Tuesday, September 17, 2013

National Cheeseburger Day: The Ultimate Guide to a really cheesy holiday with a side of cronut

Wednesday, September 18 marks that time of year when we get to hunker down and stuff our mug with red meat and enough cheese to sink a battleship.

Luxe File Chicago rounded up some of the town’s top protein palaces where you can get downright carnivorous on National Cheeseburger Day. #moo

Name: Cheeseburger Au Cheval
Price: $10.95
The 411: If you’ve been dreaming about breakfast while you’re out to dinner, then Brendan Sodikoff’s unpretentious whopper is the way to go. After biting into two succulent beef patties, heaped high with thick dill pickles, red onions, gooey cheddar cheese and the crown jewel – a perfectly fried egg - you may never want to sleep again.

Benny’s Chop House
Name: Fried Egg Truffle Burger
Price: $10.99 (includes home-made french fries or mixed greens)
The 411: If you’re a green freak like we are this sexy River North mancave might be your best pick. Benny’s reduces the carbon footprint with its Earth-friendly "Five Napkin" Fried Egg Truffle Burger, a delicious pairing of USDA Prime Rib Eye-and-New-York-Strip-steak patties, truffle oil-drenched mushrooms and fresh, locally-sourced ingredients from area farms and bakeries like Yuppie Hill Farm, River Valley Ranch and Red Hen Bakery. Not only will you leave appropriately stuffed but feeling a lot like a sustainability superhero, too.

Name: Grilled PQM Short Rib Burger
Price: $15 (served with pommes frites; available for lunch only)
The 411: It’s the same old story: four impossibly creative restaurateurs open an impossibly chic restaurant that celebrates local, farm-fresh ingredients with a take-no-prisoners culinary prowess (and boy do they have the James Beard Awards to prove it). We love the Grilled PQM Short Rib Burger (short for Publican Quality Meats) which offers a decadent heaping of juicy short rib, kale, pickled ramps and a generous schmear of bacon cream cheese atop a sesame brioche bun. As far as haute burgers go, this one is the hottest in town.

Name: Demon’s Delight
Price: $6.95 for a single patty; $7.95/double; $8.95/triple 
The 411: How the cronut has lasted this long we don't know but it seems that one Lincoln Park fast food eatery is not ready to give the popular breakfast hybrid its passed due papers. Just the opposite. So how does Devil Dawgs, best known for serving up some of the best hot dogs in the city, able to transform the traditional cronut into an edible art form? By drenching them with maple glaze and chunks of bacon. These little rascals are then stuffed to the point of bursting with one, two or even three beef patties, American cheese and the restaurant's secret Devil Sauce. We're thinking of two words: cholesterol blocker.

Name: Monster Burger
Price: $49.95
The 411: Some countries test manhood by sending out young men alone into the Australian wilderness for months at a time, others ingest enough hallucinogens to land them in drug rehab – or a Grateful Dead concert. In Chicago, some rites of passage are more culinary than cunning. Take Jake Melnick’s Monster Burger, an eight-pound behemoth worthy of its own zip code, which dares patrons to prove their man meat by eating meat. You won’t win any medals but we guarantee it’s more enjoyable than naked vine-diving (unless you’re into that kind of thing).

Name: Goat Almighty
Price: $17
The 411: When we heard that Stephanie Izard's "ode-to-the-Goat-God" sandwich might be too much of a mouthful, even for fans of the hairy and horny (no, not that one), four-legged creature, we wondered: "Haven't they ever heard of Jeff Corwin"? Then, we realized something extraordinary. With a name like the "Goat Almighty" - an inimitable mashup of BBQ pork, braised beef and goat meat crowned with a hearty helping of onion rings, jalapeños, cheddar cheese and homemade salsa verde on a potato bun - all this juicy, gooey goodness can't be all that baaa-d!

Name: The Warden
Price: $14 (served with hand-cut fries or side salad)
The 411: We aren't going to name favorites - heck, we'd take all these guys with us if we were banned to a deserted island - but if we had to pick one winner for "Breakout Burger", it would be The Warden (and don't ignore the prison reference, we're piling it on strong). This bad boy won't be found on any behind-bars menus but it surely has all the ingredients you'd commit some serious mayhem for - a towering 10 oz. certified Angus beef patty with bacon, leeks, garlic and shallots stuffed with old-school Merkts Cheddar and brimming with fried leeks, shallots and a shot of truffle oil. 

Hey, Lockdown jailbait! We have two suggestions for those taking their first trip to this Ukrainian Village resto - seek out and say hello to co-owner and heavy metal fanatic, PJ Zonis (extra points if you tell him you're a fan of Iron Maiden and Metallica) and, most importantly, make sure your lawyer is on speed dial.

Name: Mercat Burger
Price: $13 (includes garlic and smoked paprika-dusted fries)
The 411: If your bank account can’t pop for a business class ticket to Catalonia, Spain, then consider an alternate route to Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago’s South Loop. Chef De Cuisine Cory Morris courts digestive greatness by pairing Black Angus beef with La Peral cheese, padrón peppers and red wine onion jam atop a toasted brioche bun.

Name: The Burger 
Price: $8 (includes fries and a Pabst Blue Ribbon)
The 411: Admit it, there are some great perks to being an “All-American”: blinged-out championship rings, self-depicted movie roles and supermodel girlfriends. Public House grabs the spotlight with its own patriotic prizewinner, which includes the usual burger-buffet essentials (shredded lettuce, raw onion, tomato slices) along with a “secret sauce” (spoiler alert: pickles). After the first bite, we were ready to tie on a bandana and air guitar to "Born in the USA".  

Name: BLT Burger
Price: $13.95 (available through September only)
The 411: There’s something about “little” surprises we don’t really care for. The big, bombastic ones – we’re talking blindfolds, mega-yachts and lots and lots of champagne – well, those we don’t mind so much. So when we heard Chef Gary Baca of Joe's Stone Crab would be offering his twist on the classic BLT – a slab of crispy pork belly, baby! – we decided that little surprises can actually be good for the soul, er, stomach.

Name: The Triple
Price: $13 (includes seasoned curly fries)
The 411: Call her the burger whisperer. While she’s not literally talking to cows (although what she does when she’s alone in the kitchen is her business), Rockit’s Executive Chef Amanda Downing does know how to transform raw meat into comfort food rapture. Her latest offering, The Triple, ups the feast factor with a cheese trifecta (Swiss, Cheddar and Habanero Jack), Applewood smoked bacon and three giant Angus patties. Seriously, who doesn’t love more cowbell? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PARTY CRASHER: September 5-9, 2013

Alas, fall is practically upon us. As we peruse our events inbox – overflowing with A-list invites to some of the city’s most illustrious dinners and celebrations, and hosted mainly indoors – our summer-loving sensibilities quietly remind us how much we’re not ready to kiss our favorite season goodbye.

From kaleidescope-colored costume balls and Nora Dunn sightings to a cast of tiara-loving trannies who take on the wonderful world of beauty pageants, here is a collection of our favorite end-of-summer celebrations happening this week.

Thursday, September 5

WHAT: Chicago Fringe Festival 2013 presents Jeanette Bonner’s Love. Guts. High School.
WHERE: The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Avenue
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
$$$: $10 per person plus a one-time $5 festival button. Click HERE for tickets and show information.
411: O-M-G. Who doesn’t have their own deeply personal, “falling-in-love-in-high-school-in-a-really-big-way” story? Sure most everyone’s coming-of-age confessions veer towards the “trivially tame” (unless we are noting William Shakespeare’s sensitive, romance-kiboshing “Romeo & Juliet”), there’s something truly sublime and de rigeur about playwright/actress Jeanette Bonner’s autobiographical account of young love and lessons, finally!, learned.

Friday, September 6

WHAT: Nora Dunn’s Mythical Proportions
WHERE: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Avenue
WHEN: 8:00 p.m.
 (show runs through September 22, 2013)
$$$: $28 per person. Tax-deductible contributions also accepted. For more information or to purchase tickets, click HERE.
411: What do you get when you combine Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood reruns, a drunken pig, and a Hollywood cocktail party addict? A late-night comedy sketch or, in this case, Nora Dunn’s newest, never not-funny, one-woman show. In seventy-five minutes, the former SNL legend invites us into her world for a personal tour – from growing up Irish on Chicago’s West Side to climbing the Hollywood ladder – and even introduces us to a fresh crop of Dunn-inspired characters. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Saturday, September 7

WHAT: Cultivate Festival
WHERE: 2045 N. Lincoln Park West
WHEN: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
$$$: Free admission; click HERE for more details.
411: We cannot fib: figuring out a solution to minimizing Earth’s carbon footprint has been giving us quite a bit of grief lately (maybe not as much as asking our editor for a raise but it’s up there). Lucky for us, Chipotle’s popular food fest – which features educational demos about sustainability; interactive, culinary demos by leading chefs like Paul Kahan, Tony Mantuano and Curtis Duffy (photo above); beer and wine tastings; and live entertainment – offers a simple solution that’s non-addictive and easy to swallow.

WHAT: Chicago Gateway Green's Green Tie Ball XXII
WHERE: Finkl & Sons, 2011 N. Southport Avenue
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
$$$: Tickets start at $100; includes cocktails, signature bites from the city’s top dining destinations and live entertainment. To purchase tickets, click HERE.
411: Can’t think of a better way to help fund Chicago’s expressway beautification process than by dressing up as one of the iconic characters from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? Neither could we. The gum-smacking enfant terrible, Violet Beauregarde, in all her bloated, lavender-hued glory is our top pick. Nevertheless, if there’s a less ostentatious way of making it to the front of the drink line without being rolled by a pair of Oompa Loompas, we hope you’ll let us know.

Monday, September 9

WHAT: Pageant: The Musical
WHAT: Laugh Factory Chicago, 3175 N. Broadway
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
$$$: $40 General Admission or $100 VIP Admission. Monies benefit The Abzyme Research Foundation. For more information or to purchase tickets, click HERE.
411: When a press release cries: “one time only!”, visions of Jesus on the Mount or shopping arm-in-arm with a Victoria’s Secret supermodel pop to mind. So when we heard the catastrophically-talented Chicago cast of The Book of Mormon was giving its theatrical, tranny take on a Miss America-meets-To Wong Foo talent competition, we immediately cleared our calendars. Money shot: The audience picks their favorite star to be crowned “Miss Glamouresse 2014” at the finale of the show.

Photo credit:
Nora Dunn courtesy of Tina Smothers

Sunday, September 1, 2013

LUXE FILE LOVES: Labor-Free Holiday Sips

Some things require no revision. Others need thirteen decades to get it right. Case in point: we seriously doubt Labor Day’s founding fathers ever dreamt their working class celebration would become a lost weekend of Bobby Flay-inspired BBQ cook-offs, lingerie-clad football games (you go, Bliss girls) and fraternity-style drinking contests. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

So in honor of everyone's favorite holiday-cum-booze-fest, we rustled up our favorite labor-free cocktails from the city’s top mixologists and watering holes. No beer bong required.


1½ ounces Lunazul Blanco Tequila
4-6 ounces diet ginger beer
2 orange wedges for drink and garnish

Directions: Combine tequila and juice of an orange wedge. Stir. Pour over ice into a glass. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with an orange wedge. 


1 cup Crafthouse Moscow Mule mix (features premium vodka, ginger beer, lime, and pure cane sugar)
Mint sprig or lime wheel for garnish

Directions: Gently roll the bottle to mix. Serve over ice. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig or lime wheel. 


1 cup Crafthouse Southside (features premium gin, lime, pure sugar cane, and natural mint flavors)
Mint sprig for garnish

Directions: Gently roll the bottle to mix. Serve over ice. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig. 

Cask & Courtesy

1 ounce Templeton Rye
1 ounce Luxardo Apertivo or Aperol
1 ounce dry vermouth
Orange peel for garnish

Directions: Combine ingredients. Stir and serve straight up or over ice. Garnish with an orange peel. 

Cask & Courtesy

1 ounce Candolini Bianca Grappa
¾ ounce St. Germaine
¼ ounce Luxardo Apertivo or Aperol
Splash of Prosecco
Lime wedge for garnish

Directions: Combine ingredients in a shaker. Shake 5-10 times. Pour into a tall glass. Top with Prosecco (Sec or Demi-Sec). Garnish with a wedge of lime.


1½ ounces Good Vines Marzemino
1½ ounces gin
¾ ounce Campari
¾ ounce lemon juice
¼ ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
Orange peel for garnish
Directions: Combine all ingredients (except for Marzemino) in shaking glass with ice. Shake for 10 seconds. Add Marzemino. Serve in rocks glass with ice. Garnish with an orange peel.


4 ounces Good Vines Cabernet
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce orange juice
2 ounces brandy
1½ ounces simple syrup
4 ounces Good Vines Marzemino
Apple ice cubes*

*Apple ice cubes: Fill an ice cube tray with water and minced apples. Freeze overnight.

Directions: Combine all ingredients, except for Marzemino, in a pitcher and stir vigorously. Pour into iced wine glass and top off with Marzemino. Gently stir and garnish with frozen apple ice cubes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

FRINGE FEMME: Dishing with funny girl and Chicago Fringe Festival star, Jeanette Bonner

Cafeteria cuisine, fashion faux pas and dating dilemmas are just a few of the memorable themes of any high school experience. Mix in unrequited love, self-acceptance and a splash of life advice (pragmatically provided by a Magic 8 Ball) and you get Love. Guts. High School.

A one-woman play written by and starring Jeanette Bonner, Love. Guts. High School. follows the journey of a love-smitten young lady and her teenage obsession with the romantically unavailable boy of her dreams. A highlight of this year’s Chicago Fringe Festival, Bonner marvelously delivers a fresh perspective on what it’s really like to be young and looking for love, heartbreaks and all – proving her star is on the rise.

Luxe File Chicago caught up with the New York dramatist who weighs in on what she loves most about the Big Apple and the Windy City, from food crushes and celebrity spotting to what she looks for in Mr. Right. 

When in Chicago:

Favorite people-watching spot
Definitely the Weiner Circle after 1am.

Best boutique to snag a wardrobe must-have
There are so many things to do that I've actually never been shopping in Chicago! I’m open to suggestions.

Hottest beach to show off summer tan lines
My brother loves to take me to the North Avenue Beach. He calls it “Hollywood Beach” because of all the beautiful gay men who go there and it's just one big party.

Can't leave town without…
Catching a free concert in Millennium Park with a bottle of wine.

Chicago-style deep dish pizza or hot dog
As a New Yorker, I can't in good conscience pick deep dish pizza, so I'll go with the dog!

When in New York:

Forget the Empire State Building, most romantic spot to take a date (and hopefully get kissed)
In the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge as the sunsets over the Manhattan skyline.

Best restaurant for a magical culinary adventure
Café Mogador, a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village.

Best place to spot a celebrity
When you're not looking.

Favorite moment in your one-woman show, Love. Guts. High School.
The moment at the end, when I come to terms with the fact that having difficulty in love only makes you better understand what real love is.

What projects are you currently working on?
I just wrote and shot a web series called "Ghost Light," which is about the backstage world of community theater and the unique cast of characters who make a show run smoothly.  I'm also toying with the idea of writing another solo show down the line. 

Attribute you look for in Mr. Right?
Sense of humor.

Actor/actress you most identify with?
I'm often compared to Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Garner, and Hilary Swank but Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. She began her career at the NYC Fringe Festival, and later went on to write and star in the NBC hit sitcoms, “The Office” and “The Mindy Project”. Kaling has made things happen for herself and she inspires the heck out of me. 

You have a creative resume: NYC tour aficionado, production company founder, playwright, actress. What's been your favorite full-time job?
I find sitting in front of a computer for nine hours to be excruciatingly boring. Aside from acting, my favorite job is being a Tour Guide. I'm in love with New York's crazy history, and enjoy meeting people from around the world, and showing them around the best city in the world. It doesn't get better than that. 

Love. Guts. High School. runs Thursday, September 5 at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, September 7 at 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, September 8 at 5:30 p.m. The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Tickets cost $10 and may be purchased here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

ELLES ON WHEELS: Gilles Bensimon's Stunning Pictorial Exhibit Pulls into Sofitel Chicago

Jennifer Lopez

Face it. There’s something captivating and slightly dizzying about a fierce woman: she is beautiful, bold, strong (and occasionally roars). When you are a fashion photographer, capturing natural grace, poetry and inner beauty is not only a vogue vocation but a pixilated love letter to all women everywhere.   

Gilles Bensimon

Gilles Bensimon teeters on savant as one of the greatest French fashion photographers in the world and he worships women. As the former International Creative Director of Elle magazine, his camera has adored some extremely famous faces: Scarlett Johansson, Tina Turner, Cindy Crawford, Audrey Hepburn, and Beyoncé.

Charlize Theron

Those iconic facades and many more are currently on display at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower as part of “Elles” By Gilles Bensimon, a touring exhibit of nearly 30 years in the making. Guests will enjoy 25 of Bensimon’s dazzling celluloids, many which have never been seen by the public, and a rare peek at the legend behind the lens.

Catherine Deneuve

“I like to take my pictures fast. Fly-on-the-wall! As if [I'm] not working,” comments Bensimon. “I am a feminist. Everything good in my life has come from women. I love them.”

Kate Winslet

“Elles” By Gilles Bensimon runs thru September 25, 2013. Free. Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, 20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, Illinois.