Chicago on a Tuesday

I’ve been slack in my duties.  When I started with Two Bites, I was hoping to do a post a day, but I keep forgetting that I have a “job” and a “life” outside of writing about food.  Until I can actually create my own bakery, I guess I’ll just have to do the best I can.

But, this past week saw a ridiculous amount of food being eaten between Katie and myself.  Joined by our friends Elaine and Anna, we literally spent the day eating.  Katie had a well deserved day off, and so I also took the day, and we headed to Chicago to check out the newly opened farmers market, possibly my favorite part of summer.  It was too bad that aside from some baby greens and potatoes, the majority of the offerings were either baked goods or flowers.  I had promised her such an amazing experience that I completely forgot the majority of the foods don’t come out until mid-June.  At least I bought me some Garlic Herb Cheese Curds.  While Katie may believe these morsels from the heavens to be the most disgusting thing around, I could eat an entire bag in one sitting if you gave me the chance.

But, as for the restaurants we discovered:

Taza Cafe
176 N Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 201-9885

I’m personally always on the hunt for a good falafel sandwich.  I’m addicted.  As I’ve mentioned, I loved The Olive Branch in Naperville (R.I.P.), and Haifa Cafe on Wells was a decent alternative until recently.  On my last visit there, I saw a health code violation warning posted alerting people to the fact that aside from not having a proper toilet, they didn’t properly clean their utensils.  As if that wasn’t warning enough, the falafel I had that day was dry, and the sandwich was just beyond mediocre.  I’ll miss you Haifa, but not that much, because I found Taza.

Taza Cafe is located near the corner of Randolph and Franklin.  The storefront is small, definitely a quick lunch type of place.  They offer the range of typical Mediterranean foods from Shwarma to Falafel.  One of the highlights is the freshly made pita chips, covered in spice and just crispy enough.  Falafel is merely 40 cents a piece, making that the best bargain on the already affordable menu.

And what really won me over was the friendliness of the owner.  Katie and I sat at one of the few tables in the place, this one closest to the food prep area.  He came over, asked if it was our first time here, and wanted to make sure that everything was okay.  I told him I worked a few blocks away, and have been looking for a good Mediterranean place for ages, and I’d definitely be coming back.  He was overjoyed to hear that, and told me he hoped to see me again, and to make sure I brought friends.

Good service, more and more is what’s winning me over to places.  In this instance it was good service AND good food that guarantees I’ll be back, but I’ll always pick a place with mediocre/decent food and friendly service over GOOD food and CRAPPY service.  Quality of food will never make up for bad service.  That’s why I’ll never eat at a restaurant owned by Bobby Flay, that cocky bastard.

The Handlebar
2311 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
773.384.9546

After lunch, we wandered Chicago a bit before picking up our friend Elaine from work.  She was in charge of finding a place for dinner.  Of her three choices, I made an executive decision and picked Handlebar, because I wanted to stick around the general area to get some dessert at Hot Chocolate.  I’m glad I made that decision.

We started the meal with soy chorizo and black bean nachos, topped with fresh avocado.  Delicious.  The combination of black beans, pico de gallo, chorizo, sour cream and avocado could have made a meal unto itself.  I almost regret ordering more food, because by the end of the meal I realized I should have made that my meal.  Up next, I ordered their portobello mushroom tacos, again topped with fresh avocado.  Katie ordered the Seitan BBQ sandwich with a side of gouda macaroni and cheese.  My tacos were tasty, but not necessarily anything special.  Katie’s sandwich, however, was beyond hearty, and the gouda mac and cheese was a nice mellow compliment to the BBQ spice.  Elaine ordered a simple soy chicken salad, which she quite liked.

The Handlebar was a nice place, but apparently gets a little crazier once the bike messengers get off work.  As it was, the place was nice and empty, letting us enjoy our conversation.

Hot Chocolate
1747 North Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

773.489.1747

Dessert was at the James Beard Award winner, Hot Chocolate.  If you live in Chicago and like dessert you’ve heard of Hot Chocolate.  Like me, you’ve just never gotten there yet.  Tuesday, we finally made it.  We met our friend Anna there, who had helped herself to a heaping plate of mussels for dinner.  She wanted to make sure she caught up to us so we could all have dessert together.

Now, this place is definitely a higher end dessert restaurant.  You’re paying for “creations” which usually means smaller portions, but surprisingly everything we had was still filling.  I started with the Chocolate #2, a piece of dark chocolate cake, accompanied with two chocolate cannoli filled with coconut creme, and two espresso ice cream filled bon bons.  I hate both espresso AND coconut, but both of those desserts were outstanding.  Katie ordered the American Classic, otherwise known as the Cake and a Shake.  It was a small shake shot served with a piece of dark chocolate cake.  The shake tasted minty, but otherwise the dish was delicious.  Elaine with a lighter lemon dish, reminiscent of a lemon whip.  The tartness reminded me of key lime pie, which always wins me over.  Anna’s dish was the most interesting of the night.  Called Thoughts on Cherry it featured four different desserts to mirror the seasons.

The best part about going out to eat with friends who love food is that nearly instantly all food is shoved into the middle and there’s sampling between everyone.  That’s real friendship, when you’re wiling to share your cooties with each other.

Coming up next?  Our trip to the new Wicker Park eatery Crust, Coco Rouge and Letizia’s Bakery.

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