Bug-Eyed in Bucktown and Wicker Park #7: Buzz: Killer Espresso

As I have been working my way through the coffee scene in Bucktown and Wicker Park, I have (purely through luck in timing) been able to witness a little bit of a revolution in how coffee is being served and produced in the neighborhood.  Fairly recently, three new coffee outlets have made it to WPB and are pushing past the standard “cafe that serves drip coffee and espresso drinks” model that has become so common.  For instance, Caffe Streets does those things but also sources all kinds of different coffee styles for pour-overs (a method of brewing by pouring hot water over grounds in a filter by hand) that really accentuate the differences in the coffee flavors.  Cafe Ipsento does this as well, but even goes farther by roasting its coffee varietals on site.

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Sports Nerd Posts #1: Why I’m Not Afraid of Peyton Manning to the Broncos

I am, and always will be a Kansas City Chiefs fan.  I like seeing the Bears win because I live in Chicago and it’s a much more pleasant place when the local team is winning and the majority of my social circle consists of Bears fans.  However, it’s the Chiefs that keep me interested all year around and it’s the Broncos who are my least favorite team in the league.  Sure, we have the Raider Haters all over Chiefs Nation, but the Broncos are the team that seems to beat us when we are at our best and ruin our better seasons.  Let’s face it, the Raiders have been a complete joke for over a decade.

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Own Your Neighborhood Guide #3: A View to a Lake (That’s How James Bond Says Lakeview)

Terribly out-of-date movie references aside, Lakeview is a little bit of a misnomer.  You can live in Lakeview and have a view of Lake Michigan, but the odds are that if you live in this neighborhood, you don’t have a view of the lake.  One could argue that a lot of the neighborhoods in the city are somewhat misleading (how many people in Lincoln Park actually live anywhere near the park?)  So, let’s switch our focus to the vast array of offerings in Lakeview.  Before we do, here’s a link to a map that defines the boundaries of the neighborhood:

http://explorechicago.org/city/en/neighborhoods/lakeview.html

Lakeview is a very interesting neighborhood as there is quite a cross-section of cultural norms.  The city’s non-stop frat party (Wrigleyville) is just a few blocks from one of the biggest alternative lifestyle sub-neighborhoods in the country (Boystown).  Both of those areas and the rest of the neighborhood are dotted with all kinds of restaurants and cultural attractions.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. The obvious place for a sports fan to go: Wrigley Field

There is something special about it (by “it” I mean the Field, not the Cubs) that’s hard to describe.  One definitely gets a sense of history and time seems to stand still.  For a sports purist (like me) it’s nice to go to a game that doesn’t have all the hoopla around.  Cubs games stand in very stark contrast to Bulls games.  At Bulls games, it seems like the game gets in the way of all the other stuff going on (Bulls crowds get loudest when the t-shirt gunners come out, then they quiet down for important parts of the game).  Cubs games are all about baseball (well, and drinking) without the distractions.  It’s one of the few mainstream entertainments out there that requires more than a 5-second attention span.

2. For the avant-garde on a budget: Red Tape Theatre

DNS has been to a few productions here and they were all stunning their own ways.  For the first performance, a custom stage/seating setup was built that put the crowd right in the middle of the actors and stage (it was so immersive that they did not allow bathroom breaks during the show).  The shows are edgy,  inexpensive and very well-done by the ensemble cast.

3. For the hungry/thirsty Theatre goer: Wilde

Wilde is a bar and grill that evokes the literary-style pubs of the British Isles.  The food is very good for bar fare (mac and cheese is a highlight) and the beer list is quite competent.  There is an actual library in Wilde, and it can be a great place to get a meal or to just sit and read as there are multiple areas setup that can accommodate either activity.

4. For whiskey, punk rock, and legends: Delilah’s

It’s a great little bar for those looking for something that’s not just another sports bar.  They have over 400 whiskeys available (and seemingly an inroad with Maker’s Mark), a very good beer selection, and actual pool tables.  Speaking of the pool tables, DNS’s cousin made a no-look (he stared down the opponent instead of looking at the table), one-handed, from-the-hip game-winning shot at Delilah’s.  Every game of pool through eternity will be a letdown after that.

5. For food network junkies: DMK Burger Bar

Just about every neighborhood in Chicago has a burger place of note.  Burger bars are the trend du jour (that’s the trend of the day) in Chicago.  DMK was relatively early on the burger bar train, and they make some pretty interesting burgers due to the ingredients.  However, the quality of the burgers underneath it all could use some work.  Their selection of fries is pretty impressive, though and the beer selection is well-thought-out.

6. For those who think a rock star should be able to play an instrument: Chicago Music Exchange

This has to be one of the most awesome guitar stores in the world.  The selection is dazzling and they stock vintage instruments that just aren’t found anywhere else.  If you like guitars and you are in Chicago, this is a must-see.

7. For a really early meal (or really late, depending on your outlook): Salt & Pepper Diner

This seems to be a staple for breakfast (or post bar crawl) diner food in Wrigleyville.  It’s exactly what you expect out of a diner: cheap, hearty and not too creative.

8. For European snootiness in an American setting: Julius Meinl

Of course it makes sense that there’s a coffee place that’s mostly in Austria having a spot a couple blocks from Wrigley field.  I think that with Theo’s new contract, he may start getting spotted here instead of Starbuck’s.  All kidding aside, there is a decidedly snooty vibe here, but the coffee and food are top-notch.

9. To recreate a scene from Beerfest: Uberstein

The name pretty much describes what you are going to get here.  German beer by the liter and bar food with a German slant.  It’s also a surprisingly good setup for football as they have all the NFL games.

10. For South American cuisine on the North Side: Tango Sur

Tango Sur is a very good South American steakhouse that has all the expected choices: Parilladas (mixed grilled items), steaks, chimichurri (parsley, olive oil and garlic sauce), and hearty sides.  It’s a different experience from your “normal” Chicago steakhouse.

Now it’s time to switch gears and discuss the real estate trends in Lakeview.  The prevailing view is that, just like Hansel, real estate in Lakeview is “So hot right now.”  Let’s see if that notion holds up to some analysis of the pricing trends.

Over the last couple of years, Lakeview has seen some price declines (which is not surprising given the overall real estate market), but most of this decline is seen in distressed properties with 2 bedrooms or less.  Traditional sales (meaning sales that are not Short Sales or Foreclosures) have actually held up fairly well.  This puts Lakeview in a similar category with Lincoln Park.  It is quite stable.

The particular situation in Lakeview is emblematic of what we are seeing around the country.  Housing in great locations with good amenities are not losing value in the “down” market.  Lakeview has very easy access to public transportation and is very walkable.  In a city with a lot of traffic (and $4 gasoline), these attributes are important.

If you are thinking about buying in Lakeview, you can feel relatively confident that your home will hold up in value.  On the other hand, the market is well aware of this so you are not likely to end up making the deal of the century.  However, if you are one of the ever-hopeful Cubs fans out there, maybe Theo Epstein can get land values to skyrocket in the neighborhood (as well as provide a World Series showing).

Posted in Arts, Bars, Beer, Chicago, Chicago Cubs, Dining, Economics, Lakeview, Neighborhoods, Real Estate, Real Estate Trends, Restaurants, Sports, Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bug-Eyed in Bucktown and Wicker Park #6: The Map Room

Wicker Park and Bucktown arguably have the best neighborhood selection of coffee places in Chicago.  Options abound from the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (they don’t deserve a spot in this review because plenty has been written about both of these places) to one of the only outposts in the midwest (Bagel on Damen) that has the much revered Stumptown coffee.

Here is a rundown of what’s out there and what each brings to the table for today’s discerning coffee drinker and/or anyone that’s ready to break away from the bigger names in coffee.  This tour is necessary because those unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not be aware that the place with the best drip coffee (for me, Bagel on Damen) doesn’t have any kind of cappucino to offer.  The ins and outs of the local establishments are, for lack of a better word, kind of complex.

Today’s entry: The Map Room, 1949 N Hoyne, Chicago, IL

Who knew that one of the best places to grab a craft beer (and not just in Chicago, but probably in the country) is also a good place to get a coffee and pastries in the morning?  Well, I’m guessing a number of people in the neighborhood do.  In any case, there are some very good reasons to hit Map Room in the morning.  So, let’s get to it.

Map room is located just a bit west of Damen on Armitage, and unlike a lot of good Chicago hang-outs, there is plenty of free street parking.  Additionally, the crowd in the morning tends to be fairly spartan allowing for a nice atmosphere to get things accomplished.  Also, they keep it local by serving Intelligentsia, which I respect.

On a Saturday morning, there are plenty of spaces and tables to get things done.

Their drip coffee has been quite good.  In fact, I like it better than some of the other places who also serve Intelligentsia.  This gives me evidence that they take some care in making it.  For espresso drinks, there is a pretty standard set that is well done and at very reasonable prices.  I have had particularly good cappuccino there.  Map Room also serves chai, hot tea (loose leaf, done in a steeping bag), pastries and sandwiches.

Overall, it’s a solid place to get a good coffee and enjoy the atmosphere at particularly good prices given the neighborhood.  Plus, this place can get very crowded during beer serving hours (starting at 11:00 am) and getting coffee might be your best bet to make sure you have a seat when the taps get cranked up later in the day.

Posted in Bars, Beer, Bucktown, Coffee, Dessert, Espresso, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Wicker Park | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Home Buying Advice by DNS: Getting the Most Valuable Value

Today’s post is about getting through the process of buying a home smoothly and in a way that keeps your lifestyle comfortable.  The title is also an homage to arguably the best line in Road Trip: “It was his most challenging challenge ever.” One of the most important aspects of buying a home is knowing about your financial state before buying and being realistic about your financial state afterwards.  The last situation anyone wants to be in is “house poor”.

Here are the steps, in order, for buying a residence:

1. Know all the ins and outs of your financial situation

Get your credit reports, reduce your debt, save money and make sure that ALL of your bills get paid on time.  Put toghether all of your bank accounts, investments, loans payments and income.  Make sure you have a good idea about what your inflows and outflows are.  Also be sure to build in some extra for emergencies (like 5-10% a month).

2. Have a very solid idea about what your financial situation will be after you buy

Keep in mind that when you buy your own place, the maintenance and emergency expenses are going to be on you, not your landlord.  Because of this, you should expect 1-3% of your home’s value in maintenance costs each year.  So, if you go middle of the road and estimate 2%, and your place is a $250,000 residence, expect $5,000 a year in maintenance and repair costs for painting, yard work, pool service, appliance issues and roofing.  Of course, you can offset some of this cost by doing things yourself, but ONLY do things you are qualified to do (like mow the yard).   In any case, this is a few hundred extra dollars a month in upkeep.

3. Get Pre-Approved

A surprising number of people do not do this.  The last thing you want to do is see a bunch of properties that you cannot afford, just to learn that they are out of reach.  Know what range to look for before even thinking about looking.  Also, the pre-approval process will help you gain knowledge about your financial situation.  Mortgage people have access to a lot of financial information and can help guide you through everything.

4. Be honest with yourself about what you purchase

Going through steps 1-3 with help with the financial honesty.  That is a very important step.  However, that’s just a start.  If you do not have children, work 80 hours a week, and your friends and family all live in town, buying a 5 bedroom single-family fixer upper is probably an awful idea.  You would be setting yourself up for a lot of extra work for a house that does not meet your needs (a big, older house will have a lot of upkeep and maintenance to deal with and this particular buyer probably wouldn’t need extra bedrooms for visitors/children).  Given a particular lifestyle, bigger isn’t necessarily better.

5. Understand the advantages to owning from an investment standpoint

Owning a home is a great investment in the medium term.  One of the problems with the housing bubble was that people were thinking of homes as 2 year investment vehicles.  The investment advantage of a home is definitely there (people wouldn’t own rental properties as investments if they weren’t making money on the tenants), but it takes some time to reap the real gains.  Mortgage principal pays off faster as time goes on and having a longer outlook allows the owner to take advantage of peaks as they come along rather than sticking to selling quickly and hoping the market is ok.   Additionally, rents increase over time (and housing prices with them, roughly) those rents are going to look relatively much higher 15 years from now than they will 2 years from now.  In short, if you run your household the way a good property manager would run a rental property (by taking care of maintenance in a timely and thorough way and paying a little more now to save a lot down the road, for instance) you will come out way ahead on your investment.

6. Use a Realtor and an awesome Inspector

Buyer’s agents (usually) cost nothing to the buyer while providing all kinds of useful knowledge and taking care of a lot of the work so that the process is as unintrusive as possible for the buyer.  Agents have access to all kinds of market information and data.  Ask a lot of your agent, and you should be able to make a very informed decision.  A good buyer’s agent will also have some excellent Inspectors to refer the buyer to.  A very careful, thoughtful inspector can make all the difference in the world.  I would never let a client go through with a purchase without an inspection.

Home buying is becoming a very good way to make a medium-to-long term investment in today’s economy.  Affordability is very high and there are a lot of macroeconomic indicators that are looking better each month. Because lending standards are pretty tight right now, the competition for homes is also pretty low.  In other words, if you can qualify for a loan and buying a home makes sense for your situation now is a super time to jump into home ownership.

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The Prevent Defense Works Better at Home: Preventive Maintenance Tips

Hey everyone, here’s a New Year’s resolution that will take less than an hour and could save you thousands of dollars over the years.   That sounds better than spending a few hundred dollars to join a gym and use a treadmill 10 times in January, doesn’t it?

To most people preventive maintenance is a boring (or even dreaded) topic.  However, it’s the best way to keep your home expenses minimized and as predictable as possible.  Here I am going to provide some rules of thumb and general tips.  A lot of people claim to “forget” to do some of these things, but the fact is that with Google calendar, Outlook, iCal, etc. there is no excuse to skip your maintenance.  Set up a reminder that automatically goes off every few months and bask in the glory that is saving money by putting in a very tiny amount of time and elbow grease.  Here is a Q&A to get at the important ideas here:

1. How much does home maintenance cost per year?  Usually 1%-3% of the home’s value.

2. How often should I inspect my house?  At least every 6 months.

3. Who should do the maintenance?  It really depends on your skill level.  You can save money doing some things yourself, but for some items (such as electrical work) it’s usually best left to a professional.

4. Is there a ‘method’ to inspecting your home?  Yes, most of the time it’s a good idea to start from the bottom up.  A lot of the damage that can happen to a home results from moisture traveling down your home’s structure.

5. Will this be a huge undertaking?  Not usually.  One of the biggest things is to just CLEAN.  Cleaning out shrubberies, debris, and other items from gutters, window wells and other edges and corners can work wonders over time.  Keeping trees trimmed and under control is very important.  Other times, you may notice cracks in drywall, asphalt or masonry.  If they are major, a repair is probably in order.  Note: do these repairs well or they cost much more in the long run.

6. What moving items should I check?  Make sure doors and windows open and close and that all safety features are functional.  Sometimes, you may need to lubricate some moving parts.

7. Should I include non-attached items in my inspections?  Yes.  Clean up your lawn implements and equipment, etc.

8. What should I check in the main living area of my place?  Look around for mold, moisture and cracking in the home.  Check floors for evenness and look at caulking around the bathrooms.  Flush out sinks on a regular basis (if you don’t like chemicals, a full sink basin of hot water can do a good job).  Make sure to take care of any slow-moving drains.

9.  What about appliances and electrical items?  These definitely need checking.  Replace furnace filters often (forgetting to do this can cause MAJOR problems).   VERY IMPORTANT: check your smoke detector AND CO detector.  Every couple years, it’s a good idea to clean out the dryer exhaust (and, of course, clean the lint filter every time you use the dryer).  A quick check of the pressure relief valve on your hot water heater is usually a good idea.

10.  What about safety equipment?  Make sure your flashlight and fire extinguisher are working well.

Wasn’t that a fun list?  Well, if you make it into checklist form and are pretty diligent, you can save a lot of money over time.  It isn’t glamorous, but the higher-than-expected bank account balance and ease of selling your home can be.

Posted in Appliances, Budgeting, Calendars, Inspections, Maintenance, Real Estate | Leave a comment

Totally Unrelated: How to Upset a Pass-Happy Team (College or Pro)

By coincidence, my college and pro football teams pulled off the biggest two upsets of the year.  First, “The” Iowa State University knocked of Oklahoma State on a Friday night.  Second, the Kansas City Chiefs took out the previously unbeaten Packers.  While it’s a lot of fun to win an upset, it also speaks to the general mediocrity that ISU and the Chiefs tend to field year-to-year.  In general, these teams have eerie parallels that I am going to expand on as well as the blueprint for beating high-flying passing attacks.

Side note paragraph: college/pro colors.  As most people are aware, Iowa does not have an NFL team.  What ends up happening is that people from Iowa tend to follow one of the somewhat close teams geographically (Vikings, Packers, and Chiefs) or a nationally branded team (Cowboys, Giants, etc.).  However, I think in these difficult economic times, fans should have an easy choice.  Obviously, you don’t want to waste money buying new colors all the time.  So, Cyclones should pull for the Chiefs (red, gold) and Hawkeyes should pull for the Steelers (black, gold), especially if they get a Medical degree and then end up at University of Pittsburgh for a residency (hey TFisch).  Easy enough, right?  Also, the only more natural progression is for Illinois fans.  Buy some blue and orange in college and you are all set for Da’ Bears.

First off, let’s look at some of the eerie parallels between ISU and the Chiefs.  As mentioned before, the team colors are the same.  ISU started the season with 3 wins, 4 losses, and then 3 wins.  The Chiefs started the season with 3 losses, 4 wins, and 3 losses.  The defenses have pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses and the offenses work on  a particular set of principles (albeit in different schemes).  Additionally, some of the sparks and ups and downs in the season are similar.  So, now, let’s get to how to upset a dominant passing team with a defense predicated on getting turnovers (sounds a lot like OSU and the Packers, doesn’t it?)  In fact, OSU and the Packers are eerily similar, too.  For instance, their QBs are about the same age.

Keep in mind that these factors are not all in the control of the teams.  Some teams will not have the necessary personnel or setups to make this happen.  There are very important particulars to this situation that just aren’t present on most of the football teams in BCS leagues or the NFL.  Ok, now let’s get to creating an upset against a high-level diversified passing team:

1. Man-to-Man Press Coverage: Unfortunately, most teams cannot do this.  Brandon Flowers (not The Killers lead singer, he has been a little under the radar but completely outplayed Asumougha this year) is easily one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the NFL while Brandon Carr is somewhere in the 10 to 15 range.  Kendrick Lewis is an emerging free safety.  Iowa State has Reeves and Leonard Johnson (both underrated because, let’s face it it’s ISU) who Desmond Howard described as “shut-down corners” on GameDay before the Texas game.  Ter’ran Benton is a very good free safety.  Pass happy teams that rely on diversified attacks rarely deal with coverage units as good as what these teams have, and it showed during the games.  OSU and the Packers looked completely out of sorts in these games as the press coverage made the timing off and the receivers could not play as fast as they usually do.  After the Chiefs employed this strategy, Jermichael Finley even commented that it was the most out-of-rhythm he’s felt in a game and that he thinks the Chiefs came up with the blueprint for how teams will defend him going forward.

2. Put a Lot on Two Awesome Linebackers: Iowa State has the #2 and #3 tacklers in the Big 12 in A. J. Klein and Jake Knott while the Chiefs have Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.  In both cases, great games were had by these players who are some of the best at their positions.  Hali is a little different, because he mostly is a pass rusher (vs. Justin Houston who could end up being the A. J. Klein of the Chiefs, Jake Knott and Derrick Johnson have very similar games).

3. Rely on the Opposing Team to not Utilize the Run Nearly Enough: I’m pretty sure the Packers and OSU went back to the tape and realized they could have run all day.  ISU and the Chiefs both have hard-working, very average defensive lines.  Pass oriented teams tend to forget this bit of strategy because “It’s not what they do.”

4. Don’t Win the Time of Possession, Dominate It:  ISU – 34:47, OSU 25:13.  OSU couldn’t stop ISU in the fourth quarter.  They were completely gassed.  Chiefs – 36:11, Packers 23:49.  Everyone knew the Packers would put up some points in the second half, so having their defense worn out to make a counter punch was key.  The Chiefs were able to counter the Packers’ scores.  Both ISU and the Chiefs put together long drives taking what the defense gave while avoiding mistakes.  These are those rare games when you would rather have an interception by your team not be a pick six early in the game.  It’s better if you can put together a 5 or 6 minute scoring drive and get the other team on the road to fatigue instead of putting points on the board right away, because the blowout is not happening.

5. Play on the Home Turf: Both wins were at home.  This helps in obvious ways.

6. Have Some Kind of Unusual Off-the-Field Situation:  OSU was dealing with a terrible tragedy and it’s hard to get a handle how that can affect a team.  The Chiefs seemed to respond to the firing of Todd Haley earlier in the week.

7. Get an Improbable Spark from a QB Change: Jared Barnett did an amazing job for ISU coming in as a redshirt freshman after being fourth string in spring practice.  Hollywood wouldn’t write this story because it’s too implausible.  Kyle Malorton (a reference to a Chicago beverage that’s basically as sour as his early-career stats in Chicago) came in for the Chiefs after what amounted to a week of practice.  He looked like he had total control of the offense and a decent idea of what each receiver could do.  Wow.

8. Don’t Turn the Ball Over: ISU turned it over, but won the battle.  The Chiefs didn’t even come close to turning the ball over.  Keep Weeden and Rodgers off the field if you want to win.

9. The Thing that Usually Happens, but Only One Team Did It: Risky trick plays are usually needed to pull the upset.  ISU pulled a couple dandies.  The Chiefs didn’t even try (although getting inside the Packers 10 yard line 4 times and only having 13 points to show for those drives is pretty tricky, in a bad way).

10. Have the Better Special Teams: ISU was great in the special teams against OSU.  There were some big returns and OSU didn’t get a whole lot going in that area.  OSU missed a crucial field goal, too.  In fact, this is exactly what happened with the Chiefs.  The Chiefs special teams were nearly flawless while the Packers missed a crucial field goal and didn’t get any real returns because the Chiefs put the ball through the end zone on kickoffs.

So there you have it.  The blueprint for beating a great passing team if you have a team with a very good back seven and the ability to put together extended drives.  Now the `72 Dolphins and the SEC can thank us.

Posted in Big 12, Brandon Weeden, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Iowa State Cyclones, Jared Barnett, Kansas City Chiefs, Kyle Orton, Leonard Johnson, Malort, NFL, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Press Man Coverage, SEC, Team Colors, Upsets | Leave a comment

Bug-Eyed in Bucktown and Wicker Park #5: Ipsento Coffee

Wicker Park and Bucktown arguably have the best neighborhood selection of coffee places in Chicago.  Options abound from the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (they don’t deserve a spot in this review because plenty has been written about both of these places) to one of the only outposts in the midwest (Bagel on Damen) that has the much revered Stumptown coffee.

Here is a rundown of what’s out there and what each brings to the table for today’s discerning coffee drinker and/or anyone that’s ready to break away from the bigger names in coffee.  This tour is necessary because those unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not be aware that the place with the best drip coffee (for me, Bagel on Damen) doesn’t have any kind of cappucino to offer.  The ins and outs of the local establishments are, for lack of a better word, kind of complex.

Today’s entry: Ipsento

My first experience at Ipsento was a total mixed bag.  Upon entering, I was greeted by a camera crew filming someone pouring coffee beans into a jar (weird).  After getting around the film crew to the line to order, I stood there for a couple minutes without any help from the baristas.  Eventually, someone that the baristas knew walked in and they decided to immediately help him without talking to me.  Very annoying.  When they did finally get around to me, they were very nice and the coffee is excellent.  The regular drip coffee was so good that one of the other people I was there with did a double-take when he tried it (and I’ve never seen him comment on the quality of coffee before after dozens of times getting coffee).

On my second visit, the service was quite nice and informative.  It’s apparent that a lot of the people working at Ipsento are really into coffee.  They did a pour-over (slowly pouring hot water over the ground beans through a filter one cup at a time) that was really interesting.  It tasted a little bit like A-1 steak sauce.  I don’t often describe coffee like that.  Their signature drink is the Ipsento, which is an espresso drink made with milk (or soy milk), coconut milk, honey and cayenne.  It is fairly sweet, but the cayenne helps keep it from being cloying.  I would think that most people who are into sweeter coffee drinks would dig this preparation.

So, in a sense this place is better than The Wormhole on a lot of fronts.  The service is a bit spotty, but at least they are friendly when they get around to it and the coffee is amazing.  Plus, they do a lot of roasting in-house, which is pretty ambitious.  One downfall here is the setup for “coffee house” activities like studying, writing and pretending to do work.  It’s not the easiest place for that.  A lot of the writing areas are situated un-ergonomically and there is not very much space to begin with.  Overall, though, it’s one of the best places in Chicago to go for those who are into small, independent coffee and interesting roasts.

Posted in Bucktown, Coffee, Dining, Espresso, Real Estate, Restaurants, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Holidays Special Edition: The Most Awesomest Pumpkin Pie Ever

It’s my mom’s pumpkin pie, of course.  It’s made from scratch.  The legend of mom’s pumpkin pie is known to a lucky few, but I have decided that my humanitarian act for the holiday season will be getting the secret out to the general public by publishing this recipe.  For me, holidays are all about doing something that’s not quite what you do day-to-day.  I try to eat a pretty healthy diet with whole grains, lean protein and vegetables.  Pumpkin Pie is absolutely none of these things.  Turkey is a pretty lean protein (given that you don’t eat the skin and/or fry it).  So, for DollardNSense  it’s pumpkin pie, gravy, and stuffing that make Thanksgiving amazing.  Side note: I don’t recommend combining all of those things in one dish.

So here it is, dear reader.  You now belong to the ranks of the few who are enlightened.  Congratulations and have a wonderful Turkey Day:

Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

We love pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin.  Interestingly, the color of your pie will vary with the variety of pumpkin you use.  We have tried several types, all with good results. Pie pumpkins have a firmer flesh. If your cooked pumpkin is juicy, just drain off the liquid before using in the recipe.

PUMPKIN

1 pumpkin, preferably a pie pumpkin.

  1. Wash off pumpkin, remove stem and cut in half from top to bottom
  2. Cover each half with plastic wrap and poke 4-5 holes in the wrap
  3. Microwave until pumpkin is cooked, time will depend on the size of the pumpkin
  1. Remove plastic wrap and let the pumpkin cool
  2. Scoop out the seeds and discard
  3. Scoop out the pumpkin and puree in a food processor

SINGLE PIE CRUST

1 1/3  cups sifted flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco)

3 tablespoons ice cold water

  1. Sift and measure flour, add salt and sift again.
  2. Add shortening to the flour and cut in. (using two knives in a crisscrossing motion works well if you do not have a pastry kitchen gadget)
  3. Add ice cold water one tablespoon at a time and mix in lightly with a fork.
  4. The dough mixture will be somewhat crumbly.. Do not overwork
  5. Liberally flour the work surface, turn out crust mix and shape into a mound.
  6. Flour the rolling pin and roll out the crust to size
  7. Add the crust to the pie pan and flute the edges.

PIE FILLING

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees

14.5-15 ounces cooked pumpkin

2 eggs

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

A dash of nutmeg

(ground cloves optional, we prefer the mild taste without the clove)

1 can condensed milk

  1. Add eggs to mixer and lightly blend
  2. Add pumpkin, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
  3. Blend slowly
  4. Gradually add the condensed milk
  5. Blend well and add to pie crust
  6. Place on center rack
  7. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees to set the crust
  8. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 40-50 minutes
  9. Pie is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

ENJOY

Posted in Dessert, Dining, Holidays, Pumpkin Pie, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Bug-Eyed in Bucktown and Wicker Park #4: The Wormhole

Wicker Park arguably has the best neighborhood selection of coffee places in Chicago.  Options abound from the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (they don’t deserve a spot in this review because plenty has been written about both of these places) to one of the only outposts in the midwest (Bagel on Damen) that has the much revered Stumptown coffee.

Here is a rundown of what’s out there and what each brings to the table for today’s discerning coffee drinker and/or anyone that’s ready to break away from the bigger names in coffee.  This tour is necessary because those unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not be aware that the place with the best drip coffee (for me, Bagel on Damen) doesn’t have any kind of cappucino to offer.  The ins and outs of the local establishments are, for lack of a better word, kind of complex.

Today’s Selection: The Wormhole

I would guess that the vast majority of people in the neighborhood do not know this place by name.  However, if you say “The one with the Delorean” they know exactly what you are talking about.  The Delorean in the window and 80’s decor has resulted in The Wormhole having the exact clientele you would expect, which is completely opposite of ironic.  Said clientele might not get that (now, there’s some irony for you).  The new website is definitely committed to the vibe of the place.  However, it’s a little easier to decipher after you have your coffee (which might be counterproductive for them).

The Wormhole was started by former IT pros that built a computer server company in Iowa.  I guess this is the midwest version of the silicon valley millionaire.  Instead of producing movies, dating actresses and being all over Hollywood, they opened a coffee shop with movie posters.

Coffee beverages at The Wormhole are pretty good, but not great.  The baristas do consistently seem to be disinterested in what they are doing and in serving customers, but it turns out fine.  Overall, the drip coffee is above average and the espresso drinks are competent.  I wouldn’t rate either as the best in the neighborhood, though.  I hear that the iced chai is excellent, but chai isn’t my thing, so I cannot vouch for it.  The food includes fairly standard coffee house noshes.

Posted in Bucktown, Chicago, Coffee, DeLorean, Dining, Espresso, Neighborhoods, Silicon Valley, Wicker Park | Leave a comment