After 13 years in Lincoln Park, TWO's executive chef, Tom Van Lente, recently moved to Logan Square with his wife. But he has nothing but good things to say about his old 'hood though. "We were sad to leave," Van Lente says. "I love Lincoln Park. It's fun and for the time that I was there I was the perfect age. Eighteen to 30. You can't beat that. There's always something to do, which is really tough to find in some little boroughs of Chicago. And the diversity was pretty awesome. There was an influx of people from college students to doctors."
Now that he's no longer in the neighborhood, Van Lente discloses some of his favorite eateries and won't mind if we all start flocking there.
Breakfast: Floriole for sure. Any kind of croissant that they do stuffed with ham and cheese I'm going to order. It's a really cool story how they started at the farmers' market and needed a place to do production all by hand. I respect the shit out of that.
Bread: Floriole again. I haven't bought loaves recently just because I've been to busy. But it'd be super cool to but them and use them at the restaurant. Personally I do buy their bread. I haven't recently though. I remember being a big fan of their baguettes and French loaves. They were always just spot on. Chewy, crispy, buttery—they just nailed it.
Pizza: I lived on the corner of Lou Malnati's for six years and never ate it, so my favorite pizza in the city has gotta be Pequod's. I like their style because they're kind of dicks and they know it. Here's what we do, take it or leave it. I don't have that luxury. I'm not envious that they get to be that way, but it's so different from my day to day. They're putting out such consistent pies at that volume, so I'm not envious of those guys slinging pizzas all day. It's a delicious product. That butter crust is hard to beat.
Burger: Kith & Kin had a great burger, but they closed. We were going to have our rehearsal dinner there but they had a sign on the door saying "Sorry, we're closed."
Hot Dog: I enjoy the hotdogs at America's Dog of all places. They have all those weird varieties from across the country and that's their schtick. That doesn't do it for me, because I'm a traditionalist but they do a really good Chicago dog. They do it properly. It's all about simplicity when it comes to a Chicago dog and they nail it. The Vienna beef, steamed poppy seed bun, neon green relish, mustard, celery salt, sport peppers. That's one of my last meals right there. I haven't had a whole lot of other things that they offer but I don't need it.
Italian: I've had some really nice meals at Tarantino's. It's laid back, not pretentious. They know they do good food and have a stellar wine list. Anywhere in the neighborhood you can sit outside and not be trampled by college kids is a plus for me. I know, I was one of those college kids. You're off a major street and can hang out and you know you're going to eat well. And for hardcore Italian, Riccardo Trattoria. I've had one meal there and it their special seasonal risotto was phenomenal. That place has been open forever.
Mexican: Que Rico on Southport. I'll go there with friends or just whoever I can get. It's right in the middle of the neighborhood. You can get there from anywhere. It's authentic. They have great Margaritas. They'll knock you over, which is awesome. The staff is super nice and authentic Mexican is hard to find. I'm a traditionalist so my requisite for good Mexican is to make sure they do good tacos. Their carne asada, ground beef, marinated chicken are all really good tacos. I've never had a bad meal there.
Bar: If I'm going out for beers, we'll go to Kelly's Pub on Webster. We know the guys who work there still. That's the one place I'll always walk into and know somebody sitting there which is super cool. If we're going out for cocktails, Barrelhouse Flat. We lived across the street from there forever, and I'm a suck for a really good homemade Moscow Mule and they do theirs pretty close to perfect. And all their classics, The Aviation, the Whiskey Smash. They actually care about what goes into it. That's both ends of the spectrum, they both have their niche.
Sushi: Macku on Clybourn. I've been there a couple times. The first time we went there they had just opened and they really stepped it up. It was almost like fine dining, where they were trying to replate you. I respect the shit out of that, but you're just trying to eat sushi. It's a weird concept for sushi where they're on top of you. But the food was phenomenal. For a regular hole in the wall sushi place, it has to be Toro on Clark. Mitch is the sushi chef there. He gives you whatever you want and is behind the bar drinking beer. There's always a two-hour wait during the week, but it's worth it. Thank god there's those bars on Clark where you can hang out.
French: Aquitaine on Lincoln is good. It's just a little bistro and very solid. Very technique-driven, not fussy. Again, I've never had anything bad there. It's small and cozy, which is nice for the neighborhood since everything else is so big and loud and packed. They do a crepe rolled with duck confit with mushrooms and a balsamic glaze and that's the reason that I will always go back.
Dessert: It would either be Sweet Mandy B's or Molly's Cupcakes. I like cupcakes. Anything with peanut butter and chocolate is the key to my heart. They both always have those, like the Ron Bennington at Molly's. Some of the products at Sweet Mandy B's are a little more in-depth and creative while at Molly's they're just banging out different flavored cupcakes. They're both delicious but offer different things. I think it's cool to have options.
Date Night: We would always go Half Shell. It's awesome. Cancel your dinner plans tonight and go there. My mom used to go there when she was in high school a hundred years ago. It's just crab legs, cold beer, cash only. They scream at you when your table's ready. Seriously the best crab legs around. Christmas lights are strung up in the bar year round. You get a couple pounds of crab legs for $25-$30 and a couple beers. Sit on their patio on Diversey and it's just awesome atmosphere. We used to go there at least once a month and just hang. It's the perfect spot for that.