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2012 Eat Out Awards: Critics' picks

Time Out Chicago · Guide to Chicago · created over 2 years ago

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    Southern Boarding House Lunch at Big Jones in Chicago, IL

    From that one-off Kentucky dinner (a feast of rice biscuits, pearl onion soup and mince pie) to the weekday boarding-house lunch (fried chicken, greens, biscuits and potatoes, all circa 1933), Big Jones is making history of any other dining plans we had.

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    Baked Goods at Heritage Bicycles in Chicago, IL

    For cyclists, this Lakeview storefront might be a boutique bicycle fabricator and bike-repair shop that happens to serve coffee. But as far as we’re concerned, this is a sun-soaked café…where people happen to be working on bikes in the back. How else do you explain the fact that the barista brews such solid cups of Stumptown coffee? And why else would there be such a thoughtfully sourced assortment of products—from Southport Grocery cupcakes to precious bars of Brooklyn-made Mast Brothers chocolate?

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    Cranberry Walnut Loaf at Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, IL

    Baker Ehsan Ganji’s massive miche (the same bread available at the Publican proper) is at once crusty and a little cakey; meanwhile, his cranberry-walnut loaf makes what we’re ready to deem the world’s best toast. The best part of all this great bread? We hear PQM also sells some meats to go with it.

  • Kimchi Dumplings at Tozi in Chicago, IL

    You can char your own soy-chili– marinated meats to perfection on tabletop burners, but not all the work is left to you; the steamed kimchi dumplings are delicate, plump and made by the pros in the kitchen.

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    Strawberry Basil Lemonade at Elixir in Chicago, IL

    A classy, well-made cocktail used to be a hard thing to find in a Boystown bar. Thankfully, as of last summer there’s Elixir, which not only shakes mean drinks, but also keeps the crowd in control and the music somewhat low, which earns it the Boys to Men Award for Grown-Up Drinking.

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    Smoked Turkey Sandwich with Arugula at Wisma at Chicago French Market in Chicago, IL

    Chicagoans have a hard time admitting the ’burbs have something we don’t, and now that John des Rosiers has opened a branch of his carryout operation, Wisma, in the French Market—well, that’s one less thing city folk need to worry about. Wisma’s got des Rosiers’s silky soups, hearty sandwiches and sensible entrées (salmon with quinoa). Photo: Nathan D. Steinbach

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    Egg Yolk Buns at Cai in Chicago, IL

    The cornerstone of a great dim sum house, these warm, gooey, sweet and creamy Chinese breakfast bombs, filled with a sugary egg paste, are enough to make a vegan weep.

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    Julbord at Tre Kronor in Chicago, Il

    Served in the weeks leading up to Christmas, each julbord begins with hot glogg in the restaurant’s garden before guests hit the incomparable buffet, which features ten varieties of herring and hot dishes like Jansson’s Temptation, a creamy potato casserole.

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    Valrhona Cake at Miko's Flipside Cafe in Chicago, IL

    Will Von Hartz’s teensy pop-up takes residence for the cold-weather months in the Miko’s Italian Ice shop in Bucktown. With chocolate cake, pour-over coffee and gooey grilled-cheese sandwiches from chef Remy Ayesh, we can get through even the coldest, longest winter.

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    Spiked Milkshakes at 25 Degrees Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

    Butter pecan gets SoCo and praline liqueur, coffee ice cream combines with Baileys and a shaving of cardamom, and scoops of butterscotch-vanilla are doused with Maker’s, seasoned with Hawaiian red sea salt and spun to smoothness. Photo: Jason Little

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    12-course Dinner at EL Ideas in Chicago, IL

    To get to EL, Phillip Foss’s 16-seat BYOB, you drive down an industrial alley in a crossroads of railway lines on the city’s Southwest Side. You may feel nervous. But then you see Bill Talbott, the relaxed-but-professional, warm-but-attentive host/waiter/sommelier, standing at the door. He quickly learns your name, attends to your wines and sets the congenial tone that makes dining at EL a one-of-a-kind experience.

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    Royal Pies at Pleasant House Bakery in Chicago, IL

    Just because the “farm-to-table” movement has been co-opted, distorted and overwrought doesn’t mean there aren’t restaurants out there more committed to its principles than ever. Chief among them is Art Jackson and Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson’s understated Bridgeport restaurant, where seasonal produce comes direct from Pleasant Farms, a network of small urban farms in and near Chicago.