Though its display case is stocked with artisan cheeses, housemade pastrami, and chicken salad, City Provisions is more than a deli. Cleetus Friedman, the friendly face behind the counter, oversees City Provisions's day-to-day operations, which include butchering meats in-house, assembling sandwiches, stocking shelves with groceries, and serving seasonal brunch and dinner. Local vendors supply the 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant with sustainably sourced ingredients that pour into its house-roasted meats and housemade dressings, mayos, and charcuterie. Aside from its storefront offerings, City Provisions is known for its catering services and farm dinner experiences, the latter of which snagged a "Best Of" award from CBS Chicago in 2011. Each prix fixe dinner journeys to a local farm, and often a local brewery, where patrons tour the facilities and enjoy cocktails, transportation, and a multi-course meal sourced directly from farm-to-table.
Conn's Cafe & Catering Inc.'s professionally uniformed wait staff and executive chefs furnish festivities with a comprehensive menu of entrees, buffet packages, barbecue fare, and boxed lunches. The full-service company provides tables, chairs, linens, tableware, and invitations, offering customers reprieve from the stresses of party planning and additional time to perfect their chicken dance. A catering coordinator can counsel guests on décor, entertainment, and locations, and licensed and insured bartenders are available to distribute pours of champagne and spirits. In addition to the standard and seasonal menus, the caterers can also furnish Indian, Thai, Cajun, Middle Eastern and Mexican fare, as well as thematic decorations.
Villa Palermo's catering experts have graced banquet halls and dinner tables with Italian-American classics and Delta eats for more than 40 years. Many of the dishes are easy to share, including pizzas that quell cravings with more than 22 toppings and crust styles ranging from crispy thin to cheese-stuffed. Chefs stew mouthwatering tomato, Marsala wine, and butter sauces to coat noodles and chicken before trips to the table and blanket themselves for chilly walks home. Barbecue and buckets of fried seafood reflect a different culinary tradition, but boast the same reputation as hearty crowd-pleasers. The staff of event planners attends to non-edible details for up to 300 guests.
Today's Groupon frees you from the daunting decisions of canned-soup shelves with cheap, fast, home-cooked meals delivered to your door by Dinner by Design–Glenview. The healthy, well-prepared food saves days of mulling in the spice aisle, sobbing over chopped onions, scrubbing burnt rice off pans, and bleaching the mixing spoon.
Before moving to Chicago, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh began their culinary careers in New York as a way to support themselves while they looked for work as actors. It wasn’t their acting that brought the duo to stardom, however. Against odds of 10,000 to 1, they sent a tape into the Food Network and, to their surprise, became the first-ever winners of the Next Food Network Star contest, landing their own show on the cable channel. That success enabled them to grow their catering business’s small café into a full-fledged restaurant serving up brunch, lunch, and dinner.
"Our focus is on what we love, which is mid-century food and the American culture of dining, and that kind of collective memory we have . . . taking those recipes and updating them for a modern palate," Steve says. For example, they top sweet potatoes with black-thyme-pepper marshmallows and create corn dogs with rabbit sausage in red-velvet butter. Steve says that they love creating conversation at their tables, especially as guests reminisce about memories evoked by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole and their Hearty mac ‘n’ cheese. "For Dan and I, that's a major part of the dining experience," he says. "If we can get their heads moving as well as their mouths, we feel pretty successful." Their efforts have paid off. "The duo is making magic by keeping it simple," said Phil Vettel in a review on WGN. "There's at least one wow ingredient on every plate. A simple burger is brightened with triple-cream cambozola cheese, sugar-cured bacon, and garlic aioli. Bacon-wrapped shrimp arrives on a pile of wonderful white cheddar grits . . . It's fun and delicious."
Dan heads the kitchen, while Steve forges many of the signature cocktails, aiming to discourage the intimidation that often surrounds craft cocktails. He and Dan even authored a book whose 200+ drink recipes include every cocktail made at Hearty, proving that everyone can make the drinks at home. Steve's even been known to chat up tables in hopes of introducing them to a new drink. "It's amazing, the amount of people who don't think they drink gin—so I have to force them," Steve says. "Once you have a gin that is different than that gin that you drank in the 1980s that was so harsh and juniper-heavy, once you're having one of these new American gins along with just simple fresh citrus and the other spirits… you understand what the fuss is about." He's also curated an exclusively American wine list with bottles from unexpected sources—including Dr. Frank's Salmon Run rkatsiteli from the Finger Lakes in New York, which he calls "floral and highly acidic . . . Everybody loves it."
Noon O Kabab has deep roots in both Iran and Chicago. Amin Naghavi and his son opened the restaurant in Albany Park in 1997?when it was about a third of its current size?and brought along Iranian family recipes that dated back decades, such as a dish of lightly marinated salmon conceived by Naghavi's father 70 years ago. They also brought along spices from Iran, and they continue to import them today to give authentic flavor to kababs of chicken breast (joujeh barg) and rib eye (chenjeh), whose marinade is kept secret.
Persian cuisine is well known for its facility with vegetables and herbs, and vegetarians find a wealth of options at Noon O Kabab. The staff and the Chicago Reader both recommend the eggplant-and-yogurt spread kashk-e-bademjan, topped with caramelized onions. Other dishes mix in sweet-and-sour fruits, such as pomegranate mushrooms and shirin polo, or "sweet rice," studded with orange-peel marmalade, pistachios, and Persian barberry. Bastani, Persian ice cream, comes in unexpected flavors including saffron and espresso mocha.
Over the years, Noon O Kabab's decor has evolved toward the modern and upscale without losing its distinctly Persian flavor. Adding it to its list of "charming" restaurants, ViaMichelin described the room as "nicely accented by walls painted with colorful murals." On other walls, Persian tiles tell the stories of old Sufi fables and ancient cooking shows, while Persian music sidewinds through the air.