The weekend before my birthday we were looking for a place to go out to eat. We don’t go out often, so when we do we usually try to make sure it’s somewhere we’ve been wanting to get to (in other words, we want to make sure it’s worth it and not waste our chance). We have other concerns as well; with two small kids we want something that’s casual and kid friendly, and probably not too expensive.
In this case, we settled on The Little Goat.
For those who are not local to Chicago, The Little Goat is sort of the little sister of chef Stephanie Izard‘s extremely popular Girl & the Goat (Stephanie Izard, you may know, was the winner of the 4th season of Top Chef). In Chicago, both restaurants are very well known.
I’ve never been to Girl & the Goat (and probably never will be), but I have to say that The Little Goat absolutely lived up to its reputation. Most likely because of the weather, but we were able to sit immediately, with no wait. It was exactly what we were looking for: absolutely casual, the kids were not out of place at all, and the food was amazing.
When you look at the menu, it doesn’t seem like anything special. Breakfast food, sandwiches, burgers. However, there really is something about a good chef, who can take something you’ve had a million times before and just make one little difference, like kimchi on a reuben, or just using really, really good bread, and suddenly it’s the best reuben you’ve ever had.
I tried the sloppy goat, the pork belly pancake, and (my favorite) the “Los Drowned” (a braised beef sandwich with au jus, but so much more than that). Even the smoked fries were amazing. One of the best parts of the meal was the “Little Goat” coffee, which is espresso with spices and steamed goat’s milk. I’ve seen it described as a “coffee/chai mashup” which was pretty accurate I think.
In other words, highly recommended, and I will definitely go back.
When it comes time for a birthday dinner, we turn to our favorite Chicago chef, Rick Bayless. This time we tried out Frontera’s little sister XOCO (pronounced “show-co”).
It was perfect! Exactly what we needed.
The food was amazing, and fresh, and unique, but everything was very low key. With the kids, we’re always looking for a compromise between something amazing and something where we’re not going to disturb people. That’s exactly what this was (at least before 5 p.m. on a weeknight). No waiting in line, no waiting for a table, and not many people around to disturb.
We had a couple of tortas (Baja Chicken Torta and Choriques to be specific). I thought they were both good, but the baja chicken was amazing.
(This is not actually what we ate, but I stole these pictures from the XOCO website and beggars can’t be choosers)
Sara had the Carnitas Caldos, which is a spicy soup with pork and avocado chunks. This was also good, but very, very salty.
Of course, in the midst of all this good food, Evie only wanted to eat tortilla chips.
Until dessert that is. We each had a churro and we shared a couple of mugs of their amazing hot chocolate. I don’t say cocoa, I say hot chocolate, because it was like drinking a delicious cup full of melted chocolate bars. It was so rich and thick that I’m really not sure I could have finished a glass by myself. But sharing it was just perfect, and gave us an excuse to try two different kinds. For my money, the almond milk one was better, but everyone else preferred the classic.
XOCO is great if you’re looking for something a little bit quicker and easier than Frontera, and well worth the trip downtown (even if the meter did cost me $3.50 an hour!) Thank you Mr. Bayless for never failing to exceed expectations! (P.S. We finally broke down and bought a copy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, so we can stop checking it out from the library all the time!)
Over the weekend, we checked out Chicago institution Hot Doug’s, the Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. I have to say that I never really felt like I needed to go to a hot dog restaurant, famous or not, but Hot Doug’s totally exceeded my expectations.
For out of towners a “Chicago-style” hotdog typically consists of a hot dog (obviously) topped with mustard, onions, neon green relish, tomatoes, a full sized pickle spear, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun.
I’ve never actually partaken of a Chicago-style dog, and I’m always interested in trying the food-of-that-place, so knew I had to try that out. Additionally, we got a brat with sauerkraut, a specialty dog that was Smoked Crayfish and Pork Sausage with Cajun Remoulade and Goat Cheese, and some duck fat fries to top us off.
The hardest part about Hot Doug’s was the line to get in. It wasn’t as bad as we’ve heard it could be, but two hungry kids don’t want to stand around and wait when the food is just right there. If I had to do it over again, I would go earlier in the day, so the kids weren’t so hungry to begin with.
Usually going out to eat with Evie is a complete waste of time. She likes the idea of going out to eat, but it turns out she actually hates food so there’s pretty much no chance she’s going to like any of the options. However, you can’t get more up her alley than a hot dog and french fry restaurant, so there you go.
Ollie, as usual, is just happy to have food. Any food. Our waiter was extremely skeptical about Ollie’s “with everything”, and Ollie proved him wrong by eating the whole thing, followed by a quarter of the crayfish and goat cheese dog. He loved both.
I have to say, I was impressed with Chicago-style hot dogs. The dog itself was good, but all of the crazy toppings do combine into something new and delicious in my mouth. I thought the plain old “with everything” dog was the best of all the different kinds we tried. Although the other ones were good, I would probably just stick with that next time.
I would certainly go here again, especially to take someone from out of town (although it’s pretty far from our place to get there).
And hey, Evie said it was the best restaurant she’s ever been to, what other recommendation do you need?
Two Thumbs Up
This is a post that is long, long overdue.
Down the block from our house is a wonderful place known as B’Gabs Goodies.
Gab’s is not just vegetarian, but is in fact a “Raw Vegan Deli” with the tagline “It’s not the food in your life it’s the life in your food”. In addition to serving up raw vegan food, they also sell spices, and some really fantastic smoothies.
(I don’t have any pictures of Gab’s, but you can see many good ones over at WTF Vegan Food) (That’s WTF as in “Will Travel For” Vegan Food, not WTF as in what non-vegans say when looking at vegan food)
More important than the food selection though, is the people who work there. I can’t stress this enough. It’s family run (including a brand new co-owner, baby Hudson), and they make you feel like you are part of the family. Evie is like the Norm of B’Gabs, where everybody knows her name and they’re always glad she came. We try to make it there pretty often, because we’d hate to see it go the way of the previous tenant in that space, the Backstory Cafe.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are plenty of glowing reviews on Yelp, including one by Sara:
I saw this was up on Groupon today, so I was motivated to finally sign up and write a post.
B’Gabs Goodies is a smoothie/raw vegan restaurant (small) and spice and herb store (very large selection) just a block away from us in Woodlawn (just south of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago). Gab, Ron, Marley, and James are so sweet and we make it a point to try to stop in weekly, as we were very sad to see the last business in this location close due to financial concerns.
So, the smoothies are fantastic (just ask my kids who like all sorts of combinations and especially love them with carrot juice) and the herb selection is great–I have bought oregano (excellent price and tastes great), cinnamon sticks (also an excellent price and I’m looking forward to using them), and chia (a little on the steep side compared to online/Costco/etc. but I highly doubt any stores within the next 5 miles carry it).
They also have a booth at the weekly farmers market on Saturdays at E 61st St and S Dorchester!
(Oh, and if you’re having trouble finding it, go to E 61st St and S Dorchester and walk east along 61st. Turn right at the end of the street. Yes, it seems like you are in an alley, but the correct door is the first place on your right. You will enter in the restaurant area, then the door to the store is to the left.)
(It should also be noted that, after Sara’s review, they adjusted the price of chia)
So we’ve been going there since forever, why am I just getting around to writing this now? Well, because I finally sat down and had a meal there, and it was excellent.
Mostly, Sara and the kids go without me, and mostly they just get smoothies with the occasional dessert. However, B’Gabs recently extended their hours for summer, so we decided to check it out for dinner one night.
Now, like a lot of people, I’m not really that familiar with raw food options. However, they understand that, so Gab’s is a “judge free zone”. They know that eating raw is new to most people, so they’re happy to help or answer questions. You don’t have to feel embarrassed if you’re not sure about something. They’re excited about healthful food, and happy to talk about it. They’re happy you’re there, willing to try it out.
So for me, I went into it for the experience, like I would any new type of food. I’m always up for trying something different. I had a burger (which was of course not a burger), which also came with an absolutely wonderful salad and a side. I chose kimchi. Everything was different, interesting, and yummy. I am neither a vegetarian, nor vegan, nor a raw foodist, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So if you do happen to be some or all of those things, then I guess this place would probably be heaven.
I don’t know if you can find better raw vegan food in the city. Certainly, *I* couldn’t find better. But I do for sure know that you can’t find friendlier owners than Gab and Ron.
And tell ‘um Evie and Ollie sent you.
Over the weekend, we checked out Standard India Restaurant.
We discovered this place by seeing it on Check Please, followed by seeing it come by on Groupon. We didn’t buy the Groupon, but I guess we should have, since we ended up here anyway.
Standard India specializes in something called thali, which involves stainless steel plates that are big enough to hold your plate as well as a huge series of small stainless steel bowls or cups. Even the naan comes in something that looks like a stainless steel bowling ball. In other words, there is a lot of stainless steel. You may recall the awesome Indian-style tiffin lunch boxes our kids got for Christmas:
Yeah, like that. As a side bonus, you can spin your plate like a Lazy Susan!
We got the Grand Buffet, and it was awesome. In addition to all the items on the buffet, this is still thali, so you get like 5 or 6 little bowls of things to try brought out to the table, as well as the regular stuff, like naan and samosas. In fact, I think I could have filled up on just the extra stuff they brought out, and not hit the buffet at all. But I didn’t, I hit the buffet. Twice. Everything was so good, with just the right amount of spice. Even the desert was perfect. We also ordered a mango lassi for the kids to share, and we could hardly get Oliver to set it down long enough to eat anything. The food was absolutely the star of the show.
We had heard that the place was kid-friendly, and I found that to be true, despite the fact that there were no other kids in the restaurant. The owners are SUPER friendly, and they really interacted with the kids. In fact, I’m pretty sure they gave us a table that was reserved, even though we didn’t have a reservation, because of the kids. They also only charged us $4 for Evie’s buffet and nothing for Oliver’s, which is a pretty good discount, considering the adult buffet was like $19.
$4 would be an absolute steal for the amount of food you get, and Evie paid back their kindness by refusing to try anything. Luckily we had Oliver, who more than made up for her. It all works out in the end; I like to think that Oliver had the $4 buffet and Evie was free. There really is no joy in taking Evie to a restaurant. She begs to go, but then she won’t try anything. And even if she did, she wouldn’t like it, because she is dead set against it from the outset. Since this happens every time, I’m not really sure what she is expecting to be different. Oh well, at least she ate her weight in naan.
If you are going, I would definitely get reservations. We didn’t have any and we got right in, however, that appeared to be the exception, not the rule. The place was packed, and even with reservations, most people had to wait. So I would go better safe than sorry on that front. Also, many or even most people were taking advantage of the BYOB, so feel free to do that as well.
I would be remiss to mention mention that it wasn’t all roses and kittens though. At the end we had to wait almost 20 minutes for our check. I’m inclined not to hold that against them, since they were pretty busy and for all I know it was a one time thing. But I felt pretty bad because there was a very large number of people waiting for tables, and here we were, sitting at the front table right in front of everybody, clearly done and clearly not leaving. The kids were restless as well, since we were done eating and it was past their bedtime. Eventually Sara had to take the kids and leave while I sat and waited. I never did figure out what the problem was, but it definitely left me with a bad taste in my mouth (not literally, believe me). However, like I said, these things happen sometimes, so who knows.
All in all, I would definitely recommend the place.
Finally, it was time for Sara to go to her conference. I was sort of dreading this part of the trip, because it meant handling both kids in a strange city by myself. Although it was exhausting, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The main thing was to keep out of the hotel as much as possible, since keeping them quiet for any length of time was out of the question, and having a routine certainly helped a lot.
Every day we would eat breakfast at the hotel, and then go to Discovery Place for 3 – 4 hours (for FREE — thank you reciprocating MSI membership!). We would eat a delicious lunch of PB&J (every day), and then Oliver would fall asleep in the stroller just when we were almost home. We’d get him into bed, and then Evie and I would play a few games of cards
and read books until I fell asleep on the floor. At this point, Evie would do “exercises” for 20 minutes or so (don’t ask me, I was asleep), and then wake me up to ask if I had slept long enough. In the afternoon, we’d find something to do such as go to ImaginOn, a fantastic children’s library. Finally, we hit up a delicious restaurant for supper, and go to bed.
The hotel we stayed in was very nice. We specifically chose it because they had a suite with a separate bedroom, so Sara and I could stay up after the kids were in bed. It was really more of a business hotel, and there weren’t really any other kids staying there. Consequently, we were very recognizable (especially with all of our comings and goings throughout the day), and all of the front desk staff really enjoyed interacting with the kids.
The one snafu with the hotel was the parking. When we first pulled up, we found out it was valet, which we were unprepared for. It makes you feel a little flustered when you have to spend 20 minutes cleaning out everything from your car while a pair of valet guys look on and wait. Sara kept insisting we’d have to pay for parking and it would be expensive, but I kept denying it because the whole city seemed to be made of parking lots, and parking didn’t really seem to be at a premium. Well, she was right and I was wrong (first time for everything I guess), since after they took the car they informed us it was $22 a night. Yeowza!
Imagine my surprise when I got up to my room and opened the window to take in the view, only to see a parking lot literally across the street that was advertising $5 parking. Seriously hotel? I called down to the front desk immediately.
Me: “Excuse me, I just paid $22 to park in your garage, and now I see it is $5 to park across the street?”
Lady: “Well actually, it is $5 for only 12 hours. So really it’s $10.”
Me: “That’s seriously your argument? It’s still less than half the price!”
Now, they ended up being sort of right, because parking there ended up being something of a headache. We were right next to the arena for the Charlotte Bobcats, and twice they had a game while we were there. When that happens, the price of the lot shoots up to $10 for a couple of hours during the event. This lead to a couple times where we had to drive around a little to find somewhere else to park (we ended up finding a free spot just down the street), and then going and getting the car later at night and moving it back to the lot. So this did cause a little bit of a headache.
Maybe I was just being cheap, I don’t know. But when you consider that we were staying for 4 nights, and that you have to tip the valet every time you get your car, I think we conservatively saved around $60. And really, it was the principle of the thing, you know?
Aaaanywho, we continued our string of delicious restaurants while in Charlotte.
Midwood Smokehouse – After just eating at 12 Bones, we were desperate for more barbecue. Unfortunately for Midwood Smokehouse, we had just eaten at 12 Bones. Midwood Smokehouse was perfectly good, but it was more “polished” or chain-y somehow and just suffered in comparison. They did have bacon wrapped jalapenos, which certainly helped their case, but overall it just couldn’t compete at the end of the day, especially in the side dish arena. The barbecue was more than adequate, and on any other trip it probably would have ranked up there with some of the best meals of the trip.
Fern – Fern was a place that we just happened to see after leaving Midwood Smokehouse, so we ended up giving it a try. BEST. STUMBLE UPON. EVER. Fern was possibly better even than 12 Bones, but it is so hard to compare a vegetarian restaurant to a barbecue joint. We ordered so much food that we thought we would never be able to eat it all, and then we proceeded to eat it all. If I lived in Charlotte, I would go to Fern every day and eat Buddha bowls with forbidden rice until I puked, which I would never do, because I wouldn’t want to waste it. My only regret is that I didn’t take them up on their half priced wine night.
Cook Out – This was the one place that I actually had plans to go to while in North Carolina. I became acquainted with Cook Out while Sara was going to school in Greensboro. It’s a fast food place, but the burgers really do taste like you cooked them out on the grill. They have cajun seasoning for their fries. They have over 40 flavors of milkshakes. And if all of that wasn’t enough, their burger sizes are “Small”, “Regular”, “Large” and “Huge”. You can legitimately drive up to the speaker and say, “I’d like a huge burger,” and you will get your wish my friend. I had plans to go to Cook Out multiple times, but it didn’t really work out, so we ended up having to go without Sara. However, the kids and I enjoyed it thoroughly without her.
Afterwards, it was time to head home. I mentioned the night we stayed in Asheville, and we also stayed at a place in Louisville that had an *awesome* pool. It was indoors, heated, and featured both an enormous shallow end where Evie could touch, but also an extremely deep end that was over my head. Finally, on the last day, we met Rachael in Indy and ate a very improvised lunch at her apartment.
And then we were home! Evie did fantastic in the car all the way down and all the way back. Oliver did great on the way there, but by the time we got to the end of the trip, he had pretty much had it with the car. There was a lot of howling. No matter how much fun we had on the trip, we were all glad to be back on dry land as it were, and ready to get back into our regular routines.
The second half of our trip was quite a bit different then the first half of the trip. The first half was rustic and the second half was urban, but more importantly, during the first half of the trip we cooked most of our own food, and during the second half of our trip we went out to eat at amazing restaurant after amazing restaurant.
Our first stop was in Asheville. Asheville is a really cool place, but sort of hard to describe. There are musicians on practically every street corner. There are tons of cool, unique shops and restaurants. If I had to sum it up in one catchy little phrase, it would be “buy local”. This is probably because most of them had a sign advising you to buy local (which is probably due to the opening of a large new Urban Outfitters). I have to agree with them though; you don’t get that awesome, unique vibe without that concentration of local shops, which are bound to be more interesting than chains.
It reminds me of a day a little further on in the trip, when we just got done eating a fantastic meal at a local eatery. We were driving back to our hotel, and we passed chain restaurant after chain restaurant, Applebees, TGIFridays, and Logan’s Steakhouse, each one packed fuller than the last. “Poor fools,” I thought. “Who would want to eat at one of those chain places when there are so many tasty and interesting places everywhere?”
Anyway, I digress. We bought our only souvenirs of the trip in Asheville; local honey, hand-dyed yarn, and some homemade soap. We even stayed in a non-chain hotel, which had a great location, but was a little on the shady side. It kind of seemed like there’s not much crime in Asheville, but what crime there is takes place at that hotel.
What we didn’t do in Asheville was go to the Biltmore estate. I actually really wanted to go to the Biltmore estate. First off, when I go somewhere, I like to go do the big thing of that place. The Biltmore estate is the biggest attraction in the Asheville area. Second off, it is billed as the American version of Versaille, which happened to be the very best part of our trip to France. So I thought, conceivably, it could have been the very best part part about our trip to North Carolina. However (and this is a big however), tickets to the Biltmore estate were going to run our family about $100! Just for comparison, tickets for Cedar Point would cost about $115 for our family. Are you really going to tell me that the Biltmore estate is roughly as much fun as Cedar Point?? “Hey kids, forget about roller coasters, look at this interesting architecture!”
Before I get into the restaurants, I just want to comment on something wonderful I discovered on the trip: the vegetable or side plate. Is this a southern thing? Basically, it just allows you to order some number of the side dishes on the menu (3, 5, 7). It worked out so well to order a bunch of side dishes and then dish them out to everyone and get to try everything. It’s like tapas or dim sum with delicious, Southern-made vegetables. Way better than ordering the chicken nugget kid’s meal.
Okay, so without further ado:
Tupelo Honey Cafe – The was the first, and perhaps only, meal that everyone was happy about (and by everyone, I mean Evie). Evie is pretty picky when it comes to food, and she mostly only wanted to eat french fries. However, even she couldn’t resist steaming hot biscuits with homemade blueberry jam, cheesy smashed cauliflower, and parmesan corn on the cob (okay, we also had sweet potato fries). This was the first place we went to in Asheville, and it was very difficult to not go back again.
The Green Sage – We happened to walk by this place the night before, so we gave it a chance for breakfast. It was more like a coffee shop, but they had food too. Aaaaawesome food. They had carrot cake pancakes with cream cheese
frosting topping. And they were perfect too, not overly sweet the way they could easily have been. I literally couldn’t eat any more. The coffee was good too. However, I couldn’t handle the trash/recycling/compost division, and I totally messed it up. Hey, I said the restaurant was perfect, not me.
12 bones – This was the best meal we had on a trip filled with excellent meals. It was also the most authentic southern restaurant I’ve ever seen. I ate ribs next to a guy with a gun in a holster. Real Southern barbecue next to a guy with a real gun in a real holster.
Speaking of ribs, this was a restaurant known for its ribs, but I was a little reluctant to get them. I’m usually more of a brisket kind of guy. However, I broke down and ordered the ribs…Oh Em Gee was I glad I did. I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anything better in my life. The chipotle blue berry ribs were good, but the brown sugar dry rub ribs were out of this world. They also had a side platter option, and the sides were all great. The collard greens and green beans were the best, with the chipotle potato salad and corn pudding a close second. Seriously, there was something so great about the sides, I couldn’t even tell you. We had collard greens at three other restaurants, and they all looked more or less identical, but none of the held a candle to these. And I’m not the only one who liked the place:
Unfortunately for Oliver, he slept through the whole thing. The nice thing to do would have been to save him some, which we probably would have done if it were physically possible to do so. But it wasn’t, so we offered him a banana when he woke up right as we were leaving. No dice, he demanded a meal to go. We had no silverware in the car, so he had to eat it with his fingers. He didn’t complain. He couldn’t, because his mouth was full of pulled chicken and green beans.
Early Girl Eatery – Okay, technically this was on the way back. After Charlotte we stayed another night in Asheville on our way North. Once again, everything was really good (try the squash casserole). Sara had the sweet potato black bean cakes, and I had a blackened shrimp salad. Both were great.
If you’re keeping count at home, that’s four amazing restaurants in one small town. And I’m pretty sure we could have hit up more, but we ran out of time. Not too shabby. However, we couldn’t hang out with the hippies and foodies forever, because it was time for Charlotte…