut squash bisque or a baby kale. It ends with New York cheesecake or pumpkin pie. Along the way, there are salads, sides and, of course, slow-roasted hand-carved turkey with dressing and giblet gravy.

$55 per adult; $24 per child under 12 · 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.
323 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · 312-616-1000

Thanksgiving to go

If you want to dine at home but spend time with your guests instead of in the kitchen, you can get your Thanksgiving feast to go from two neighborhood favorites:

The Fairmont Chicago is preparing a Thanksgiving at Home that will be ready for pickup at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The roasted turkey meal with brioche stuffing will serve eight. Roast garlic and herb mashed potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts and your choice of old pie are just a few of the additional courses and sides.

Call 312-565-7973 or email kristina.kline@fairmont.com. by noon on Monday, November 21 to place an order.

10 a.m. and 2 p.m. · $260 · pick up on level B-2 Thanksgiving Day. 200 N. Columbus Drive  · 312-565-6665

Mariano’s is offering a freshly roasted whole turkey or a fully cooked spiral-sliced ham, along with a number of side dishes and dessert for $65. Each dinner serves six to eight guests. Orders should be placed at least 72 hours in advance.

www.marianos.com 312-228-1349

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