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Food Machine

Illinois Politicians Rate Their Favorite Restaurants

By AMELIA LEVIN
    Politician. Restaurant. Chicago. Hearing these words side-by-side naturally conjures up images of big wigs from the “machine” noshing on Italian food in a dark and rustic restaurant, occasionally lighting up a cigar while discussing business.
   Maybe these stereotypical scenes still exist, at least in the movies. Or maybe they don’t, but the idea that restaurants play an integral role in business meetings and transactions still exists, according to Larry Suffredin (D-13), Cook County commissioner and general counsel for the Illinois Restaurant Association.
   “Every legislator has a favorite restaurant where they like to conduct business,” Suffredin says. “State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8) is Orthodox Jewish so he has a list of kosher restaurants he goes to, and then there’s Sen. John Cullerton (D-6), who’s involved in Stefani’s restaurants and even travels to Italy with Stefani. And Sen. Jimmy DeLo (D-10), who has an interest in Gibson’s.”
   Then there’s Suffredin’s favorite places to dine and conduct business. Naturally, Leona’s was a top pick, given the commissioner co-owned a stake in the now 11-store restaurant “chain.” What started as a love affair for the food while serving as the lawyer for the restaurant on some zoning cases turned into a 12-year partnership with the family company, which ended in 1998 when he sold his share.
   But all biases aside, “Being half-Italian, I seem to gravitate to Italian food,” he says. At Leona’s, Suffredin prefers the thin crust pizza with a well-seasoned sauce, generous toppings and a crispy crust, he says. “I’m one of those people who is in constant search for the perfect pizza.”
   To start the day off, Suffredin says, “My breakfast haunts, if you will, are Clark’s restaurant and Ann Sathers on Belmont.” Alderman Tim Tunney, owner of Ann Sather’s, would likely smile at Suffredin’s nod to the Swedish spot known for its sinful cinnamon sticky buns.
   “If I’m coming downtown, I go to Atwood Café, and if doing lunch, I go to Encore in the Allegro Hotel, which serves soups and carved sandwiches,” Suffredin says. “Then for dinner I like Petterino’s [and] Harry Carry’s for their calamari and pasta dishes.”
   Suffredin also occasionally gets to 437 Rush in River North, and on the South Side, he prefers B.J.’s Market for traditional southern food like catfish and collard greens. “It’s a great meeting place, and they also have great cobbler,” the commissioner says.
   There’s a reason Chicago’s superior to other cities when it comes to dining, Suffredin says. “I think that, one, we’re much more laid back, and we’re also not as crowded as New York,” which he adds, makes for a much more enjoyable dining experience. “We also have a lot of larger restaurants by size, and I think that gives them the chance to experiment and try new things because you have a more diverse set of customers.”
   Chicago Life tried asking Mayor Richard M. Daley what his favorite restaurant in the city was, but like we expected, he said he didn’t want to single out one place and play favorites. Presidential candidate and U. S. Senator Barack Obama said during an episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien that he favored MacArthur’s (5412 W. Madison St., 773-261-2316), a classic soul food restaurant on the West Side serving up killer fried chicken, greens, hamhocks and ribs (and p.s., there’s a picture of Daley on their website).
   Here are some other local political figures we caught up with and some words about their favorite places to dine:

Dawn Clark Netsch, former Illinois state senator and 1994 Democratic gubernatorial candidate
   “My favorite restaurant is Twin Anchors, which is right near my home,” says Netsch. “I’ve been going there forever. They have the best ribs.”
   A mainstay in Lincoln Park and considered a favorite by many, Twin Anchors (1655 N. Sedgwick, 312-266-1616) has been serving up St. Louis-style baby-backs since the 1930s. Tender and juicy with a crisp outer shell, the meat’s the kind of fall-off-the-bone, smoky goodness people crave. Twin Anchors’ sauce is sweet with just the right balance of tang that a good barbecue sauce should have. This restaurant functioned as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-5)
   For a best breakfast, Emanuel picks Over Easy (4943 N. Damen, 773-506-2605) and for lunch, Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen (1141 S. Jefferson, 312-939-2855), known for their corned beef sandwiches. The congressman votes for Sepia (123 N. Jefferson, 312-441-1920) for special occasions and Le Colonial (937 N. Rush, 312-255-0088) for when he and his wife have date night, ususually catching a movie right after.

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-13)
   Biggert named Kiki’s Bistro as her favorite restaurant. “It has a wonderful French atmosphere and the best pommes frites in Chicago,” says Biggert.
   Kiki’s Bistro (900 N. Franklin, 312-335-5454) started the French craze that swept the city, before French bistro food was even as widely popular as it is today. French “bistro” food differs from the fine dining style you might find at Les Nomades in that it’s essentially well-seasoned, well-crafted comfort food, spanning the regions of France—traditional dishes like lamb navarin (stew), bouillabaisse and coq au vin. Kiki’s never misses the mark on any of its dishes, serving up consistently good food to regulars who keep coming back for more. Classic steak frites prove the most popular, along with escargot and frog legs and the widely loved but perhaps underrated (or at least people keep a good secret) crème brulee that rests on a layer of super-rich dark chocolate.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1)
   Soul Vegetarian (205 E. 75th St., 773-224-0104) is a retail supplier, catering company and national restaurant—dare we say, “chain”—although the food isn’t akin to a vegetarian Applebee’s or anything like that. The company focuses on supplying and cooking up basic dishes influenced by different parts of the world, like vegan lasagna and vegan gyros, along with carrot salad sandwiches, sweet potato pies and broccoli quiches, all vegetarian and in some cases, organic or vegan. Essentially “good for the soul,” according to the mission. Colorful African-American art decorates the walls of this charming spot, which fills up fast during the week and weekends.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-6)
  Rep. Roskam says he’s been eating at Flips Beef in Glen Ellyn since high school and his favorite meal is the gyros platter.
   Flips Beef (340 W. Roosevelt Rd., Glen Ellyn, 630-469-5828) is the typical beef stand you’d find in Chicago (think patio tables with red and yellow umbrellas, old school signage and a beef stand interior), but the food is anything but the usual. Serving the DuPage area for many years, regulars drool over the gyros that Roskam loves, as well as juicy Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago dogs (no ketchup) and submarine sandwiches.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-7)
   Davis picked Edna's as his favorite, followed by Wallace’s Catfish Corner (2800 W. Madison St., 773-638-3473) and Alice’s (5461 W. Division St., 773-921-1100).
   Edna’s (3175 W. Madison St., 312-638-7079) in East Garfield Park is another soul food, down-home cooking, Grandma’s kitchen-type spot where regulars love the crispy fried chicken and creamy mashed potatoes. For about $10 you can go to Edna’s and fill up your stomach to the brink with just about every side imaginable (collard greens, biscuits, mac and cheese, etc.). Save room for the peach cobbler.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2)
   Jackson Jr. says he likes the pike at Hugo's Frog Bar downtown.
   Hugo’s Frog Bar (1024 N. Rush St., 312-640-0999), the offshoot of the Gibson’s on the Gold Coast, focuses on fresh seafood in addition to hearty aged steaks. They may not serve as many frog legs as the name would otherwise indicate, but fish and shellfish is a big draw here, as the restaurant flies the seafood in from around the world on a daily basis and sometimes two or three times a day. You’ve got the basics—whole Maine lobster by the pound, whitefish and lake perch a la fish and chips, but also good fish finds like Jackson’s pan-fried Walleye pike, light, buttery and delicate with a touch of crisp searing on the outside. Crab cakes are an absolute must—no extra mayo or heavy breading here.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9)
   Rep. Jan Schakowsky picked Campagnola in Evanston.  True foodies flock to Campagnola (815 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-475-6100) where chef and former owner Michael Altenberg (now at Crust, the city’s first organic restaurant and pizzeria in Bucktown) popularized the now sweeping concept of using local, seasonal, often organic and always wholesome and natural produce and foods, as well as sustainably raised meats. Now with Chef Vincent DiBattista at the helm, the focus on sustainable is still there, making its way into the simple yet sophisticated Italian-influenced dishes on the menu, like wood-fired radicchio wrapped in bacon with basil aioli and goat cheese to start and later, homemade pappardelle with veal, pork and pancetta ragu. Leg of lamb with lentils, steaks and chops and some fish like trout grace the protein-focused entrees.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-4)
   “I love Red Light over on Randolph St. — Jackie Shen’s my girl,” Guiterrez says.
   The congressman is referring to the executive chef at Red Light (820 W. Randolph St., 312-733-8880) on Restaurant Row, one of the earlier Jerry Kleiner concepts that started his signature trend toward big open spaces with extravagant and bright décor that’s marked Opera, Carnival, Room 21 and his latest, Park 52 in Hyde Park. Kleiner recently announced plans to open another restaurant in an old warehouse space on Wells Street on the Gold Coast, a 9,000-plus square-foot location. At three-star Red Light, the pan-Asian cuisine incorporates many different types of dishes like curries, stir-fries and pad Thai, but all very upscale. Steamed dumplings stuffed with fois gras and pork in a cognac hoisin sauce are a good start, as are the crispy Maine lobster-mango rolls. Sea scallops in a light coconut sauce and other fresh seafood dishes are also favorites.

Published: August 09, 2008
Issue: Fall 2008 Politics Issue