Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

north of the border

It’s no mystery that Chicago’s a food city. We have a Michelin guide and one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world in Lincoln Park (Grant Achatz’s 3-star Alinea), and there are dozens of high-quality restaurants scattered throughout the city. I’ve visited some of them, and consider one of them my favorite in the country. (This requires no discussion, since I’ve reviewed it twice. If you’re confused, read back a while.) I’ve been to every kind of restaurant in the city: High-end (Cafe Spiaggia), gastropub (our favorite, Frontier), classic American (City Tavern), and city icon (Hot Doug’s). Today, we tried something new.

Last year, for Michonne’s birthday, we visited River North’s famous Gilt Bar. As we’re attempting to save some money for the holidays and other purposes lately, we elected to celebrate her birthday at home. Her sister, Marcie, is in town for the weekend, and today, we decided to venture out for brunch. Our original plan was the IHOP in Boystown, or rising star Au Cheval (which we will visit sooner or later). Marcie uses the smartphone app Square, which deals with businesses who use mobile device networks to process credit card payments, and the app lists which restaurants in the city use the app. One of the places in Gold Coast, which I’ve heard about and have wanted to try, was on the list. So after we walked up the Mag Mile today, we ventured down Oak Street and onto Orleans, to BadHappy Poutine Shop.

Poutine, if you aren’t familiar (and there’s somethin’ wrong with you if you aren’t), is a hearty Canadian delicacy: pomme frites, cheese curds, and gravy. It’s open to interpretation and augmentation from there, and BadHappy makes a point of making it their own.

It’s a small place, probably an old bar, in an old brick building down the street from the Le Cordon Bleu school and near the Brown Line tracks. It seats 25, and when we got there at about 2:30, there were only 5 people inside, and three of them were in the kitchen. It’s an exposed kitchen, with Chef Tom clearly visible. The owner, whose name I never caught, came to the table and told us about the menu.

It was a short menu, which meant that the focus was on the food and on keeping things simple. (I despise restaurants with encyclopedic menus.) It’s a BYO, and they make a pair of bottomless vodka mixers. We didn’t look at the website before we went, or vodka would have been involved.

We ordered the bacon beignet dog, the chicken and waffles, and the poutine benedict, and as we are wont to do when trying a new place, we went family style.

The bacon beignet dog was just how it sounded: a deep fried sausage, dunked in a beignet  batter. It came dressed with egg-roll mustard, truffle mayo, apricot jam, whipped cream, and foie gras “icing,” All three of us had drank just a bit too much last night (some more than others), so this was manna from heaven. The batter reminded me of the New Orleans French Market staple, minus the mountain of confectioner’s sugar, and the sausage was amazing. Had I been alone, I probably would have just shoved the whole thing in my mouth.

The chicken and waffles was an upgrade of the southern classic, with vanilla crème fraiche and a maple-tabasco glaze. Perfectly crispy waffle, and the chicken was still hot and cooked perfectly.

And then came the Benedict. I’ve never had frites this crispy and well-seasoned, and each component worked independently of each other. The eggs were perfectly poached, the hollandaise (it was actually a chimichurri hollendaise) was smooth, and the cheese curds (and this is VERY important) squeaked just right when I bit down. There was some awesome Canadian bacon involved, as well as a truffle mayo. I consider this the best breakfast item I’ve ever had.

The walls had several framed articles from local magazines, praising the place, including TimeOut, the RedEye, and Chicago Magazine’s “Best of Chicago” issue. I see why the praises were so high. We’ve been talking all day about how much we enjoyed it. We spent ten minutes discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of Honey Boo-Boo and promised we’d come back soon, and we meant it. The dinner menu reads like a high-end River North restaurant had a kid with a greasy spoon diner in Montreal, in the best possible way.

BadHappy is, for us, at least, a very simple concept: comfort food, elevated. And deep fried, covered in cheese curds and gravy. It’s our new favorite restaurant in Chicago, and we felt comfortable instantly, as if we were dining in a friend’s basement. And that’s what food is about anyway, isn’t it?

You know I don’t award this rating lightly (it’s been a while since I awarded one of these), but this one deserves it.

Rating: Religious Experience

BadHappy Poutine Shop is at 939 North Orleans Street in Gold Coast.

Postscript: They sell t-shirts for $15, and you’ll want one. We don’t buy t-shirts from just anywhere. The last restaurant we purchased merchandise from was Brasa Rotisserie in Minneapolis.

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