Worthless weather has never served as much of a deterrent for my culinary adventures and although the biting cold Chicago winter was a bit of a slap in the face, thick wool socks, a down jacket, and a host of other layers are all one needs to do battle with the cold.
Walking in the snow does hold a slight effervescent charm so over New Year’s my mother and I took advantage of the blossoming neighborhood that we were residing in-Wicker Park, and discovered some great eats under 15 minutes away. Growing up in Chicago I had very few memories of outings in this area because it was still pretty grungy. There were more happenings in Bucktown and Wicker Park was sort of left sitting there under the El. Wicker Park is now turning into a mix of thrift stores, record shops, pop-up boutiques, and some corporate brands, injecting new life into the area. Young crowds are bringing bars, restaurants, and coffee shops to West Milwaukee, Damen, and West Division Street.
Start the day off with a hearty and healthy brunch at Milk and Honey. This breakfast and lunch joint justifies its claim to be a cafe that lies at the intersection between “fresh and goodness”. If you are looking for something light, Milk and Honey has a host of fresh baked pastries and house made granola that is so popular it is packaged and sold as a retail product. My mother and I split the breakfast panini and waffle of the day half and half to get that perfect savory-sweet breakfast combo. The breakfast panini was simple, yet flavorful with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar, and tomato served with home made potato chips. The quality of the basic ingredients really made the dish shine and pushed it to something a little above ordinary. The waffle of the day was a little more decadent and creative. The waffle was made with ricotta cheese and adorned with honey and figs. The dish remained pretty light due to the soft, fluffy cheese with dainty dried figs and was thankfully not drowning in honey. The greatest aspect about Milk and Honey is that the place is all self-service, you order your food, pay, and then get a number. As a guest, I don’t mind collecting my own silverware and water, it makes the whole dining experience smoother and more efficient.
For lunch, dinner, or an in between tapas-like snack Big Star is worth all of the hype. This buzzy bar and taqueria does the classics right and also serves up some innovative Mexican bites of their own. The Al Pastor and Queso Fundido are an absolute must along with the Walking Taco and the Tostada del Betabel. The Walking Taco is a mash up between an Al Pastor and an enchilada served in a bag of Frito Lay Chips, indeed quite perfect for a quick, mobile snack. The Tostada del Betabel is essentially a bright beet salad with some kick served on a crunchy tostada, creating a perfect balance of temperatures and textures. The only downside to Big Star is there less than impressive Horchata, perhaps they focused a majority of the beverage attention on the incredible whiskey and beer selection, maybe no one can fault them for that.