Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan takes on Chicago Tribune critic Phil Vettel over food bragging rights in the rival hockey cities. Here is their e-mail exchange:
While everybody's excited to see Chicago and Philadelphia battle for hockey supremacy, I think we're missing the larger issue: Which is the better food town? I'll take Chicago over any city, Craig, but I'll admit to a fondness for Philly dining. I'm a fan of Marc Vetri, and perhaps your hottest chef, Jose Garces - a Chicago boy, I believe. But you're the expert: Where would you send me to eat?
I'm glad to hear from you, Phil, because I agree - people are focused on the wrong arena right now, when they should be making reservations. I know Chicago's an eating mecca, and I'm guessing your restaurants will have a better chance competing with Philly than your hockey team will.
If you like the alta cucina at Marc Vetri's namesake restaurant, you'll love the casual vibe at his new Roman trattoria, Amis, where the plates look simple but taste profound. Iron Chef Garces seems to put out a new hit every few months, but his Basque-inspired Tinto is still his finest (that is, if you're not craving a shot of boutique bourbon and Philly's best burger at his next-door saloon, Village Whiskey). KooZeeDoo, meanwhile, with its updated Portuguese wonders, is just the latest darling in our treasure trove of great neighborhood BYOBs.
Where can Flyer Fanatics in Chicago head to dine in the grand style they're accustomed to? I'm guessing Trotter and Alinea would look good with a little orange and black.
Dinner at Alinea takes longer than a triple-overtime playoff game; I doubt Flyer Fanatics have the patience. Besides, my expectation is that, postgame, they'll be severely depressed. I admire Paul Kahan's restaurants, but as Blackbird sounds painfully close to Blackhawk, I recommend Publican, with its pork-centric menu and a boisterous beer-hall atmosphere that'll cheer anybody up. And it's close to the United Center. Even closer is one sixtyblue, whose list of partners includes Michael Jordan (you know, the guy with his own statue who actually competed in the sport he represents).
Once the Flyers themselves are showered and bandaged, I assume they'll want to relax like the young and wealthy men they are, so I'd point them to Roof, the hottest outdoor perch in Chicago. Any suggestions for Game 6, on the off chance I'll need some?
Phil, you can only hope the Blackhawks make it that far, because - lucky, thirsty you! - you'll be smack in the middle of the malty mayhem known as Philly Beer Week, with more than 800 craft beer events (on Game 6 day alone), from 14 different pub crawls, 40 brewer meet-and-greets, and multicourse beer dinners.
Of course, we are brew-obsessed 365 days a year here, because we were pioneers in the now-national gastro-pub revolution, with innovators like Standard Tap taking bar food to another level. We've also got brunch places with 1,000 bottles of take-out beer in the fridge (like Hawthorne's in Bella Vista), so you can medicate with a heady barleywine in the a.m. after the Blackhawk beat-down we've got planned.
If you're curious about where to head for a little cheer-up lunch of Philly's famous street food the next day, we can match you pig for pig, part by part. And I, for one, would be curious to know if Chicago dogs are really still worth seeking out. I have a long-ago happy memory of a place with a giant hot dog out front called Fluky's.
Ah, Fluky's. Banished to Chicago's northwestern burbs, but still alive. The snob in me goes for the haute dogs at Hot Doug's, and the bison hot dogs at Wrigley Field (no, seriously) are delicious. Our sliced beef on a bun is called an Italian beef, and the debate on who does it best (I'm a Mr. Beef fan) is almost as heated as the cheesesteak argument in Philly.
Thanks, Craig. While I hope the Chicago-based team of itinerant Canadians whomps the Philadelphia-based team of itinerant Canadians, I hope we can remain friends.
I can't help your team once the Fly-Guys begin their pummeling, Phil. But I know this: A two-fisted cheesesteak hot off the grill is the best way to soften the blow. It'll be late once we've hoisted the Cup, but you don't have to go far from the stadium for solace. Meet me under the I-95 overpass in the neon glow of Tony Luke's, add some greens and sharp provolone for an Italiano, and then, with that first crusty bite of sublimely savory goodness, a well-fed peace (and friendship) will surely reign again.