The kind folks behind the seemingly foolproof gimmick that is Meatloaf Bakery really want you to have a successful meat loaf experience. After all, meat loaf is an infinitely variable and deeply personal foodstuff, a paragon of comfort and familiarity. Any reasonably competent home cook can make it at a fraction of what the loaves, “cupcakes,” and “loafies” (meat loaf bites in pastry shells) cost here. But as simple as it seems, a lot can go wrong. At first glance, the bakery’s offerings look like meat loaf corpses, chilling under glass in this tiny Lincoln Park takeout storefront. But meat loaf is supposed to have something of a refrigerated shelf life, and once you get them home and reheated, most develop an appealingly crusty exterior, and many of the flavors in the eight or so varieties pop out of their meaty matrices. Each variety has a clumsy, cutesy name that pains me to type, let alone say out loud, but I’m particularly fond of the (argh) Wing and a Prayer Loaf, made with ground chicken and blobs of blue cheese, and El Loafo del Fuego, ground pork chorizo molded with almonds, green olives, and hot peppers and crowned with garlicky mashed potatoes. The Herby Turkey Loaf, which sounded like it could be the most boring of the bunch, was surprisingly distinctive, and the house beef-pork-veal Mother Loaf was an honorable incarnation of the classic. Less appealing was the Omega-3, a fluffy croquettelike lump of wild-caught Alaskan salmon that could be used as crab bait. Some of the accompanying sauces show special care and love, especially the demi-glace with the Mother Loaf and the mushroom-sherry sauce with the del Fuego. Wine pairings are suggested on the menu, and detailed instructions on reheating are provided, though I’d cook them lower and slower than the recommended 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees, as each came out just a hair too dry for my taste. The key here might be to call ahead and try to time your arrival as they come out of the oven. —Mike Sula
You have to pity Nino Divanovic, whose plans to open Fontana Grill, an Italian wine bar with an intriguing concept—offering select pours by the ounce, at $1-$2 a pony shot—have been delayed by the city’s byzantine liquor licensing process. For months the only grape drunk here has been BYO, forcing the focus onto a conservative combination of Italian and Balkan appetizers, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. The twain meet in an appetizer of cevapi and grilled polenta, minced-beef-and-lamb sausages (slightly overcooked but still flavorful) riding a raft of cornmeal and drizzled with a “cucumber alfredo” sauce that tasted a lot like tzatziki. Less successful was a trio of bites—a grape leaf overstuffed with Angus beef and rice, phyllo stuffed with goat cheese, ricotta, and baby spinach, and a poached shallot stuffed with yet more beef and rice. Thin-crust pizzas are nicely charred, a bit sturdier than other Neopolitan-style efforts around town, and in some cases taken down a peg by less than stellar toppings like blankets of leathery prosciutto. One of the most unusual dishes is the house-made papardelle: these rustic, almost dumplinglike noodles have a good flavor and texture but outmuscle their delicate butter and truffle oil sauce. They’d be great with something heavier (Stroganoff, Bolognese). When I visited, the bar still wasn’t stocked, but by press time the liquor license had finally arrived. Come summertime, the adjacent patio is going to be a glorious place to sample the goods. —Mike Sula
The folks behind Highwood’s Curry Hut didn’t do themselves any favors by hiding Chicago Curry House, a white table-paper Nepalese-Indian spot, on the ground floor of a South Loop building surrounded by residential permit parking. But the menu is virtually identical to the mothership’s—that is, a huge selection of familiar northern Indian dishes and a handful of Nepalese specialties, which emphasize ginger and garlic over the chiles and dairy of the more southerly regions. As far as I know, this is currently the only place offering Nepalese dishes within the city limits. Notable appetizers include the lamb choela, tender chunks of marinated meat with strips of nearly raw ginger, and spicy ground chicken- or vegetable-stuffed momo, which resemble Chinese soup dumplings and are served with a thick, powerfully tasty achaar made from pureed almonds, coriander, sesame, mustard, and cardamom seeds. An efficient way to sample the rest of the Nepalese offerings is by way of two thali samplers, one vegetarian, the other featuring bone-in goat and chicken curries. Both curries give off some admirable radiant heat above the milder vegetables and legumes—excepting the potato, black-eyed pea, and bamboo shoot aloo tama bodi, which eclipses the milder but still flavorful yellow lentil dal, gingery potatoes, cuminy spinach, and cauliflower. The thali come with sweet rice pudding, rice, raita, and a basket of hot roti to deliver it all from plate to puss. From the northern Indian menu, give one of the paneer dishes a try—the cheese is house-made. —Mike Sula
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