– bittersweet memories for the fallen
An acclaimed Chicago restaurant serving fanciful gourmet hot dogs has closed. No, it’s not Hot Doug’s 18th resurrection but the grammatically-challenged and–yes–superior Franks ‘N’ Dawgs. Those evil wizards at Chicago Eater reported the closing as well as that of Avondale’s Pork Shoppe, continuing their impeccable record of providing well-informed gastronomic gut-punches to my emotional tender areas.
While I would love to blame the messenger, I thought it fitting to honor the restaurant dead, ranking them with Michael Scott quotes from The Office. After all, these were restaurants with a real staff churning out real food. The industry is not a kind or merciful one, and these Chicago restaurants all went out in the last year or so while bringing deliciousness to our grumpy souls. So let’s pour out a glass of grüner veltliner for them because it’s about to get sad.
LEVEL 1 – “I lost Ed Truck”:
Pork Shoppe – I came here after moving a friend, sweating and exhausted, and crawled into this AC-less furnace and just wanted to die. Then I ate their pork belly sandwich, layers of meat and fat and meat again, wrapped up in a barely-there bun. We should’ve kept in touch.
Bom Bolla – This is a cheat because I never came here in time. Can I mourn a lost love that could’ve been? I like to imagine the children we would’ve made together: one half-human, one-fourth Spanish cava, one-fourth pintxo, wholly delicious.
LEVEL 2- “It feels like somebody took my heart and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears”:
Birchwood Kitchen – This miniature spot was beloved for its fresh brunch offerings and charming patio. A few years ago, I ate some grits, warm and creamy and livened with hot sauce and herbs. I dragged heaps of shredded pork and avocado through the muck and ate, sloughing the weight of the week off my shoulders. From all the listless benedicts and understuffed stuffed French toasts, this brunch stood out.
LEVEL 3 – “And, at the same time, somebody is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer”:
Franks ‘N’ Dawgs – A warm memory, one of the first things I ate before coming to the big city. Franks had its faults: weird hours, a strange Clybourn location, overpriced hot dogs. There were some misses, but the hits were memorable: a balanced Brunch Dog dripping maple syrup; a Governator brat packed with cheddar so sharp you could cut yourself.
I remember one night, I came early for an after-work snack before a meal at upscale small plates place Urban Union (also now-shuttered). I ate the Epic Porkgasm, chunks of crispy, fatty pork belly dolloped with pork cream and dusted with shards of pork cracklin’. I knew immediately I wouldn’t eat anything better later that night for $40 more, and I was right.
Bascule Wine Bar – Ironically replacing the aforementioned Urban Union, this wine bar showed solidly executed if unremarkable small plates. That’s not why I came. I came for the staff and the irrepressible sommelier, willing to dig deep in the menu to recommend affordable, quaffable off-varietal bottles. He defended the manliness of moscato for me. He celebrated the 50 shades of rosé in a red and white world. I may or may not have gotten sloshed here a couple times with a friend, annoying another when we made her pick us up. Bascule, I will miss you, even if my liver won’t.
LEVEL 4 – “And then a third guy walks in and starts punching me in the grief bone”:
Tête Charcuterie – Maybe the most technically proficient and exciting food on the list. Salty coppa, rustic pâtés, jiggly headcheese–Tête did it all with style. But it was also so much more. Crisp cocktails and house-made tagliatelle bathing in a duck heart bolognese that embodied everything winter.
And then there was the vegetable garden.
Hidden away in a cocotte and unveiled, the garden was an incredible composition: two dozen vegetables individually cooked, sauced, and arranged in a riot of colors to resemble some primordial, evolved Eden. It’s still one of the few salads I’ve ever eagerly ordered, a work of such sheer confidence and chutzpah that it would be insane if chef-partners Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski don’t materialize as stars somewhere else.
LEVEL 5 – “And I am crying, and nobody can hear me because I am terribly, terribly, terribly alone”:
Bunny the Micro Bakery – When the pictures started flowing on Instagram, I knew D) it was written. Pitch-black seaweed sourdough layered with lustrous slabs of salmon and oozing egg yolks and foie gras owls on coarse jam and toast. I checked the menu: house-made pastas, Meyer lemon tarts, steak tartare. It was like Iliana Regan peered into my soul and decided that instead of needing a woman, I needed a restaurant.
It was tiny, the kitchen could be slow, the bench was rickety and kept threatening to tip over, and the hours were impossible to make. I’ve only been once, so why did it register so painfully with me? Half the reason is that it was a 5-minute walk from my home, stocked with all the things I love. (It was 14% of the reason why I decided to renew my lease.) The other half of the reason was the only thing I ever ate there, a steak tartare. A long slab of rye toast toad in the hole, slathered with garlic aioli and topped with a quenelle of uncooked beef.
I broke the egg and swirled the steak and ate slowly in the slanting rays of the new spring sun. I made plans to go there three more times that week.
The next time I showed up, it was “closed for repairs.” The next time, it was gone.