There are places in Chicago where you go for great food, and places you go for great music. Still, we wondered: Are there places that suit both needs, without changing seats? We sent music critic Howard Reich and restaurant critic Phil Vettel out together to three places. We had Howard rate the music and Phil rate the food, and, just for fun, we let them switch hats and write about the others' specialty. Here are their professional and amateur reviews of three places. First up: Andy's.
Music and food: Do they mix?
Sure, you've got to eat to live and all that, but as art forms go, it's hard to equate devouring food with listening to great music.
Does a fine plate of asparagus really rank up there with a sublime solo by the great Satchmo? I'm no foodie, in other words, which is why the past few weeks spent in the company of restaurant critic Phil Vettel have created problems—and pleasures too.
It could not have been easy for Vettel to watch me picking at extremely well done seafood (I prefer it burned) and avoiding just about everything that makes his world go 'round (meat, pasta, bread, gravy—did I mention bread?). Sorry, Phil—I hate carbs.
Here's one critic's unabashedly idiosyncratic view of music joints that feed more than just your soul (or try to). —Howard Reich
Music and food, in one seating
As the Tribune's restaurant critic, I think I know food pretty well (but judging by my e-mails, not everyone agrees). But when it comes to jazz, "novice" would be a kind way of defining my sophistication level.
My grasp of jazz repertoire borders on the illiterate; I can't tell if a composition comes from Stan Getz or Stanley Clarke. When a musician launches into a classic jazz tune, there's about a 1 percent chance I'll recognize it. I know enough about music to appreciate the level of musicianship a certain piece requires, and will respond accordingly. But mostly I know enough to keep my mouth shut. Especially when sharing a table with a jazz scholar. —Phil Vettel
Andy's Jazz Club11 E. Hubbard St.; 312-642-680
Critic Howard says: Young jazz talent seems to grow like weeds in Chicago, and one of the most promising pianists holds a coveted weekly spot at Andy's.
Leading a quartet, Jordan Baskin ventures into weighty works by Kenny Dorham ("Blues for Jackie"), Joe Henderson ("Black Narcissus") and Wayne Shorter ("Mahjong"). This is not jazz as background music—it's the main course, with food as the accompaniment, just as it should be.
Saxophonist Scott Burns does much of the heavy lifting, living up to his surname as he scorches practically every solo. With Jake Vinsel on bass and Brian Ritter on drums, this band brings unrelenting ferocity to up-tempo tunes and something close to that to ballads, as well. That's how young musicians play—as if they have something to prove.
Unfortunately, a large group at a corner table is getting louder by the minute, oblivious to the music onstage. There's always someone.
Critic Phil says: Nobody comes to Andy's for the food, but once I get beyond the insipid French onion soup and a salad that could have come from a supermarket bag, there is a fine, hefty slab of barbecued ribs, meaty and properly cooked and slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce. Howard's "very well done" barbecued salmon is very good; the extra barbecue sauce helps the fish retain its moisture. The lesson: If the dish has "cue" in the name, order it.
Howard's take: The barbecued salmon arrives just the way I ordered it—charred beyond belief. Delicious. And the sweet-and-tangy sauce adds measurably to the experience. As for the mixed vegetables side dish, it brims over with onions, zucchini and things I can't identify. Vettel offers me one of the two gigantic slabs of ribs, but I politely demur. Do people really eat those things?
Phil's take: Jordan Baskin is the headliner at this built-for-music space, much spruced up in recent years (and of course, no longer filled with smoke). White tablecloths and butcher paper and cobalt-blue votive candles give the place a supper-club feel, and I don't think there's a single table more than 20 feet from the stage.The music is great, and I can't really explain why. Baskin, on piano, has a no-wasted-motion style, and he seems more interested in laying a foundation for the other instrumentalists' solos than in cutting loose himself. Baskin also tells you what he's about to play and who wrote it, a really big benefit to jazz illiterates like me.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times