Essential Chef Blogs

Relax, settle in, and eat and drink vicariously with our bloggers.

Food Truck Tasting

Food trucks at the University of Chicago
BBQ pulled pork sandwich from Soho
Sharon and I continue our search for a great lunchtime meal, this time by visiting food trucks on the University of Chicago campus. Lined up on two adjacent streets -- University Avenue and Ellis Avenue around 58th street -- are about ten food trucks, offering everything from pizza, to tacos, to rice bowls, to classic sandwiches. We decid...
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Milwaukee Avenue Sandwich Tasting

Our Favorite: The Master Blaster at Reno's
Shrimp Po Boy at Analogue
Grilled Cheese at Gaslight Coffee Roaster
Bao to the Pork at Pork and Mindy's
​ Having tasted the classics – the cubano, the croque monsier, the banh mi - Sharon and I decided to see what is happening on the cutting edge of sandwich making. But how to get a handle on such a broad topic? Every neighborhood has a couple of sandwich shops. Our solution – we picked one street in Chicago – Milwaukee Avenue- and visited four shops...
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Samosa Tasting

Samosas at Kamdar Plaza
Uru-Swati samosas
Hema's Kitchen samosas
Rolled out circle, ready to cut in half and make two samosas
Filled samosas, ready for deep frying
Ingredients for home-made samosas from Kamdar Plaza
I love Chicago's many ethnic neighborhoods, where you can drive a half hour from your home and feel like you are in another country. That is how Sharon and I felt as we spent a pleasant afternoon on Devon Avenue, tasting samosas. We were often the only native English speakers at the places we visited.So what is the difference between a samosa and a...
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Empanada Tasting

Tray of empanadas at El Mercado Food Mart
Display of different shapes and their fillings at 5411 Empanadas
Lito's fried empanada
Baked Malbec beef empanada at 5411 Empanada
Fried chicken empanada with chimichurri sauce
Frozen empanada dough
Homemade empanadas
Empanadas are delicious, filled pastry snacks and an essential element of Latin American cuisine.They are either baked or fried.We sampled both types and we always preferred the fried, of course.French fries aren't the #1 vegetable in America for nothing.And the fried may even be more authentic.We were told that fried empanadas were t...
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Croque Monsieur - A French version of ham and cheese

Croque Monsieur at La Fournette
Croque Monsieur and fries at Bistro Zinc
Croque Monsieur at Bonjour Bakery
Ah the French. How do they take a humble toasted ham and cheese sandwich and elevate it to new gastronomic heights? By adding béchamel sauce, bien sûr. By the way, "croque" means crunchy, which is what you want to hear, when you bite into your croque monsieur. The quality of the bread, the ham, and the cheese – typically gruyère – make or break thi...
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Coming Soon!

Cocktails! David Farris will soon be authoring an exciting new blog topic. Bar hop with David as he samples and recommends spirits and suggests cocktail recipes. Drink up.
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The Ham Sandwich Vietnamese Style - the classic banh mi

Pagoda outside of Hue
Chalkboard at Banh Mi Ba Get
Saigon Classic at Banh Mi Ba Get
Ba Le's sandwich
Our version of the classic banh mi sandwich
Having just returned from a wonderful three week vacation in Vietnam, I wanted to recapture some of the tastes of the country. French bread and pastry skills were introduced by the French during Vietnam's colonial era. The tradition continues in the form of croissants and baguettes which can be found everywhere.If you are ever in Hue, I highly reco...
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Cuban Sandwiches

I’ve loved Cuban sandwiches ever since I had a great one on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John at Rhumb Lines (  The ideal Cuban has juicy pork, flavorful ham, melty swiss cheese, crunchy pickles, just the right amount of yellow mustard, and mayo, all encased in a soft Cuban bread and then grilled in a sandwich press. There’s a debate between Tampa and Miami as to who “invented” the Cuban.  Tampa claims it was the sandwich of choice back in the days of workers hand rolling Cuban cigars.  Miami begs to differ.  But, whatever the source, it has found its way around the U.S. for good reason.  A good one is delicious.

senorpancuban Senor Pan Cuban

Unfortunately I can’t get to Rhumb Lines often.  But Chicago is home to so many great sandwich shops that Sharon and I knew we could find a good substitute here.  We visited four spots and discovered two must haves: 

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Scone Tasting

Cranberry scone from Interurban Cafe
Cinnamon/raisin and cranberry/vanilla bean scones from Interurban
Masala apricot scone from Little Goat Bread
Little Goat Bread counter
La Farine scones
A Taste of Heaven scones
Scone offerings at A Taste of Heaven
Little Goat Bread window
​Linda: It's 15 degrees on a very cold but sunny Chicago morning and we are off to taste scones. Scones are a sweet version of biscuits – made by cutting fat into flour, adding liquid, gently kneading, then baking. (Watch the lesson 1 video of biscuit making for how-to details.) We're looking for a scone with the perfect combination of crunch ...
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East Coast vs. West Coast Oyster Tasting

Blackberry Point oyster at Publican
Shaw's oysters
Oysters at GT Fish & Oyster
Devon oysters
Publican oysters
List of oysters at Publican
"You are what you eat" certainly applies to oysters. Since oysters eat by extracting food from the water that filters through their shells, their taste is greatly affected by their living conditions. And since oysters must be kept alive from harvest to table, it supremely important to trust your oyster retailer. With that in mind,...
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Linda and Sharon's Bread Crawl

Bennison Baguette
LaFarine Macaron
​Bennison's Bakeries. 1000 Davis Street, Evanston, IL Linda: This is our first stop of the day. The bakery is located at a busy intersection in Evanston. It's a small store front, and there was a line waiting to order most of the time that we are there. It does a mostly a take-out business not eat-in business. They have an amazing array of pas...
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Heritage Apple Tasting

Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm, Eau Claire, Michigan
Nichols apples at a Chicago farmers market
Suncrisp apples at Tree-Mendus
left to right: Belle de Boskoop, Newton Pippin, Clovis Spice, Swazy, Baldwin
left to right: Gold Rush, Cortland, Suncrisp, Macoun
Linda: As American as apple pie….you are the apple of my eye….Eve unleashed all our problems by (allegedly) making Adam eat an apple…. Apples are an important fruit in America. But before this tasting, I had no idea there were so many apple varieties. You're lucky if you see a dozen in a grocery store. The apple farm we visited, T...
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Tasting Farmers Market Tomatoes

Eleven varieties of farmers market tomatoes
Green zebra
Mr. Stripey
Purple Cherokee
Carolina Gold
Brandywine and Pineapple
Cherokee green, Great White, Torbay
Oregon spring and Early Girl
Nichols Farm: green zebra, Cherokee green, Carolina gold, Torbay, Mr. Stripey, great white
Scheeringa Farms: green zebra, purple Cherokee, pineapple, brandywine, Mr. Stripey
Linda: "Looks can be deceiving." When it comes to tomatoes, truer words were never spoke. Did you know that most store-bought tomatoes are picked well before they are ripe and then ripened using ethylene gas? So a red tomato isn't necessarily a sweet tomato. Ripening a tomato on the vine and picking it at the optimal moment is the best...
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A Chicago South Side Rib Smack-Down

Aquarium smoker at Lem's
Lem's ribs
Sign at Lem's
Uncle John's aquarium smoker
Ribs and hot links from Uncle John's
Alice's BBQ
Alice's ribs and hot links
Line at Alice's
Back home, eating ribs, yummmmm......
Max Sevier of Uncle John's BBQ, died on June 1, 2015.  His restaurant, Uncle John's, is closed. This is truly a tragedy -- his ribs and hot  links were delicious and he trained a lot of other really good rib masters. It was over 90 degrees in Chicago at the start of the Labor Day weekend and we were four souls looking for...
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Ice Cream vs. Gelato Taste Test

Vanilla ice cream at Oberweis
Blueberry pie ice cream at Oberweis
Oberweis counter
Justine's Ice Cream Parlour
Bobtail counter
Mix of cookies 'n cream and salted caramel ice cream
Scottish Highland Creamery
Cup of pistachio and blood orange sorbetto at Cafe Gelato
Cafe Gelato counter
Cup of espresso and blueberry french toast at Black Dog Gelato
Black Dog Gelato counter
Cup of pistachio-almond and 3 vanilla at Paciugo
Gelato offerings at Cafe Gelato
​Which tastes better: ice cream or gelato? Linda: I know, I know, that's like asking a mother "who's your favorite child?" Her response is "They are all my favorites". But our inquiring minds (and the heat of the summer) led us on our quest to see if we could taste the difference and which we preferred. My personal answer to the question is: g...
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Pork Chop Taste Test

Dominick's pork chop
Publican Quality Meats pork chop
Faith's Farm pork chop (note marbling)
Whole Foods pork chop
Hampshire pig feeding
Kim Snyder, owner of Faith's Farm
Berkshire piglet
Pork chops from Whole Foods, Publican, Faith's Farm, Dominick's
Cows on Faith's Farm
Gloucester Old Spot pig
Does a $13.99 per pound pork chop taste better than a $4.29 per pound pork chop? Yes, but….. Linda: We got to wondering if the hype about naturally raised pork was just that, or if we could actually taste the difference between a standard grocery store pork chop and a fancy butcher shop chop. So we set off to buy and blind-taste-test four bone...
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Taco Crawl

Freshly roasted peppers at Tierra Caliente #1
Spit of roasted pork at Tierra Caliente #1
Taco Arabes at Cemitas Puebla
Chorizo taco at Cemitas Puebla
Making tortillas at Birrieria Zaragoza
Large goat platter at Birriera Zaragoza
Traditional taco condiments at Birrieria Zaragoza
Linda: Meat, onions, cilantro, salsa, in a corn tortilla, served with a wedge of lime – a traditional, authentic Mexican taco. Not fancy, just delicious, if well prepared. Fortunately Chicago has a large Mexican population, so there are many, many taquerias to choose from. We were looking for places that have food that tastes home-made, like our gr...
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Pie Crawl

Counter at Sweety Pies
Chocolate mousse pie at Sweety Pies
Coconut cream pie at Bang Bang Pie and Coffee
Counter at Bang Bang Pie and Coffee
Lemon meringue at Hoosier Mama Pie Company
Apple pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company
Linda: I love pie. It reminds me of home, the aroma of apple pie baking in the oven, picking blackberries so mom could bake us a fresh blackberry pie. I think that pie is the homiest and most American of all desserts. And what better way to look toward summer than a pie crawl. We sampled ten pie slices over a four hour period, with the help of two ...
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Chocolate Crawl

Red Fire, Tian Nacu, peanut butter bon bon from Vosges
Beautiful display of Piron chocolates
Linda: Today's our day to taste chocolates. We missed Valentines Day but it's not too late to think about chocolate for Easter. We decided to focus on chocolatiers that make small batches of chocolates by hand. We visited four stores in the Chicago area, all highly regarded for their chocolate creations. It was hard to be entirely scientific in our...
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Donut Crawl

Old Fashioned Donut: Loading a tray of donuts to be proofed
Dat Donut: Three donuts from Dat Donut's
Sharon: Since it's almost Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), we decided to sample some all-American, high fat pleasures, donuts. We visited four donut shops, all with strong local followings. At each one, we sampled a yeast-raised donut, a cake donut, and a cream-filled donut (which is also made with yeast). There are two basic types of donut dough: do...
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Pizza Crawl

The crust was heavenly – chewy, elastic, light.
The crust was heavenly – chewy, elastic, light.
Linda: Today we are off to sample pizzas. Since there are so many styles of pizzas and we only have limited stomach capacity, we needed to focus. And what better focus than on the classic, neopolitan-style pizza? I know we're in Chicago and Chicago is the home of deep dish pizza, but we'll save that crawl for another day. Naples, Italy is just...
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