Carbs, I can’t imagine a life without them. Yes, I love a good steak, but tell me what are the sides? Because that steak is nothing without a carb, that steak can’t stand alone! I’ll dedicate my love to protein at another time but I’m here to share my top ten, current carb crushes. Cue the heart eyes emoji. These mouth watering, gut-busting carbs will have you ready for nap time in no time. You can thank me later when your food coma is over.
CB&J at Hopleaf
When one of my girlfriends first told me about this sandwich, I was so skeptical. The combination of ingredients did not appeal to me at all, but now I find myself scheduling hangouts in Andersonville just so I can eat it. It’s as if a pb&j had a baby with a grilled cheese sandwich, and now that baby’s moving on up to the east side. I mean who would mix those two sandwiches together? It’s blasphemy! The CB&J at Hopleaf is composed of cashew butter (peanut butter’s bougie cousin), fig jam, and raclette cheese layered between buttered, sourdough bread. The sandwich is then pan fried till it’s toasted on the outside, and the cheese is gooey on the inside. Normally, the sandwich comes with house made potato chips but I would ask to sub for their Belgian style fries. The pomme frites are properly salted and come with an aioli I always wish there were more of. Didn’t think that was enough? It also comes with a piping hot ramekin of Stilton mac and cheese, so you can have your cheese two ways.
Pan Pizza at Pequod’s
There’s always so much debate on who has the best deep dish in Chicago. If I had to live and die by one Chicago pizza for the rest of my life, Pequod’s would be it. Yes, I am definitely a fan of Lou’s butter crust and the cornmeal crust at Gino’s East, but the caramelized crust at Pequod’s holds a special place in my stomach. The crust may look burnt in that cast iron pan, but it is actually a ring of caramelized cheese. It takes a long time to make and sometimes the wait to get seated takes a while too, but it’s all worth it to me. I often tell myself I’ll only have one slice, but once it gets to the table, who am I kidding? Sometimes my friends like to order apps like salad or jalapeno poppers, but I’m not wasting space on that filler. I came for the pizza! My favorite toppings are sausage, mushroom, giardiniera, and fresh garlic. Garlic is great on the pizza because it’s so fragrant and it’s like eating garlic bread and pizza at the same time. I also opt to order a size larger than what’s needed at the table. That way, I can have leftovers for the next day and be the envy of my coworkers when I eat it front of them.
Baked Creamy Egg Yolk Bun at MingHin Cuisine
When most people think of dim sum (Chinese-style tapas most commonly eaten as breakfast or brunch), they’re usually thinking about the siu mai (pork dumplings) and the har gow (shrimp dumplings). Me, on the other hand, I’m thinking about the buns. I enjoy the pork and vegetable bun and the steamed chicken one, but my favorite is the baked, creamy egg yolk bun. I order two orders of the egg yolk buns just for myself, while the others at the table have to fend for themselves. Not to be confused with a regular custard filled bun, the filling of this particular one oozes out like a warm lava. You almost have to be careful not to let the filling leak out on your first bite. The lava is an atomic shade of yellow which is rich, decadent, and can fulfill both your sweet and salty cravings. There are several interpretations of this bun, however I most enjoy it baked with a sweet, crumble topping as served at MingHin Cuisine. It’s probably my number one motivating factor in going to dim sum. So if you want to choose another place for dim sum and they don’t have these buns, I’m not going.
Cinnamon Roll French Toast at M. Henry
You know how Carrie from Sex and the City always compared her lovers to Mr. Big? The cinnamon roll French toast at M. Henry is the measure by which I judge all other French toasts. It’s like they asked themselves, how can we make French toast better? Easy, use a cinnamon roll instead of regular bread. I’ve seen other places do this too, but they’ve found a truly unique way to elevate a normally one dimensional dish. They take a house baked, brioche cinnamon roll and slice it in half. Then, they layer warm seasonal fruit and vanilla neufchatel creme between the slices. Finally, it is topped with a granola crust. (Side note: You can buy their brown sugar granola in their bakery, and this goes great with yogurt and honey.) I love looking at people’s faces when they see this visually stunning beauty being delivered to the table. I think it’s the combination of textures that really does it for me: the soft brioche with hints of cinnamon, mingled with the syrup from the sweet fruit, the fullness of the vanilla cream, and the bite of the granola is what sets this french toast apart. And just like Carrie and Big, this French toast and I lived happily ever after.
French toast at Beatrix Market
So, while there was Mr. Big, there was also the one that got away, Aiden. Next up is the French toast from Beatrix Market. I know. How can two French toasts be on my list? This dish definitely has a special place in my heart. I have to specify that this French toast is only available during breakfast, at the hot bar at Beatrix Market, not in the restaurant. Also, since they rotate their menu weekly, it is not available all the time. I would find myself stalking the hot bar for weeks on end looking for it. As I said before, most French toasts are one dimensional to me, but I have been trying to figure out how they make this one. Their toast is thick and soft on the inside, but not overly doughy. The outside is encrusted in a thin layer of cinnamon sugar and then topped off with powdered sugar. I wonder, do they bake it? Do they put it on a griddle? How do they get that outside layer to be so perfectly crisp and sugary? They’re lined up in the pan, cut into triangles waiting to be scooped up into people’s to go boxes. Once, after not seeing the dish on the hot bar for some time, someone told me they were being served. I made two separate trips, buying a total of nine slices to hoard for the days to come. However, as much as I enjoy this French toast, our stars don’t seem to align that often, just like Carrie and Aiden.
Royal Pie at Pleasant House Pub
Growing up I loved pot pies, and the more crust, the better. I always feel like someone is doing me dirty when I lift up the top layer of crust and I see that’s it, that the bottom is not lined with crust as well. This is not the case with Pleasant House Pub. Their pot pies are called royal pies and my favorite one to order is the Mushroom and Kale. It is assorted mushrooms, kale, and a white wine, parmesan cream sauce covered in 360 degrees of flaky, buttery, pastry crust. It tastes like cream of mushroom soup on crack, and it’s one of the few vegetarian dishes I can eat and not miss the meat. For a long time, their steak and ale pie was my go to until a friend turned me onto this one. Because we cannot stop the carb train there, I like to order this with their mashed potatoes and gravy which you can get “crowned” on top. It’s a warm, hearty meal that makes you wish you were baked into one of their pies on an unforgiving, cold Chicago day.
Artopita at Artopolis
When I was a kid, I used to microwave Hot Pockets, and the filling would explode out of a corner leaving a cheesy mess. Then I grew up and discovered a better version that didn’t require me cleaning up the microwave. I always describe the Artopitas at Artopolis as gourmet Hot Pockets. They are stuffed with a warm, cheesy filling combined with meat or veggies and baked into a light, flaky dough. I would recommend the Kotopita filled with chicken, artichokes, tomatoes, fennel, and mozzarella. Then there’s also the Manitaropita filled with mushrooms, onion, red pepper, Kasseri and Emmenthal cheese. For those seeking Spanakopita, they have one filled with spinach, onion, dill, and feta cheese. To top it off, the artopitas also come with a side of pasta or potato salad. Still didn’t fulfill your crab cravings? You can check out the long dessert case stocked with beautiful cakes and pastries or order the Loukoumades (Greek donuts) and see how many you can shove in your mouth at once.
Mediterranean Bread at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company
Going to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is kind of a struggle. The food is good but the wait sucks. Cash only, ugh. Parking isn’t the best either, but will I make the trek? Yes. While most people will wait for the Pizza Pot Pie, I recently tried another show stopper – the Mediterranean bread. This bread was so good, I could’ve eaten it as my meal alone. It’s a giant flatbread brushed with oil, topped with Italian seasoning. Because it’s so big, the sides of the bread overflow onto the table, so one of the first things I did was fold the edges back onto itself. We ordered this as a side to the chef salad, and one of the best things to do is to dip the bread into the garlic salad dressing. Did I really just stand in line for over 30 minutes to eat bread and salad dressing? You bet I did.
Rigatoni Ala Vodka at Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl
People always ask me what my favorite Italian place is, but I feel a little strange responding with Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl if they’re looking for a restaurant for a special occassion or date night. However, this is one of favorite pastas and it comes from a chain, a sister restaurant to Portillo’s. And let’s be real, chains are successful because they’re consistent. The Rigatoni Ala Vodka is a creamy tomato sauce generously coating rigatoni noodles. It’s served piping hot and I like it best with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a side of garlic bread. I have read that the addition of vodka to a tomato cream sauce gives it an extra bite and enhances the flavor. I was a bit horrified when Portillo’s / Barnelli’s started posting their calorie counts and saw that this pasta racked up 2,140 calories. It’s more than a days worth of calories so I could give it up, but I’m not a quitter.
Sweet Milk Biscuit at Sweet Maple Cafe
Since I was born in the South, I’ve always assumed that biscuits ran through my blood. Apparently, others like them as much as me, as people line up in single file to eat at Sweet Maple Cafe on Taylor St. I am a huge fan of their sweet milk biscuit. Even though I want to try their cornmeal biscuit, I can’t bring myself to order it. The sweet milk biscuit is soft, buttery and not overly dense. Served as a square, it has the perfect surface area and thickness to be sliced in half and then dressed up with butter and jam. I’m often silently scanning the table to see who hasn’t used all of their whipped butter so I can have more. The environment is simple and feels like you’re eating in someone’s home, and to me, enjoying a freshly baked biscuit in the comforts of home is one of the simpler pleasures in life.
Are you out of your food coma yet? So there you have it, all my dreamy crushes that deserve a rose. I will literally be heartbroken if any of these gets taken off of a menu. It has happened before, and I still can’t talk about it. Hopefully, this inspired you venture out, try one of these carby dishes, and see how they measure up against your own favorites. You just might see me at the next table with the same dish, happily shoveling it down, without leaving a crumb to waste. Wait a minute, do you need help finishing that?