What I Ate (and Thought, and Did) in 2014

Ha! I tricked you with that headline.  It's not just Buzzfeed that can play clickbait - even my little website can pull it off. Ok, I didn't totally trick you. I'm going to mention a few great bites that I had this year. But before that, you'll have to bear with a few paragraphs of maudlin.'  Ready? Let's go.

Matt's five-year anniversary card - the first in our new home. 

Matt's five-year anniversary card - the first in our new home. 

I can say without hesitation that 2014 has been the most eventful year of my life.  When I began the year, I was a law student and the editor of Tasting Table Chicago. I'd barely heard of Chicago Market (and it was called Chicago Cooperative then), I probably had written a total of 5 magazine articles in my life and I planned to be renting until I was 40.

Somehow, on December 31st, I find myself engaged to the most amazing man on the planet, a regular writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and about three different magazines, a newly elected board member of Chicago Market, a really-for-real employed lawyer and, most recently, the owner of the most amazing stove in the city of Chicago (and the home that it is attached to).  Whew!


It's a cliche to say so, but none of it would have been possible without the amazing people in my life.  As some of you may know, behind my too-loud, fast-talking facade is a misanthropic recluse who hates everyone and prefers staring at my Xbox over interacting with anyone.  What this means is that my friends and colleagues often have to poke me a few times before I respond - and I'm incredibly thankful for their persistence, without which I would be a total mess.

This year was worse than most, given that I was so busy, but you stuck with me.  I'm endlessly grateful for the publicists who didn't kill me when I needed something in 10 minutes or less, the editors who didn't yell at me when I needed an extension, the chefs who picked up their phones, the colleagues who listened to me rant about the state of the world over IM and the friends who carried me along the whole time. I don't do New Years resolutions (never keep them and always feel bad about it, so bah!) but my only hope is to see even more of all of you in the new year. 

Enough!  On to the food.  I don't care about top 10 lists, and, frankly, everything amazing has been written about by someone. To paraphrase the oft-brilliant Mike Gebert, you don't need me to tell you how awesome 42 Grams or Parachute are. Instead, here is a random, haphazard list of seven of my favorite bites of 2014, along with the reason they are memorable. This is often personal, rather than culinary - for me, food is about the people, the memories and the feelings that are provoked, as much as the calories on the plate. They also aren't all new. I don't care.

1) Beef Tartare at Ardent.  I'm obsessed with tartare in general, and this is an innovative example - a riff on the flavors of beef tartare shaped into a kind of cannibal sandwich of a dish. Worth the trip to Milwaukee by itself. Memorable because: A late night dinner at a chef's counter with Matt and Chef Carlisle that I won't soon forget. 

2) Smoked Paprika Brownie at Honey Butter Fried Chicken.  Like anyone needs to be told that the chicken is good (but it is. it's amazing. eat it now) but people often overlook this simple little brown square of a dessert that will make your mouth light up. Memorable because: A group of 50 strangers turned into a group of friends at a Chicago Market event hosted by HBFC and massacred plates of them. 

3) A Dozen Hamma Hamma Oysters at Shaw's Crab House.  Anyone who follows me on Instagram (or, as I call it, Oystergram) is familiar with my obsession. It's an amazing value, the service is perfect, and they serve real cocktail sauce instead of a chef-driven mess. Memorable because: I go for oyster happy hour as often as my schedule allows, but this particular dozen was eaten along with a wedge salad and a gin martini on the night Matt and I closed on our new home.

4) A Ports of Call at Three Dots and a Dash.  As sad as I am to see Paul McGee leave (and I hope the place doesn't go to hell in his absence), I had some of the better drinks of my life bellied up to his frond-laden bar. This unassuming, ungarnished drink is an unlikely favorite for the eclectic spot, but it's complicated and dark, with a hint of bitter. Memorable because: This was the drink that convinced my now-obsessed father that cocktail bars were cool and that rum was worth drinking. 

5) A Juicy Lucy at Dusek's. I still maintain that this is one of the top five burgers in Chicago. the cheese is INSIDE THE BURGER, people. What's not to love? Memorable because: This is a hamburger that matt, formerly a vegetarian, always orders. It's also the hamburger eaten at my BFF Monica's graduation dinner. 

6) Smoked Salmon at Gather (for Brunch).  I could go on and on about Gather (and have, in multiple locations) but suffice it to say that this is the best smoked salmon plate in Chicago. Plus, deep-fried capers. Memorable because: I got the greatest Christmas present ever from Ina Pinkney while eating it.

7) House of Commons Punch at Journeyman Distillery.  Punch is a recent obsession of mine, while gin is a long-standing one. That makes this punch, made with Journeyman gin, earl grey tea and citrus, a perfectly tailored concoction.  Memorable because: You never forget your proposal punch.

Happy New Year, everyone! And here's to an amazing 2015.