In one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, the perfect storm of new ideas, progressive techniques, and the desire of chefs to create exceptional meals have fired up the Windy City’s dining scene. Chicago is already top-ranked among the best food capitals of America thanks to reputable fine-dining establishments, but the variety of good dining has significantly grown. In fact, many under-the-radar or unassuming, new restaurants are getting just as much attention as Alinea (www.alinearestaurant.com/chicago). You don’t need to dine in a storied, Michelin-rated restaurant (there are 25) to eat well. Notably inspiring and wonderful (and less formal) new restaurants are proving to excel in design, service, ambience, and, of course, food. Many restaurants are making new marks with a start-from-scratch attitude. As I discovered on my last visit, the restaurant scene has become a wonderland of excellent ethnic, contemporary, and haute cuisine presented by chefs taking their culinary creations to the next level (and there’s something to be said about their visionary execution of restaurant design and atmosphere). One of my favorite cities to eat, Chicago is thinking outside the box, and these new hot spots push the bar, and expectations.
You can’t miss Publican Anker. The spinoff of Chicago’s revered The Publican is on the corner of two busy streets in Wicker Park with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows in a trapezoid-shaped building. Opened early last year, Publican Anker’s design is inspired by 1900s-saloon interiors (brick walls, wooden benches and bar stools in long, hallwayshaped dining rooms), though completely reimagined with a modern twist (like oversized light fixtures and indie-rock music piping through the speakers). Come during the day and you have great people watching on the street, while nighttime is a boisterous and fun affair. The restaurant is as casual as they come, so the quality, vision, and execution of the contemporary-America menu was somewhat surprising. Due to the location (Wicker Park is a millennial hot spot), Publican Anker is a magnet to the hipster set, from young couples to young couples toting kids, who love great comfort food and beer (it’s as much a beer hall as it is a restaurant). But don’t think of the menu items as “bar food,” it features only farm-fresh ingredients and, further, each entrée lists the actual farm it hails from (or the server will be happy to tell you). You’ll find everything from oysters and grilled cucumbers to sausage (with kale and creamed corn) and Indiana beets with stracciatella, tahini, cucumber, and mint. Every entrée is remarkably fresh, market-driven and creative, and the chef can take something as common as beets and turn it into a unique, hearty meal. I recommend lunchtime when they serve the popular, moist, and slightly crunchy fried chicken sandwich with spicy honey, methi ranch, and cucumber slaw. For me, mussels are a hit, miss, or meh, and my rare obsession with the excellent mussels served here was very high. The chef dry-roasts the mussels in a coal oven that gives them a distinct smoky flavor. There’s a lot of flavors happening (the pan is deglazed with Calabrian chilies, onions, pork broth, and white wine) with house-made, pork cotechino sausage thrown in to add depth. Everyone was talking about the mussels before I had arrived, and they are getting as much attention as a Chicago hot dog in the 1920s. 1576 North Milwaukee Avenue, Tel: 773-904-1121. www.publikananker.com