The Little Goat

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.

XOCO

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!)

Hot Doug’s

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

B’Gabs Goodies

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.

Standard India Restaurant

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.