Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chicago: Bite Café

Eclectic Dishes at Colorful Neighborhood Joint
1039 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Ukrainian Village
PH: 773.395.BITE
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (till 11:30 p.m., Wed.–Sat.)
Major credit cards accepted, reservations only for six or more
Web site

When you get out of downtown Chicago with its gorgeous architecture, everything starts to look pretty low, plain and simple. Then neighborhoods begin to look alike.

It was in one of these nondescript neighborhoods that I ended up at Bite Café, a Bohemian-type eatery where the body ink is plentiful and the food is hard to pin down. I’m not even sure what the neighborhood is called (Urbanspoon has it down as Ukrainian Village so I’ll got with that) — all I know is that it’s west of downtown Chicago.

My childhood friend Angel brought me to Bite because it’s close to where he lives and he likes the casual, approachable food. I was all game for something non-touristy, and Bite is anything but touristy.

The comfortable and cozy dining room is headed up by Chef Brian Ferguson, who Angel says likes to keep the menu changing with the ingredients he finds. The restaurant is next door to a bar called The Empty Bottle — a dark, dingy open space where bands play live music.

Since Bite doesn’t have any liquor, customers can go through a short connecting hallway over to The Empty Bottle — either to wait for a table back at Bite or to pick up some pre-dinner drinks, which is what Angel and I did while his partner, Bob, waited at our table.

Side note: The bar was rough around the edges and had a real working class feel. So I wasn’t about to order my usual martini. I got a glass of whisky, and the friendly bartender gave this great recommendation of a smooth whisky that I loved too much because I drank another and that began my road to oblivion. So yes, this dinner recap is tainted by blurred whisky memories from that evening.

Back at Bite, the menu was limited because of its changing nature. Bob went ahead and ordered the artichoke fritters ($6.50), which actually looked amazingly tempting because I love artichokes. But I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods and that looked as deep-fried as any fritter can be.

Instead, I got myself a salad. (When I travel, salads are my friend albeit boring.) Here’s the house salad ($4.50) with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and red onions. There are several choices for the dressing and I got the tomatillo avocado dressing. This is where I blame the whisky because I don’t remember how the dressing tasted. I do remember that all the greens were fresh and the salad hit the spot.

Chef Ferguson’s menu, as I hinted at earlier, is hard to describe because while it sounds like conventional American pub food, it also has tiny twists that incorporate ingredients or styles from Asian, Native American, and Mexican cuisine. For example, Angel ordered the Pad Thai ($11), which I also love but the dish didn’t seem to fit the café-bar atmosphere of Bite.

Bob ordered the Pecan-encrusted Catfish with honey-mustard cream sauce served with corn pudding and collard greens ($14), a very Southern-inspired entrée.

I went with the slow-roasted, organic, free-range pork ($14), which totally sounds like something I’d get in California except it came with a huge Navajo fry bread on top. I’d never tried a Navajo fry bread, but it’s a bit like the Indian naan. The pork itself was prepared with a spice rub that included six chilies and was served with a red cabbage-green apple slaw.

What I do recall about my pork dish was that the meat was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. I remember taking a bite or two of the fry bread and that the slaw was light and crunchy. Overall, I enjoyed the dish as well as the overall vibe at Bite.

Everyone whom I saw eating at Bite looked like regulars, or at least they seemed really comfortable in the environment. With its moderate prices and creative dishes coming from the kitchen, Bite is a tasty spot with lots of character. Just hold the whisky.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Hipster comfort food)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bite Cafe on Urbanspoon

Past travels:
The Spotted Pig (New York)
Le Bar (Buenos Aires)
Tango Contemporary Café (Honolulu)


Jenster said...

"Whisky memories" is my favorite new phrase today. I'm going to have to use that as an excuse sometime. ;)

I'm a sucker for Southern-style cooking and that catfish just sent me right over the edge. All the food looks mouth-watering delicious.

foodhoe said...

heehee, well your pictures are in focus and I love neighborhood gems! I think you must have a secret fried food thing that you were unable to deny once you were tipsy...

Maria said...

The Chicago neighborhoods all look the same--and plain?! Wow, maybe if you don't know the place and don't bother to learn about it. Have you ever heard that Chicago is at its heart a city of neighborhoods? They are quite distinct, I assure you, for myriad reasons. And the gorgeous architecture does not stop beyond the borders of the Disneyland that is downtown Chicago. The physical scale will be toned down significantly, of course, but Chicago has a rich and varied architectural history that is not limited to skyscrapers.