Party Of One

Well It’s been raining pretty much all week, wherever I go. I was in Chicago for a trade show throughout the middle part of the week and it rained there two of the three days, including a four hours of driving through a down pour from the Windy City to Toledo.  It was nice to come home to everything greening up around the homestead though.  Everything looks to be budding and turning green.  The yard is filled with clover and a little grass.  The walking paths and planting beds all have “weeds” growing up, and pushing aside the freshly laid mulch.  Only disappointment is that none of the grass I planted in the orchard took.  That big storm washed it all away or into little mounds and rendered all the clay I had roughed up with the tiller into concrete.

We were informed today that bee delivery has been pushed off until the end of April.  With the crazy weather and whatnot they are behind, and at least one shipment (presumably a tractor-trailer load in my mind) was lost to the bad weather.

Before I left I spread plant food and mulch around almost all the plants we’ve planted since we moved in last year.  And like I said they all look good for the most part. We even picked up a couple more baby boxwoods at Lowes.  I’ll plant those tomorrow or Sunday, and work on a couple other minor yard chores.

While I was in Chicago I did have the opportunity to eat dinner at a couple nice little bar like restaurants.  Both nights I ate by myself, and both meals were exquisite.  I selected both restaurant based on location, as each night I had a party to go to afterwards, and based on the perceived atmosphere.  Here’s my stab at reviewing my meals, on the off-chance you find yourself in Chicago sometime.  I recommend both places, especially the first, and especially if you’re a loser like me who has to eat dinner alone because you lack a friend in this world or at least Chicago on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Farmhouse – 228 W. Chicago Avenue – Because I’m a cheap skate I walked pretty much everywhere in Chicago. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart which is on the west side of the city right near the river.  Tuesday night I had to walk about eight blocks north to a night club for an industry party.  I poured over Mapquest looking for a place to eat beforehand and stumbled upon the Farmhouse. From their website:

“Farmhouse Tavern is a Midwestern Craft Tavern specializing in local food and drink. We are a farm to tavern restaurant, making all of our own burgers, condiments, and sodas from scratch. And with more than 28 craft beers on tap we are sure you will find something special to wash it all down. We are also the only tavern in the country to serve great Michigan wines on tap.”

I like the look of the place online and loved the fact that they use locally sourced ingredients in all their meals, as well as their beer and wine menu.

I quick phone call and I had a reservation for one that evening.  Chicago is a great walking town so I set out, following my phone’s map in unfamiliar territory.  I literally walked by the place, its facade is so unassuming. Stepping inside I was greeted by the young lady I had spoken to on the phone just 45 minutes prior and she showed gave me my choice of single seats at the bar.  I was loving the intimate setting right from the start. Despite its wide selection of local brews, it didn’t come off looking like your typical brew house, nor was it trying to be something in authentic or pretentious, rather the atmosphere was inviting, and psychologically secure, insulating me from the orchestrated chaos just outside its front glass windows.  We’re I there with “friends” or family there were a variety of great seating locations, including a welcoming long table up front from which a group could drink frothy beers, exchange the day’s work related drama and watch the world go by.  The restaurant is not large by any scope of the imagination but it never felt cramped.  Even the obligatory farm decor references, i.e. small tractor models, were subtle, tasteful or at least innocuously executed.

I was promptly welcomed to my seat at the bar by the tender as she handed me a simple menu and drink list on clip board.  Not caring to wade through the selection I asked for and received her recommendation of a Solemn Oath Oxford Comma draft which I found most delightful after a long walk, with its variety of spices and lemon zest. As with my drink I did the same with dinner, having never been to the Farmhouse before, I relied on my guide to make a solid dinner recommendation as well.

For starters I had a Farmhouse chopped salad featuring tavern nuts, prepared vegetables, Michigan dried cherries, and a creamy herb cider dressing. Instantly I was transported to another place.  With every bite the cocooning embrace of a warm house on a cool rainy day enveloped me. I had not a care in the world.  I usually don’t like nuts in anything but found myself foraging my salad, oscillating from crunchy saltiness of the crusted nuts to the chewy sweetness of  the dried cherries.  Washed down with sips of my Oxford and then eventually my next recommended beer, a Solemn Oath Yarnbomb.

For an entree I entrusted the banishment of my hunger with the, once again, recommended boneless short ribs.  Looking at the online menu now, what I had was slightly different from what I see now.  Had I know I would have taken notes but I figured I could look online for reference once I got home.  It’s irrelevant though, for whatever I ate was the most incredible meal I’ve had in a very long time.  I’ve eaten meals that cost three times as much and were half as good. I usually eat one item on my plate completely before moving on, but between the short ribs, mashed potatoes and kale, each bite was better than the one before it.  At one point the smoky flavor of the kale made me feel like I’d just stepped in from the cold and I could feel the warmth of the fireplace back in Ohio.  I was home.

For dessert…well I was so full having essentially licked both plates clean, I drank my dessert, finishing off with my trusted guides last call (for me at least) a New Holland White Mad Hatter.

For the price, atmosphere and their belief in serving not only world-class food and beer, but also helping the local food market, I would recommend the Farmhouse to anyone visiting Chicago.  And you know what, maybe go by yourself because the food is so good you’re probably not going to want to be interrupted mid bite.

Public House – 400 N State St. – With a party at the House of Blues approaching I once again found myself hunting down a place to eat nearby on Wednesday night, and once again was able to land a one man reservation on short notice.  Fortunately for me I have a lot of experience walking fast, for by Wednesday the rains had taken hold of the city as I sprinted down the half dozen or so blocks from hotel to the restaurant.  Somewhat soaked I stepped inside to find a larger, more sports bar like atmosphere (compared to the night before), but inviting none the less.

Once again I relied on the server to make recommendations and once again was met with a meal that exceeded all expectations.  Drink wise I consumed three different beers.  One was a Goose Island Brewery Matilda.  Another was a Bell’s Brewery Seasonal out of Kalamazoo.  And finally a Kona Big Wave draft.  All three were delightful and mated perfectly with my meal.

Speaking of my meal I started out with a nice little side salad, consisting of fairly standard salad ingredients and I nice but not overpowering champagne tripel vinaigrette dressing.  For dinner I had the Steak Frites, which was 10 ounces of medium cooked, herb marinated skirt steak, topped with a couple dollops of butter and a roasted garlic aioli (presumably the sauce on the side, in the little cup…I’m not a food expert, only I know what I like). Finally a little cup of seasoned crisp fries sealed the deal. If the night before’s dinner was comforting and exquisitely crafted, this dinner was all out food porn and equally executed with skill and attention.  My steak melted in my mouth with buttery sinfulness.  I found myself dipping each bite in the side sauce even though it probably didn’t need it, but I needed it.  I took my time and enjoyed every bite.  It was wonderful.

I would recommend the Public House as well, especially with a group. They have tables with pour your own taps, so if your glass runs dry or you want to try a few brews or spirits you’re not at the mercy of the waitress.  Additionally there were plenty of screens to catch the game on tv (I watched the Sox beat up the Jays), or you could sit and just chat with a friend at various two person tables.  While essentially a sports bar the atmosphere and definitely the quality of food elevate the Public House to the level of fine dining at a reasonable cost and once again with out the pretentiousness so often found in the haunting grounds of traditional “foodie” cliques.

My dinner at the Public House.  Yum.

My dinner at the Public House. Yum.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually have no problem hanging out by myself.  I prefer it in many regards to be honest with you.  And exploring the culinary delights of an unfamiliar city, finding two gems all on my own, was extremely rewarding. Just wish the weather was nicer so I could have explored more and taken more photos.

Okay, that’s it for tonight.  Back to work tomorrow.  Stay dry and stay safe.

-Chris

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