Living in Chicago, I am spoiled. The food here is ridiculously good, whether you’re visiting your neighborhood hot dog stand or you scored a reservation at Alinea, often lauded as one of the world’s top restaurants, where a course may take the form of an edible, green-apple-flavored helium balloon. The restaurants are so exceptional that I’ve become a snob when traveling because of how good I have it back home. People often compliment Chicago for its 77 community areas, each with its own flavor. When friends and family visit, I goad them to hop the L and travel north about 30 minutes to the Lincoln Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods, where I spend most of my time. A local bar, the Sixth, makes cocktails that rival any in town, complete with dramatic touches such as colorful ice inspired by Trix cereal, tinctures of mint and flaming cinnamon sticks; at Amy’s Candy Bar, Amy Hansen makes blondies I’d choose over the fanciest desserts. (That edible balloon included.) And then there are the restaurants. Come visit, and you’ll see why it’s hard to leave.
When a business opens up in your neighborhood with “pie” and “biscuits” in its name, you know you’re in trouble. Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits (bangbangpie.com; 4947 N. Damen Ave.; 773-530-9020) is as carbolicious as it sounds. The plain old scratch biscuit ($3.25), served with butter and jam, is divinely billowy, while other biscuits act as a vehicle for a mountain of toppings (and an optional egg), such as avocado, pickled onion, spiced pepitas, sunflower and sesame seeds, queso fresco and cilantro ($9.50); or pimento cheese, candied bacon, jam and a pickle ($7). And then there are the pies. Lemon bar. Samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie). Triple berry. You can buy by the slice ($5 to $6), or whole ($28 to $32). The staff here is so Midwestern-friendly that they won’t even judge you if you order an entire pie and ask for just one fork.
I know. You hear “pizza” and “Chicago” and you make some assumptions. But here’s the thing. Many of us locals only go out for deep dish when tourists request it, and we eat many other types of pizza, including the pizza prototype: Neapolitan-style. Spacca Napoli (spaccanapolipizzeria.com; 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420) is, as our server explains, “the real deal.” The wood-fired oven, which cooks pizzas in 90 seconds, came from Italy and the pizza makers trained in the motherland. The pizzas are presented whole and the patron gets the honor of slicing. The tender crusts are pocked with charred bubbles. The cheese is baked in small, circular globs rather than a large, melty disc. The tomato sauce tastes bright and slightly acidic. It’s the kind of pizza you can actually call quenching, whether you’re devouring the Bufalina ($15.50), a simple pie made with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di Bufala and basil; the Porcini e Carciofi ($18), a white pizza made with fior di latte cheese, porcini mushrooms, Sardinian artichokes and Parmigiano-Reggiano; or any other kind. Each is worth the wait for a table.
Instead of exchanging gifts over the holidays, my sister and I, with our husbands, splurge at our neighborhood special-occasion spot: Bistro Campagne (bistrocampagne.com, 4518 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-271-6100), a charming, country-style French bistro that sources heavily from local organic farms. On celebratory nights, we start with the escargot, then my husband indulges in the boeuf bourguignon ($28), made with braised beef cheeks and mushroom veal reduction, and I’ll opt for Poulet Roti Forestiere ($27) — roasted Amish chicken with wild mushroom ragout and decadent fried onions. On more casual nights we’ll order the neighborhood’s best burger ($15) and a fancy grilled cheese, a.k.a. the croque madame ($15), and feel just a little extravagant while doing it. The intimate restaurant has the feel of an old-world mansion, with lots of dark woods and candlelight. And the commute home — a 10-minute walk — reminds us of how lucky we are to live where we do.
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @K8Silver.More from Breakfast, lunch and dinner New Orleans, La.; Baltimore, Md.; Salem, Mass.