I knew, growing up, that pastrami should be thick-cut. This, even though I lived far from anywhere you’d want to eat a pastrami sandwich. Northern Virginia doesn’t have many delis, at least not the type that would carefully brine, boil, and smoke their own meats. I can count the pastrami sandwiches I’ve eaten in my lifetime on one hand. My father, a native New Yorker, described the Real Deli Pastrami the way other dads would tell you a bedtime story. It would have richly spiced, tender beef with a little fat at the edges, hand-cut into thick, juicy slabs. It should be stacked several inches thick on rye bread, and served with a side of kosher pickles. Anything less was unsatisfactory. "The first time I had [thin-sliced pastrami], I tried to send it back,” Dad told me recently. “I thought they'd given me corned beef." So I was a little surprised by my pastrami sandwich at Dillman’s in Chicago. At a restaurant that’s inspired by traditional Jewish delis, you expect the food to be…well, traditional. But here, the pastrami meat was thin-sliced and lean, with no visible fat. The bread, too, was unusual. The chefs use a rye so light and fluffy that I was sure that when I picked it up, it would fall apart under the weight of the meat. I snapped a quick cell-phone shot for my dad to critique, imagining how his face would look as he scoffed. Then I took a bite. The meat was warm and melt-in-your-mouth tender, complementing the delicateness of the bread—which held up just fine. There was no mustard on the sandwich, which was just as well. The meat, with its mild smoky taste, had enough flavor on its own. The only accompaniment was a single pickle. I scarfed the sandwich down—well, most of it—much faster than I remembered being able to finish the more substantial pastramis I’d tried before. I don't want to defy tradition, or to betray my dad’s childhood teachings. But I also can’t say that I wish Dillman’s pastrami was thicker. Those few well-placed slices turn a huge hunk of meat into something light and delicate that's an easier fit for my diet. I may not have found a Chicago substitute for my dad’s favorite Carnegie Deli sandwich, but I do know where, next time he’s in Chicago, I want to take him for lunch. Top photo © Kari Skaflen <span id="__caret">_</span>Read More
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For most foodies, pumpkin is the quintessential taste of autumn. It starts with the first sips of a pumpkin latte and lingers to the last slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. But those nutmeg- and sugar-laden iterations aren’t the only forms that this fall flavor can take. At Chicago's Michelin-starred restaurant Longman & Eagle, Chef Jared Wentworth incorporates pumpkin into every course on the menu, using savory spice blends, exotic oils, and other ingredients to alter the taste. He shared with us tips for pumpkin dishes that are savory, sweet, and snacky, as well as some drinks to pair them up with. THE WHOLE PUMPKIN For Longman & Eagle, pumpkin flavors aren’t just to incorporate seasonal ingredients; it’s also just a way to clear their gardens. “The day after Halloween, we throw all of the old pumpkins out into the yard,” Wentworth said. “And usually those sprout up into a whole batch of new pumpkins the next year. So now we’re just trying to think of ways to use all these pumpkins we’ve got.” It isn’t hard for Wentworth and his staff to find new ways to use up their stash of pumpkins. “Our menu changes up to 26 times a year,” he said. “So when we take an ingredient, we usually do about 15 iterations of the same flavor.” He uses everything except the rind, using the smaller pie pumpkins for their sweeter, more vibrant flavor. While he says that canned pumpkin can be used in a pinch for baked goods, he recommends buying and roasting your own pumpkins for savory dishes. THE SAVORY Most of Chef Wentworth’s pumpkin dishes fall on the savory side of the spectrum. “Last year we did a really good pumpkin risotto with duck confit,” he said. “It’s hard to think about when it’s 100 degrees outside, but this year we’ll probably end up using it in things like savory custard and even making pumpkin pickles for garnishes.” He eschews the classic mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and instead seasons his dishes with a blend of 32 Arabic spices called ras el hanout, which translates to “top of the shelf.” Once the pulp is blended, the creaminess of the resulting roasted pumpkin easily lends itself to sauces. Wentworth recommends using it in bisques, risottos, ravioli, or his personal favorite, pumpkin and chanterelles. And to compound autumn flavors, he sometimes even creates fall-centric dishes such as pumpkin elotes served with pickled cranberries. THE SWEET The secret to Wentworth’s pumpkin sweets isn’t sugar, and sometimes it isn’t even roasted pumpkin. It’s pumpkin-seed oil. He tops donuts with a pastry cream anglaise sauce made with pumpkin, or even just a simple splash of pumpkin-seed oil to give it an earthy, pumpkin taste.Making your own oil would be extremely time-consuming, and not cost efficient, so instead he buys Austrian brands of pumpkin-seed oil from high-end olive-oil stores. He does create more traditional pumpkin recipes as well. He bakes different riffs on pumpkin breads for the daily brunch, incorporating different seasonal ingredients to play up fall flavors. THE SNACKS When a pumpkin gets cracked open, Wentworth won’t toss the seeds. Instead, he incorporates them into a variety of dishes. For the house pepitas, he and his team brine the seeds for a day and then rehydrate and fry them until they are crispy and salty. But they aren’t just in sweets. The chefs also fold them into desserts such as the pepitos brittle or as garnishes atop their donuts. THE DRINK PAIRINGS “Whenever I think of pumpkin drink pairings,” he said, “I think apple.” He recommends pairing both sweet and savory pumpkin dishes with spiced apple toddies. Those looking for less fall flavor—I can’t imagine why— should instead pair their dishes with Belgian white ales or bolder pinot noirs. Photo: © Clayton HauckRead More
When you live in the city that is home to Lollapalooza and restaurants such as Alinea and Next, it’s only natural to want to combine the two. That probably won’t happen anytime soon but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t rock out with your fork out.1. Uncommon Ground Lakeview Hidden amongst Cubs fans and country bars on Clark Street, is one of my favorite restaurants and spots for live music. If you’ve heard of Uncommon Ground, you probably know it for their menu of locally grown and sourced dishes. Maybe even the rooftop garden at their Edgewater location or their brand-new, 1st in Illinois, certified organic brewery. But did you know they also feature nightly acoustic music, mainly of the singer-songwriter variety? One suggestion: the performance space is intimate so make a reservation. Past performers include Jeff Buckley, Andrew Bird, The Frames and more.Music Calendar (http://www.uncommonground.com/pages/calendar/51.php) 2. Heartland Cafe/Red Line Tap Jump on the Red Line and head north to the Heartland Cafe and its sister venue, Red Line Tap. The Roger’s Park restaurant’s menu is on the wholesome side, with breakfast served all day. I say grab the buffalo burger and a side of cornbread - there are also plenty of vegetarian/vegan options too! After dinner, catch a show at the Red Line Tap. Whether its punk, funk or something in between, you can hear live music 7 nights a week. Shows are low-priced (sometimes free!) and the whiskey selection is fantastic. Events Calendar (http://www.redlinetap.com/events/)3. Havana If you think mojitos and music go hand in hand, Havana in River North is the spot for you. As the name suggests, the menu is full of Cuban food and has something for everyone - like Cuban sandwiches and steaks for meat lovers and Chiles Relleños for vegetarians. And don’t forget to order one of their exotic Caribbean cocktails or a mojito. After dinner, get in a little dancing thanks to awesome music from a live band. Check the music calendar (http://havanachicago.com/eventos/) before you go - bands don’t play every night. And be prepared for a loud and lively environment!4. Beat Kitchen When your name is Beat Kitchen, you either have a combination food/anger problem, or you are a combination restaurant/music venue. Located in Roscoe Village, off all the spots on my list, this is the only one with a real concert feel. Come early and grab a table to eat; then head to the back and stand to watch a show. The venue itself is on the small side, so grab tickets ahead of time if a band you really want to see is playing. As far as food goes, it’s a lot better than you’d expect. I recommend the quesadillas or a specialty pizza. Event Calendar (http://www.beatkitchen.com/calendar/)5. Bandera Bandera, in River East, is all about ambiance. Dim lighting, a view of Michigan avenue and live jazz music while you eat definitely set the mood. The music is second fiddle to the food here so come with an appetite. Portions are very generous. If, after your house-ground burgers or a Macho salad, you are still hungry, pat yourself on the back. Then order a Bandera-made ice cream sandwich.Extra: Lunch at Potbelly’sIf you’re just looking for a hot sandwich, a cup of soup and some jams from a local musician, then Potbelly’s should be your new lunch spot. Besides being known for their extensive secret menu, Potbelly also has a lengthy musician directory (http://www.potbelly.com/Company/MusicianDirectory.aspx). Don’t listen to your mom - playing (music) with your food is okay!Read More