Tiny Hatt on the Riverwalk

Tiny Hatt bar and restaurant may be the first real neighborhood joint on downtown Chicago’s Riverwalk. The product of a budding union between Tiny Lounge and Big Hatt Gourmet, two of Lincoln Square’s most beloved establishments, it brings an upscale vibe and a friendly menu to an umbrella-lined stretch of the south bank between Clark and Dearborn Streets.

The venue’s Barrel Aged Cocktail list is a testament to the mixological finesse of Colleen Flaherty and Mark Johnson — two of the three partners — who began making specialty drinks at the Tiny Lounge long before the practice became a trendy staple.

“We were one of the first cocktail bars in the city, jumping into that sort of scene in the early 2000s,” says Ms. Flaherty.

At their new establishment, the most popular selection is probably the Subourban, a slightly dry and sweet blend of Jim Beam, Italian citrus liqueur Averna Amoro, Solerno Lemon, and Ginger Beer with a pinch of sugar.

The flavor and color compliment dusk on the river, when Ms. Flaherty most enjoys her job. “There’s nothing better than being able to serve people when they are ready to relax and their day is over,” she says. “They’re at their best.”

Beers include Rosa Hibiscus Ale from Logan Square’s Revolution Brewing, a pink-hued warm weather delight with a touch of the flower that gives it the name. The 5.8% alcohol content ranks in the middle of the potency scale, but that’s not the point, according to Mr. Johnson.

“It’s summertime,” he says. “We’re not trying to hit people over the head.”

It also reflects his customers’ tastes, which have changed significantly since he got into the trade at the Gingerman back when PBR was a thing in the 90s.

“It’s amazing to see how sophisticated the consumer has become,” he says. “They will think nothing of paying $12 for a beer. They might only have one of them, but they really appreciate the quality.”

IMG_7893webThe food at Tiny Hatt is exquisite, thoughtful, and easy to pronounce. The menu was created by Chef Craig Bell, a native Tennessean who started cooking in a small barbecue shop during high school.

Chef Bell studied at Chicago’s Cordon Bleu and worked in Spain’s Michelin-rated Zuberoa restaurant before launching Big Hatt Gourmet in 2009. He helped develop the Tiny Hatt concept with his future partners during a conversation in the Tiny Lounge.

IMG_7887webThe Tri-Tip Sliders feature thinly sliced brisket with pickled red onion, arugula, and basil Aioli on a pretzel bun. At two for $12, they’re tough to beat, but the Yardbird comes pretty close. A roasted chicken sandwich with Michigan black cherries, stone ground mustard, shallots, and arugula, it goes for $10. Other favorites include the Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Dr. Claw, a lobster roll with peppers, scallion, and lemon aioli.

All the beef and pork served at the restaurant is lightly smoked with apple and oak charcoal at Chef Bell’s kitchen facility on the north side. The process may take a bit longer, but that’s okay with the Tiny Hatt.

“Where I grew up,” he says, “barbecue and taking your time to eat and enjoying company was a social event.”

Cyrano’s Café in the River Walk

Every dish at Cyrano’s Café on the River Walk is inspired by a recipe that Chef Didier Durand learned as a child in France. From authentic quiche Lorraine to good old-fashioned hamburgers, each item hints at a flavor that dominated his mother’s kitchen.
“Great food makes people happy,” he says.

On a sunny afternoon, he likes to bring this philosophy to life.

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Chef Didier Durand. (photo: Daniel Patton.)

“Look what I’m having for lunch,” he says. “That’s a veal bratwurst with some caramelized onion, some sauerkraut — I love sauerkraut — and German mustard. It has a little sweetness and the bun is loaded with also caramelized onions on the top and the fries are, you know, hand cut. It’s beautiful. I’m going to bite into it.”

The bratwurst is one of many Midwestern favorites on the menu. Others include the roast beef sandwich and the mushroom Swiss burger. Although Chef Didier admits the items are “not what I had in France,” they do reflect his pioneering spirit.

Before opening Cyrano’s on the River Walk in 1999, one of the first venues in the area, he founded Cyrano’s on Wells in River North. Prior to that, he spent more than a decade cooking for some of the most popular French restaurants in Greater Chicago — including La Boehme and Yvette Wintergarden — as well as the world-renowned Michelle Garar restaurant in Southwestern France.

He came to America in 1986 to pursue a sous-chef position at Carlos in Highland Park, but was also motivated by the Hollywood Westerns he watched as a kid. “The movies inspired me,” he says.

“I was taken to a different world,” he remembers. “The country was so big, and the buildings… I love it at first sight and my love is still growing.”

At the time, American diners were expanding their pallets with a “gourmet mood” that Chef Didier found “quite exciting.” When Chicago banned foie gras in 2006, he continued to be “a big promoter” of the item and even suggested to Mayor Daley that the town be painted pink to celebrate the ban’s repeal two years later.

Today, his kitchen accommodates those with a taste for French cuisine by offering Salad Nicoise, traditional escargots and a trio of goat cheese with herbs.

In addition to the multicultural culinary enthusiasm, Chef Didier was also taken by the American work ethic. “If you want to work a little, you make a little,” he says. “You want to work a lot, hopefully you make a lot.”

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The garden at Cyrano’s on The River Walk. (photo: Daniel Patton.)

In keeping with that truism, he has fashioned Cyrano’s riverbank dining section to extend from a cluster of shade trees into a tent surrounded by flowers trained to grow those in Clade Monet’s garden. “That’s an English breed from the 1860s,” he says, pointing at a pink climbing rose. “He’s going to take over this space.”

The ambience has helped make Cyrano’s one of the most popular locations along the river. It is also a source of pride for Chef Didier, who insists that, “I’ve paid my dues.” But it is not the only reason that he has remained in the area for so long.

“I find my love,” he says. “I got married in 1990 to a nice Jewish girl from Highland Park.”

Chef Didier’s wife Jamey is a sommelier who handles Cyrano’s wine selection. “She has great taste,” he says. “We have about six rosés by the glass and wine in the bottle from all over the world: some from Spain and New Zealand, and some from Australia.”

She has also helped expand Cyrano’s workforce.

“We have a daughter called Simone,” says the chef. “She’s actually helping me with the business here.”

Simone is not only an excellent addition to the business, he explains, but also a natural-born Franco foodie.

“She loves rack of lamb. She loves oysters,” he says. “My God, she is not vegetarian.”

His mother would be proud. She taught Chef Didier the first recipe he ever cooked, an apple tart baked with a secret ingredient. “In the dough,” he says, “she was putting a little duck fat.”

Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Lunchtime cookout in the New Eastside

Conveniently located in the heart of the New Eastside at the courtyard just outside Mariano’s second floor, the Summer Patio Grill has become a popular lunchtime destination.

If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can enjoy the wonderful barbecue aroma from many blocks away. It is quickly becoming an event for locals and business folks who gather for lunch.

The atmosphere is alive and fun. Despite the restaurant’s popularity, the lines are never long because the grill specialist keeps things moving. Truth be told, waiting in line a little bit is not so bad, because you see your food cooking on the grill and you can smell that delicious aroma.

IMG_7600webThe grilling usually starts around 11:00a.m. and continues till 1:30p.m. every weekday (weather permitting).

To keep things interesting, the menu rotates throughout the week. Monday is cheeseburger day, Tuesday is grilled chicken, Wednesday is the steak sandwich, Thursday is Italian sausage, and Friday marks a return to burgers.

Condiments and trimmings are available and all sandwiches come with chips and drink included.

The patio seating is ample and loaded with lovely views of New Eastside greenery and people. Takeout is available for those on the go.

So next lunchtime when you are hungry, just follow your nose to Mariano’s Summer Patio Grill.

Jon Cohn | Community Contributor

Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park

July beckons the return of Chicago’s largest food festival to Grant Park. The Taste of Chicago is a giant, sprawling smorgasbord, featuring an eclectic cross-section of the city’s culinary offerings.

When I first moved to Chicago in 2007, I was scared away from the festival by thoughts of standing in one long line after another in the heat, lost in a chaotic maze of food tents.

However, I have attended the last two Tastes, and I can happily report that the festival is well organized. Crowded, yes, but the lines move quickly and the servers keep the food coming.

There are also musical acts. The Roots and The Decemberists lead this year’s line-up, but the sheer magnitude of participating restaurants is the real draw.

cooked-chicken-clipart-chicken-food-clipartThe best part of the festival is the odd array of mismatched menu items. Every tent includes entrees and samplers. It’s like a bizarre tapas experience.

My meal consisted of bourbon chicken sliders, pierogies, churros, ox tails, pizza, barbecue, potstickers, gelato and ginger snap s’mores. I can’t think of a single restaurant in which that would be considered dinner, but at Taste of Chicago, it worked.

After a while, the restaurants become a blur, and I happily strolled from one tent to the next, wondering what peculiar culinary pairing I could pull off next. And when I was out of tickets, I stumbled back to nearby Lakeshore East in a delicious food coma.

The Festival is July 6 – 10. And I really hope those ginger snap s’mores are back.

Matthew Reiss | Community Contributor

Café Michelle on DuSable Harbor

New Eastsiders looking for a friendly new neighborhood haunt with tasty and comforting food and drink can rejoice! Whispers / Café Michelle, owned by Nimer “Tiger” Alia, recently opened in the charming and highly coveted space that Friendship Restaurant previously occupied.

Alia opens his café here after hosting countless loyal regulars at his famed “Whispers Café” in Mariano Park in the Gold Coast. His attention is now focused on becoming the place where locals pop in for morning coffee and breakfast afternoon gelato with a side of friendly conversation.

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Owner Nimer “Tiger” Alia

With a perpetual smile and a welcoming vibe, Alia’s dedication to the local crowd is obvious. “I really care for the neighbors,” says Alia. “I want to provide the best service I can, and make this place a neighborhood hangout.”

The menu boasts rich and bold flavors of creamy gelato. They’re all delicious, but you may want to try the Banana Caramel Praline or the Toasted Coconut Almond Fudge if you’re stymied by the many tantalizing options.

Opening at of 8 a.m. seven days a week, you can start your day with coffee or a healthy drink from the juice bar. “Everything is made fresh,” says Alia. “It’s all fruits and vegetables.” There is also an extensive food menu with fresh calamari, Philly sandwiches, and specials that appear every weekend. The café is open until 9 p.m.

Alia’s future plans include hosting a weekend brunch with an omelet station that makes everything from scratch. “Fresh ingredients,” he says, “And under twenty dollars.”

Café Michelle, named after Alia’s wife, promises to appeal to locals and visitors with healthy and happy food next to a stunning view of the lake and the bobbing boats in DuSable Harbor.

Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Island Party Hut adds a fleet of fun to Chicago River Walk

“When you think about it, there’s nothing like this in the city,” says Mark Stern, one of three founding partners of the Island Party Hut on the Chicago River Walk. “A tiki bar on the water. What a perfect thing to do.”

Now in its second year, the Island Party Hut is a bar and restaurant in a bamboo-topped yellow shipping container. It’s attached to a wooden deck, which is next to a riverfront lawn where guests lounge in Adirondack chairs and play outdoor games.

IMG_1757a“We’ve got giant checkers and we’re going to add bocce ball and the Bimini ring game,” Stern says. “It’s where you toss the ring and try to hook it on a hook. It’s very contagious.”

Besides offering a menu that includes grilled shrimp with tamarind cocktail sauce and the spicy “Rastafarian” Jamaican jerk chicken wrap, the venue also features live music. Regular performers include Vincent the Jamaican One-Man Band, who Jenny-the-bartender describes as “amazing,” and Samuel Wyatt, who fronts a group “that plays ‘Sweet Caroline’ and all those feel-good tunes.”

When it comes to rum, Mixologist “Z” transforms the spirit into a tropical daydream. After arriving from the British Virgin Island of Jost Van Dyke last year, he introduced the Painkiller, a specialty that was invented “in a little place called the Soggy Dollar.” A mix of dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and Coco Lopez, it’s topped off with ground nutmeg straight from the islands, adding a flavor that “Z” describes as “a cross between nutmeg and fresh cocoa.”

IMG_9394web2For those who like to get nautical, the Hut is also home to the river dock of Island Party Boats, the establishment’s sister operation. Founded in 2012 by the same partners who own the bar, it is a fleet of ten 6- to 65-foot pleasure cruisers available for rent.

This year’s additions include the Ohana, a 35-foot Gemini Catamaran, and the Island Time, a 65-foot, 90-passenger Skipperliner that includes two bars, a 58-seat dining room and enough space on deck for 40 people.

To maximize the good times without sacrificing safety, the company employs nearly a dozen captains who have earned 100-ton licenses. “I don’t think you can run a boat business without having someone who knows boats,” says partner Steve Majerus, who earned the captonial distinction four years ago. The expertise came in handy when the company transported the 65-footer on the voyage from its former home in St. Petersburg.

IMG_1798b2-01“We did one day of man-overboard drills and training on the boat and then we headed out,” says partner and captain Joey Koronkiewicz. He and a crew of five handled the first leg of the journey through the Gulf of Mexico, then switched out to allow the company’s other captains and crews to complete the 1,790-mile trek over four rivers and one lake enroute to Chicago.

For most of the trip, the seas were friendly, although they did kick up a storm in the Intracoastal Waterway near Pensacola. “There were like six to eight foot waves,” Koronkiewicz remembers. “She’s not meant for that, so we couldn’t power through it.”

After consulting a map, he says, “we heaved to and went to the nearest sand bar, which was breaking the waves.”

When the work was done, the crew relaxed with Skinny Pirates, a river worthy cocktail of Diet Coke and Captain Morgan.

Island Party Hut:
355 Chicago Riverwalk · (312) 600-0488 · www.islandpartyhut.com

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Maggie Daley Park restaurant update

Grant Park Conservancy President Bob O’Neill describes
the current challenges and future success of the eatery expected to open in 2017.

The original design for Maggie Daley Park excluded a restaurant because the city wanted to make sure that people liked the place before adding brick and mortar to it. Now that the Pritzker Pavilion and the Bean and the Lurie Garden have proven their ability to attract worldwide attention, a dining establishment is on its way. Bob O’Neill, President of the Grant Park Conservancy, explains the challenges and the potential of turning it into reality.

“It’s a risky venture,” he says. “The vendor had to pay for the building.”

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Rendering of Maggie Daley Park restaurant by Space Architects + Planners

This is just one of the hurdles facing the Chicago restaurant group that ultimately decided to jump and, last month, received approval to move forward by the city’s Planning Commission.

Others include the notion that people don’t go to parks in the wintertime and that the restaurant’s designated location, a former bus turnaround near Columbus and Monroe, is too far off the beaten path.

But O’Neill is confident that Chicago’s current renaissance can help the restaurant overcome those obstacles.

“Maggie Daley Park is wildly successful,” he explains. “This is actually going to work.”

There is plenty of evidence to support his optimism. Immediately south of Maggie Daley Park, the area once recognized largely as the place where they held Blues Fest and Taste of Chicago has become the home of Lollapalooza, Draft Town, and a winding museum campus. The streets surrounding it are boasting new upscale restaurants and breathtaking hi-rise developments. An innovative Green Fitness Space and, with any luck, the George Lucas Museum will follow.

O’Neill also believes that the restaurant’s design by Chicago’s Space Architects + Planners will blend seamlessly with the nature that surrounds it. The glass-walled, grass-topped structure, he explains, is “like an extension of the park, which is really cool because when you’re in the park, you don’t actually see a building.” It will also complement the modern wing of the Art Institute across the street.

When it opens, the restaurant will offer seating for 120 people inside and 240 people outside. According to O’Neil, “it will really open people to the idea of how interesting and great it is to eat in a really green setting.”

If all goes according to plan, the restaurant should be completed early next year. For O’Neill, it will mark a satisfying conclusion to a long journey.

“When I was growing up, everybody used to talk about Tavern on the Green in Central Park,” he remembers.

“We’re getting more of that. We have this great city. If you do it well, you’ll have this great restaurant.”

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Columbus Tap gastropub coming to Fairmont Chicago

The Fairmont Chicago hotel is opening a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Aria. Columbus Tap aims to tap into the microbrew trend, competing with nearby gastropubs like The Gage near Millennium Park. Just in time for spring, Columbus Tap will offer carry-out food for those attending outdoor events such as movies and concerts in the park.

Drawing from Chicago’s rich beer legacy, the restaurant’s new central bar showcases a selection of microbrews from local breweries, according to a press release from Zapwater Communications.

Leading the culinary team is Chef Atticus Garant, who has worked on other Fairmont projects and has created a menu filled with seasonal and regional ingredients, designed to complement the beer offerings.

TAPWEB01Menu items include shareable snacks, salads, sandwiches, and main plates such as rotisserie chicken served with mashed potatoes, pan drippings, and seasonal vegetables. A signature dish, Whiskey Honey Ham Hock, is a Porchetta sandwich with chimicurrri, cracklings, and roasted garlic mayonnaise. Burgers are made with eight-ounce prime chuck beef patties. A special burger, The Upgrade, is made with a blend of short rib, chuck, and brisket. Along with the standard chicken wings and pretzels, the menu features an Animal Crackers snack, which is made with pork cracklings and a secret spice dust.

The drink selection at the 120-seat restaurant and bar features 16 draft beers from local breweries and a selection of seasonal cocktails. The bar will also offer an elevated beer-and-shot pairing menu.

Mid-19th Century architectural elements, such as blackened steel finishes and saloon-style brass chandeliers, are highlighted throughout. Lounge-style leather seating and a large communal table encourage a convivial and casual ambiance for diners looking to escape the bustle of downtown.

11:30 a.m.to Midnight, Mon-Fri

200 N Columbus Dr. · (312) 565-8000 · www.columbustap.com

— Shanti Nagarkatti

I Love Sushi is a Pedway favorite

I Love Sushi, a cafe serving Japanese and Korean cuisine in the Pedway underneath 233 N. Michigan Ave., has been igniting tastebuds for nearly twelve years with its unique brand of Asian-American cuisine.

“I’ve been coming here since I started working upstairs about two years ago,” says an architect in the building. “I’ve tried a bunch of other places, but this place always beats them on taste, flavor and craftsmenship.”

Among the most popular and innovative dishes on the menu is a flame-broiled maki called the “Fire Roll.”

IMG_8621b-01Filled with crab and topped with a crunchy spinach, the entree lives up to its name by including a sub-layer of shrimp that is bruleed with a special blue-flamed torch right before customers’ eyes.

“I bring all my clients here,” says a buyer from Hearst Publishing. “They love it. The Fire Roll’s the best.”

Owner Julie Chung opened I Love Sushi eleven years ago, after immigrating to Chicago from Osaka, Japan, where she spent nearly two years learning the art of sushi from an authentic Japanese chef.

“In Japan, they’re not that much into using sauce,” she says. “In America we use a lot of sauces, but I love it.”

Besides serving customers in the six buldings connected to the Pedway corridor, Chung’s restaurant also caters for business and private events.

Athough she opened a dry cleaning business in the area before founding I Love Sushi, she explains that the restaurant perfectly suits her passion.

“I like eating,” she says.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Houlihan’s shutters downtown location

By Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

Houlihan’s announced last month that it has closed its downtown location on Upper Wacker Drive, in the Illinois Center.

The reason for the closure was not immediately clear. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” the restaurant posted on its Facebook page, “We have closed our doors for good and want to thank each and every one of you for all the great memories.”

Leawood Kansas-based Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc. still operates six suburban Illinois locations in Algonquin, Geneva, Naperville, Orland Park, Park Ridge, and Wheaton. A sign posted on a locked door invited patrons to visit these other outposts.

Long a feature on the Pedway’s dining map, Houlihan’s appeared to have been doing a thriving business for breakfast buffets, happy hours, and everything in between in the weeks and days leading up to the closure. During spring and summer, a sidewalk patio provided a prime vantage point for people-watching and enjoying a beverage or two. Its proximity to nearby hotels and offices ensured a steady stream of foot traffic. The establishment was highlighted in this publication as a Thanksgiving dinner option for diners who wanted to leave the food preparation and dishwashing to someone else.

Among the patrons surprised by the restaurant’s closure is Josh Tamlin. “The food was always good and they had great deals. The decor was pretty cool, with an awesome fish tank up front and plenty of TVs to watch sporting events,” he said.

A glance through the windows reveals a vacant, darkened interior with stacks of tagged, numbered dishware; kitchen items; dining room furnishings; and miscellaneous odds and ends that are going up for auction on January 6, 2016. Also on the auction block is a variety of memorabilia, including a football signed by Mike Ditka, a Marilyn Monroe bust, RCA Nipper statue, a seven-foot-long wooden swordfish, and several vintage metal signs.

Bob King Auctions, specializing in commercial auctions, appraisals, and liquidation services, has posted a list of auction items, with photos, on its website. Anyone who wishes to take part in the auction must register and provide a bidder’s card and $200 refundable cash deposit. No one under sixteen years of age is allowed on the premises for safety reasons.

Plans for the former Houlihan’s space are unknown at press time. The company could not be reached for comment.

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