River North, Chicago

Joy District

In the space that Epic used to call home, the folks behind Hubbard Inn have masterfully renovated the interior, and overhauled the menu of shared plates, meats and seafood, and have recently reopened the three-level monolith called Joy District. Where Epic was more about the weekend drinking scene, Joy District concentrates on food, but still offers a trendy bar where you can see and be seen, and enjoy an array of specialty and classic cocktails, and a formidable listing of wine and beer offerings.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chicago Magazine

Joy District’s first floor is the main dining area, while it’s second floor will be used almost exclusively for private events. Its rooftop, opening Thursday, will resemble what you would find at a high-end Miami nightclub, with white drapery, chic brown furniture, and unmistakable River North views.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

Order the St. Germain Cocktail or an Old Fashioned and peruse the menu. All items are plenty large to share among two or more people. The Grilled Spanish Octopus Tacos are a must-order. Three flour tortillas are filled with marinated octopus, sweet corn relish, green garlic aioli and micro arugula. It was the best thing that I have tried at Joy District.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

Skip the unmemorable Spicy Tuna Hamachi Roll, however, and order a Burrata & Heirloom Tomato salad for the table. Wedges of seasonal heirloom tomatoes are served along side sweet & sour onions, buttery grilled bread, and a lovely aged balsamic. The creamy Burrata melds the flavors together and melts in your mouth.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

The Spiced Wedge salad is just huge, and can be described as a sightlier healthy version of nachos. Too salty for my taste, an entire head of iceberg lettuce is served with a chipotle buttermilk dressing, corn bread croutons, fire roasted chilis, cilantro, avocado, and baked black beans. This salad has a lot going on, and quite powerful flavors.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

The Sautéed Sea Scallops make for an excellent entree, also worthy of sharing. The perfectly seared and meaty scallops sit atop a bed of nicely cooked sweet pea risotto, with Cippolini onions, pea tendrils, and shaved Marcona almonds, along with a drizzle of white balsamic.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

The “Jucy Lucy” Slagel Farm Cheese Burger may be the only item on the menu not easily shared. The cheddar cheese-filled burger with both grilled and raw onion and house made pickles makes for a messy meal. I found the house made tots served on the side to be quite doughy and lacking flavor, but they were improved by the house made ketchup that had notes of cinnamon. Skip the burger, and stick with the shareables.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

Forego the Blueberry Lemon Cake, which other than the buttermilk sorbet I found to be inedible, and head to the rooftop for an after dinner drink and some excellent people watching.

River North, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Joy District

Joy District is a great spot to grab an after work drink, or to enjoy dinner with friends. It is open seven days a week,  beginning at 3 p.m., until late night. Reservations are accepted.

Joy District

112 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654

Tastefully,

Christina

While my meal was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Travel Guide: Charleston, South Carolina

After recently returning from Spain, I cannot seem to shake the travel bug, which has prompted me to offer my next installment in my travel guide series. Last September, I finally made it to Charleston, South Carolina, which had been on my travel list for a while. After hearing so many incredible things about the city, the people, and of course, the food, I eagerly anticipated my visit, and I was not disappointed.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

We stayed at The Vendue, a newly rehabbed hotel dedicated to the arts. Made up of seven former warehouses, dating back to the 1780’s, no two rooms are alike, and over 300 pieces of original art have been installed for guests to enjoy. With its location in Charleston’s historic French Quarter, it is centrally situated and within walking distance of all the main sites and Michelin-worthy restaurants.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: The Vendue

Our corner room was very spacious, well-appointed, and comfortable, complete with a fireplace and a carafe of brandy.  The hotel offers complimentary bikes for guests to use in order to discover more of the southern city founded in 1670. It also boasts an excellent rooftop bar, complete with sweeping views of the Charleston Harbor, Waterfront Part, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr., Bridge, and more.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: The Vendue

Steps from The Vendue, Waterfront Park boasts Charleston’s famous Pineapple fountain, and offers fantastic views of the Charleston Harbor. From there, it is an easy stroll along East Battery Street and through White Point Garden to see gorgeous southern mansions, cannons and cannon balls, and views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan Island Lighthouse.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

No trip to Charleston is complete without a walk down Rainbow Row to see a series of thirteen colorful historic houses. Rainbow Row is the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States, and received its moniker as a result of the pastel colors each was painted after being restored in the 1930s and 40s.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

A visit to a true southern plantation is also a must. First settled in the late 17th century, with its main family residence constructed in 1705, Middleton Place has remained under the same family stewardship for some 320 years. Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens. Built in 1755, the House Museum collections interpret generations of the Middleton family: rice barons who helped shape the U.S. from its founding through the Civil War.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

Other activities include a tour of Fort Sumter, a round at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, shopping along Historic King Street, and a visit to Folly Beach or Sullivan’s Island.

Charleston is a foodie’s paradise, and we had our fair share of incredible meals. We started with lunch at Poogan’s Porch, featuring traditional southern cooking served in a Victorian townhouse with porches and a massive wine cellar. The fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese fritters are not to be missed.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

Queen Street Grocery, established in 1922 as a corner grocery store, was an excellent spot for brunch, with fantastic crepes, omelets and sandwiches.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

For some of the best biscuits in town, head to Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, a small grab & go eatery featuring a variety of piping hot award-winning biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches, and a range of other delicious and locally inspired breakfast, lunch and late night treats.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

Dinner at Slightly North of Broad, or S.N.O.B., was excellent. An eclectic Lowcountry bistro, bringing together an abundance of fresh ingredients and thoughtful presentation, even the basic-sounding vegetable plate impressed us, as did the freshly smoked salmon.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

My favorite meal was at McCrady’s, Sean Brock’s first Charleston restaurant, located within a 1778 four-story Georgian house. McCrady’s represents the amalgam that is new Southern fine dining, showcasing the understated elegance of the space, alongside cutting-edge cooking techniques. McCrady’s bar specializes in handcrafted cocktails, along with an award-winning wine list.

Charleston, South Carolina, Travel

Photo: Chritiques

Everyone can find something to love about Charleston. It is comfortable, easy to navigate, and boasts historical sites, some of the country’s best restaurants, pre-Civil War-era houses, antique shops, beaches, golf courses, and more. While this was my first time visiting this small but mighty city, it certainly will not be my last.

Tastefully,

Christina

River North, Seafood

The Hampton Social

River North, Seafood

Photo: The Hampton Social, Mark Much, Eater Chicago

With the warmer temps we have been experiencing here in Chicago this winter, it feels like summer is just around the corner. And, a visit to Hampton Social makes us crave those long summer days even more. Open since July of last year, Hampton Social brings a bit of Long Island’s Montauk Yacht Club to Chicago, including its nautical theme and white washed walls. A perfect spot in the summer when the large front windows slide open letting in fresh air, it still manages to feel warm enough even on the coldest days.

River North, Seafood

Photo: The Hampton Social, Mark Much, Eater Chicago

After visiting for both brunch and dinner, one thing is evident: stick with the seafood, and you will be a happy sailor.

River North, Seafood

Photo: The Hampton Social, Mark Much, Eater Chicago

On a recent brunch visit, the special Lobster Omelet, served with breakfast potatoes, was excellent. A generous amount of lobster, along with an abundance of tomatoes and avocado, was stuffed inside the fluffy omelet, and the flavors were wonderful. However, the Chicken & Waffles were a big disappointment, with thick, doughy waffles that were under-cooked weighing down the dish that could not be overcome by the average fried chicken.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Chritiques at The Hampton Social

At dinner, though also available during brunch, Mama’s Deviled Eggs cannot be missed. Three egg halves are topped with a heaping portion of a creamy lobster & prawn salad, with plenty of chunks of seafood throughout, and pickled fresno chilis, giving the devilishly good eggs a little kick. These are my absolute favorite deviled eggs in the city.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Chritiques at The Hampton Social

You also cannot go wrong with a selection of the fresh oysters, which rotate based upon seasonality and availability.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Facebook, The Hampton Social

The Crab Cakes, served with a remoulade and petite salad, are also a nice starter, with a good ratio of crab meat to breading and vegetables.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Facebook, The Hampton Social

For a main dish, try the Diver Scallops, pan-seared, with white cheddar grits, pancetta, and a creole-butter sauce.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Facebook, The Hampton Social

And, while basic, the Gulf Shrimp Cocktail feature fresh, meaty shrimp and a zesty cocktail sauce.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Chritiques at The Hampton Social

Desserts offered include hand-scooped gelato or sorbetto, decent macarons, and a better than expected Rice Krispie treat.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Yelp, The Hampton Social

Hampton Social is open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner seven days a week, and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are accepted and recommended. It is a great spot for a relaxed lunch or brunch, a dinner with friends, or a date night before heading downstairs to the new Jazz club, The Bassment.

River North, Seafood

Photo: Chritiques at The Hampton Social

The Hampton Social

353 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654

Tastefully,

Christina

West Loop, Chicago

Nia Mediterranean Tapas

Hidden among the new and flashier restaurants along Chicago’s Randolph Street in the West Loop lies an understated Mediterranean hideaway. Nia Mediterranean Tapas is a warm and homey space, serving Mediterranean tapas, or “meze,” as they are known in Greece – a dish that is served alone or with other mezedes to enhance a separate eating experience. With a menu highlighting the key elements of the Mediterranean diet, including vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, and lean red meat, it also boasts an extensive, award winning wine list, including selections from Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France.

My friend and I recently dined at Nia on a weeknight. We had our choice of tables, and the restaurant was about half full while we were there. We started with the delicious Nia Salad. Mixed greens, goat cheese, dates, avocado, piquillo peppers, almonds, and a nice limoncello vinaigrette blended nicely together. While we ordered the salad with the dressing on the side, it was delivered already dressed. After going back and forth with the server about whether the salad did, in fact, already have dressing on it, another was brought to us with the dressing on the side.

West Loop, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Nia Mediterranean

My favorite dish of the evening was the Citrus Ceviche, featuring bay scallops, shrimp, Mahi-Mahi, Alaskan halibut, and Nova Scotian caviar. It tasted bright and fresh, and the citrus cured the seafood perfectly.

West Loop, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Nia Mediterranean

I was unfortunately disappointed with the Octopus, which is a mainstay on Greek-influenced menus. While the meat was cooked nicely, I did not care for the balsamic reduction, which was too sweet and tangy for my taste. A simple olive oil and lemon would have suited it much better.

West Loop, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Nia Mediterranean

The Jumbo Garlic Shrimp, with a simple lemon butter sauce, were nice, with a generous serving of sliced garlic. While the shrimp could have used a bit more crushed red pepper for some spice, they were cooked well and were a nice end to a good meal.

West Loop, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Nia Mediterranean

I would return to try some difference mezedes, including the hummus, wild mushroom risotto, and baked goat cheese. The service faltered at first, but then recovered when a new server took over our table. He was friendly, but not overbearing.

Nia is an intimate and cozy space, perfect for a date night or dinner with friends. It is open for lunch, Monday through Friday, and for dinner, seven days a week. Reservations are accepted.

Nia Mediterranean Tapas

Tastefully,

Christina

While our meal was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Kings Bowl

After a hiatus over the holidays and some traveling, Chritiques is back – and just in time to talk about a fun new spot, perfect for cold weather activities! Until recently, I associated bowling alleys with greasy pizza, cheap beer, and cookie-cutter decor. Now, however, a number of establishments are re-thinking, and re-designing the bowling experience, and are making it more memorable, with better food, and a fun, lively atmosphere.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

After being a mainstay around Boston since 2002, Kings Bowl recently opened in the newly developed New City lifestyle center in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. My husband and I visited on a cold and blustery Sunday, for some friendly competition on the lanes, and for what turned out to be a surprisingly excellent lunch. I was impressed by the upbeat atmosphere and warm ambiance of the space. My husband was happy that the NFL games were being played on the screens above the lanes!

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

After a fun game of bowling (I won, by the way), we sat at the bar to enjoy a relaxing lunch, while watching football, the other bowlers, and to take in the upscale, retro-inspired decor, complete with photographs of various celebrities who have visited the Kings locations since opening. Max and Leo’s Artisan Pizza is located at the front of the Kings Bowl, and the coal-fired pizzas are available within Kings, as well.

My husband was immediately drawn to the Chicken Wings, with four different preparations. He chose the Honey BBQ iteration, and loved them.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

I was intrigued by the Cucumber & Feta Rolls, but was skeptical of something healthy at a bowling alley. After receiving assurance from our thoughtful server, I ordered them and was quite impressed by the taste and freshness. Thinly sliced cucumber was wrapped around feta, Greek yogurt, sun-dried tomatoes, dill and olives, and were served atop a bed of refreshing Tzatziki sauce.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

After being sold on the House Smoked Baby Back Ribs from our server and the manager, my husband ordered a full slab, which was also served with perfectly golden and crispy fries, coleslaw, and griddled cornbread. While not the best ribs he has had, he did enjoy them and had plenty to bring home to enjoy the next day.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

I opted to be a bit more healthy, and ordered the Mixed Green Salad, and added grilled shrimp and avocado. the shrimp were cooked perfectly, and it was the perfect light lunch.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

We had a great time at Kings, and would definitely return for more bowling, fun, and good food. Kings is a perfect spot to host a party, to have a meal and watch the game, or even for corporate events. Kings is open seven days a week, and lane reservations are accepted.

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Photo: Chritiques at Kings Bowl

Kings Lincoln Park

1500 Clybourn Avenue, Suite C102, Chicago, IL 60610

Tastefully,

Christina

While our bowling and meals were complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.