The Other Critics

Time Out Likes Urban Union, Dogs, Brunch; Crain’s Goes Under the Radar For St. Paddy’s Day

Phil of Phil's
Phil of Phil’s Photo: courtesy Phil’s Last Stand

It’s a quiet week for print reviews for some reason— maybe all our reviewers are just sitting quietly ticking off the days until Nellcote and Balena are a month old— so the only new review of the upscalish places our reviewers mostly stick to is Julia Kramer’s of Urban Union on Taylor Street. She finds the small plate paradigm problematic “with these little, shareable plates, you are constantly in danger of ordering in a way that will make the meal highly annoying: not enough food, not the right food, not the most shareable food.” And some dishes are too simple: “Porchetta, roasted in the wood-burning oven, has a juicy center; skirt steak had an awesome charred flavor and came out gorgeously medium-rare. But both were served practically bare in their own juices, and though I recognize there can be beauty in simplicity, something about the plates felt incomplete.” But she’s happy enough, and especially calls out unknown-but-not-for-long pastry chef Mitsu Nozaki, who she says delivers “desserts that are in step with the tone of the rest of the meal but don’t give up their own personality in the process: toasty, nutty pistachio cake paired with lemon curd; gooey, warm sticky date pudding; crunchy Kit Kat-inspired hazelnut-mousse cake paired with a quenelle that looks like ice cream but turns out to be deep, dark chocolate pudding.” [Time Out Chicago]

Time Out also plugs the gap with some less formal spots. Julia Kramer, Hot Dog Bureau Chief, takes a look at four new dog stands. Wrigleyville’s 24 hour Jimbo’s Top Gun Red Hots scores for a dog that’s “quite good” but gets dinged for fries that are “not just McDonald’sish—they are exact replicas. That, or these are fries that really have been made at McDonald’s and brought over. They’re thin, light and salty, and you hate yourself after eating a pound.” Rotten Johnny’s, in the West Town space that held the spot with the stripper pole a couple of years ago, gets slammed for a “grayish and snapless” dog. Bridgeport’s Zebra’s Gourmet Hot Dogs’ main point of interest is a choice of corn fritters over fries. But the winner is West Town’s Phil’s Last Stand: “Surprisingly, Phil’s adheres to the unusual Gold Coast Dogs school of splitting the ends of the Vienna Beef dogs and charring (rather than steaming) them.” But her key insight is: “If it goes in a fryer, you want it. For one, the fries, which, though oversalted, are crispy on the outside and airy inside. And for two, the perfectly fried giant shrimp: sweet, fresh-tasting crustaceans coated with crunchy, panko-like breading.” [Time Out Chicago]

Nick Kindelsperger at Serious Eats Chicago also visits Phil’s Last Stand and finds a gem: “The number of quality new stands that have opened recently is so intense that it’s hard for me to keep up. But currently Phil’s is leading the freshman pack. What does Phil’s add to a scene already stuffed with more natural casing hot dog joints than one man should reasonably eat in a year? It’s all about the grill. The hot dogs aren’t steamed but charred, and that lick of the flame, along with the handsome grill marks, puts it in the similar camp as Gold Coast Dogs, but where that Loop staple seems to be coasting, Phil’s is working hard.” [Serious Eats]

Back to TOC, which absolutely denies that it publishes a brunch issue about every three weeks, but who takes another look at brunch with what sounds like one of those hilarious-in-retrospect, gnaw-your-foot-off-to-escape experiences at an eclectic shop in Pilsen called Oxala (sample: “Though there were three of us, we were heavily encouraged to order the ‘menu for two.’”) Tamarkin and/or Kramer have better luck at Township, the new spot from the former owner of Treat, where they find “the feeling… of a friendly diner” and are left happily sweating by the Indian spices. Finally, they go to Custom House Tavern with visions of chicken and waffles, but find “the servers seemed genuinely taken aback that they had people to attend to” and they are out of… chicken and waffles. They have a burger; so much for brunch. [Time Out Chicago]

Crain’s, seeking to serve the hard-drinking Don Drapers of the world this weekend, zeroes in on two Irish pubs they think are under the radar enough to be civilized this weekend. D4 Irish Pub & Cafe (named for the owner’s postal code in Dublin) is a surprisingly large (260-seat) spot where “Chef Joe Butera, son of the supermarket founder, brings care and finesse to the menu. He pours heavy cream into the puréed potato-leek soup ($5) but keeps the texture light and silky. The fork-tender lamb stew ($15) is hearty but not heavy, braised in light tomato and veal demi-glace sauce. Guinness gives body to a mellow shepherd’s pie, whose mashed potatoes have the sharp tang of Irish cheddar ($16).” Emerald Loop gets less culinary praise but does earn a recommendation: “for bigger, complex flavor, choose the Irish-style chicken curry on rice ($14.95), with depth and sweetness from raisins and charred onions and mild heat.” [Crain’s]

Time Out Likes Urban Union, Dogs, Brunch; Crain’s Goes Under the Radar For St.