Apples are as synonymous with autumn as they are with Isaac Newton's cranium. And gravity. Obviously, there's a lot to love about these pomaceous fruits. We wait all year for annual essentials such as peak-season apple pie, legit applesauce, apple crisp, apple strudel, and even some apple dishes we never knew we needed, like apple milkshakes and apple-infused baked Alaska. Save the orchard for another day, there are plenty of novel apple dishes to be had in restaurants around Chicago. Here are some top pome picks this season.
I'd be remiss if I didn't cut right to the chase with apple pie. This is undoubtedly the quintessential dish for apple season. Even out of season, apple pie is a pastry staple, but a good apple pie really sings when local orchards are bearing fruit. Some of the best classic-style apple pie is at Hoosier Mama Pie Co. Paula Haney's petite, Americana-inspired shop makes a mean apple pie. And they should, considering apple pie was the first pie Haney learned to make. Her version is simple, classic, and homey, made with an all-butter pie dough, Granny Smith apples, lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, tapioca starch, cornstarch, Chinese five-spice powder (nice surprise there), and kosher salt. It's the kind of pie that makes your heart melt and makes you want to hug a grandma. Any grandma.
If you've ever wanted to drink a caramel apple, head to Edzo's Burger Shop in Lincoln Park. The city location of this Evanston-based burger bastion takes all the pleasures of caramel apples and removes the threat of breaking your teeth. The Taffy Apple milkshake features Granny Smith apples made into a basic applesauce that is blended together with vanilla ice cream, milk, crushed salted peanuts, and housemade salted caramel sauce.
Apples get elegant at Blackbird, where a variety of different apples are adapted into contemporary savory and sweet applications. For dinner, Pristine apples are shaved on a mandolin and compressed with orange oil, orange juice, and saffron before getting plated alongside braised lobster mushrooms, grilled artichoke, and red wine jus. Over at The Publican, sweeter apples such as Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, and Gala lend themselves to dessert, a re-imagined baked Alaska composed of a baked meringue nest, roasted apples, brown butter crumble, salted caramel ice cream, thyme-scented caramel sauce, and apple chips.
For apples with an Italian accent, check out J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar. The River North trattoria uses apples to vivify soup and pizza. Start with the chicken soup, a soulful bowl of Parmesan-based broth swimming with tender morsels of chicken, portabella mushrooms, and shredded apples. The fruits also add a halo effect to grilled pizza made with prosciutto, apples, and Pecorino, making it all too easy to inhale an entire pie because it feels like a salad, right?
Pink Ladies are the apples of MANA food bar's eye. In fact, they're the only apples used for cooking and for juices at the pint-sized vegetarian nook. Why? Not only are they delicious, crisp, and sweet, but they retain a beautiful hue when juiced, and they hold up well in chutneys and relishes. The apples can currently be found in MANA's beet salad with arugula and raspberry vinaigrette, in an apple-cranberry chutney served alongside potato pancakes, and as a pickled corona atop cauliflower-kale curry.
If apple elephant ears and caramelized apple mustard don't sound exciting to you, check your pulse. Otherwise, get thee to State and Lake Chicago Tavern this fall. Pastry chef Toni Roberts is working on apple elephant ears with rosemary-roasted apples and smoked butterscotch swirl ice cream. The elephant ears consist of two pieces of fried dough dredged in apple sugar made from freeze-dried apples and it's apple-tastic. She'll also offer apple pie Rice Krispies treats as a wrapped takeaway treat for guests. On the savory side, housemade pretzels filled with caramelized onions and Pleasant Ridge Reserve are adjoined by caramelized apple creamy mustard.
One of the only things more classic than apple pie is apfelstrudel, aka apple strudel. At Glunz Tavern, owner Barbara Glunz pays homage to her grandmother by recreating the confection for her menu. Thanks to phyllo dough, the process isn't as laborious and time-consuming as grandma's meticulous process, but the results are no less delicious. Green apples are cooked with cinnamon and sugar, blended with sherried golden raisins. It's all set atop buttered layers of phyllo folded into rectangular individual servings. Strudels are served with Homer's French vanilla ice cream.
Cantina Laredo (508 N. State St.) / Cafe des Architectes (20 E. Chestnut St.) / Epic (112 W. Hubbard St.)
Classics are well and good, but it's always fun to venture beyond the norm and try some offbeat innovations. This season, look forward to Mexican apple pie at Cantina Laredo, featuring apples sizzled in Mexican brandy butter and adorned with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream. At Cafe des Architectes, Greg Biggers takes the idea of apple crisp and turns it on its head by infusing it with pancetta and serving it with seared Hudson Valley foie gras, sourdough waffle, brown butter apples, and smoked maple syrup. And at Epic, one of the most epic apple desserts of the year is pastry chef Jessica Ellington's apple cream puffs with Calvados cream, and honey fromage blanc.
Photos courtesy of Eric Futran (Edzo's), J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar, MANA food bar, and Epic