April 21, 2019

Magic Lounge in Chicago’s Andersonville

If you want a most unusual and fun evening, call now for tickets to see a show at the Magic Lounge, in Andersonville’s SoFo neighborhood (south of Foster).
Be forewarned that weekend tickets need to be ordered weeks in advance as the venue has exploded in popularity. And rightfully so.

The exterior has no official signage but there are some poster images of magicians to mark the 5050 N. Clark Street entrance. Upon entering the vestibule, commercial washers and dryers make one question the address. Please persist for one of the machines is actually a door leading to a delightful bar with a magician doing tricks for cocktail patrons. If you are lucky enough to secure a show ticket, you will be ushered through another trick door that leads to a surprisingly spacious cabaret-style theater replete with a red-curtained stage, a theater organist, banquette and bar seating along with a petite balcony for celebratory groups. This venue is a big draw for bachelor, bachelorette and corporate parties, but you will also see local couples, small groups of friends and people of all ages out for a good time.

While waiting for the show to start, one can order nifty cocktails and very tasteful small bites and I mean that in both senses of the word. Imagine prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola cheese, pork belly or beef tenderloin sliders, potato pancakes with apple mustardo and caraway yogurt, or a sausage board with cheese, peppers, caperberries and rye bread. Then again, your sweet tooth might enjoy a Katherine Anne Confection Truffle with flavors like Creme de Menthe, Hazelnut, Sea Salt Caramel, Citrus or Vegan Raspberry Champagne.

During the pre-show, a handful of magicians go from table to table giving up close sleight-of-hand displays. To set the mood, an organist plays tunes that are so square they are hip, and dons the hat of emcee to introduce both an opening act and a featured entertainer. The night we were there, both entertainers were not only adept at magic, but laugh-out-loud funny. Selected patrons are invited to the stage to participate in several of the tricks which adds to the hilarity.

What we saw was the Signature Show, but the Magic Lounge also offers David Parr’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Wednesdays, a Family Show on Sundays, Music and Magic on Mondays and Tuesdays. For an additional charge, after the Signaure Show, you can move to a smaller theater called The 654 Club behind the Blackstone Cabaret for a more intimate magic experience.

What can I say? The Magic Lounge’s offerings would be a perfect evening for anyone who wants an extraordinary experience with comedy, music, food and magic. When can I go back?

https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com/welcome/

Whole Foods, Mariano’s and Trader Joe’s promotions

If you are an Amazon Prime member and a Whole Foods shopper, you owe it to yourself to download the Whole Foods Market app to your phone. Letting the check-out person scan your app gives you an immediate 10% discount on yellow tag sale items. There are also Prime Member Deals throughout the store. At check-out, you can also use your cell phone number if it is listed on your Amazon Prime account. Being a Prime member does seem to make the Whole Foods experience a little less painful on the wallet. https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/amazon/prime


As an equal opportunity shopper, if you apply for a Mariano’s card, you are sent coupons in the mail for free items or discounted products. Their system must keep track of what one buys since the coupons are usually for things bought on a regular basis. I recently received a free 8-ounce container of Sabra Hummus and a coupon to receive $3 back from a $15 purchase of produce.
https://www.marianos.com/topic/mariano-s-rewards-card

Not to be left out is Trader Joe’s with their “Dig In – What’s New” web site page. New and special products are highlighted in this informative company blog.

I just added these products to my TJ’s “to buy” list: Gluten-free Norwegian Crispbread, Caulifower Gnocchi, Blueberry Lavender Almond Beverage and the Smoked Salmon Poke Bowl. How does their staff keep track of all of these new food items? They must regularly read this informative section on the Trader Joe’s web site.

https://www.traderjoes.com/digin/category/What’s%20New

Sugar Rush reality baking competition on Netflix

A while back, I wrote about Zumbo’s Just Desserts, an Australian baking competition reality series that starred famed Aussie baker, Adriano Zumbo. Up he pops into another baking competition called Sugar Rush with co-star, cupcake queen, Candace Nelson.

Numerically, this is a description of the show: 4 teams of two professional bakers, three rounds, two showcase cakes in the final round and one winning team which takes home $10,000.

The rounds are timed so there is strategy involved in how much time the teams spend on cupcakes, confections and spectacular cakes. Additionally, there is always a third guest judge who makes each episode different. Betsy Johnson asked for fashion themes in her rounds; local pastry creator/chef Mindy Segal of Chicago’s Hot Chocolate restaurant used her professional palate to judge the teams.

My only quibble is hyper-active host, Hunter Marsh, who appears to be on his own sugar rush with a dose of caffeine.

Still and all, when “reality” gets to be too much, I like nothing better than to watch reality baking programs like “The Great British Baking Show,” on PBS, plus “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” and now “Sugar Rush” on Netflix. Take that, glum news and bloody crime shows!

https://www.netflix.com/title/80201328

Sweeteners in your meat? Sugar-free bacon and chicken sausage

I decided to get serious about nosing out added sugar in my food. Imagine my surprise when I read the ingredients of most breakfast meats. Almost all bacon and sausage products list “sugar ” or “cane sugar” as part of their recipes. After reading lots of very fine print, I came up with four options that list no form of sugar.

Welllshire makes a Sugar Free Dry Rubbed All Natural Sliced Uncured Bacon which they state is made from pork raised without antibiotics, fed a vegetarian diet, contains no celery powder, is gluten-free and has 25% less sodium. After tasting the bacon, I do not miss the sugar or the lower sodium. Black pepper, fenugreek, nutmeg, white pepper, mace, allspice and sea salt make up the ingredient list. The package has an eye-catching sticker that says “Paleo Friendly – Eat like a caveman!” Count me in.

Wellshire also makes a turkey bacon that also sports the Paleo-friendly label. The package states that the turkey bacon is sliced, uncured turkey thighs that are chopped and formed, 95% fat free, 6 grams of protein and has 0 trans fat and 0 total carbs. Celery powder, paprika, white pepper, onion powder and sea salt make up the list of ingredients. To be honest, regular bacon is still my big treat, but this turkey bacon is pretty darn good while being relatively healthy.

Amylu is one of my favorite chicken sausage brands but after close scrutiny of ingredients, I could find only one version from that company that had no sweeteners. Gourmet Chorizo has chicken, Jalapeño peppers, cilantro, vinegar, rosemary extract, onions, kosher salt, paprika and garlic in a lamb casing. The package states that the product is free of pork or gluten. The Amylu chicken is raised with vegetarian feed, no antibiotics and no hormones. These sausages have a real kick so this might not be a breakfast choice for those who want a gentle first meal. In opposition, I say, “Wake up my taste buds, Amylu with your Gourmet Chorizo Chicken Sausage!”

Applegate Organics, another player in the healthy meat category likewise had very few breakfast meat options that did not contain sugar. The Fire Roasted Red Pepper Chicago Sausage met that requirement with organic chicken, organic red peppers, jalapeño peppers, organic vinegar, baking soda, organic paprika, organic garlic and sea salt listed as ingredients. Not quite as spicy as the Amylu chorizo sausage, this might be an option for more delicate stomaches.

Most people have toast, dry breakfast cereal, bagels, waffles, pancakes or sweet rolls for breakfast, but protein and fat are what keep me going throughout the morning. But that, my friend, is another complicated topic. Pass me the bacon or sausage in the morning, please.

Chicago Grind in Andersonville

A favorite coffee bar hangout in the Andersonville neighborhood is Chicago Grind, at Berwyn and Broadway, featuring coffees and teas from Metric Coffee Roasters and Benjamin Tea.

Husband and wife team, Reem and Jim Dababneh are frequently behind the cash register and food counter as they fill orders for beverages, pastries and savory food items. My favorite meal option is the vegan quinoa kale salad with nuts, cranberries and red peppers. They have even brought the “to-go” order outside when I have my dog.

The artisanal flatbread sandwiches have been top notch with gluten-free options available. Gourmet salads are another meal option, along with all sorts of enlightened treats from Maier Bakery, Alliance Patisserie and the gluten-free Defloured Bakery.

The Dababnehs are also owners of the very successful Pizzeria Aroma, just east near the Berwyn el stop. They will be moving that restaurant to another spot in the ‘hood, so I will keep you posted.

Chicago Grind is a handy spot for business meetings, lunches, breakfasts on the run or casual beverage breaks in the outdoor cafe. That is if it ever warms up enough to sit at sidewalk tables again!

http://www.chicagogrind.com/

Las Vegas Downtown restaurants: Eureka, Le Thai, PublicUs

A month-old restaurant called Eureka (part of a western chain) in downtown Las Vegas got my business twice this past week. Winning appetizers included Lollipop Corn Dogs and Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Peanuts. Sesame Teriyaki Salmon with black rice was very satisfying with Grilled Chicken Tacos and Fried Chicken Sliders pleasing other palates in my party.

A second visit rang my bell with a Protein Chopped Salad of quinoa, sunflower seeds, roasted beets, beans and feta drizzled with an oregano mustard vinaigrette. If I lived in Vegas, this would be a weekly menu item for me. Crispy sweet potato fries were slightly marred by a too-sweet cinnamon sugar glaze. House-made Ginger-Lime Sodas were a refreshing accompaniment to the meal. I will be brave next time and order either Charcoal Lemonade or Turmeric Nectar. The Osso Bucco Bites looked tempting, too.

http://eurekarestaurantgroup.com/blog/locations/las-vegas/

You wouldn’t expect excellent Thai food in Las Vegas and especially not in the touristic downtown area, but Le Thai is serving authentic and tasty food in its Fremont Street location. Green, red and panang curry dishes were all top notch accompanied with a cooling Thai-style chicken salad. Future visits will have to include the signature waterfall sauce and chef Dan Coughlin’s signature 3-color curry.

http://lethaivegas.com/

Located in the Fremont East district of downtown Las Vegas is PublicUs, a bustling coffee bar with delicious and healthy eating options. I had a savory salad with quinoa, goat cheese, hummus and vegetables. (Yes, quinoa seems to be my current menu choice these days.)

The menu is heavy on meat and fish as well as vegetarian options. The baked goods and desserts look delectable. A gigantic chocolate chip cookie tempted my sister at check-out which she ate with great relish. Prices were a bit high, but the ingredient quality and inventive recipes seem to make the expense worth it. There are outdoor and indoor seating options in this hipster outpost. Waits can be a bit long for food orders.

http://www.publicuslv.com/

These restaurants come highly recommended and go on the list to try on my next visit to Vegas: Cornish Pasty Company and Esther’s Kitchen in the downtown area along with Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar at the Monte Carlo Casino on the Strip.