Chicago Firehouse Restaurant

I’d arranged to catch up with some people that I know in Chicago, and asking them to recommend a place, we ended up at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant. Located in the south loop and appropriately named, the location used to be the Chicago Firehouse Department and now it’s been converted into a very nice restaurant.


We booked in advance and even though we had a super early booking of 5:30pm, they never tried to upseat us from our table despite the growing queue at the bar and at the entrance. Service was polite, prompt and very helpful throughout the meal.


I started with the Chicago Firehouse Signature Lobster Bisque ($7.95) served in a delicate soup bowl and topped with a puff pastry cap. The pastry provided a nice contrast to the creaminess of the soup, full of flavour and a hearty serve.


I had difficulty choosing between several of the main dishes, especially since the slow roasted pot roast sounded very good. Given that I was in the mid west, and wasn’t liking my chances of having steak before leaving, I decided on the Three Flights of Filet Mignon, a trio of smaller steaks prepared with different toppings. Apparently it’s one of the most popular dishes at the moment and I can understand why with perfectly cooked steaks prepared in several different ways. I particularly liked the steak that was topped with a horseradish crust.


We all agreed to have a dessert and we ended up ordering almost one of every dessert. Molly ordered the special of the evening, a Red Velvet cake, that whilst being about an eighth of cake, could have easily served two or three people. I was particularly happy with the Key Lime Pie cheesecake, a zingy lime filling bottomed out by a slightly orange flavoured graham cracker crust ($8.99). Even though it looked like a more reasonable portion, I couldn’t finish mine because I was so full.

A delicious meal and a great choice of location. The dinner wasn’t cheap (USD90) by the end of it since we had a cocktail to start with, and a number of sides with the steaks (each was additional). The sides were “family-style” as well with two of them barely finished by the three of us having steaks. I enjoyed the service and would definitely add it back to my list for something special.

Name: The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant
Found at: 1401 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA


Yolk was definitely one of my favourite places to have breakfast in Chicago. Obviously eggs are the things that they apparently do well with omelettes that look like they have about six eggs in them, skillets full of food and pancakes galore. I went again for the second time on a weekend, where the waiting queue is super busy although they seem to be able to turn over tables pretty quick with such a large floor space.


Everything on their menu looks pretty tempting and I ended up ordering the classic eggs benedict, despite them offering several different variations on the dish. As you can see from the photo below, it’s a huge portion with two eggs benedict, lots of toasted red potatoes and fresh fruit on the side.


The eggs benedict was amazing with the perfectly made hollandaise sauce. I can see why they’ve won awards for this dish and I’d definitely be intrigued to see what their other variations were like. I’d had better potatoes elsewhere but it’s nice to finish the dish with fresh fruit, even if some of them happened to have a bit of hollandaise sauce left on them.

Name: Yolk
Location: 1120 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 60605
Cost: US$18.03 for eggs benedict, orange juice, tax and tip

Ribs ‘n’ Bibs

I have a confession to make. I love American-style BBQ ribs. I particularly loved the smoked variety and not just the ones that need the BBQ sauce to bring any flavour to the succulent meat. Fortunately I went out specifically to Ribs ‘N’ Bibs that was pleasing in all sorts of ways. It’s not located in the easiest of locations to get to so I visited on the way to the Museum of Science and Industry several blocks away.


It’s small outfit means that it’s not really built for dining in, with a small counter with four stools and three picnic tables outside providing any “eating in” option. Most of the locals seemed to know this with most people ordering carry out or takeaway. I was forced to eat at the counter as it was pouring down heavily outside and hadn’t planned anything else. The rest of the interior is covered with photos and old clippings of praise with lots of celebrities and magazines obviously vouching for the deliciousness of their ribs.


I ordered “The Boss”, a set of ribs, fries and coleslaw as it seemed like the most complete meal. The main event of course were the ribs, the coleslaw more of a token indicator with two “sauce pots” filled with the stuff and the fries definitely unmemorable. Fortunately the ribs made up for it with thoroughly tender pink meat and a smokiness that only comes with that much attention and love.


The sauce was tangy, and complimented the meat as it fell off the bone, something I was thankful for given that all I had to eat the stuff was a plastic fork and my hands.

It’s odd location far from central Chicago means I wouldn’t make a trip out for it but I’d definitely return if I happened to be back in the area.

Name: Ribs ‘N’ Bibs
Found at: 5300 S. Dorchester Ave, Chicago, USA
Website: None that I could find
Cost: The boss (rack of ribs, chips, coleslaw) + drink + tax was US$24

Heaven on Seven

I was catching up with my friend Tiffany, who I’d finally met in one in Calgary and she suggested meeting at her favourite breakfast spot, Heaven on Seven. It’d passed through all of my blog readings so I was definitely intrigued and especially appreciative for hearing a local’s view of things. As a typical Chicago or American style breakfast joint, Heaven on Seven definitely stands out as very different bringing the deep south up north with all of that soul and atmosphere.


Sunday at their Rush Street location (they have three stores in Illinois) has plenty of atmosphere including a live pianist playing a selection of music. Decorations also abound everywhere and some of it particularly eye catching. For example, we sat down at a table in their main room, located right next to the wall almost lined from floor to ceiling with different types of hot sauces. Apparently they have challenge that if you bring in a bottle of hot sauce they don’t have, you get your meal for free (though don’t quote me on that). I do like the bravado and challenge of that. Having said that, they seem to have hot sauce coming out to no ends with at least fifteen bottles at our table. Here’s a picture of our favourite selection of them:


They have a decent selection of brunch “hair of the dog” drinks that I figured was more of a North American thing. I’m not normally one to have anything but Tiffany did suggest the Bloody Mary was one of the spiciest around. On this very same menu they also had a variant of a Long Island Ice Tea underscored with a note stating “Limit of One”. Apparently most of these were very strong. I can definitely attest the Bloody Mary did it’s job on both the alcoholic and the chilli front with me literally sweating through the rest of my breakfast.

Their menu puts a creole, southern spin on everything. In the end I ordered the creole eggs benedict, a spin on the classic dish using Andouille Sausage, smoked paprika and an american style “biscuit” (more like an English scone) as its base.


Whatever it was, it was really good. The serving was plentiful and I was surprised at how well all of those flavours didn’t overpower the hollandaise. They even had the right proportion of ingredients other than it was really two portions and I probably shouldn’t taken the other to go.

I can definitely recommend this place as somewhere to go for a lazy Sunday brunch. Its Rush Street location has plenty of character that just works.

Name: Heaven on Seven
Found at: (Multiple locations) I ate at the one at 600 N. Michigan Ave (2nd Floor) Chicago, IL 60611
Damage: US$44 for two people including two entrees, a Bloody Mary, tax and tip

The Bongo Room

When trying to find places to head out for brunch, I stumbled across The Bongo Room. They have two locations and fortunately there was one several blocks away from where I was staying at the time, making it a very convenient location for breakfast after a bit of a lazy morning.


It’s easy to walk down South Wabash Avenue and almost miss their 1152 location. It’s on the corner and the door is fairly non de script, leading into, what looks like, a converted concrete room fitted out with ikea-like furniture. What the decorations fail to add in terms of character, the large windows with streaming sunlight and tables full of people help make up.

I perused the menu, ordering a freshly squeezed orange juice and see on the menu that they do espresso based drinks (one of the few!) All excited, I order the latte only to discover quickly it’s something never to order again. It’s manufactured exactly like one of those st@rbuck’s-fashioned milk monstrosities terrorising those who crave a simple, good coffee. I was stunned as the waitress dropped off the glass, literally larger than the one that my “large” orange juice was served in. I gave it a good attempt but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, despite it costing almost US$5.


One of the things that I read about The Bongo Room is the way they let you order parts of a meal, like the pancakes that normally arrive as a three stack, but just as orderable as an individual one. Glancing at the menu, I forgo the thought of trying several different pancakes as all of them looked like they’d better sit on a dessert menu such as the Bavarian Stack (chocolate, cherry and vanilla creme). I ended up ordering a single lemon ricotta pancake, assured it was the least sweet of those listed. With the waitresses’ help (more on that later) I also ordered the breakfast croissant, filled with a poached egg, some cheese, bacon and served with toasted red potatoes.


The waitress must have been joking with me when she had indicated how large the pancakes were before I placed my order. She’d assured me with a circular gesture that looked no bigger than the size of a fist, the pancakes were small. What arrived was an enormous pancake that easily would have made a meal of its own. Looking at the two places sit side-by-side, I certainly felt pretty greedy for ordering the breakfast croissant as well. I managed to finish about half the croissant, and half the pancake trying and leaving most of the red potatoes behind.

The pancake was light and fluffy, full of coconut and lemon and definitely being sweet enough without the need for more sugar in the form of maple syrup they also brought to the table. What red potatoes I did have were crisp, salty and definitely went well with the rest of the dish although I wouldn’t say the breakfast croissant was anything to jump up and down for.

I’d definitely come back here although it’s a shame they don’t do a dinner service as many of their pancakes would make awesome desserts.

Name:The Bongo Room
Found at:1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, USA (another location in Wicker Park)
Website: None that I could find
Cost: US$29 for the pancake, juice, coffee, breakfast croissant, tax and tip

An Epic Burger

I remember reading about Epic Burger via the Serious Eats feed and marked it down to visit when I was in Chicago. Fortunately (unfortunately?) it’s located very near to where I’m staying so it makes for an easy visit. Its location very close to Roosevelt University helps provide a steady customer base.

Everything about Epic Burger screams like it’s a chain but there’s only one outlet (so far). I’m guessing that they probably want to be bought out or go into a franchising model. Right now, all I care about is the fact that they serve some very decent grub. Their prices are definitely more than you would pay at your other chains but I can attest that it won’t leave you with that strange vacantly void feeling, a precursor to the inevitable sugar crash that accompanies the perfectly homogenised food of other burger joints. What epic does well, it does really well.

Epic Burger

Their game is about freshness and locally sourced foods with a series of rules that help you understand what they focus on. It’s an easy target to read whilst waiting in line since their menu is only visible when you turn the corner and are directly in front of them. Fortunately their menu is pretty simple: One of four burgers/sandwiches with additional toppings. Combine it with fries, a shake or a smoothie or just get the combo which saves you a dollar. All of it is freshly cooked to order, including the hand pressed (almost looking like a smashed) patty that actually tastes like real beef instead of tasteless stodge. The fries were great, served in a brown paper bag, medium cut and crispy and I have to give particular mention to the freshly made peanut butter shake. Mmm… you’d be surprised at how well it works.


I’m glad that Epic Burger delivers on what they say. I’m hoping they manage to stick to their guns if they do decide to franchise but in the meantime, enjoy their only outlet where they serve some great burgers, fries and shakes.

Name: Epic Burger
Found at: 517 South State St. Chicago, IL 60605
The Damage: US$12.25 for a burger combo including burger, fries and a shake (+tax)

Freshly Cooked Ice Cream

There’s definitely a movement to “creating” desserts at the table with the likes of liquid nitrogen and the iCream store in the Wicker Park area of Chicago is now making big business of it. It’s pretty easy to spot with a big sign that almost looks like a big “Information” sign outside. You can definitely tell it’s an ice cream store on a warm day with plenty of people hanging around enjoying big cups of it.


iCream is unique in that it creates ice cream just in time using liquid nitrogen. This gives them a huge edge over other ice cream stores since they can create a huge variety of ice cream flavours and mix-ins to suit whatever you like. In fact, that’s exactly how it works. You pick a base (yogurt, sorbet, ice cream), a flavour from their large list, a colour and then any mixins that you would like. They have a huge variety of flavours and their concoctions are meticulously measured (as you can see from the large number of syringe like devices below).


The actual mixing process is very clever with four industrial mixers (KitchenAid brand of course!) outfitted with a tube fed from the large tank ready to inject liquid nitrogen at the push of a button. The carefully measured solution is dumped into each mixing bowl, where the mixing blades churn it to the right consistency and with the push of a button, the liquid nitrogen is dispensed. The boiling gas rolls out spectacularly and the mixture is scooped out when it’s at the right consistency.


Amazingly people try to put things together that just don’t work and I overheard the the person taking someone’s order recommending them to avoid a certain combination which I’m glad that they did. My combination of a green lime flavoured ice cream topped with pineapple went down a treat!


Name: iCream
Found at: 1537 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, 60622

Pizza Pot Pie @ the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company

Chicago is not short of places to go and eat out, especially when you’re thinking of having pizza for dinner. The city has a ton of pizza places with many different types of variants of the Chicago-style deep dish. Based on Gerrod’s recommendation (asserted again quite recently) I thought it best to have my first Chicago pizza experience at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.


Since I was staying downtown with a friend, we took a bus on the way up that ended up being a good twenty minutes. After the huge meal we decided it’d be best to walk off our dinner (at least try to walk off some of them). The bus ride and the long walk back gave me a good sense of how close everything seemed in Chicago.

I ran a few searches online to see what other people recommended having here, and one thing that kept coming up again and again was their Mediterranean Bread. Of course we had to order that. As you can see from the picture below, it’s a huge slab of dough, rolled out to ginormous proportions covered liberally with oregano and other herbs. I can see why it’s one of their most popular dishes, packed with plenty of flavour and our only complain was really about the way that it drooped onto the table below, forcing us to eat the crusty edges faster.


Gerrod recommended getting the large pizza pot pie although we were also both intrigued to see what an oven grinder was so we figured we could split each one of those. Considering that the large pizza pot pie was almost double in price and undoubtedly more than double in size I don’t think we made a mistake ordering the small one. I think you’ll also agree it wasn’t a critical mistake when you take a look at how huge the oven grinder is.


The pizza pot pie reminded me of an open calzone with a definitely cheesy, tomato sauce filled with delicious chunks of sausage. The oven grinder, to put it frankly, was monstrous. It wasn’t just the fact that it was made with a chunky loaf of bread, or (over)filled with lots of tasty ingredients but also served with a mountain of roasted peppers. All of it definitely appreciated considering the price but still seemed like a huge amount of overkill.

I liked the fact that this place had plenty of booths giving you a bit more privacy and it’s surprising to see how half an hour makes a big difference to not having to wait and having quite a queue at the door (go early).

Name: Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co
Found at: 2121 N Clark St, Chicago, IL‎