Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

Interior of Hot Chocolate, 1747 N Damen Avenue

Alison Holmes

Bucktown is known for its eclectic and trendy music, fashion, and food—and Mindy’s Hot Chocolate delivers on all levels. Located on Damen Avenue on Chicago’s north side, Hot Chocolate is the epitome of decadent indulgence. The contemporary artisan-American restaurant offers upscale yet casual dining with a variety of seasonal menus for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

The restaurant prides itself on giving guests a special dining experience from start to finish—including a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere, exceptional service and amazing food. Interior décors feature a modern, industrial-style design with exposed brick, dark wood-work, clean lines, wood-beamed ceilings, local artwork and a rich color palate of deep chocolates and tans. A sleek, streamlined bar offers full menu service for those looking for a casual dinner, sweet treat or after dinner drink. The warm and inviting atmosphere, neighborhood charm and intoxicating aromas of Hot Chocolate are enough to enchant even the harshest critics.

Owner, Executive Chef Mindy Segal

Since its inception in 2005, Hot Chocolate has become a fixture of the local Chicago dining scene. The decadent cuisine is a created with high quality, locally sourced ingredients. However, in order to understand the creative menu, one must understand its creator.

Owner and Executive Chef Mindy Segal’s passion for her craft is undeniable. No stranger to the Chicago restaurant scene, the three-time James Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef prides herself (as well as her staff) on not only being a master of her craft, but for also fully immersing herself into her greatest loves, food and cooking.

The cornerstone of the menu, and the restaurant itself, is Segal’s use of local artisan farmers, brewers and wine makers. The menu at Hot Chocolate changes with the seasons to ensure that diners get the freshest ingredients to guarantee the best final product. “We make everything from scratch, and try to buy whole animals [to utilize all the parts]….we like to use small producers—preferably local—and we’re very seasonal. I’ve been cooking like that my entire career,” said Segal.

Hot Chocolate’s new head chef Aric Miech is also passionate about creating great food from local sources. “I love it. I get to work on my craft every day and teach people what I’ve learned. During the winter time we don’t get to go to the market as much as the spring and summer, so we use a lot of mushrooms, squashes, root vegetables and grains…but being able to go to the market and meet these farmers is super important. It’s a great opportunity for me. It’s easy to forget where some of the food comes from,” said Miech.

The use of local, seasonal products not only creates great food, it really supports and gives back to the community. Segal makes her commitment to her skill and community very clear. “I’m going to give my guests the best product that I personally can, and I’m going to strive for excellence,” said Segal. And that she does—the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

Hot Chocolate’s menu features a variety of sweet and savory items including, appetizers, salads, gourmet sandwiches, entrées, cheeses and desserts. The artisan fare is creative and unique. Each dish is hand-crafted and is given just as much time, energy and effort as every other menu item.

Classic entrées include a grilled Kobe flank steak with roasted pumpkin puree and a confit of fingerling potatoes and house-made giardiniera; Gunthrop Farm seared duck breast with a Brussels sprout and bacon hash; and homemade macaroni and cheese made with Rothkase gruyere and Carr Valley mammoth Cheddar.

“Mindy has kinda changed my way of thinking a little bit,” said Miech. “Artisan cooking is very…uh…you don’t play with the food that much. You let the food speak for itself,” said Miech. And that it does.

Chocolate #1

Perhaps best known for its innovative, artfully crafted desserts, Hot Chocolate serves up an extensive cheese and sweets menu capable of pleasing anyone’s tastes. Segal’s signature desserts include Chocolate #1—a warm chocolate ganache and meringue tart with a chocolate soufflé center, salted caramel ice cream and house-made pretzels; Banana’s and Butterscotch—banana brioche bread pudding, banana sherbet, malted liquid butterscotch, cardamom cream and banana cake cannoli; and Warm Brioche Doughnuts, served with hot fudge. Another must-try, and the restaurant’s namesake, is a gourmet spin on classic Hot Chocolate, which is available in six varieties. An array of artisan beer, wine, ports and champagne compliment and enhance any dish or dessert.

Mindy Segal truly is a master of her craft, and it shows in every dish, dessert and detail of Hot Chocolate. With menu prices ranging from $7–$27 Hot Chocolate is a must-try. So if you’re out on the town, want a relaxed dinner or just love great food, this is the place for you. Don’t take my word for it, try it.

Check It Out: Hot Chocolate

1747 North Damen Avenue

www.hotchocolatechicago.com

Miramar Bistro

Interior of Miramar

Michael Phillips

In a town dominated by Italian and Spanish restaurants, Miramar Bistro stands alone. Located in Highwood, a small suburb of Chicago, Miramar Bistro is the only restaurant of its kind in a town known for great dining. The French-Cuban concept offers upscale, yet casual dining, with an eclectic menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

Its name comes from a neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, which also serves as the model for the design of the restaurant. Interior décors are a combination of a rustic Cuban eatery and a classic French bistro. Miramar Bistro offers a relaxed atmosphere and quaint country charm with mosaic tile flooring, soft lighting, tan stucco walls and distressed wood tables, chairs and mirrors.

An elegant antique-style wooden bar serves as the focal point of the restaurant and offers a casual spot for guests to have a bite to eat or a cocktail. It features wooden stools and shelves, which showcase a large selection of wine and spirits.

Open since 2004, Miramar Bistro continues to thrive and succeed in Highwood’s competitive restaurant area because of its owner Gabriel Viti, a Highwood native who still lives in the area.

Viti is a chef who has studied all over the world including France, Switzerland, and Italy. In addition to Miramar Bistro, Viti also owns and operates Backstage Lounge and Gabriel’s—his original concept that has been open for nearly two decades. The fantastic food and friendly atmosphere his restaurants offer is a source of his notoriety in Highwood. Viti understands his customers and the community and provides a home-away-from-home in Miramar Bistro.

While the design of the restaurant is tailored to French and Cuban themes, the concept specializes in French cuisine but also features Cuban-, and Italian-inspired dishes. Upon entering the restaurant, guests are treated to an array of enchanting aromas including fresh-baked breads, grilled meats and a variety of rich spices. French themes in the menu are highlighted with classic dishes including Moules Mariniere, escargot and crispy calamari. Sauces such as homemade pesto and crème fraiche—a French sour cream—add to the flavor of. The Cuban options are more in the line of sandwiches, like the Pressed Chicken Pesto, which is a sandwich cooked on a panini type grill.

House specialty: Scallop, crab, and lobster cake

Miramar Bistro’s signature appetizer is the scallop, crab, and lobster cake, all together in one appetizer. The scallop, crab, and lobster are all lightly crusted and placed into a rich and creamy tomato-based sauce with a little spice to it. This starter makes people truly appreciate their taste buds and is a favorite among local restaurant-goers, including Dan Berliant. “The combination of crab, scallops, and lobster is delicious. I love sea food and the fact that I can get them together in one appetizer is one of the reasons I come to this restaurant,” said Berilat.

If diners prefer a lighter appetizer, people can’t go wrong with the Caesar salad. The proprietary dressing is served over fresh lettuce and dressed with a dash of parmesan cheese. Signature entrées include a 10-ounce filet mignon, Salmon Provencial and Steak Au Poivre, a tender New York strip steak topped with cracked pepper, and crème fraiche. In addition to the worldly tastes offered at Miramar Bistro, the family-friendly restaurant also offers a kids’ menu that features hamburgers and chicken tenders.

The absolute must-try dessert at Miramar Bistro is the chocolate mousse. This decadent dessert is a classic chocolate mousse adorned with chocolate, certainly a pleasant way to end an evening. According to regular customer Frank Defilippis, “There are variations of chocolate desserts everywhere, but this chocolate mousse is something different. I don’t know if they use a different kind of chocolate or what, but this is the best I’ve had.”

The friendly and knowledgeable restaurant staff compliments the restaurant and enhances the overall dining experience. Viti continues to offer the community creative, worldly cuisine in a comfortable and welcoming environment. “It’s so nice to have a restaurant where I can go and take my family, and know everyone will like their meal and have a good time,” said restaurant-goer Michael Utterback.

A lively entrance to Miramar

Check It Out: Miramar Bistro

301 Waukegan Avenue – Highwood, IL

www.miramarbistro.com

Chicago Brauhaus

Outside of Chicago Brauhaus

Katia Pavlyuk

Nestled in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, Chicago Brauhaus has become a community staple with its authentic German fare and relaxed environment. The company’s motto, “It is always Oktoberfest in Brauhaus,” reflects the laid-back style and attitude of this traditional German restaurant. Its motto can easily be spotted on every menu, postcard and website, and is often heard from its proud staff members as they treat you to friendly service. The Oktoberfest atmosphere of Chicago Brauhaus can be felt even before stepping inside the restaurant.

In the center of Lincoln Square this German-style building stands bearing double-wooden doors, yellow lanterns and a Bavarian chef sign advertising Steigl beer. The interior décor features long banquet tables decorated with blue-and-white checkered tablecloths and stained glass windows.  Above, is a curved out wooden ceiling with blue-and-white checkered flags. All aspects are very common to Bavarian country-style beer houses.

The restaurant dates back to 1965, when brothers Guenter and Harry Kempf immigrated to Chicago from Germany with thoughts of opening a restaurant. Chicago Brauhaus originated as a small restaurant called the “Treffpunkt,” which in the German language translates to “meeting spot.”

From left to right, Guenter and Harry Kempf, and Feddy (Harry’s son)

During the 1970s as the Lincoln Square neighborhood—Chicago Brauhaus’ current location—started to become more culturally diverse, the restaurant became a focal point of the neighborhood’s activity, and began to attract locals as well as tourists. The owners of the restaurant then decided to move the restaurant to a larger space and abandon the German name instead calling it “Chicago Brauhaus.” As Harry the owner says, “We saw a need for a house for everybody, where you could go with the flow and the surroundings were comfortable.”

In addition to Brauhaus’ comfortable atmosphere and authentic Bavarian look, the restaurant offers Chicagoans some of the best  German-American cuisine. Hhouse specialties include the “Bayarischer Leberkase a la Holstein,” a Bavarian-style grilled meat loaf topped with the fried egg, red cabbage and potatoes.  This dish is common to the residents of south Germany. There is also a plate especially created for Chicagoans, the “Brauhaus Chopped Steak.” It’s a Chicago-style broiled chopped steak, topped with German-style mushroom gravy and a side of vegetables.

The Chicago Brauhaus menu is very rich and features dozens of dishes that can satisfy the appetite of any customer. The restaurant has made huge efforts to assimilate to different ethnic communities of Chicago, especially in terms of the type of food it offers. Even though Germans are known to be great meat lovers, Chicago Brauhaus menu also offers vegetarian dishes, which gives it a chance to expend its cliental even more.

The Chicago Brauhaus Trio

As far as entertainment goes, the Brauhaus features its very own Chicago Brauhaus Band, a trio that fills the space with live folk music every evening. Since the increasing popularity of the restaurant and the diversification of the region, the trio band has expanded its music repertoire to now give performances not only in German, but in nine different languages to keep the public entertained and wanting more.

Chicago Brauhaus is a great example of old-style Germany right here in Chicago. It’s a place where people still come to drink beer in the early afternoon, to have lunch, dinner or just come and hang out—especially during the traditional German Oktoberfest celebration which runs from late September to early October.

As the lead singer of the band Gody says, “We have set the record for the world’s longest Oktoberfest,” so don’t miss a chance to be a part of it!

Check It Out: Chicago Brauhaus

4732 North Lincoln Avenue

www.chicagobrauhaus.com