According to Science of Cooking's website, a Maillard reaction ( also simply known as browning ) is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat. The results are the creation of flavor and the change in the color of food.
Why does this week's column begin with a chemistry lesson? It's because that's the concept behind Maillard Tavern ( 494 N. Milwaukee Ave.; www.maillardtavern.com/ ), a casual spot from Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo, the minds behind Piccolo Sogno ( which is across the street from the tavern ) and the River North spot Nonnina.
The burgers that employ the Maillard reaction have double four-ounce patties—and the enhanced flavors are immediately noticeable. ( Single-patty versions are also available, for reduced prices, and any burger can be substituted with a veggie version. ) The Maillard is a savory concoction that's topped with crispy onions, bacon-and-onion jam, cheddar, pickles and dijon mayo. The Classic is exactly like it sounds ( beef with American cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup, lettuce and tomato ), but the taste is a bit ... elevated. By the way, as if the burger isn't enough, the sandwiches come with absolutely delicious duck-fat Norwis potato fries.
However, there's much more on Maillard's menu. For example, there are specialty sandwiches that include a buttermilk-chicken item that ranks up there with items served at Honey Butter Fried Chicken and the now-shuttered Table 52. There are also the Sloppy Giuseppe ( with spiced wild boar ragu and crispy onions ) and the Grass Fed Burger for vegetarians. In addition, there are clam chowder and a nice, kicky chili.
But don't leave after having your burger. Maillard Tavern offers an intriguing array of desserts, including donut sticks, ice-cream sundaes, root-beer floats and more—plus the cocktails are pretty impressive as well.
The only down side? In an age of Caviar, GrubHub and numerous other delivery options, Maillard Tavern ( which just opened Dec. 22 ) doesn't have any such service available—yet. Priolo told Windy City Times that the option will be revisited in a couple months—which can't happen soon enough for me.
However, there are two big advantages the tavern has ( besides the food, of course ): Priolo and Longobardo, engaging men who have amassed quite a following over the years. For them, chemistry with customers is just as important as the science behind this tavern's tasty burgers.
Chicago Restaurant Week
Chicago Restaurant Week ( www.choosechicago.com/restaurants/chicago-restaurant-week ) will take place Jan. 26-Feb. 8 .
The 11th annual culinary celebration features special prix fixe menus starting at $22 for brunch or lunch, and $33 and/or $44 for dinner ( excluding beverages, tax and gratuity ).
More than 370 restaurants will take part in the two-week event, and venues can be sorted by name, cuisine, area or meal. Just a few of the spots include Arami, Barcocina, Nacional 27, Sepia, TWO, Ixcateco Grill, WhirlyBall Chicago, Kendall College, Monteverde, Oceanique, The Gage, Portsmith and bistronomic.
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.