food and drink

  • Traveling to Israel for Orbitz

    Last summer, I wrote about my recent trip to Israel for Orbitz. It was 8 days of the northern portion, (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias, Jerusalem). Months later, it's now published, along with my photos. 

  • Editing for Vosges' Cheese and Chocolate Guidebook

    I freelance occasionally for Vosges Haut Chocolat, and I recently copy-edited a fascinating guidebook that Vosges is including with their "Cheese and Chocolat" collection. The gorgeous design and layout of this book was done by Ali Nash; this image is from her portfolio site. The purpose of the guidebook is to help readers understand flavors, textures, and aromas of myriad kinds of cheeses and chocolate, and guide them through the process of conducting a cheese and chocolate tasting. I learned a lot about things like fermentation, washed-rind and cave-aged cheeses, and why Taleggio cheese is perfect with dark chocolate.

  • Time Out Chicago; Article; Pierogi Festival

    Published in Time Out Chicago / Issue 22: July 28–Aug 4, 2005

    Stuffed with fun 

    Fill up on pierogi at this surreal street fest

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Northwest Indiana's prosperous industrial days may be gone, but there's still a reason to celebrate: really good pierogi. To bolster community pride, the small town of Whiting (so close to the Illinois/Indiana border that the neighboring town boasts the "Illiana Yacht Club") honors its Eastern European heritage each year with its three-day Pierogi Fest, where the tried and true Polish/Slovak dumplings are fried or steamed with butter, and chock-full of different fillings like meat, cheese, potato, mushroom, berries and apricot.

    On the main strip you'll find newly erected "old-fashioned" lampposts just down the street from a grade school and church with a primitive wooden antiabortion sign on the lawn. Farther down the street, amidst dozens of pierogi stands, there will be costumed polka dancers, drunken bystanders, a magic show, carnival games, booths selling pierogi paraphernalia, a beer garden under the pavilion and a John Waters–esque show by the Mr. Pierogi Musicale Players (mostly preteen girls in tights with curled hair and stage makeup, directed and choreographed by the town's drama guru), performing "Whiting, Indiana" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana."

    The dumplings come mainly from nearby delis and restaurants in Whiting and Hammond, as well as Hegewisch, Illinois. Those made by the Slovak ladies at St. John Catholic Church are also sold frozen if you need to stock up. The festival's motto is: "We're stuffed with fun." Come for the irony, stay for the food.—GK

  •; Venue Review; South Shore Cultural Center

    Venue review published in Jan 2006,

    South Shore Cultural Center
    7059 S. Shore Dr., Chicago
    Tel: (773)256-0149

    Originally built in 1906 to house the uber-exclusive South Shore Country Club, the South Shore Cultural Center was rescued from demolition by ardent community members in the early 1970s and bought by the Chicago Park District in 1975. Since then, the SSCC has been restored and was made an official Chicago Landmark in 2004. In the mid-'80s, an advisory council was formed to make recommendations to the Park District and develop recreational and cultural activities at the Center, which, to this day, maintains its presence as a "people's palace for arts and arts partnerships."

    It is easy to see why the community fought so hard to preserve SSCC. The buildings are visually spectacular, utilizing both the glamorous "resort" architectural style common in Florida and California and the Classical Revival and Adamesque style, heavy with stucco and plaster ornamentation, which restoration crews were instructed to maintain. These grandiose rooms and buildings, along with the unique location on a lakefront beach, make the SSCC a true gem of Chicago's far South Side. Diverse programming ranges from gospel aerobics, stepping classes and ballet to ceramics, documentary film screenings, culinary arts (through the Washburne Culinary Institute) and extensive music courses.

    With the Old Town School of Folk Music, the SSCC presents events such as Afro Folk Live!, an initiative to expose Chicagoans to African culture through educational programming. The reinvigoration of the grounds and buildings has not gone unnoticed by the community, and groups and individuals are increasingly renting out the Solarium, Paul Robeson Theater and Oak Room for events. The elegant plot of land that houses the SSCC buildings includes a club building, gatehouse and stable, in addition to a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and bird-friendly nature sanctuary on the small peninsula behind the buildings.

    Reviewed By: Gretchen Kalwinski

  •; Guide; High Tea

    Published on, January 2006

    Take Your Afternoon Tea
    High tea puts an end to the mid-afternoon slump

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    In 1840 England, the 7th Duchess of Bedford realized that she got a bit groggy in the late afternoon hours (in those days, lunch was served at noon, dinner at 8 p.m.). To combat the fatigue, she began telling servants to bring tea, pastries with cream, finger sandwiches and scones to her room between 3 and 4 p.m. As this became a regular practice, the Duchess began inviting friends to her daily soiree. By the late 1800s, the idea had taken off, and afternoon tea became a widespread ritual for the wealthy. These days, the tradition is carried on in tearooms and upper-echelon hotels across the world...and in Chicago.

    Drink to Old World charm at Russian Tea Time
    Started Klara Muchnik and her son, Vadim, Russian Tea Time is a nook-ish spot located within a two-block radius of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jewelry Row and the Art Institute, making this a wise choice for an afternoon breather. The mahogany mirrors and candelabras on the wall evoke a true sense of the gothic Old World, and the sweets (sesame crunch and walnut cookies and mini crepes) are fantastic. Tea service, available from 2:30-4:30 daily, costs $19 per person and also includes scones with cream and lemon curd and a savory course of tea sandwiches. Since it is small, reservations are recommended, but the selection of 30 teas is worth it, with the blood orange and passion fruit varieties as standouts.

    Sip on the North Side at Unique So Chique Tea & Chocolate Room
    Tea drinkers first pass through a charming clothing, jewelry and gift boutique to reach this small tearoom, which seats 22 in a plant-filled space artfully decorated with vintage English undertones. In addition to the more than 35 standard varieties of earl grey, green, fruit, peppermint and decaf brews, Unique goes the extra mile by offering a variety of organic teas and a yerba mate blend (a plant known for its gentle energy boosting quality). Tea, available from 3-5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, takes on a pleasant mix-and-quality here. Options range from the cream tea service (just scones and tea) for $6.95 to the $15.95 full tea exotic service, which steps up the traditional sandwiches with varieties like chicken with apricot and walnut.

    Go the mom and pop route at Urban Tea Lounge
    A true mom and pop joint, owners Cece and Hank Anderson offer a homemade cafe menu stocked with family recipes and an afternoon tea service served any time of day. Though the couch- and easy chair-filled atmosphere is a casual one, the afternoon tea options are anything but skimpy, with 70 varieties of black, green, white, oolong and chai teas. At $15 per person (two-person minimum), you can choose between Tier 1, tea and subtly sweet scones with preserves; Tier 2, creative and tasty finger sandwiches and spreads (cucumber, mint butter, nutella and apple); and Tier 3, a dizzying array of cakes and pastries. The atmosphere is almost like that of a European cafe: customer play checkers and chess, spontaneously start conversations with strangers at the next table, then go back to doing their own thing.

    Take a break from shopping at The Drake Hotel
    Located on the Magnificent Mile, the Drake's afternoon tea provides a haven for overworked shoppers. Standout teas include the chamomile, mint, and Irish Breakfast, and the delicate sandwiches (roast beef and tomato, egg salad, ham and asparagus) are light and hit the spot. In addition to the formal (and pricey, at $28.95) afternoon tea service, an unobtrusive harpist plays classical tunes and jazz standards; champagne is available for an extra $7 per person. Tea is taken daily from 1:30-5 p.m. in the elegant Palm Court room, which has a fountain in its center and a mixture of Eastern and British decor like folding screens with painted birds, antique furnishings and an elegant mahogany bar.

    Ladies who lunch should do tea at the Walnut Room
    There's no mistaking the ladies-who-lunch glamour of Marshall Field's seventh-floor room. The afternoon tea service, available seven days a week from 2:30-5 p.m. (but call to verify), costs $19.95 and offers a champagne option. The Walnut Room pours sturdy teas (green, black, oolong and herbal) from the Whittard of Chelsea line that come sided with the requisite light savories, imported Devonshire cream, cakes and raisin scones. But the real story is the Old-World crowd that turns out for this event. Field's has always been a haven for well-manicured European ladies (rich and poor) who both work and shop there, and one hopes that their no-nonsense and elegant presence won't be lost with the upcoming change of ownership.

    Try the grandiose option at The Peninsula Chicago
    The Peninsula hotel offers similar ambience (cellist, pianist) and menu (extensive green, black and herbal teas and finger sandwiches) as other afternoon teas, but the location in the majestic Lobby room gives the Peninsula an advantage over smaller or more humble locales. The enormous room's sipping setting comes complete with pillars, tall windows, high ceilings, golden draperies and attentive servers. The divine lemon tarragon scones are a perfect match with the gunpowder Chinese green tea. Order this combo, daintily sip and tea, and enjoy the indulgence. The $26 tea service offered 3-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and 4-6 p.m. Sunday; champagne costs an additional $9 to $11.

    Do It Yourself
    Though high teas have a reputation as fancy affairs, it's easy to host one. Gather a selection of black and herbal teas, spread some cream cheese, dill and cucumber on white or wheat bread with the crusts cut off, and make or buy tea biscuits to serve alongside some fresh fruit. Scones from a bakery are optional; serve with an assortment of jams and preserves. Sugar cubes provide another nice touch, and soymilk with honey is surprisingly good in almost any variety of black tea. Arrange a buffet table along with some flowers, plants and reeds, for a decadent feeling. Serve around 3 p.m. to stay within tradition.

  •; Venue Review; Parrot Cage

    Venue review published on, January 2006.

    Parrot Cage
    7059 S. South Shore Dr., Chicago
    Tel: (773) 602-5333

    Located inside the South Shore Cultural Center, the Parrot Cage takes its name from the displaced parrots residing in nearby Hyde Park. The restaurant is an offshoot of the Washburne Culinary Institute (also housed within the SSCC), where advanced students gain real-world experience by working as kitchen and wait staff.

    Swiftly gaining a reputation as a romantic restaurant, the elegant architecture of the SSCC helps to illustrate the point. The building that houses the intimate dining room was built in the Mediterranean Revival architectural style, and is laden with elegant black and white mosaics. In the winter months, the large, arched windows look onto the snowy grounds, and during the summer there is a view of the lakefront and expansive nature walk. As for the menu, only locally grown, fresh ingredients are used. Chef Brian Jupiter takes inspiration from global dishes, treating them with a classic American flair. The selection is extensive, with seven starters, seven entrees and a handful of desserts. Standouts include the chicken and Serrano ham croquettes with haricot vert salad ($6), the goat cheese gnocchi with spinach, sweet potatoes and shallot thyme cream ($15), and the pan-roasted salmon with braised cabbage, bacon, apples and mustard sauce ($17). The pear bread pudding ($6) and pineapple sorbet are light and deliciously sweet.

    Since Washburne is a culinary institute in practice and learning actually takes place in the kitchen, a high standard for quality is evident in the precise and deliberate dishes. The educational aspect of the restaurant is nearly invisible, and the small, instructional moments are subtle: Never fear, you're among a gang of pros, here. Reservations are recommended.

    Reviewed By: Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Recent Restaurant Reviews

    Two new restaurant reviews for Time Out Chicago, below.

    Crepes Cafe
    410 S Clark St
    Loop/West Loop, Chicago | Map


    El: Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to LaSalle 
    Those who crave the stuff of San Francisco crêpe stands can find a suitable substitute until their next Bay trip at this cheerful Loop café. The $7–$12 price point may seem stiff for a little French pancake, but savories (mushroom, beef Stroganoff) come with salads and desserts are a la mode. Plus, while the namesake crepes may be thicker than the lacy-edged ideal, they’re jam-packed with fillings, the best of which include a seafood-studded frutti di mare option. Hours--Lunch (Mon–Fri).

    Papa Smiles
    This charming south side ice cream parlor/candy shop is owned and managed by “Papa” Ron Kozak, whose mother ran a beauty shop in the building. The quaint decor—an old-fashioned soda fountain, jukebox, and walls plastered with historical photos of the 'hood—hearkens back to a simpler time. We recommend the generous portions of Homers & Hershey ice cream (especially pistachio), Papa’s greasily delicious chili- and corn-dogs and housemade taffy apples (peanut, pecan, walnut). Eat outside on benches or at antique tables loaded with games for the rugrats.
    6955 W Archer Ave between Newland and Sayre Aves (773-788-0388). El: Orange to 62H Archer bus. Bus: 62H. Lunch, dinner: 12-9pm daily during late March through November (weather permitting). Average item: $3.

  • Time Out Chicago; Features; Polish bars

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 157 : Feb 28–Mar 5, 2008

    Global drinking | Poland

    Warsaw packed: Vodka abounds as do bottles of Zywiec and Okocim. Na zdrowie!

    POLE POSITION Martini Club’s cold vodka and hot bartenders may make you a little lightheaded.

    The Polish party spot Martini Club (4933 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-202-9444) nestles in the blue collar ’hood of Jefferson Park, but it’s attempting to draw an upscale, clubby crowd. Exhibit A: swank decor like gilded mirrors, a translucent bar lit up underneath by red lights, a DJ area near the front window, glowing red candles, leather booths, exposed brick, disco balls and laser lights. In a city that abounds with Polish shot-and-beer joints, this bar reaches out to those whose names may not end in ski while still retaining its Polish roots.

    As is the custom for any Polish bar, the place is stocked with impossibly good-looking female bartenders (who understand just enough English to chat with non-Poles). Before 9pm, the joint’s littered with men buying drinks and watching the bartenders and whatever game is on the TVs; the mood is mellow, and occasionally someone uses the free Wi-Fi to type on his laptop.

    Poles are a naturally suspicious people—hey, their country has been invaded a lot —so non-Poles may receive a standoffish reception. But once a drink is ordered and cash is out on the bar, bartenders get chatty and smilingly suggest vodka drinks from their menu. “You been here before?” one minidress-wearing bartender asks a man sporting an outfit and a baseball cap in the Polish flag colors of white and red. “You want me to tell you best drinks on menu?” He does.

    Beer drinkers go for bottles of light, crisp Zywiec (ZHIV-yetz), or Okocim (oh-KO-chim) on draft, which tastes “cleaner and sharper” than the bottled stuff, according to one friendly old man who downs the traditional vodka shot before taking a sip of his beer. Another shot option: the gold-colored Krupnik ($3), a honey-lemon vodka infused with herbs. This stuff burns as it travels down the pipes, but many Polish bartenders (and grandmothers) tout it as a cold remedy; “It’ll kill whatever germs you’ve got,” says Mark (Marek in Polish), a first-generation Pole in his fifties whose parents met in a post-WWII relocation camp. He speaks Polish, “but not as well as I used to,” he says.

    After a few drinks, Marek loosens up enough to try some Polish on the bartender, so he says “thank you,” “Dziekuje” (jane-KOO-yeh), and clinks glasses with his friend while reciting the traditional Polish toast, “Na zdrowie” (nah STROH-vyeh), which means “to your health.”

    Soon there are signs the boisterous birthday party in the back booths threatens to take over the bar—the place is suddenly full of balloons, the TVs change from sports to European music videos and laser lights flash around the bar. “I’m out of here,” Marek says, laughing, and though the bartenders try to press another drink on him, he leaves to make more room for the young Poles, who are toasting, “Sto lat!” (“100 years”), to the birthday girl.


    Slow burn

    Pick up our two favorite Polish vodkas.


    Zubrowka (joov-BROOV-ka), pictured, is an herby-tasting vodka infused with bison grass grown in Poland’s Biaowie forest; there’s a blade of it in each bottle, which gives the stuff a pleasing greenish-yellow color. Poles like to drink it with apple juice or cider. (3394 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-286-4482).

    For straight-up great-tasting vodka, go for the sharp, clean, no-aftertaste Wyborowa (veh-bo-ROW-va). It holds its own against Belvedere and Ketel One—but costs substantially less. Grab a 750ml bottle for $12.99 at Foremost Liquors (2300 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-278-9420).


    Zakopane (1734 W Division St, 773-486-1559). The same old men have been drinking Polish beer and mid-range vodkas here since time began. Only now there’s an actual bathroom door instead of a sheet, an improvement made sometime in the late ’90s.

    Cavalier Inn (735 Gostlin St, Hammond, IN, 219-933-9314). If you’re hitting traffic on the way back from Michiana, exit I-90 for reliable Polish drinks—Zywiec (beer), Zubrowka (bison-grass vodka) and jezynowka (blackberry brandy). Order some pierogi to soak up the booze before heading home.

    Karolinka Club (6102 S Central Ave, 773-735-0818). This polka joint serves Tyskie, a popular lager often sweetened with raspberry or strawberry syrup.

    Accent Café (700 N River Rd, Mount Prospect, 847-298-2233). On weekends, young Poles here drink the Polish flag shot—cherry juice with vodka.

  • Cavalier Inn, Website Copy

    Cavalier Inn
    (About Us section of website)
    Serving the North Hammond neighborhood and Polish Community for generations

    Known simply as The Cav by those who frequent it, this Polish restaurant and bar has served the North Hammond neighborhood and Polish community for generations. The Cav is owned and managed by Wally and Mary Kasprzycki and their son, Wally. Wally Sr. arrived in the United States in 1938 and opened the Cavalier Inn 1949. The Cavalier Inn thrives not only because of the consistently wonderful Polish food (best pierogis and potato pancakes in town), but also to the welcoming atmosphere instituted by Wally and Mary, and carried on dutifully by their son....[for more, click the site, but consider yourself warned about the polka music.]