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Photography by Stacy Newgent
Whether you score tickets for the Cards-Cubs series (August 16 through 18) or are just fortunate enough to be strolling down Waveland Avenue midgame when the wind is blowing out (incoming!), SLM’s Chicagoland baseball-loving foodies have guaranteed at least a culinary victory—provided you visit one of the following restaurants along Clark Street, within walking distance of Wrigley Field.
After staying out until 4 a.m., a robust mug of pressed coffee is in order, like the seasonal offering from Metropolis Coffee Company at Uncommon Ground, in January named the World’s Greenest Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association. A bank of EarthBoxes grows tomatoes, peppers, squash, and summer herbs, the genesis of items like duck confit hash, chilaquiles with salsa verde, or an organic summer omelet. Choose from tree-lined sidewalk tables in summer or two fireplaces inside, should summer turn its back. It serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner daily, with live music nightly. 3800 N. Clark, 773-929-3680, uncommonground.com.
m. henry: While the name and menu are printed in lower case, the modern American food is so good you'll want to scream in boldface caps. 5707 N. Clark, 773-561-1600, mhenry.net.
Rockit Burger Bar
Sitting on Rockit’s patio, you can almost hear the crack o’ the bat as Carlos Beltran launches a red-stitched ball outta there. You won’t be able to choose between the 14 different kinds of burgers, so we’ll decide for you: Get the truffle mushroom burger, 8 ounces of fresh ground Angus with Gruyère cheese and truffled crème fraîche. Redbirds fans might also opt for The Buffalo Bluebird, a spicy breaded chicken sandwich with blue cheese on a pretzel bun. Benedicts, burritos, and Belgian waffles make weekend appearances on Rockit’s Saturday/Sunday brunch menu. 3700 N. Clark, 773-645-4400, rockitburgerbar.com.
Spacca Napoli Pizzeria: Highly acclaimed, Neapolitan-inspired pizza in the land of the deep dish is only uno of due reasons to go there. The other is the marvelous array of antipasti that precedes it. 1769 W. Sunnyside, 773-878-2420, spaccanapolipizzeria.com.
One of 20 metro-area Francesca’s restaurants, this is the flagship—the institution that set the bar 20 years ago for casual but elevated Italian dining in Chicago. You’ll find the simple, rustic pizzas and pastas to be marvelously effective at restoring an Old Style–addled brain, and you’ll discover that today’s Francesca boasts gluten-free options. After a ballgame, the place can get loud and gregarious, like Sunday dinner at Nonna’s house, so snag a patio table if that appeals to you. 3311 N. Clark, 773-281-3310, miafrancesca.com.
Big Bricks: We're ashamed that we didn't think of it first: the trio of barbeque, brick-oven pizza, and beer—lots of beer (20 on tap, 60 in da' bottle). And unless it's a "Chicago-winter-in-the-summer" kind of day, head for the big brick patio. 3832 N. Lincoln, 773-525-5022, bigbrickschicago.com.
The STL baseball-fan hangout sells respectable burgers and brats in the back of the bar, where there’s limited seating at picnic tables. 3655 N. Sheffield, 773-281-5356, murphysbleachers.com.
Small-Town Stop: Obed & Isaacs Microbrewery & Eatery
The names date back to President Abraham Lincoln’s time, but the food at this Springfield, Ill., spot is decidedly up-to-date: Gorgonzola fondue, fig pizza, a leg of lamb sandwich with tzatziki, plus a kids’ menu—and dog biscuits, too, made from spent grains from the brewery, served (if necessary) with a water back. 500 S. Sixth, 217-670-0627, obedandisaacs.com.
Just about every major city has a “Taste of” event these days, but the one in Indianapolis, called Dig IN (Sunday, August 25), ups the ante by expanding its focus to the entire state and exclusively using ingredients grown there. It’s a farmers’ market mixed with a chef showcase, plus beer and wine, live music, and even panel discussions on the culinary topics of the day (like the importance of bees). Standout dishes from years past included Wagyu beef tongue-and-cheek tacos and lamb adobo lettuce wraps. If you make a weekend of it, here’s where to eat on Saturday, as recommended by Indianapolis Monthly dining editor Julia Spalding.
What started in 1989 as a little café, using the tag line “A Student Union for Adults,” has become a veritable civic institution. The expansion to five locations hasn’t shortened the lines, but bottomless self-serve coffee will get you hopped up while you wait. Signature items include thick slices of buttery cinnamon toast and huge three-egg omelets with clever names and combinations, like The Overachiever and The Hippie with a Benz. And while the cronut craze is sweeping New York, Patachou’s croissant French toast will satisfy any Midwesterner. Original location: 4901 N. Pennsylvania, 317-925-2823, cafepatachou.com.
Good Morning Mama’s: Located in a former gas station in an emerging, hip part of town known as SoBro (or the Gourmet Ghetto), this place has done more for eggs than the devil, with dishes inspired by Mexican, Italian, Hawaiian, and Hoosier cuisine. 1001 E. 54th, 317-255-3800, goodmorningmamas.com.
Tulip Noir: To avoid the crowds, head for this hidden gem, tucked away in a strip mall. It’s a locavore health nut’s dream—think eggs Benedict atop a veggie fritter. 1224 W. 86th, 317-848-5252, tulipnoircafe.com.
Hotshot chef Caleb France’s new restaurant in the gorgeous and glassy CityWay development does first-rate fine dining at dinner—eclectic ingredients ingeniously paired, sci-fi cooking techniques, and museumworthy presentations. But his unique lunch concept might be even more inventive. Diners choose one protein and three fresh sides, served together in a Japanese bento box. It’s an upscale urban picnic. The menu might be intimidating if it weren’t so enticing: Scallops with seabean pesto and house crème fraîche? Beef teres major with sorrel chimichurri and potato? Brussels sprouts with bacon, maple, and sage? Rhubarb custard with cinnamon? The only challenge is choosing just four. 339 S. Delaware, 317-870-1320, ceruleanrestaurant.com/indianapolis.
Black Market: On the far end of the city’s Mass Ave. entertainment district, chef Micah Frank scrawls his ever-changing menu on chalkboard walls and turns local produce into piquant pickles. 922 Massachusetts, 317-822-6757, blackmarketindy.net.
It’s probably no surprise that antique typewriters play a prominent part in the decor at Bluebeard, its name coming from a Kurt Vonnegut novel inspired by a French fairy tale. Given the hipster-approved moniker and the serious chops of husband-and-wife chef tandem John and Abbi Adams, it’s also no shock that Bluebeard is a three-dimensional how-to manual for modern gastronomy: handcrafted cocktails served in glass jars, a long communal table in the courtyard, and ingredients straight from the farm. The restaurant prints a new menu daily. In summer, look for such delights as watermelon gazpacho with fluke ceviche and sweet corn. Start with the snacks and charcuterie, progress to the large plates, and order a bit of everything along the way. 653 Virginia, 317-686-1580, bluebeardindy.com.
The Libertine Liquor Bar
Perhaps Indy’s foremost chef, Neal Brown ditched his restaurants a few years ago to start this cocktail bar, where the bar snacks are just as good as the excellent libations. 38 E. Washington, 317-631-3333, libertineindy.com.
St. Elmo Steakhouse
Sure, the iconic steakhouse, opened in 1902, is a hangout for pro athletes, high-rollers, and good old boys, but the old boys are here because it’s good.
1. The world-infamous shrimp cocktail, whose sauce includes enough horseradish that your nose will feel like it’s full of fire ants.
2. The servers, called saints, always on their game and in their tuxedo. Lorenzo, who’s been there since 1976, once ran outside to chase a guy (for three blocks) who skipped out on the bill.
3. The bread basket, which includes a thin, crisp cheese bread—you’ll want it refilled at least twice.
4. The traditional choice of cold tomato juice or hot bean soup that accompanies each steak.
5. The steaks themselves, which always seem a few ounces larger than listed. If you’re not careful, the first bite might make you moan in a way that’s inappropriate for public.
127 S. Illinois, 317-635-0636, stelmos.com.
Small-Town Stop: Firefly Grill
The town of Effingham, Ill., might be known for its 198-foot cross, but equally noteworthy is what Bon Appétit praises as a “sophisticated American roadhouse,” the Firefly. The building looks like a well-lit barn, and its name is painted on the roof, but this is more than country fare, with seafood, wood-fired pizzas, and premium steaks. 1810 Avenue of Mid-America, Effingham, Ill., 217-342-2002,
Every autumn weekend for the past 37 years, in the wee village of Bonner Springs, Kan., lords, ladies, jesters, jousters, and hundreds of revelers in period dress participate in the Kansas City Renaissance Festival (kcrenfest.com). The medieval extravaganza is held “15 minutes and 500 years” from downtown KC, September 1 through October 14. Lord Charles and Lady Anna Naylor, Kansas City residents and foodies, suggest the following diversions—before or after gnawing on a roasted turkey leg.
The Big Biscuit
When we heard the biscuits here are as big as one of former Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn’s hands, we took notice. When we asked for a specific recommendation and were told “anything with biscuits,” we listened. You should, too. Consider the biscuits and gravy, thoughtfully available in full, half, and quarter sizes. Or if your belly is on “E,” try the Biscuit Ben-Yay, cooked in French-toast batter, then topped with pecans and caramel sauce or fresh fruit. What the heck—ask for both. Multiple locations, 913-912-7350, bigbiscuitrestaurant.com.
Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant: No high-fallutin' attitudes and no haute cuisine, the only thing elevated here is the food-delivery system: an elevated train that will (we promise) make a stop at your table. Multiple locations, 913-281-2777, fritzskc.com.
Happy Gillis Café and Hangout
Exploring Kansas City’s River Market is a reward unto itself, but were you to happen upon this eclectic little lunch stop on Gillis Street, consider it a double blessing. It serves rustic, earthy, old-world sandwiches, such as The Dagwood, with house-roasted meats and veggies piled so high that when this behemoth is cut and stacked, the halves reach halfway to your nose. When the fall winds blow, pair half a sandwich with a cup of hot soup, so good it evokes a famous Seinfeld episode. 549 Gillis, 816-471-3663, happygillis.com.
Blanc Burgers + Bottles: This restaurant serves basic burgers for kids and gourmet versions for adults, with myriad numbers of bottled beverages for both. Multiple locations, 816-931-6200, blancburgers.com.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack
One of about 100 reasons there are more barbecue joints per capita in metro KC than in any other city in the country, Jack Stack’s menu is as long as a pitmaster’s joke book. St. Louis may turn out some impressive baby backs, but you haven’t had serious ’cue until you’ve negotiated a Jack’s Ultimate Rib Dinner: pork spares, baby backs, lamb ribs, and a crown prime-beef rib (the last alone is worth the four-hour drive). The menu graciously offers four kinds of fish as well. Multiple locations, 816-942-9141, jackstackbbq.com.
Don’t Forget… Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar: Stroud's is the local fried-chicken house that’s as quintessential Kansas City as Arthur Bryant’s or Gates Barbeque. Multiple locations, 816-454-9600, stroudsrestaurant.com.
Foo's Fabulous Frozen Custard
As much fun to say as it is to eat, Foo’s is worth a stop just to see how it compares to Ted Drewes. Multiple locations, 816-523-2520, foosfabulousfrozencustard.com.
Small-Town Stop: Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar
Rather than grab fast food along Interstate 70, drive into downtown Columbia and take a seat at Bleu. In August, you’re apt to luck into a Summer BLT, with apple-wood–smoked bacon, basil, citrus aioli, and grilled watermelon. It’s best enjoyed on the patio. Weekends are for brunching, with plated entrées on Saturdays and a $16.95 buffet on Sundays. 811 E. Walnut, Columbia, Mo., 573-442-8220, bleucolumbia.com.
You’ve heard of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a jaunt through some of the nation’s most famous distilleries. But on the Urban Bourbon Trail (bourboncountry.com), more than a dozen restaurants and watering holes each offer more than 50 varieties, plus bourbon flights, bourbon cocktails, and bourbon-inspired cuisine. And you never have to leave Louisville. Pick up a free passport or download the smartphone app to collect a stamp at each bar (amass six to earn swag). Still standing? Grab a meal at one of these eateries, as suggested by Louisville Magazine managing editor Josh Moss.
Blue Dog Bakery and Café
Blue Dog is the city’s premier purveyor of artisan breads: Its wood-fired loaves, made by hand with no preservatives, are sold across town. But it also boasts an exemplary brunch menu. There are only a handful of options, but each entices. Grab a curbside table and order the poached free-range eggs on levain (French sourdough) with prosciutto, spinach, and Parmesan. The house-made granola is also noteworthy, its secret ingredient a healthy dose of pure maple syrup. Enjoy it with fresh fruit and yogurt. Then buy a bag for the road. 2868 Frankfort, 502-899-9800, bluedogbakeryandcafe.com.
Wagner’s Pharmacy: A dive near Churchill Downs (in some ways, it’s synonymous with the track), Wagner’s has been popular with horseracing’s famous faces since 1922, and breakfast here is a rite of passage. The Pam & Jack’s omelet is sure to please. 3113 S. Fourth, 502-375-3800, wagnerspharmacy.com.
You could eat lunch at Game every day for the rest of your life without having the same meal twice. At this hip new build-your-own-burger joint, you start by choosing from 10 meats (options include ostrich, elk, and antelope) or one of three veggie patties. Then you can go freestyle with cheeses, toppings, and sauces, each list more outlandish than the last. This might be the only place on the planet where you can order a kangaroo burger on pumpernickel with Brie, foie gras, avocado, grilled mushrooms, and bone-marrow mayo. But we’d go with something less ridiculous, maybe lamb on brioche with Swiss, mixed greens, caramelized onions, and cranberry-jalapeño jam. 2295 Lexington, 502-618-1712, louisvillehammerheads.com/game.
With its black-and-white checkerboard floors, pristinely set square tables, and wall of old photos, Louisville’s most famous restaurant screams traditional American fine dining. Jack Fry founded the original iteration of the restaurant in 1933, hosting bootlegging and bookmaking in the back room. The fare is mostly what you’d expect—pork chops, lamb chops, salmon, steak—as are the prices. But if you read the menu closely, you’ll detect little flourishes: a pistachio crust here, an orange gastrique there. Sometimes, it’s not about a new-age concept; sometimes, it’s about doing what everyone else is doing better than everyone else. 1007 Bardstown, 502-452-9244, jackfrys.com.
610 Magnolia: Run by Edward Lee, former Top Chef contestant and the hottest chef in town, 610 Magnolia offers ever-changing tasting menus of contemporary Southern cuisine (reservations required). 610 Magnolia, 502-636-0783, 610magnolia.com.
Hammerheads: With a shark mounted above the front door, cheap prices, and long lines, the inventive chefs behind Hammerheads (and also Game) offer such delights as barbecue lamb ribs. 921 Swan, 502-365-1112, louisvillehammerheads.com.
Mint Julep: The Silver Dollar
Horse-racing season is over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. The Silver Dollar’s version is always a good bet. 1761 Frankfort, 502-259-9540, whiskeybythedrink.com.
Beer: Holy Grale
For a break from bourbon, head across the street from Jack Fry’s to this beer bar in a former church. There are dozens of craft brews on tap, and large groups are accommodated in the choir loft.
1034 Bardstown, 502-459-9939, holygralelouisville.com.
Small-Town Stop: French Lick Resort
This sprawling complex, in the town made famous by Larry Bird, includes hotels, a casino, a spa, golf courses, and noteworthy restaurants. Hagen’s Club House, named for golf legend Walter Hagen, offers alfresco dining overlooking the course (and terrific ribs). Sinclair’s Restaurant, in the West Baden Springs Hotel, is upscale dining with a sophisticated wine list. 8670 W. Route 56, French Lick, Ind., 888-936-9360, frenchlick.com.
Long before Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller graced the mound at Busch Stadium, die-hard Cardinals fans making the trek to see the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds (memphisredbirds.com) were familiar with what the right-handers could do. After all, seeing the stars of tomorrow is the draw at AutoZone Park—that, and the Rendezvous barbecue nachos (hogsfly.com), lauded by Sports Illustrated. While you’re in town for a weekend game, there’s no shortage of notable eats within walking distance or a short trolley ride. Memphis Magazine food editor and author Pamela Denney shared a few outside the ballpark, both on Beale and beyond.
In a city steeped in history, the Arcade is one of Memphis’ oldest restaurants—and was once a favorite for Elvis. It opened in 1919, with food cooked on potbellied stoves, and survived the decline and rebirth of downtown, its glowing neon and ’20s architecture becoming a fixture. Movies like The Client, Walk the Line, and 21 Grams were filmed here, and national magazines and TV shows have paid tribute to the place. Start the day with sweet-potato pancakes and a cup of joe, and soak in the timeless atmosphere. 540 S. Main, 901-526-5757, arcaderestaurant.com.
Bluff City Coffee: Located in Memphis' South Main historic district, this coffeehouse specializes in espresso, with pastries and sandwiches served alongside. 505 S. Main, 901-405-4399, bluffcitycoffee.com.
True to the name, Kaia Brewer’s sandwich shop is lined with vintage lunch pails; reimagined lunchtime favorites are served on bright-red school lunch trays; and a chalkboard announces the day’s specials. Sandwich names follow suit, too, like the Principal’s Office Link (smoked sausage, fried eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese) and the Class Valedictorian (a turkey burger with Boursin cheese and baby spinach served between two slices of cornbread). And topping it all off is dessert—notably, the strawberry cake and bread pudding—a major step up from the prepackaged snack cakes that Mom used to pack. 288 S. Fourth, 901-526-0820, lunchboxeats.com.
Dyer’s Burgers: With its deep-fried hamburger being named one of Esquire.com's "60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For," the "world-famous" institution is well worth a stop while you're strolling along Beale Street. 205 Beale, 901-527-3937, dyersonbeale.com.
Bleu Restaurant & Lounge
After you’ve seen the red-carpet treatment for the famed ducks at The Peabody Memphis, stroll to The Westin Memphis Beale Street. Chef Robert Cirillo has transformed the eatery inside into a sleek dining spot serving up internationally influenced American cuisine. In a city known for its beef, seafood is the main attraction here. It appears in many of Bleu’s best dishes, including the seafood pappardelle and the salmon roulade. Sure, the restaurant feels more like Manhattan than Memphis, but you can stroll down Beale Street just the same afterward. 221 S. Third, 901-334-5950, downtownbleu.com.
McEwen’s on Monroe: Located just a block from the Redbirds' stadium, McEwen's serves new American cuisine, including grilled coriander duck breast and sweet potato-crusted catfish. 120 Monroe, 901-527-7085, mcewensmemphis.com.
Food Truck: Central BBQ
You can’t miss the tie-dyed truck at the Memphis Farmers Market on Saturdays—or the barbecue. Central’s brick-and-mortar spots are often named among the city’s top ’cue joints, but you can also order a slab of ribs from the roaming restaurant. Multiple locations, 901-272-9377, cbqmemphis.com.
Drinks: Twilight Sky Terrace
Forgo the overpriced draft beer at the game, and save your money for drinks on the Madison Hotel’s rooftop afterward. You’ll want to change out of your sports gear before heading to the sleek setting to order a handcrafted cocktail (e.g., a Smoke On the Water or Toast to Twilight). But you don’t have to leave the sports scene altogether: You can still catch a game on the 70-inch TV screen, while gazing out across the river. 79 Madison, 901-333-1243, twilightskyterrace.com.
Small-Town Stop: Celebrations Restaurant
Cape Girardeau can claim more than being the hometown of Rush Limbaugh. It’s also where you can dine at James and Pat Allen’s art-filled restaurant, located in a historic house dating back to the 1850s. The menu changes seasonally, and the wine list is a gem—albeit one that should be enjoyed in moderation while on the way to Memphis. 615
Bellevue, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 573-334-8330, celebrationsrestaurant.com.
Nashville isn’t the Tennessee city most synonymous with barbecue, but it holds its own during the Music City Festival & BBQ Championship, August 23 and 24. The ’cue competition is among the few in the nation sanctioned by both the Memphis Barbecue Network and the Kansas City Barbeque Society. For two days, contests range from Anything Butt to Backyard Seafood (and of course, ribs). You’ll want to weigh in on the People’s Choice competition, beginning at noon Saturday. The day before, sample what else Music City has to offer, following these suggestions from Nashville Lifestyles managing editor Erin Byers Murray.
The late Carol Fay Ellison, better known as the Biscuit Lady, was widely considered the foremost expert on the subject—she’d appeared on Martha Stewart’s and Ellen DeGeneres’ shows, refusing to give either her recipe for those flaky, Southern-style staples. It’s not just the legendary biscuits, though, that have kept Loveless on the map for more than 60 years. Pitmaster George Harvell’s pulled-pork barbecue is not to be missed, nor the fried chicken and country ham. Signed photos of celebs line the walls, and the staff served dinner for the James Beard Foundation on Valentine’s Day. The historic café is 15 minutes southwest of the city, but it’s well worth the trek. 8400 Hwy. 100, 615-646-9700, lovelesscafe.com.
Beacon Light Tea Room: Open for more than 75 years, this Hickman County institution stays true to what it does best: home-style food for a reasonable rate. 6276 Hwy. 100, 931-670-3880, beaconlighttearoom.com.
The Pancake Pantry: If you don't get there first thing in the morning, then expect a wait—and expect the myriad pancake varieties to be well worth it. 1796 21st S, 615-383-9333, thepancakepantry.com.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
In case you’re not familiar with it, let us enlighten you: “Meat-and-three” is a Southern term meaning you can choose one meat from a daily selection, plus three side dishes. In Nashville, Arnold’s is arguably the best. The decor is simple—cinder-block walls and a cafeteria-style counter—and the hours are limited, weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Get there right when it opens, and study that ever-changing menu ahead of time online. Regardless of the day’s options—roast beef, meatloaf, candied yams, stewed okra—you can bet you’ll get a not-so-healthy dose of delicious soul food. 605 Eighth S., 615-256-4455.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken: The name says it all at this chicken-lovers' paradise, with the menu offering almost nothing but the bird. 112 19th S,615-678-4794, hattieb.com.
The Catbird Seat
Part of the new Nashville—that food-scene cross section labeled “haute Southern” cuisine—this 32-seat restaurant has received acclaim from the likes of Food & Wine and Condé Nast Traveler. The caveat? Getting in. Each day’s reservations open up at midnight 30 days in advance and book up fast. But the payoff is a one-of-a-kind meal, with a continually evolving seven-course tasting menu from chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not your run-of-the-mill Southern dining experience. 1711 Division, 615-248-8458, thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com.
City House: Another "new Nashville" hot spot, chef Tandy Wilson's restaurant is a must while you're in town. 1222 4th Ave. N, 615-736-5838, cityhousenashville.com.
Food Truck: Biscuit Love Truck
Karl and Sarah Worley have amped up a Southern favorite, creating scratch-made gourmet sandwiches on wheels. You can build your own monstrosity or choose from memorable options like The East Nasty (topped with buttermilk fried chicken, farmhouse cheddar, and gravy) or The Gertie (with caramelized banana jam, peanut butter, and chocolate gravy). biscuitlovetruck.com.
Cocktails: Holland House Bar & Refuge
The place opened just three years ago in a former grocery store, but it’s already become a favorite for artisan cocktails. Sit at one of the maple bars, and pour over the drink menu, taking the $10 Reunion Bourbon into close consideration. 935 W. Eastland, 615-262-4190, hollandhousebarandrefuge.com.
Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli
Opened in 1873, Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli spans five generations. In the green-brick building’s bakery, you’ll find all sorts of goodies: hot cross buns, snickerdoodles, chocolate-and-bacon cupcakes… And the deli’s weekly specials—e.g., a fried–green tomato BLT, Cajun fried–shrimp salad—are also worth the detour. 114–118 S. Second, Paducah, Ky., 270-442-7117, kirchhoffsbakery.com.
By George Mahe, Jarrett Medlin, and William Powell