Double Date Night at Spacca Napoli

Tell me something: What took me so long to try Spacca Napoli? I don’t think I’ll ever know, but let me tell you why YOU need to go (if you haven’t already; if you have, spread the word!).

I heard this was Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s favorite pizza in the city, and I can definitely see why. This Neapolitan-style pizza is so delicious, it left me wanting more–and we ordered three pizzas! We being myself, Nate, and our friends Bridget and Trey.

I’m constantly striving to visit new neighborhoods/neighborhoods I don’t explore often, so I suggested some options near where Bridget and Trey live. To Ravenswood we went, starting with a nice white wine and Polpo Grigliato (grilled octopus with arugula and tomatoes). Perfect serving for four and great dish to hold us over while we waited for our pizza.

For our brick-oven, Neapolitan-style pizza, we tried: Margherita, Salsiccia (sausage), and Prosciutto and e Rucola (prosciutto and arugula) pizzas. The pizzas are served uncut and are big enough to share, giving the experience a very family-style feel that I liked. All of the pizzas were fresh and delicious, and it was nice to be able to taste more than one. Three pizzas was a good order for us, but bad because we were too full to eat anything else!

I’m definitely going to return. There are too many different pizzas for me to taste (if you can’t tell, I love pizza)! Make sure to put this restaurant on your “to try list”!

Notes for my friends with dietary needs: they can make you gluten-free pizzas with 24 hours notice and have a dairy-free option, too.

Spacca Napoli
1769 West Sunnyside
Ravenswood

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Hot Doug’s

When I heard that Hot Doug’s, the Sausage Superstore and a Chicago institution, is closing on October 3, I felt discouraged that I might not get to go. Weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Melissa, and brother Chris asked if we’d like to go together. Last Saturday we went. Here’s a (shortened) play-by-play of our experience–the 3.5 hour version might take awhile!

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Today is the day. Our pup George woke me up at 6:45 am. I was showered and ready for some encased meats by 10:30.

10:30 am: Go to the ATM because Hot Doug’s is cash only. Chris and Melissa pick us up, and we head north.

10:54 am: We arrive at Hot Doug’s. On California we only see a short line…then we turned the corner onto Roscoe. There they are: a line of people half a block down. Mind you, Hot Doug’s opened at 10:30 am.

11:15 am: I’m already restless. I walk over to Target a few blocks away. I needed a drink (Gatorade). And a snack (a banana). I walk back.

Noon: The sun is so hot, we get an umbrella from the car. The restaurant is giving hose water to those who need it. The ice cream truck is parked, and people can’t get enough water and ice cream.

1:30 pm: I’m starting to lose it. It’s like a marathon, and I worry I’m not strong enough. We are so close, but so far away. Doubting my decisions. Feeling dumb for waiting so long. Just outside the door…

2 pm: We are in the restaurant. It’s small, but strangely quiet and peaceful with lot of memorabilia, a very different scene from outside. If the line outside was hell, this is heaven. I’m staring at the menu; this sausage superstore has so many choices, like Polish, Bratwurst, Chicken, Italian, and vegetarian, plus daily specials like The Atomic Bomb, Shrimp ‘n Grits, and Hot Doug’s BLT. I’m salivating. Not only do you choose your sausage, you can choose how you want it cooked (chargrilled, boiled, or fried) and your toppings.

2:30 pm: We order with Doug. This man is so nice. If you dislike him or behave badly to him, there’s something wrong with you. Same goes with the rest of the staff.

I get the chargrilled bratwurst with caramelized onions and ketchup. I know this isn’t the most adventurous order (I leave that to my hubby), plus my first-ever corn dog (they’re kind of sweet? Who knew?), and duck fat fries to share. Nate gets three specialty dogs: One Third Pound Cheddar and Beer Pork Sausage, Hot Sauce Chicken Sausage, and Veal Saltimbocca Sausage.

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So, the ultimate question: Was it worth it? If you would have asked me while I was sweating in the hot summer sun, I would have said no. But once we got inside, I was so glad to be there. The end is near for this gem, and I can say I’ve been there, I’ve endured the line, and honestly enjoyed the delicious food. Oh, and I took my picture with Doug! (Did I mention how nice he is?) That said, I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I’m okay with that. Just so glad I was a part of legacy.

Are you up to the challenge?!?

Hot Doug’s
3324 North California
Avondale

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Week #15 – Balena

I had pretty high expectations for Balena, which has been named one of the top 10 new restaurants IN THE COUNTRY. I met up with my friends Lauren, Bridget, and Tara there for a night that was sure to bring lots of delicious food, tasty drinks, and even better conversation.

When you walk into Balena, it’s a large restaurant with tall ceilings (used to be Landmark), but somehow they’ve managed to make it feel cozy. The dim lighting, the warm neutral tones, the luxurious seating—can your interior designer come to my apartment?

I had a really rough day at work that day (we’re getting into our busy season, so my apologies if my posts feel few and far between!), so I was ready for a glass of Prosecco stat. I sat down and within minutes I had water at my table setting and my drink was ordered. I have to note that our waiter was not only good looking (a cross between the lead singer of the All American Rejects and Cillian Murphy), but he gave great recommendations and service. Definitely starting off on the right foot.

The menu at Balena is best for sharing, which I am a fan of. I was one of those kids who didn’t like my food to touch, and I ate everything in a specific order (OCD, anyone?). It’s so nice to share with people who push you a little outside your comfort zone.

We started with the Herbed Focaccia, Ricotta, Cracked Black Pepper, and Olive Oil. The focaccia was delicious (dind’t try the fresh ricotta), and I loved the presentation. We followed that with Spicy Lamb & Pork Sausage, White Beans, and Pickled Red Onion. Now, I had to slice the sausage immediately because I didn’t care for the presentation, but it was perfectly paired with the white beans. And I’m not really one for frisee salad, but this lettuce was insanely flavorful. Then came the Brussels Sprout, Pancetta, Pecorino, and Red Onion Pizza, which was surprisingly light and fresh. Their pizzas are big, so we each had two pieces. Next came the Orecchiette, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs, and Chili Pasta, which tasted to me like the richest, most decadent pasta on the planet. I could have eaten bowls full of this. Our order from the Grill/Oven/Rotisserie portion of the menu was Roast Porchetta, Creamy Polenta, and Parsley Red Onion Salad. By this time, we were all hitting our limits because we knew we wanted dessert, but it was divine. The ends of the meat were crisp and full of flavor, and the creamy polenta melted in my mouth.

Lastly, we shared the Affogato, Vanilla Gelato, Espresso, and Cinnamon Sugar Donuts (these donuts are heavenly), and the Vanilla Gelato, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Malt Chocolate Sauce, and “Toasted Milk” (I didn’t try this one, but the girls said it was amazing).

Whether you need a night out with your girls, or want to take your special someone out for a romantic date night for two, Balena is the place to go. Need to take Nate here!

Balena Chicago
1633 N. Halsted Street
Lincoln Park

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