Hot Dog Week at Bull & Bear

Happy National Hot Dog Day! Yes, I know what you're thinking... another food holiday? I know, I know. However, as I mentioned last week, I'm a sucker for just about any fun food holiday (there's actually a food holiday for practically every day of the year, so things could get *really* exciting around here). And as you may already know, Chicagoans take their hot dogs very seriously (don't you dare ask for ketchup!), so I felt it was my duty to partake in this sacred day.

In honor of Chicago's love for encased meats, Bull & Bear took National Hot Dog Day a step further and created an entire week of celebrations. Their 5th annual Dog Days of Summer promotion pays homage to the mighty dog with a selection of five specialty hot dogs, each one themed after a different location in the United States (Cincinnati, California, Miami, Wisconsin, and New Orleans). The daily dog offerings are all customized with specific toppings that are unique to the areas they were named after. Diners are also able to try all of the dogs in mini form (and vote for your favorite!), via the Frank Plank, which Mario and I were invited to stop in and sample.

The Frank Plank!

The Cincinnati Coney: Spicy beef chili, pickled onion salad, shredded cheddar, and mustard on a potato bun

The Sooo Cali: Bison dog, heirloom tomato and avocado relish, arugula, crispy shallot, lettuce, pesto, and aioli on a ciabatta bun

 Miami Vice: Turkey dog, mojo braised pork, spicy pickle, mustard aioli, swiss cheese, and shredded lettuce on toasted garlic bun (this was Mario's top pick!)

 The Northern Woods of Wisconsin: Venison dog, fried jalapeno jack cheese curds, caramelized onion, and juniper-beer mustard on a soft bun

 New Orleans Po' Boy: Andouille sausage, olive relish, frisee, crispy salami, provolone, and remoulade on a sesame bun (this was my top pick!)

Bull & Bear is located 431 N. Wells. The Dog Days of Summer promotion continues through Sunday, July 27.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Bourbon Peach Gelato from Siena Tavern

Happy National Peach Ice Cream Day! Wait, what?! You didn't know that there was an entire day devoted to the love of peach ice cream? Yeah, well, up entire a few weeks, I didn't either. However, I'm a sucker for just about any fun food holiday, especially one that pays homage to ice cream (and my favorite stone fruit!). Of course, I never really need justification to eat ice cream, but National Peach Ice Cream Day really is the perfect excuse to indulge in some frozen fruity deliciousness. And really, what better way to celebrate than with some amazing gelato from Siena Tavern?

Based on my previous experience with pastry chef Amy Arnold's gelato, I knew I was in for a real treat when the good folks over at Siena contacted me to see if I would be interested in taste-testing their July flavor of the month: Bourbon Peach Cobbler. I quickly learned that there is something even better than your typical peach gelato... it's a gelato with large chunks of tangy peaches mixed with some smooth bourbon, earthy nutmeg, and crumbly hunks of cobbler. Holy deliciousness!

 Bourbon Peach Cobbler: our server was so excited to send us home with a pint of this fantastic gelato that she accidentally misspelled the name in her haste to label it and pack it up. Ha! After I had one bite of the perfectly luscious gelato, I completely understood her urgency. ;-)

Peach perfection closeup! Look at all of those awesome peaches and flecks of nutmeg!

Seriously, do yourself a favor and head down to Siena Tavern before the end of the month to try the Bourbon Peach Cobbler gelato (it's officially one of my new favorite flavors!). Gelato pints to-go are also available for purchase exclusively at the restaurant.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Connie's Night Out

Recently, Diana and I were invited to join a group of other fantastic bloggers for a night of food and fabulous drinks at the newest location of Connie's Pizza. For those of you who live in the Chicago-area, I'm sure you're already familiar with Connie's Pizza (who hasn't had a slice at the Taste of Chicago or US Cellular?!), but you might not realize that not only has the South Side institution recently expanded onto the North Side of city, but also they have numerous new delicious wood-fired pizza options (all thanks to the gorgeous pizza oven that was custom ordered from Italy).

During Connie's Night Out, we learned all about the history of the restaurant (the original location was purchased by current owner Jim Stolfe with a classic Oldsmobile and a few months of free labor!) and sampled their newest dishes, along with several classics and customer favorites. After ten (!!!) courses, we stumbled (well, I stumbled, thanks to the potent drinks) out of Connie's with out tummies full and a renewed appreciation for one of Chicago's longest-running pizza joints. 

 The main dining room at the new Gold Coast location - check out that awesome pizza oven!

 Caprese Tower Salad

Electric Lemonade

Antipasto Salad: fresh mixed greens with provolone cheese, salami, capicolla, kalamata olives, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and tomatoes

Calabrese: Sopressata, provolone, and spicy Calabrese peppers (one of the new wood-fired pizzas!)

Chicken & Mushrooms: oven roasted chicken breast and mushrooms with a classic herb white wine sauce

 Personal Stuffed Pizza: with sausage, artichokes, black olives, and mushrooms

Mini Cannoli, Aunt Marie's Cheesecake, Tiramisu, and Mama's Sue's Ice Box Cake

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Thirsty Thursday: Fogo de Chão Caipirinha

Welcome back to Thirsty Thursday, aka my favorite day of the week! :-) As I've mentioned a million times over the last few years, I'm definitely not the biggest fan of summer (mostly because I'm a humidity wimp), but even I have to admit that this summer has been fairly fantastic so far. I'm on break from school (yes, I still have work to do, but it's from the comfort of my own home/on my own schedule) and the weather has been fairly mild thus far. I've spent much of my free time catching up with friends, exploring new restaurants and foodie festivals, binge-watching Orange is the New Black (the last episode of season 2: OMG!), and indulging in my favorite summertime fruity cocktails.

In celebration of Fogo de Chão's newly lauched Fogo Guide to Brazil, they shared with me some of their most popular classic cocktail recipes, including one of my all-time favorites: the Caipirinha. While there’s no definitive version of how the recipe was invented (legend has it that it was once used to treat patients with the Spanish flu), it is now Brazil's most popular cocktail... and it is the perfect summertime Thirsty Thursday pick (especially for all of you World Cup fans out there!). Cheers! :-)


1 medium to large lime
2 Tbsp sugar (to taste)
2 oz cachaca

1. Cut off lime end caps then cut in half. Remove core. Slice each half in half again and slice into 5-8 pieces.

2. Place lime in a rocks glass, add 2 Tbsp of sugar and muddle.

3. Top with ice and add 2 oz of cachaca. Shake in a shaker and serve.

*Make sure you also check out Fogo de Chão on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for two social sweepstakes with several $500 dining cards up for grabs. Official Rules at: Fogo.com/guide


Perfect Pairings at Horseshoe Casino

A free shuttle ride from Chicago that spared us the pain of navigating through rush hour traffic? Check. Rows and rows of sparkly penny and quarter machines? Check. Potent drinks served under a fabulous/nostalgic 1970s-eque shiny chandelier? Check, check. Two hours of  delicious food, wine, and live entertainment in room with sweeping views of Lake Michigan? Check, check, and check. That, my friends, is the Horseshoe Casino experience.

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to check out the most recent Perfect Pairings event at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond (less than an hour away from downtown Chicago). After a quick bus ride down to Indiana and a hour of playing the slot machines, we found ourselves in the lovely Lakeview Room in the upper level of the casino for a fantastic six-course meal that highlighted locally sourced ingredients, as well as perfectly paired wines, beers, and liquors. During a chat with executive chef Mark Angeles, he revealed that each Perfect Pairings menu is not only crafted to showcase the flavor characteristics of the beverages, but it's also designed with a seasonal theme in mind. For June, Angeles created a menu focused on grilling around the world, which was the perfect kick-off to summer!

Bacon and monkfish skewers with Romesco sauce

Bacon and monkfish wine pairings from Simi Winery

Corn and cheddar grilled oysters with sweet and sour bacon dressing (my favorite dish of the night!)

 Surf & turf: butter and tarragon poached lobster, steak, crimini mushrooms & mustard seed caviar

  Surf & turf wine pairings from Chloe Wines

Lamb kabobs with fattoush

Quail with honey jalapeno bacon jam, soft polenta, and a cheese crisp

 Dessert wine pairings from Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery

 Roasted Farmhouse Cheese with toasted bananas, molasses, and smoked almonds

Brown butter hazelnut cake with raspberry sorbet, grilled peaches, raspberries & hazelnut granola crumble

Diana and I both loved the food, drinks, and ambiance - we can't wait to go back for another round (and maybe this time we'll actually win something). ;-)

The next Perfect Pairings event will take place on Thursday, July 17 at Horseshoe Casino (777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond, IN). Tickets are $40 and can be purchased here.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Siena Tavern Gelato (to-go!)

Ever since Siena Tavern opened in early 2013, diners have been raving about the delicious desserts, specifically the range of fun gelato flavors (red velvet! birthday cake! krispy caramel fudge! cinnamon mascarpone!). So when the good folks over at Siena contacted me to see if I would be interested in a little gelato taste-testing, I just knew I was in for a delicious treat.

The gelato at Siena Tavern is a result of their mastermind pastry chef Amy Arnold. Chef Arnold's mother was a home economics teacher and made nearly everything from scratch - it was in her late mother's recipe box that she found the formula that served as the basis for her impressive range of gelati. After years of concocting, taste testing, and tweaking, Arnold finally perfected her recipe and implemented her amazing product at Siena Tavern (where she hand churns each flavor nightly!). Thanks to the newly available pints to-go, you can now enjoy Arnold's handiwork not only in the restaurant, but also from the comfort of your own home (just check the menu for the daily flavors).

I invited Diana to join me for the taste-testing (because as much as I would love to, I really don't need to eat four pints by myself). ;-) We kicked off our night with one of the featured summer flavors, Crème Brûlée. The rich vanilla gelato with crunchy pieces of caramel won Diana's heart early on; ultimately, she proclaimed this to be her favorite of the night.

We then moved on to the one I was looking forward to the most (and the one that ended up as my top pick!): Brown Butter Peanut Fudge. I don't know what I liked more - the nutty, creamy brown butter gelato, the massive fudge core, or the salty peanut mix. So much goodness!

After a mini water and Cooking Channel break (we got sucked into an Extra Virgin marathon), we reconvened to check out the final two flavors. Diana remembered that she had some sugar-free Albergian blueberry compote (sold at Eataly!) and thought it would pair well with the rich Vanilla gelato... so, so perfect together! 

Finally, we closed out the night with a little Salted Caramel. We both *loved* the potent saltiness of the caramel ribbons (the salt is really at the forefront, unlike with some other brands). Such a perfect ending to a delicious night! 

Gelato pints are available for purchase exclusively at Siena Tavern, 51 W Kinzie St.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


New Menu Options at Corner Bakery

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a huge fan of Corner Bakery Cafe; it's definitely one of my top picks from the fast casual market. However, I have to admit that I order the exact same thing pretty much every time I go there (I'm such a creature of habit!). This is why I am always excited to participate in the spring menu tasting. Not only do I get to try all of latest menu additions, but also, I'm forced out of my comfort zone. As with last year, I had fantastic time sampling all of the new items and I definitely found a few options that will make their way into my regular rotation.

This year's new menu items are all focused on eating light and healthy. Proving that you don’t need to sacrifice flavor to eat food that's healthy, the new menu includes several flavorful real-fruit and super food-inspired dishes, including my personal favorites, the Toasted Sesame Kale Salad and the Four Berry Smoothie.

 Toasted Sesame Kale Salad: fresh kale, shredded carrots, toasted sesame seeds, and a fantastic ginger soy dressing

Quinoa & Pico Salad: quinoa, corn, black beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, cilantro, and a zesty lime vinaigrette

 Four Berry Smoothie: 100% real fruit blend of raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry (and an apple hand pie - they're just too cute to resist!)

The new salads can be ordered on their own or as part of The Trio (a combination of three Homemade Specialty Salads or two salads and a cup of soup). Read more about the new menu items here.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.