Hidden menu items can be surprisingly delicious

March 26, 2012 8:37:30 AM PDT
Today's moral: never judge a restaurant by its name or reputation. Take Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in River North for example. If you took it on face value alone, you'd only think of a few things.

"Probably stone crab and key lime pie," said Joe's Chef, Gary Baca.

But regulars know that ever since its Miami Beach roots, one of the standouts has been the fried chicken.

"Not a very popularized item, but those who know that it's one of the best fried chickens out there," Baca said.

They start with free-range chicken, seasoned simply in salt and pepper. The key comes when an order comes in: first a well-seasoned flour mixture.. then a brief egg wash, and finally, a dredge in finely-ground crackermeal. It's fried for 15 minutes in a canola oil blend, then served immediately: hot, crisp, moist and just delicious. The key, Baca says, is the coating.

"Some of the subtle flavors come from the seasoned flour, sure. You know typical things like, salt, pepper, little cayenne pepper. Not too much cause it's not too spicy and a lot of other herbs and spices," he said.

For dessert, it's a trip to RL, in the Gold Coast, ground zero for ladies who lunch, socialites and media moguls, nibbling on exquisite lobster club sandwiches and cobb salads. But wait. A banana split is on the menu too?

"You might not think so, but it's just a classic American simple dish. And that's really the kind of thing that we do. We like to stick to the classics. And there's nothing more classic than a banana split," said RL Chef Ryan Pitts.

Pitts gets a major assist from Wilmette's iconic Homer's ice cream.

"We stick to the simple recipe of a banana that's split, vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, chocolate ice cream. We do strawberry sauce, pineapple sauce, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, a little drizzle of caramel sauce, chopped peanuts and a maraschino cherry. Simple," said Pitts. "We have our special customers that come in all the time and definitely appreciate the one that we make."

Now with respect to the salads and sandwiches here at RL. You probably want to keep those to yourself, but when it comes to the banana split, it's so large you probably want to share it with somebody.

There's another surprise lurking at "Lush Wine and Spirits," in West Town and Roscoe Village where they actually serve some surprisingly delicious, gourmet snacks, despite being located in a wine shop.

Joe's Stone Crab
60 E. Grand Ave.

RL Restaurant
115 E. Chicago Ave
(312) 475-1100

Lush Wine & Spirits:
(locations serving food)
1412 W. Chicago Ave.
(312) 666-6900
2232 W. Roscoe St.
(773) 281-8888