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."
"Did I like it? Do you want to get slapped? I loved it."
That was one diner's response to Ted Brunson, the host of America's Best Bites, when asked about whether or not he enjoyed Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse's signature dish, the Entrana. This South American take on skirt steak is downright beloved by some Chicagoans. One such guest admitted to living above one of the city's most iconic steakhouses, only to find himself trekking over to Las Tablas whenever he gets a craving for steak. The thinnish strip is scored along its generous length, allowing it to absorb the super-secret eight-spice blend that's rubbed into it—only two people know the recipe. It is then served on a warmed metal plate that rests upon a wooden slab (a "tablas"), as are many of the restaurant's other dishes.
Considering how much they've been through to get to this point—including an uprooting from Colombia in the 1980s and a fire—it's probably a relief for the Suarez family that their recipes are so revered. It also helps that their menu is refreshingly simple, yet flexible. There are a few beef dishes, a few chicken dishes, a few pork dishes, and so on, but guests can also order a combinaciones, which allows them to pair two proteins of their choice. The Entrana and shrimp make a classic match, though options such as baby octopus and pork loin lend themselves to more creative pairings. Vegetarians need not feel left out, either, as there's a veggie platter, 100% meatless napkins, and a paella that blends spiced rice, beans, yuca, plaintains, and potatoes. Those starches reappear throughout the menu, and are served with most entrees.
If you're inspired by the Suarez family's cooking, you can try to recreate the recipes at home with their new product line of sauces and seasonings.
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Shop the Women in Business collection.
The Millionaire Monk and Berry Bonds aren’t characters on some wildly eccentric daytime soap. They're just two of the cheeky names Peeled's owners have given to the juices, smoothies, booster shots, and breakfast blends that pack the shop's beverage-heavy menu of healthy treats. Baristas versed in the art of hand-blending drinks make a range of beverages to-order from local and organic ingredients. The staff never adds sugars or chemicals to bulk up flavors or appease mad scientists’ taste buds. For customers looking for an especially salutary experience, the shop can supply enough juice for three-, five-, or seven-day juice cleanses that detoxify the body and bolster the immune system.
The juice spot's Evanston and Lincoln Park stores are both eco-friendly on the inside. The staff also keeps the juice bar's carbon footprint low by composting their fruit and vegetable matter.
I Survived My Very First Juice Cleanse Follow along as Favin the Maven, Groupon's beauty blogger, documents her three-day juice cleanse with Peeled.
Everything You Need to Know About Green Juice Health coach, yoga instructor, and all-around healthy person Katarina Arneric tells us what you need to make green juice at home and how it stacks up nutrition-wise against salad.
Treat your gastrointestinal tract to a tasty glass of richly blended healthlisciousness. Today's side deal gets you four drinks or wholesome bowls from Protein Bar for $10, a $24 value. A proper breakfast of fruit, grain, and protein will help you discover that hidden superpower that's been lying dormant under a pile of doughnuts and danishes.
When Salvatore Ferrara first arrived to Chicago in 1900, he earned a living using the pastry- and candy-making skills he had acquired in his home country of Italy. Within a few years, Salvatore opened Original Ferrara Bakery, an Italian bakery that gained popularity during the formative years of Taylor Street's Little Italy neighborhood. The bakery became especially well-known for its candies, which eventually branched out into a second business, Ferrara Pan Candy Company, the manufacturer of perennial favorites such as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. In the meantime, Sal's wife Serafina nurtured the bakery, maintaining its reputation as she became known in the neighborhood as "the Angel of Halsted Street." And though the area has seen rampant transformation over the last century, Original Ferrara Bakery still stands, delighting patrons with its renowned candies and pastries.
Now in its third generation of Ferrara ownership, the Original Ferrara Bakery is run by Sal and Serafina's grandchildren who continue to adhere to their family's original practices. They use all-natural ingredients to create signature items such as cannoli cake--rum-soaked layers of fresh strawberries, Italian custard, and cannoli cream--as well as elaborately tiered wedding cakes, and bite-sized indulgences such as petit fours and Italian butter cookies. Over the years, a lunch menu has been added to the mix, offering options including Neapolitan-style pizza and chicken parmigiana.
The Chicago Sun Times has described Al Dente's founder, chef Javier Perez, as "the James Brown of the kitchen, which is to say he might just be the hardest-working dude in chow business." Perez did not earn this moniker overnight, however. In 1990, after moving to Chicago from Mexico City, he got his first job in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at Tuttaposto, under the James-Beard-Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano. After cutting his culinary teeth on fresh Italian dishes and moving up through the kitchen ranks, he then went on to hone his cooking skills in the kitchens of high-profile Chicago restaurants including MK Restaurant and Michelin-starred Spiaggia, finally rising to sous chef at Cibo Matto at the Wit.
Since co-founding Al Dente with his wife of 23 years, Maria, Perez has not rested on his hard-earned culinary laurels. Instead, he continues to experiment with seasonal ingredients when crafting his rotating menu of Italian, French, and Mexican inspired cuisine. Perez adds a twist to traditional spaghetti with his wild-boar ragout and brings out the savory, fresh flavors of watermelon with feta cheese, parsley, mint, and citrus vinaigrette.
Avocado-hued walls and brown-linen napkins create an earthy atmosphere in the dining room to complement the fresh produce featured in the dishes. Alternatively, patrons may opt to sip bottles of wine toted from home on the outdoor patio.