Producers and Restaurants

This page is my ever-growing guide to the food makers that I love in the places where I spend the most time. These are my favorite places to eat and my favorite people producing some of the best food in the region.

Chicago

  • Athenian Room

    Mezzanine_903.jpg.resize.768x432Athenian Room 773.348.5155

    807 W. Webster Ave Chicago IL

    Erik has been going to the Athenian Room since he was little. I walked by it almost every day on my way to work at Floriole. I had always dismissed it because it’s not much to look at; white stucco attached to a bro-bro bar. But the kalamata chicken is worth every bro and boob salad that you have to step over to get in the door. Perfectly grilled half bird resting on top of thick fries that are tossed with Greek vinaigrette and the chicken juices. Amazing. No wonder Tina Fey cites it as her favorite Chicago restaurant. Pro tip: there’s no alcohol in the dining room, but you can go to the bar and bring a beer over. If there’s a super long wait for the dining room, you can sit in the bar and order and eat there.

  • Avec Restaurant

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    Avec Restaurant 312.377.2002

    615 W. Randolph Chicago, IL

    avecrestaurant.com

    The One-Off Hospitality Group runs some of the best food establishments in Chicago. Avec is the sister restaurant to their flagship, Blackbird. Blackbird was the first, how they made their name, and still a Chicago institution. But we go back again and again to Avec. It is somehow both casual and the place where we find ourselves when its time to celebrate. The menu classics—bacon-wrapped dates, truffle deluxe cheese focaccia, brandade and crispy chocolate—are not to be missed. But overlooked by many are the rotating specials—the whole fish and any of the vegetable dishes—illustrate how to keep people’s favorites but not atrophy in their wake. And it is one of the best places to get a glass of wine and several snacks at 4 in the afternoon.

  • Floriole Bakery and Café

    IMG_2723Floriole Bakery and Café 773.883.1313

    1220 W. Webster Chicago IL

    floriole.com

    Full disclaimer, Sandra Holl was one of the first people to hire me in Chicago, and I have enjoyed working with her on and off since 2007. There has been a surge in high quality bakeries here, and Floriole leads the pack, personal biases aside.

    The highlights are the laminated pastries (croissant and kouign aman) and the classic Bordeaux rum and vanilla custardy pastry Canale (pictured). On the savory side, the quiche is always a winner—deep dish and very savory. So too is the ham and cheese sandwich—five ingredients including the delicious baguette. And all the bread is worth the ticket price.

    Keep an eye out for their Sunday Supper Series and anything else that the staff is especially pumped about.

  • Sun Wah BBQ

    sun-wah

    5039 N. Broadway
    sunwahbbq.com

    I found out about Sun Wah the way that is always sort of annoying, “You mean you’ve never BEEN to SUN WAH.” No I hadn’t and I for damn sure wasn’t going now ya jerks. But then I had also never had Chinese BBQ before either. So for research and cultural awareness sake, I made the drive to the north side and ordered the duck dinner. For the record, this is the only thing I’ve ever ordered at Sun Wah (except one time when we went with a large group and I got some garlicky sautéed spinach as a side) and it will probably be the only thing I ever will. One of the best deals in Chicago—a whole duck, cut table side, served with steamed rice flour rounds, pickled and raw vegetables and a bevy of sauces to assemble the most delicious buns. Then a large bowl of duck fried rice arrives at the table. Then a large bowl of duck broth with bitter melon arrives at the table. You’re fed for minimum three days and all for a completely reasonable $40 per duck.

  • The Whistler

    whistler

    2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.
    whistlerchicago.com

    Now that craft cocktails have permeated most eating out venues, it is a real treat to return home to one of the first Chicago bars to shake with deliberateness. In addition to the shaken and stirred menu, there is music every single night and it will always be free according to owner, Billy Helmkamp. Full disclosure: Billy also runs a small record label under the same name and put out my husband’s first album and will always be a good friend. But special relationship aside, Billy and his staff are the sort of bar that know (or can help you find) what you want to drink. He summed it up the other night when we stopped in, “Erik: brown, bitter and stirred. Abra: gin, citrusy and not too sweet.” Tell him what you like and he’ll reach into the rolodex of cocktails in his brain and call forth your match.

  • Vin Chicago

    IMG_2721Vin Chicago 773.489.3454

    1826 N. Elston Chicago, IL

    vinchicago.com

    One of the least utilized opportunities in Chicago is Vin’s wine tastings. From 12-4 each Saturday, Vin opens 8-10 bottles and to taste. It is a low-pressure experience. You don’t have to talk about the wines; you don’t have to buy any of them. And after tasting you can head right over to the sale corner where steals abound. Because there is no fuss or frill at Vin, there are lots of great wines for $10 and classics at the cheapest rate around. And you don’t have to put together cases for a discount. The discounts are already passed along.

Northern Michigan

  • 9 Bean Rows

    9 Bean Rows

    Restaurant 231.271.1175

    303 N. St. Joseph St. Suttons Bay

    Bakery 231.271.6658

    9000 E. Duck Lake Rd. Suttons Bay

    Farm, Bakery and Restaurant—9 Bean Rows does it all, works harder than anyone else I know and consistently makes the food that I want to eat.

    Nic Welty, the farmer, grows vegetables for his large CSA and several farmer’s markets in Leelanau Co. and Traverse City.

    Jen Welty, the baker, makes the finest lamanent pastries and bread in the whole county all while raising their children and being an overall force to be reckoned with! So full of fire and excitement, I always leave her presence feeling guilty for not working more and thankful that I get full nights of sleep.

    Paul Carlson, the chef, runs their restaurant in Suttons Bay and makes food simultaneously relevant in the larger food world and uniquely of the place- sourcing food from their farm and the rest of the region. When I’m tired of eating my own food, I go eat Paul’s.

    If you are in Leelanau Co don’t either their restaurant, in downtown Suttons Bay, or their bakery on M-204 just west of Suttons Bay on your way to Leland.

  • Leelanau Cheese Co.

     

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    Leelanau Cheese Co. 231.271. 2600

    3324 S. West Bay Shore Dr. Suttons Bay, MI

    Anne and John Hoyt started Leelanau Cheese Co in 1995 and since then have become a fixture in the Northern Michigan food culture (pun intended!). One of those magical businesses that make two things extremely well, they focus on Raclette and Fromage Blanc. The raclette (mild and aged) is an Alpine style cheese that rivals any other in the country. The Fromage blanc, a fresh cheese with a yogurt like tang, stands in for ricotta and cream cheese in my kitchen.

    In 2007 they won “Best in Show” at the American Cheese Society annual conference and regularly win medals in all sorts of cheese competitions. Beyond being world-class artisans, John and Anne are also just good people with a lot of spunk and love.

    Stop in their new cheese shop on M-22 just south of Suttons Bay to taste cheese, buy cheese and learn even more about cheese.

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  • Tandem Ciders

    tandem

    Tandem Ciders 231.271.0050

    2055 N. Setterbo Rd. Suttons Bay, MI 49682

    Tandem single handedly re-shaped the experience of going tasting in Leelanau Co—threading the needle between being a place for visitors and regulars alike.

    Tandem Ciders is the only committed hard cidery in Leelanau Co making hard cider that is approachable, deliciously appley and not as sweet as what is on the regular market. Showcasing the fruit and growers of the region and adding a valuable depth to our northern Great Lakes food culture.

    Stop in on Thursday afternoons and you’ll see the Bare Knuckle Farm Crew sitting down on the grass for a pint after our biggest harvest day. Pro tip: show up with a 9 Bean Rows baguette and a wedge of Leelanau Raclette and you’ll have the Leelanau Co food perfection trifecta! Oh and my dad made the long wooden tables that are outside.