There were some things Gus left intact when he took the helm as owner of Wiener and Still Champion in 2005. He kept the name—voted into existence in 1982 by area grade-school children—and he has refused to change the standards for the all-beef hot dogs and fresh ground burgers that the establishment has been serving for more than 30 years.
Despite his dedication to preserving the past, Gus has integrated his own creative culinary vision into the menu. The additions separates this hot dog stand from most others of its ilk, as echoed by the Chicago Reader, who said, “In a city blessed with so many Vienna Beef hot dog stands, Wiener and Still Champion stands out.” Take, for instance, the dipping dogs—all-beef hot dogs hand-dipped in a freshly-made cornmeal batter, or the country fried bacon, a golden brown take on the beloved meaty strips with a crispiness perfectly tempered by an Argentine garlic and herb sauce. Deep-fried pickle chips, a vegetarian falafel burger, and double-fried French fries are more examples of the spin Gus has put on traditional hot dog stand fare.
Boltwood: A User’s Guide
Farm to Table | James Beard Award Semifinalist Chef | Seasonal Dishes and Drinks | Shareable Plates | Stumptown Coffee
Appetizer: Island Creek oysters, on ice or grilled
Shareable plate: beets with whipped blue cheese and pistachios
Main plate: hanger steak with shishito peppers, avocado puree, and pumpkin seeds
Dessert: fredonia grape sorbet
Drink: Tom Skilling with El Dorado five-year rum, ginger cordial, lime, and soda
Who’s Running Things
Brian Huston, 2015 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Huston is widely regarded as among the best farm-to-table chefs in the region, working for six years as Chef de Cuisine of The Publican before co-founding Boltwood.
John Kim, who established his knack for hospitality at nearby The Brothers K Coffeehouse before opening Boltwood with Huston.
Where to Sit:
Grab a spot by one of the windows, which look out onto the street and sidewalk. The nighttime is especially nice as the windows let the street and moonlight filter through.
If you enjoy seeing the chefs at work, sit near the open kitchen. You might see a whole yellowfin tuna get filleted.
When to Go:
When you fancy the menu. Boltwood’s chefs prefer their ingredients to be as seasonal as possible, getting them straight from local suppliers such as Slagel Family Farms whenever possible. It’s worth checking the online menu regularly, as it continually changes.
When you fancy the daily special, which can range from $1 oysters on Tuesdays to half-price cocktails on Thursdays. Like the menu, specials may change up regularly, too.
While You’re Waiting
Saunter over to the bar and watch all the work that goes into making a fresh, seasonal cocktail. You might pick up some tips to dazzle friends with.
See if you can guess the aromas emanating from the kitchen, which could be anything from house-smoked whitefish to freshly plucked petals for a flower salad.
Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are encouraged, which can be made online or over the phone.
The name, Boltwood, reflects to both Evanston and the founders’ vision. Boltwood was the name of the freshman wing at Evanston Township High School. The owners chose it because they believe it captures the energy and enthusiasm that comes at the start of a new journey.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Visit The Brothers K Coffeehouse to see where co-owner John Kim’s reputation for superb hospitality started (500 Main Street).
After: Amble over to Dawes Park, which offers well-manicured walkways along Lake Michigan that stretch up to the Northwestern campus (Davis and Sheridan).
Calling all peanut sauce lovers! Take a look at Siam Paragon's Thai-style menu, and sample the highly-rated dishes everyone's buzzing about.
Tired of the same healthy meals? Come to Siam Paragon for healthy, innovative eats.
Siam Paragon is one of the hippest BYOB spots in town.
Take your pick of beer, wine, or other beverages offered on this restaurant's menu.
Have a few picky young eaters in the family? Not a problem at this restaurant, where the food and ambience are perfect for family dining.
Sunny day plus appetite equals the perfect time to head to Siam Paragon.
Siam Paragon is a suitable restaurant for both large and small groups.
Make a reservation to ensure your table is ready when you are.
Not a popular place for dress-up dining, most Siam Paragon patrons come in casual attire.
This restaurant offers you the ultimate convenience — in-store seating, carryout, or delivery.
Catering is also available if you'd like to serve Siam Paragon's tasty dishes at your next party.
You find quick street parking or take advantage of valet services near Siam Paragon.
Siam Paragon is close to multiple parking options and public transportation.
Store your bike at a nearby rack and enjoy a bite to eat at Siam Paragon.
A mid-priced establishment, Siam Paragon offers meals that typically cost about $30 or less.
You can stop by at practically any time, since Siam Paragon serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
So if curry and peanut sauce is what makes you happy, make sure to try the much-talked-about Thai fare at Siam Paragon.
For Thai that steps up to the plate in an oh-so-casual setting, Siam Paragon is where you want to be.
If you're going to eat out, Thai food at Siam Paragon is the easy and fun choice.
If you're seeking some creative and tasty Thai food in the area, look no further than the highly-rated Siam Paragon.
If not-so-traditional fare is what you lean toward, don't hesitate to sample the ever-so-tasty Asian-fusion entrees at Siam Paragon.
So for casual Asian fare with a twist, the dishes at Siam Paragon will put a smile on your face.
If cooking isn't on the agenda, the perfect pie awaits you at Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, where customers praise the pizza like no other.
Give your stomach a break and try some of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria's gluten-free or low-fat items.
Complete your meal with the perfect glass of wine or beer from this pizzeria's drink list.
Bring the whole family to this pizzeria, where kiddos are welcomed with open arms.
Enjoy the beautiful weather while you chow down — with outdoor seating, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is a great summer destination.
Don't like waiting to be seated? Make a reservation whether it's just you or the whole group.
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria's dress code is casual — diners are welcome to dress up (or down) to their comfort level.
Throwing a big party? Count on Lou Malnati's Pizzeria to provide top-notch catering with the same great dishes you love.
Place an order for pickup or schedule a delivery — the pizzeria makes it easy to enjoy your meal from anywhere.
At Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, you can count on quick and easy street parking close by.
Don't feel like driving to Lou Malnati's Pizzeria? Catch a nearby bus or train at Foster (Purple Line), Davis (Purple Line), and Noyes (Purple Line).
Lou Malnati's Pizzeria offers safe bike parking outside.
Who s hungry for great grub at a reasonable rate? Lou Malnati's Pizzeria s yummy creations will leave a mark in your memory but not a dent in your pocketbook.
If you're short on cash, take care of business with one of many major credit cards.
Reviewers rave about the dinner menu at the pizzeria, though breakfast and lunch are also served.
For the cheesiest, most delicious pie in town, pizza lovers claim that Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is at the top of the list.
For a casual meal that is highly-rated, look no further than Lou Malnati's Pizzeria's pizza.
So head on over to Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, where the pizza is hot and the atmosphere's cool.
When you need a good meal in a flash, grab a pizza from the highly-rated Lou Malnati's Pizzeria.
Fill up on a healthy and nutritious vegetarian meal at Blind Faith Cafe.
Your body is a temple, so why not opt for healthy food that also tastes great? Blind Faith Cafe serves shockingly delicious vegan, low-fat, and gluten-free dishes.
Find the perfect vintage to complement your meal — this restaurant offers a fine selection of wines, beers, and beyond.
Bring your whole brood to this restaurant, where families can dig in to tasty and kid-friendly fare together.
Round up the whole gang and reserve the private room at Blind Faith Cafe — it's the perfect spot for a big party to gather and celebrate.
Bask in the sun (or moon!) light when you dine on Blind Faith Cafe's outdoor patio.
The restaurant takes reservations, so you can plan your next get-together ahead of time.
Put the suit away when heading to Blind Faith Cafe — dress is casual, as are the vibes.
Place an order for pickup or schedule a delivery — the restaurant makes it easy to enjoy your meal from anywhere.
Feed the gang at your next get-together with catering from Blind Faith Cafe as well.
Both garage and street parking is readily available for Blind Faith Cafe patrons.
Tired from driving? Enjoy a relaxing ride when you take public transportation; accessible stops include Dempster (Purple) and Davis (Purple).
Cyclists will also appreciate the plentiful space to lock up their bikes outside the restaurant.
At Blind Faith Cafe, you can ease your appetite and please your pocketbook
the menu offers a selection of mid-priced, budget-friendly meals.
Three meals a day are served at Blind Faith Cafe, so you can choose to start your day or end your evening here.
Vegetarians should never be afraid to eat out, and the great options at Blind Faith Cafe prove it!
Serving up a variety of vegan eats, Blind Faith Cafe is a great place to grab a tasty lunch or dinner.
If you have a gluten sensitivity, Blind Faith Cafe will meet your food needs.
Cindy Espinosa has cooked almost every dish on the menu at Nellie’s (2458 W. Division St.), the Humboldt Park luncheonette she co-owns with her husband, Pablo. Yet she’s never attempted mofongo, a dish of mashed fried plantains that’s a Puerto Rican tradition.
“I see it being made,” she said. “I know how it’s made, but I’ve never tried it.”
It’s easy to see why. The cooking process, which I watched unfold in Nellie’s kitchen, is pretty involved, with a lot of hand-mashing and frying. “It’s more of a Friday-night dinner type of thing,” Pablo said. “You might eat it once a month at home.”
Yet the final result—a dome of fried plantain that diners can moisten with a dip into housemade chicken broth—is worth the work. Here’s how Cindy and Pablo’s cook, Carmen, makes it.
Carmen first peels and chops green plantains, the same fruits used in the restaurant’s jibaritos and tostones. According to Pablo, the restaurant goes through a crate of about 50 green plantains every week.
Then Carmen tosses them into a deep-fryer with some chopped tocino, or pork lard. When the lard has cooked down to a salty, crispy crunch, she dumps it and the plantains into a type of mortar and pestle called a pilon. “Every Puerto Rican household should have one,” Cindy said. The pilon’s concave bottom is what gives a serving of mofongo its distinctive dome-like shape.
In Puerto Rico, you see “all types of sizes” of pilon, Pablo said. That includes some as large as a butter churn, which sit on the floor. Nellie’s is a tabletop model, about 6 inches tall, wooden, and covered in carvings. It makes only one portion of mofongo at a time, which can make things hectic for Carmen on a busy weekend day. (All that mashing “takes an arm,” Cindy said.)
Making mofongo to order gives the staff flexibility to tailor each serving. For instance, Carmen can leave out the tocino to make a vegetarian version of the dish. (Both Espinozas have been vegetarian for a year and a half.) Other versions on the menu include iterations with shrimp in place of tocino or with a mound of chicken, shrimp, or steak nestled inside the dome. Mofongo can also be a side order to fried chicken (chicharron de pollo) or fried pork.
I get to sample the classic, main-course version.
The mofongo dome appears next to a small silver tureen filled with housemade chicken broth for dipping. There is still a big chunk of meat and bone floating in it, as well as a big, soft carrot that I devour, savoring its umami flavors. Moistened with a little broth, the green plantains lose their fibrous dryness to become melt-in-your-mouth comfort food; the bits of tocino provide an occasional kick of salt.
I send a mental thank-you to Carmen’s arm for providing this food. I hope it was worth the work.
Photo credit: Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon
To many Chicagoans, the neighborhoods south of Roosevelt Road seem to be a culinary wasteland. To Jimalita Tillman, Chicago native and executive director of the Harold Washington Cultural Center and Performing Arts Theatre (4701 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.), fine-dining opportunities definitely exist on the South Side—if you give them a chance.
Because many of these restaurants depend on word of mouth, Tillman said, the advertising budgets of their more northern competitors often trump their oral marketing, and so she often spends “all day” giving South Side restaurant recommendations to area visitors and theater-goers.
“There are many great places [to eat] throughout these areas,” she said. “It really depends on what you’re in the mood for.”
And if you're in the mood for a little musical and cultural Chicago history to pair with your meal, you don't have to travel far from the landmark arts center. The Harold Washington Cultural Center, in the former location of the historical Regal Theater where the likes of Ella Fitzgerald once performed, is right in the heart of the Black Metropolis—a region marked by the culture and Southern-inspired music scene that developed during the Great Migration. Today, Bronzeville is still flavored with leftovers from its swinging past.
To savor alongside your meal, we paired each of Tillman’s restaurant recommendations with a few musical, historical, and cultural tidbits.
4655 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Chicago, IL 60653
It’s the quick and personable service that makes this gourmet hot-dog eatery a standout, Tillman said. Of course, Chef Cliff Rome serves the usual Chicago-style hot dog, but it’s the varied wiener and burger options he creates that color H-Dogs’ menu with the fine-dining flair he perfected while studying in Paris. The Healthy Hound—a grilled veggie dog with sprouts, roasted peppers, red onions, and cucumbers—sits alongside salmon burgers, turducken sausages, and portobello-mushroom sandwiches without the least bit of tattletaling or fighting over who had the mustard first. Sweet-potato or truffle fries complete the gourmet-on-the-go experience.
Bite of History: The gourmet hot-dog diner sits in a historical building that was once known as 47th Street Marketplace. Before a 2010 fire destroyed the building, it was considered a symbol of the revitalization of Bronzeville and housed Tillman’s Spoken Word Cafe—one of the original hosts of HBO’s Def Poetry series hosted by hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def.
2. Pearl’s Place
3901 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60653
“I’m a breakfast head,” said Tillman—as are many in the crowd of diners waiting to get inside for brunch on any given Sunday. The kitchen cooks up a mix of Southern and soul food—yes, there’s a difference—but Pearl’s Place sprinkles it with the right amount of creole flavor. After sampling Pearl’s juicy yet crispy fried chicken, sautéed salmon croquettes, or all-day breakfasts of vegetable omelets or homestyle pancakes, it seems only right to finish with a bite or two of peach cobbler or sweet-potato pie.
Bite of History: The interior decor, with album jackets and vinyl records lining the walls, features a photo story of the neighborhood’s jazz and blues history with jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne—all of whom graced the stage at the Regal Theater during Bronzeville’s musical heyday.
3. Norman’s Bistro
1001 E. 43rd St., Chicago, IL, 60653
The bistro’s entrees—including vegetable confetti ravioli, smoked cranberry salmon, and the Great Duck burger—offer an upscale taste-bud experience at “South Side prices,” Tillman said. From the food to the decor, presentation is an art in this sleek and classy spot featuring creole-inspired American food with a Brazilian flair. In the exposed-brick, art-filled wine bar, sommeliers pour from an extensive list of wines. Separate from the dining room, the intimate setting of the bar creates an ideal spot for the happy-hour crowd.
Bite of Culture: On Sundays at 9 p.m., the bistro hosts a live jazz jam session. Or make an appointment and walk over to Gallery Guichard—housed in a turn-of-the-20th-century Italiante row house—to peruse its African-diaspora art and blown glass, sculptures, and photography by local as well as international artists.
Photography by Andrew Nawrocki.
Clockwise from top: Birria in action—rich, briny consommé and tender goat meat, stewed for hours with bay leaves, cinnamon, and other spices. // Ceramic bowls absorb the birria's heat, keeping the broth warm throughout meals. // When Rick Bayless recommended Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan to "Esquire" magazine, he described the eatery’s birria as "full of flavor, incredibly homey and satisfying."
In Ocotlán in Jalisco, Mexico, the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees. That's mild by Chicago standards; however, when the Reyes family immigrated 2,000 miles from Ocotlán to Chicago, they brought with them a recipe that would prove thoroughly compatible with the colder weather. That recipe is birria—a savory stew made by simmering goat meat for hours with herbs and spices. On a cold day in mid-March, I made a trek across town to the family's Pilsen restaurant, Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan, to taste it myself.
As soon as I entered the eatery, I smelled the warm, rich aroma of simmering goat meat. Goats were also present in the decor: miniature replicas decorated shelves and cupboards, and a mounted goat head kept watch over the booths, a toothpick dangling humorously from its lips.
After I ordered birria at the counter, a server presented me with three dishes. The smallest held pickled onions and lime wedges, which are traditional birria condiments, and an oblong basket cradled warm, fresh tortillas. The largest bowl brimmed with rich, briny consommé, chopped onions and cilantro, and hunks of tender goat meat.
The first spoonful of broth tasted bright and smoky with hints of ancho peppers and cinnamon. I separated a piece of goat meat with light pressure from my spoon. Leaner than beef, the meat still had pieces of bone inside, which infused the meat with the flavor of their marrow. The crisp onions and fragrant cilantro stood out against the birria's savory elements to create a harmony of flavors that was especially comforting on a cold day.