Sizing up the Solid Fare at The Medici on 57th in Hyde Park

[Photographs: Varsha Sundar]

I like to think of The Med (I've never heard anyone call it by its actual name, Medici on 57th), as University of Chicago's fallback restaurant. Whenever you have one of those "where do you wanna go?" "I don't know, where do you wanna go?" conversations, you almost invariably end up at The Med. If you're on a first date and you can't get creative, you're most likely at The Med. And if you're parents are visiting you at school for the first time, you are, you guessed it, at The Med.

While Chicago may not be a college town, per se, Hyde Park is certainly a college neighborhood. In a way, The Med is Hyde Park's answer to a the prototypical college town restaurant. The walls are covered with unrelated, incoherent, yet somehow interesting art, and the art is covered with unrelated, incoherent, and not-so-interesting graffiti.

In life, it is probably not best to read a book by its cover, but, at The Med, you'd be fine in doing just that. The food is is simple and unpretentious. While it's nothing to write home about (not that anyone writes letters home from school anymore), it is decidedly solid fare. Though nothing is explicitly bad, not everything is worth your money. So I set out to figure out what actually is. What are the dishes my friends and I find ourselves returning to again and again, without actually getting sick of them?

Spinach and Goat Cheese Pizza

First off, if you're going to eat at the Med, you better get a pizza. You have the choice between deep dish and thin crust. As a native New Yorker, I'm probably legally obligated and genetically predetermined to order the latter.

I always go with the goat cheese and spinach pie (7.95). It does what every pizza, thin or thick, should do. When you pull off that first piece, you let off a small burst of steam with a stream of melted cheese following behind. The spinach and goat cheese combine to bring a satisfying richness to the pie. This is easily my favorite dish at the Med.

Spinach Lasagna

I also decided to go with another cheese filled staple, the spinach lasagna (8.99). Yes, I know it's a lot of cheese and spinach for one meal. In fact, the lasagna has nearly all the same ingredients as the pizza, save for the pizza dough and the goat cheese. However, it's worth ordering.

The lasagna is brought to the table in the Goldilock's zone of almost-but-not-quite-too hot. The top is a layer of crispy browned cheese, which yields to a creamy center of noodles, ricotta, and spinach. All of this gets mixed around with a simple tomato sauce. Again, this is unadorned, but solidly good food.

Bacon-Bleu Cheese Burger

I then made the mistake to venture into unfamiliar territory. The burger here might be the definition of "nothing to write home about." It would not be fair for me to call the burger bad. However, I'd be wrong to call it good. I went with the bacon-bleu cheese burger (10.29). The bacon and bleu cheese were bacon and bleu cheese, so they were, of course, delicious. However, the meat was a bit dry, while the cheese and the bacon helped less than I would have expected.

Manchego-Cheese Sandwich

The manchego-cheese baguette (8.29) was maybe not the best dinner option, but it was good. There was too much fig jam for my taste, making the sandwich a little too sweet, but the manchego cheese added a salty counterbalance. Redeeming the sandwich, the crunch of the baguette was what I'm always looking for in a sandwich—a crackling crust with a chewy center. The fries the sandwich came with snuck up on me with how good they were. I didn't realize how much I'd liked them until I'd realized that I had cleared half the plate without even noticing. They're small fries, so each one has a bit of a crunch.

Mexicana Milkshake

Finally, it wouldn't be a dinner at The Med without one of their shakes. All my friends are always raving (seriously, they won't shut up) about the Mexicana milkshake so I figured that was the best choice.

A milkshake is one of few things in life that is not complicated, and I respect that The Med acknowledges that fact. Whether or not they realize the philosophical underpinnings of their milkshakes is irrelevant to me. I'm just happy that I get a good blend of ice cream and milk—not too much of either—with a dash of cinnamon.

Will I go back to The Med? Of course. Next time I don't feel like thinking about where to eat, I know I have some hot plates of spinach and cheese alongside some crunchy fries waiting for me.

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