By Daniel Patton | Staff Writer
The best way to enjoy a Chicago winter is to spend it in Cancun. If that’s not an option, a warm cocktail will do. From December to March, cocoas, coffees, toddies and teas ward off the Windy City chill and turn whipped cream into a blanket. Here’s a list of New Eastside recommendations for the next round.
McCormick & Schmick’s
Seafood & Steaks
McCormick & Schmick’s renowned dedication to natural ingredients takes the form of the fresh whipped cream dollops atop many of the selections of an after-dinner drink menu that bartender Rob Connaghan calls, “traditional across the board, outside of the Millionaire Coffee that you don’t see anywhere else.”
Millionaire Coffee combines the Irish cream and hazelnut flavors of Bailey’s and Frangelico with a “little bit of a boost,” says Connaghan.
Additional selections include one of the city’s most authentic Irish Coffees: a cup of joe with a shot of Jameson and a sugar cube; and the Spanish Coffee, which Connaghan recommends pairing with his favorite dessert, the Upside Down Candied Walnut Crust Apple Pie.
“The Tia Maria Liqueur and Korbel Brandy in the Spanish Coffee complement the cinnamon ice cream and apple pie,” he explains. “I have a hard time eating it less than once a week.”
All the coffees mix well with McCormick & Schmick’s award-winning happy hour, rated number one by USA Today, and into the evening.
“We do a really good job of getting it down to a cozier level,” Connaghan says. For anyone who wants to enjoy an entrée before hitting the sweet stuff, his current favorite is Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna.
1 E. Upper Wacker Dr · (312) 923-7226
Tavern & Grille
This hip Michigan Avenue restaurant is full of business people and tourists at lunchtime, but don’t let that fool you: when the sun goes down, the Sweetwater Tavern & Grille becomes a local joint where bartender Kevin Blake knows most of his customers by name. It’s so laid back, in fact, that there are no official warm seasonal drinks.
“We can make anything hot,” says General Manager Phil Miley. “We have a lot of whiskeys, so if you want to warm it up with a little whiskey — or scotch or bourbon — we got a healthy selection.”
The Sweetwater adds the heat of these higher-proof spirits into its regular specialty cocktails, which may come cold on the outside but go down warm on the inside. The Chi-Town Sipper is a combination of Bulleit Bourbon with Amaretto and Apple. The Blizzard Brisk adds Triple Sec and Lemon to Makers Mark. There are also 82 ales, beers, pilsners, stouts, lagers, porters and ciders to choose from.
The menu puts a thoughtful twist on bar favorites like the Mushroom Swiss burger, served with balsamic mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll, and traditional entrees like the Filet Mignon Trio, served with bleu cheese potato puree and grilled asparagus. Desserts include Peanut Butter Mousse Parfait and Baked Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. For anyone looking to enjoy the last course in liquid form, Sweetwater is happy to comply.
“We can always add a little Baileys or Kahlua to your hot chocolate,” says Miley.
225 N. Michigan Ave. · Chicago, IL 60601 · (312) 698-7111
The seasonal drink menu at Amuse is the result of a group effort inspired by the Swissôtel’s Santa Suite on the 43rd floor.
“We wanted to bring some festivity down to the lobby,” says Food and Beverage Manager Ben Quick.
The resulting lineup — including The Frosted Berry Combo, The Nutcracker, Jack Frost and Winter Mule — offers enough winter-themed flavors to last all season.
The crowd favorite is the Frosted Berry Combo made with black raspberry Belvedere with strawberry puree, cranberry and lime juice topped by frosted berries.
“It’s really delicious and easily consumable so you can down more than one,” says Quick.
The warm one of the bunch is The Nutcracker, a foamy base of steamed cream and Frangelico flavored with Rumchata, Amaretto and white chocolate. Quick recommends pairing it with the Hot Chocolate Panacotta, a chocolate gelatin combination that “forms like a pudding” and is topped with pistachio whipped cream prepared daily in the hotel’s pastry kitchen.
The dessert is just one of Chef Dan McGee’s recent contributions to the menu. Other new dishes include the spicy crab Rangoon, which Quick describes as “one of my favorites”; and the Vitality Burger, a black bean burger with avocado pico de gallo on an avocado brioche bun that is “light, delicious and sharable, especially after the heavy holiday meals.”
Of course, the food and drink are just a part of Amuse’s winter charm. “We have our fireplace and it’s just a really warm and comfortable and welcoming area,” says Quick. “Being in the lobby of the hotel, you get to sit and watch all the world pass you by and we really pride ourselves on our service.”
323 E. Upper Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60601 · (312) 565-0565
Filini bartender Ergys Dizdari created “something outside of the typical hot toddy routine” to keep customers warm this winter. The seasonal menu offers three selections made from two different ciders, a dash of exquisite bitters and dose of gin, bourbon or rum.
The “Twisted Earl” is a mug of hot cider infused with Earl Grey tea sweetened by honey syrup and orange bitters. The flavors melt into lemon-peel gin from Chicago’s Few Spirits with a steam that feels like a home kitchen.
“The Twisted Earl has a nice cider flavor,” says Surgical Instrument Designer and Aqua resident Doug Slomski. “Ergys recommended it as a seasonal drink and it is exactly what I was looking for.”
Additional selections include the Original Sin, a hot cider with pear and plum flavors, and the Sugarbush, which mixes Four Roses Bourbon with maple syrup and Angostura Bitters.
“It’s about warming up people and their spirits,” explains Dizdari, who crafted the collection with mingling in mind. With three years’ experience at the lounge, he knows that people like to walk around and explore the attractions in the award-winning Aqua Building. “It’s very inviting and cozy, especially with the fireplace and the lobby,” he says. “People also like to go to the art gallery down the hall.”
221 N. Columbus Dr. · (312) 477-0234
“Anyone who loves true Italian coffee would want to come to Caffé Rom,” says barista Victoria Weddington, “We’re the epitome of Italian Coffee.”
Indeed. The white leather barstools and vibrant colors in this sunny little nook are waiting for Sofia Loren to roll up on a Vespa. Offering several custom-ground multi-blend roasts and a variety of desserts including daily handmade gelato, Caffé Rom’s Mediterranean dedication is worthy of a Caesar.
This winter, peppermint is all the rage at the cafe, mixing into mocha, white mocha and a brownie that Weddington describes as “super gooey and delicious.” There are also a new eggnog gelato and, as always, the Cornetto, a buttery and flaky Italian pastry baked fresh every morning.
For the non-peppermint lover, Weddington notes that “white chocolate is super popular around the wintertime” and she is ready to wow customers with her expertise on the cappuccino machine.
“All the baristas here go through extensive training,” she explains. “Anywhere from six to fifteen months.” The most challenging aspect of the process, she says, is “Learning how to make the making espresso shot.” The greatest reward: “interacting with the customers” once it’s perfected.
So stop in at the Caffé across from Lakeshore East Park to catch some of the interaction. Or just relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Either way, Weddington promises that, “You get the feel of being inside a true Italian coffee shop.”
E. South Water St. · (312) 981-7766 www.cafferom.com