On our last dispatch from Chicago, we’re posting about our great brunch at GT Fish & Oyster, a nice surprise with CH Distillery, and some quintessentially Chicago hot dog and Italian beef sandwiches from Max’s Takeout in the Loop.
Our last post toured some of the One Off Hospitality Group’s establishments. With this post, we end with The Boka Restaurant Group, headed by Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, which includes Boka, Balena, Girl & the Goat and Little Goat in their empire. We decided to eat brunch at GT Fish & Oyster, their two and a half year old seafood-themed restaurant helmed by Executive Chef Giuseppe Tentori, who also serves as head chef at Boka where he earned a Michelin star. Their menu is typically comprised of “half-traditional, half modern” seafood fare that changes seasonally, but as their name suggests, they always have a selection of oysters.
They offer a Bloody Mary made with vodka that comes with a shrimp garnish. That sounded tempting, but the version with bourbon that comes with a pickled quail egg sounded more like our style (Stu’s bloody mary mix, Benchmark Bourbon, bacon, pickled quail egg). It was peppery and satisfying as a brunch-time cocktail:
To test out half of their namesake, we also started with half a dozen freshly shucked oysters:
We also had to try their Pork Belly Sliders spiced with kimchi and peanuts. The crispy pork belly “patty” was decadently rich, and the kimchi helped to cut back the fattiness. It would be easy to make a meal of a few sliders, but alas we needed to try other menu items:
The fried egg-topped Chilaquiles came studded with tender pieces of duck. Flavored with salsa verde and queso fresco, the dish was cooked to perfection, as the tortilla chips still had a little bit of crunch:
Pork Belly came in another form as open faced sandwich. Topped with a fried egg, the sandwich also came stuffed with avocado, burrata cheese, lettuce and tomato. A mound of thick string fries and house pickles accompanied the tasty brunchwich:
Intrigued by the Biscuits and Lobster Gravy item, this seafood update of the Southern staple is equally as rich as its traditional cousin. A decadently rich lobster bisque lightly flavored with tarragon enveloped the potato and carrot “hash.” The flaky and buttery biscuits with a poached egg reminded us that despite the fact that this was a seafood dish, it was in no way healthy:
Apart from the oysters and sliders, the brunch and lunch items are all entree-sized portions, whereas they tend to focus on smaller shareable plates for dinner service. We’ll have to make a point to try other restaurants in the Boka group, or even to try GT Fish & Oyster for an evening meal and drinks when we return to Chicago. Set in a sexy environment with a boomerang-shaped bar, we could easily see coming back for more.
As we were walking back to our hotel after our meal at The Publican, a view of some shiny beautiful distillation stills through a window caught our attention. Looking like giant wind instruments, we were surprised to find out that a craft cocktail bar was attached to the distillery. Thus began our discovery of CH Distillery:
As Chicago’s only distillery cocktail bar, we had to come and try some of their spirits. They offer tastings of the five different kinds of spirits that they make at the distillery, all made from grains grown in Illinois: Vodka, Key Gin, London Dry Gin, Whiskey and Rum. The whiskeys and rums were still barrel aging; we skipped the vodka and asked to taste both of the gins. We noted that the Key Gin had a slight citrus flavor while the London Dry exhibited more of the juniper and herbal flavor:
Both were good enough that even though we were already several drinks into the evening, we had to order one more as a “nightcap.” Bringing local drinking to a new level, all of their cocktails are made exclusively with their spirits. Perusing their offering of about ten different classic and original drinks, we ordered the very refreshing The Eastern Empress (CH London Dry Gin, cucumber, simple syrup, lemon, soda) and a Cease and Desist (Lapsang Suchon infused CH London Dry Gin, ginger, honey, lemon):
The light bar provides just enough brightness for to the relaxed lounge atmosphere of CH Distillery. Both of the drinks were great, and we probably would have stayed for another round except that we still needed to stumble our way back to the hotel. They also offer a food menu with items meant to pair with their cocktails (nuts, caviar, cheese, charcuterie). CH Distillery is now on our radar and we’ll have to do the full experience some day.
We were OK to skip the deep dish pizza since we have found some good ones in San Francisco; however, we couldn’t leave Chicago without eating one of their famous hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches. Lucky for us, we noticed Max’s Takeout nearby which helped fulfill the last of our Chicago eating desires. Max’s is a small shoebox-sized greasy joint where made-to-order burgers and dogs are grilled behind the register. Despite its name, there are a few stools set along a small counter along the wall, and eating in is highly suggested since you want to consume these items while they are hot.
An Italian beef sandwich contains thin slices of roast beef, usually stored in its dripping, served on an Italian roll. Probably named after the bread and not the country, it originated in Chicago possibly all the way back in the 1930s. The bread is dipped (or double-dipped) into the juices that the meat is cooked and stored in, before being topped off with pickled giardiniera (“hot”) or grilled green and red bell peppers (“sweet”). Available as just the Italian beef with Provolone cheese, it can usually be accompanied by an Italian sausage to make a combination sandwich — which, naturally, is how we ordered it at Max’s with hot giardiniera:
We also ordered a Chicago Hot Dog decked out with everything: mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes, spicy sport peppers, pickle spear and a dusting of celery salt. The steamed Vienna Beef dog was delicious and sated our craving:
This bring us to the end of our posts about Chicago (for now anyway).
Until next time …
Gentle reminder from a fellow member of the food/drink/birthday odyssey, we did in fact have Chicago deep dish pizza at The Medici in Hyde Park (here is a recent write-up: http://chicago.seriouseats.com/2013/11/the-medici-on-57th.html). I think what BarFly1 meant is that we didn’t hit any of the big name downtown places, but rather descended into one of the neighborhoods (*my* neighborhood) to get the true experience. Note to non-Chicagoans (n.b. Anthony Bourdain): don’t ever call it a “pie”!!!
One other comment (and plug): I had had my eye on Max’s Take Out for a few years (since I have an awesome nephew named Max), but the Italian beef/sausage combo that I grew up with was at Morry’s Deli, also in Hyde Park. We didn’t get a chance to compare them side-by-side on this trip, but I would say it’s rather hard to go wrong at either location–go eat both menus.
Great set of posts on Chicago, thanks for letting me come along for the ride, it was a memorable journey.
Thanks so much for being part of the party and also reminding us about the deep fisher we had at the Medici. We may still have to refer to it as a pie, especially since the Chicago version is pretty close to an actual pie! I am sure there will be more trips to your hood in the future where a side-by-side Italian beef can be compared. It’s yet another item to look forward to in a return trip to the Windy City.