Monday, April 2, 2012

Grumpy Cats and Pleasant Houses

We had a fairly epic jaunt of eating and (mostly) drinking the other day, starting down in Munster, IL at Three Floyds, where one can, after getting over one's aversion to strip malls and water towers, listen to Danzig at top volume while drinking several varieties of their top-notch beer (Three Floyds'--not Danzig's) and eating smoked meats. It's a great place, but of course, indulgence has to find a stopping point down there due to the long drive back. But since I was still all riled up once back in the city, and since we were kind of passing through the neighborhood, we stopped down in Bridgeport--a part of town I absolutely never get to for the simple reason that it's so far from me up in Lincoln Square--to visit a couple places that have been on the list for a while. Maria's Community Bar was recommended to me by my lumberjack/ham retrieving friend and yeah, it was great, and I wish I was in the neighborhood more to take advantage of it and its dark wood back room full of mannequin parts a guy spent the better part of our time there bringing in. It's got its fair share of super hipsters, sure, but what bar doesn't these days? And who cares when they've got a beer and cocktail list like they do, and still find room to serve Early Times Whiskey and Busch Classic and ask "are you sure?" when you order it?

Next door was the big winner, though: Pleasant House Bakery. I saw one of the chef/owners Art Jackson in Maria's as we entered, bringing some hot pies over, which leads me to believe there is some sort of symbiosis between the two places, and how wonderful is that? For those of you in San Francisco, it reminds me of the relationship between Rosamunde Sausages and Toronado--two places scratching each others backs rather than a big fish eating a little fish. Pleasant House itself has a really cozy looking kitchen, and is quite bustling as well: co-owner and pastry chef Chelsea Jackson was back there rolling dough as Art was back and forth from the kitchen to Maria's to back in the dining room talking to guests, doing it all with the same kind of genuine warmth I described when writing about Chris Nugent at Goosefoot. The counter-service menu is simple, and more importantly, everything is absolutely delicious and it seemed to me all details are completely attended to on every order. Lovely, flaky crust, gorgeously presented around delicious fillings, and chips that make you see why the British call them chips--crisp little chunks of potatoes fried up and awaiting a good dousing of vinegar. You get a really good feeling in this place--and I suppose that's why they chose the name.

All in all, this brief Bridgeport experience was really quite outstanding. And I'm certain there's much more to the neighborhood, but what a nice little corner, down there at 31st and Morgan, with the Bridgeport Coffeehouse across from Maria's and Pleasant House. Beer, meat pie, coffee. The order's up to you.

Back up closer to home in West Town, we stopped and drank wine and ate those tasty little fried chickpeas and deviled eggs they do at Lush, then made our way over to the usual end-of-night-well, The Chipp Inn, where we met friends who had just experienced the El Bulli menu at Next. We shared our respective stories of the day of such different types of dining, and remarked at how great it was to be in a city full of people that provide these experiences, all over cheap drinks in the neighborhood bar. Strolling home, plans were made for the big Sunday dinner, which is becoming a tradition of sorts at the FotD headquarters. We'd roast a large chunk of pork belly (previewed below) nice and crisp on the outside, tender on the inside along with roasted potatoes and charred onions after a long intermezzo induced by antipasti of braised broccoli rabe, pickled eggplant and buffalo mozzarella with green garlic. That Sunday has come and gone, and boy was it good. I'll write more about it next time.