The Best Things I Ate, Drank, & Made This Year

The Best Things... 2014 | Kailley's Kitchen

Well, I know I promised to get back on the monthly favorites train and do a holiday gift guide, but… I failed. Big time. Sorry, guys.

So, I want to make it up to you with a list of the best things I ate, drank, and made this year. As many of you know, in addition to blogging, I do food and drink coverage (writing and photography) for three publications in Chicago: Tasting Table, Thrillist, & Michigan Avenue Magazine. Suffice it to say, food is my life, my job, my passion, and my hobby. I get to eat and drink. A LOT. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In semi-chronological order, here are some of the best things I ate and drank (okay, mostly “ate”) this year:

*NOTE: I’ve included links to Instagram photos and restaurant websites wherever possible!

2014: A Year in Food

2014: A Year in Food

1. Baked mac ‘n’ cheese at Smoke Daddy. Truth be told, it’s some of the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve had. Anywhere. Ever. Smokey, ooey-gooey, and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs– it’s perfect.

2. Pepperoni pan pizza at Pequod’s. Last year I dedicated an entire blog post to the glorious, caramelized-crusted wonder that is Pequod’s pan pizza. My love still burns for it with the fire of a thousand suns.

3. Taro ice cream at Embeya. It’s PURPLE. Need I say more?! Honorable mention: the grilled quail dish that inspired my Thai chicken wings.

4. Fried chicken sandwich at Analogue. I ended up here on a photography assignment for Tasting Table; the great thing about those assignments is that 98% of the time, I get to eat whatever I have to shoot. This sammie had some SPUNK, and the house-made pickles were killer.

5. Deep-fried Twinkie with raspberry coulis at Parts & Labor. Nestled at the heart of Hipsterville (Logan Square), this new burger joint does more than just burgers well.

6. Lobster pierogis at Perennial Virant. Oh, Paul Virant, you can do no wrong. Honorable mention: kickass sunchoke homefries.

7. Black truffle scallops at L2O. The scallop was sliced like a ribbon, packed with truffle-y goodness, and then reassembled. It was as beautiful as it was delicious. Sadly, the folks at Lettuce Entertain You are closing L2O and re-concepting.

8. Breakfast of Champions at Twisted Spoke (the St. Patty’s Day edition). Super boozy, super nostalgic, magically delicious. Honorable mentions: an amazing shrimp po’boy and jalapeno poppers.

9. Cinnamon raisin grilled cheese at Rockit Bar & Grill. Melted brie and apples. Ya’ dig? Honorable mentions: Rockit Burger with wagyu, fried shallots, and brie.

10. Focaccia di Recco at Davanti Enoteca. Soft cow cheese and honecomb = the ultimate power couple. I could eat this all day, every day, ’til death do us part. And by “us,” I mean, “me and the focaccia.” Honorable mention: everything on the limited edition “Every Day We’re Trufflin‘” menu. GIVE ME ALL THE TRUFFLES.

11. Hanger steak at Paris Club Bistro & Bar. The steak that made me realize that filet mignon is overrated.

12. The “Municipal Mule” program at Municipal Bar + Dining Co. Especially the mule that tasted like Peachie-O’s.

13. Barbecued ribs at Smokin’ Coop BBQ Pit. All my Rockford/Belvidere people know what I’m talking about.

14. Hamachi Serrano Chili Roll with REAL WASABI at Roka Akor. First time I’d ever tried real wasabi (a.k.a. not the artificially dyed, horseradish-y knockoff)– the combo was absolutely delicious.

15. Roasted chicken at Boka. That layer of brioche infused between the skin and the meat… ohmigod. Also, this is one of the sexiest, most romantic restaurants in Chicago. If you want to score major points with your S.O., take him/her here. And check out the living wall.

16. Siboney At 3 Dots and a Dash. Tiki FTW. Seriously, just take a peek at the menu and tell me it all doesn’t sound like liquid candy. Honorable mentions: the highly-coveted Dr. Funkhauser.

17. Duck nachos at Abreo. A Rockford, IL fine dining favorite.

18. Every damn thing on the tasting menu at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. This was my first 3 Michelin Star experience, and it was unforgettable.

19. Dry-rubbed ribs at County BBQ. I’ve been singing their praises since they opened. Honorable mention: the cookie dough, obviously. Okay, it’s probably more like a tie.

20. Bacon-wrapped dates at Montarra Grill. Better than your average bacon-wrapped dates thanks to black truffle honey and blueberry-balsamic gastrique.

21. Watermelon, feta, and mint salad at Unite Urban Grill. This West Town restaurant keeps the focus on simple, fresh ingredients. And it pays off.

22. Szigeti Rosé, 2009 at RM Champagne Salon. I’m sure I could find a bottle of this at a booze retailer like Binny’s, but there’s just something so perfect about sipping it out on RM’s kitschy patio. Honorable mention: the outrageous cheese selection.

23. The Hot Daisy Roll at Sushi Dokku. I loved this partly because it’s delish, partly because it’s pretty, and partly because its name reminds me of my high school years at Miss Porter’s School (back when our unofficial “Fighting Daisy” mascot was still legit). Still my go-to for sushi in Chicago.

24. Rich Man Po’boy at Bottlefork. New England style lobster roll slathered in foie and capped with fried oysters. In and around my mouth. Honorable mention: the “At The Drive In” cocktail (I even scored the recipe from the head barkeep!)

25. After-dark cocktail at Terrace at Trump. Just look at it and you’ll understand why. Honorable mention: the White Radiance cocktail with a giant lemon-blood orange ice cube. Because haute ice is IN.

26. Everything Wings at Mott St. Like an everything bagel, but better. Because fried chicken. Oh, and I scored that recipe as well.

27. Bacon buns at Bohemian House. I can’t decide if I like the boho chic aesthetic or the Czech inspired food better– they’re both criminally awesome. Honorable mentions: plum and elderflower kolacky and house-made salt & vinegar chips with horseradish onion dip. Read my review on Tasting Table.

28. Confit potatoes a la plancha at Salero. As a recovering vegetarian, I rarely order vegetarian entrees, but something about this potato dish was calling to me. Probably the fried egg on top. To say it delivered would be the understatement of the year. This was quite possibly one of the best things I ate all year. Read my review on Tasting Table.

29. Everything on Sixteen‘s autumn tasting menu. I dished on the epic meal over at

30. Duck fat fried potatoes at Sepia. Now I want everything fried in duck fat. And bacon fat. Yeah, bacon fat would definitely do, too.

31. The Brandt’s Burger at Brandt’s in Palatine, IL. Hey, new favorite suburban burger joint (that isn’t Five Guys).

32. A Ben’s pretzel at Notre Dame Stadium. If you’ve never experienced the sweet, salty, buttery goodness that is a Ben’s pretzel, you haven’t lived. Unequivocally the best soft pretzels ever created. Also good for soaking up the tears of perennially let-down Fighting Irish fans. Annnddd, I just learned that there’s a Ben’s shop in French Market in Chicago–WHY DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS UNTIL NOW?!

33. Hamachi sashimi wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled in lemon, truffle oil, and a pinch of Maldon sea salt at Takashi. Is further explanation even necessary when truffle oil, prosciutto, and sea salt are involved? Sadly, they’re also closing in early 2015 🙁

34. Momotaro Tartare at Momotaro. BOKA Restaurant Group does it again, this time, Japanese-style. Read my review on Tasting Table.

35. Duck egg fettuccine at TWO. Honorable mention: puppy chow. Because, c’mon– PUPPY CHOW.

36. Roasted chicken at River Roast. Insanely juicy. Insanely huge. Bring a friend, or three. Read my review on Tasting Table.

37. Chicken pot pie at Tippling Hall. Packed with chicken, buttery crust, you know how it is. Honorable mention: Grumpy Cat cocktail. Also, this place gets points for both a.) having the coolest drink menu of all time and b.) naming a drink after a character in This Is Spinal Tap.

38. Valrhona dulcey chocolate cremeux filled doughnut coated in vanilla glaze and pistachio crumble at Nightwood. Honorable mention: the cheeseburger (in paradise. Really, this place is basically paradise).

39. “MSG” wings at Oak + Char. BEST WINGS EVER. And it’s an acronym for “maple, sherry, and gochujang chili,” so just slow your roll. Honorable mention: the house cheeseburger. Second only to Au Cheval’s burger.

39. Seacuterie at Travelle. Any chef that puts a seafood-y spin on charcuterie and names it “seacuterie” wins in my book. The whole board was beyond amazing, especially the “octopus mosaic,” the fish skin cracklins, and the salmon and herbed butter terrine. Honorable mention: the risotto prepared table-side in a ginormous wheel of parmesan.

40. The single cheeseburger at Au Cheval. Reputable folks consider this to be the best burger in Chicago, and after further investigation, I’m inclined to agree. The fried egg and bacon are mandatory.

41. Kale salad at La Sirena Clandestina. Let’s just say it made me a kale believer. Yeah, this salad is that good. Honorable mention: the baked empanadas.

42. Focaccia with maldon sea salt flakes and roasted garlic compound butter at Charlatan. Honorable mention: black pepper rigatoni with wild boar ragu. Stay tuned for a full review on Tasting Table in early 2015!

43. Pear tart tatin at Ruxbin. Blue cheese ice cream may or may not be involved. Sounds weird, tastes delish.

44. Sugar cookie doughnut from Firecake’s Donuts. This iced, be-sprinkled pastry is new to the shop’s holiday collection, and it tastes just like a sugar cookie. I’m not sure how long they’ll be around, so I suggest scooping one up NOW!

…and now, the 5 most popular Kailley’s Kitchen recipes of the year!

Kailley's Kitchen's most popular recipes of the year

Kailley’s Kitchen’s most popular recipes of the year

1. Edible Eggless Cookie Dough

2. Date Night Brownie Batter Skillet Cookie

3. Vanilla Bean Caramel Pecan Bars

4. Death-by-Chocolate Cookie Cups

5. Skillet Honey Cornbread

… thank you to each and every one of you for your support and love through 2014; it’s been a year of growth, fun, and small (but meaningful!) successes, and I couldn’t have made it through without my amazing readers!

I’m going to do my best to publish one or two more recipes before the new year, but in the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season 🙂

Tell me, what were some of the best things YOU ate/drank this year? Leave your answers below!



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