As we travel with The Food Channel we love to seek out local restaurants—what the industry calls “independent operators.” These are the places where we learn about the habits and customs of a town, find its specialties, even its oddities. We can chat with the locals and ask for recommendations for everything from menu items to where to find a replacement charger.
These are also the places where we find new ideas just starting to bloom. It’s where innovation and inspiration often come together.
We figure it’s time to share, so we’ll be bringing you a few of our favorite menu items, with full credit to the restaurant where we found some of the Most Interesting Things on the Menu.
This week’s find was in Chicago at one of our favorites. Known “foodies” are often asked, “So, do you ever eat at the same restaurant twice?” For us, at least, the answer is yes. While we love uncovering new finds, great restaurants are always worth a return visit.
That’s how we feel about Frontera Grill in Chicago. It’s a Rick Bayless restaurant, and the natural inclination is to think that a celebrity chef brand is going to have a hard time living up to the hype. Except that in this case the “hype” is simply reality—he really is an innovative chef and his restaurants bring those ideas to life in a consistent way, whether he’s in the house or not.
In spite of our return visits (one of our culinarians is addicted to to the Tuesday night Birria—otherwise known as the goat special), we always manage to find something we haven’t tried before. This time it was the Two Chile-Pecan Guacamole, described as “Michoacan avocados, smoky morita and toasty ancho chiles, grilled onion, candied pecans, and cincho cheese.”
We also had the Topolobampo Tortilla Soup, a dark broth with pasilla, grilled chicken, avocado, hand-made Jack cheese, thick cream and crisp tortilla strips, served with a sprinkling of lime and poured fresh at the table.
The Smoked Chicken Garnachas caught our attention, described as “crispy boats of corn masa and sweet potato, smoked chicken, with sweet and tangy guajillo sauce.”
One more call out: the Homemade Pumpkin Ice Cream served with a side of bittersweet hot fudge. You just can’t imagine how well those two go together—we think it’s the new definition of a fall chill! We didn’t stop there for dessert, though—we also enjoyed the Duo de Flanes, with the traditional Mexican vanilla bean flan and a second one that took the prize, definied as an orange creamsicle flan.
It was all fabulous, as usual, but the main one we’ll go back for is the Guacamole. It surprised us with the addition of pecans, and just a faint hint of smoky chile that didn’t overpower the flavor combinations. What can we say—we found it interesting enough to call out.
OK, we’ll repeat the Tortilla Soup, too. And the pumpkin ice cream, if it’s not simply seasonal. But that’s it. After all, the rest of the menu is yet to be explored.