Valentine’s Day came a day early for J and I. We have other commitments tomorrow, so we decided to get reservations for a restaurant in Chicago we had heard good things about. When I called at ten this morning to see if we could get a table, the response I got was, “Ooooh…I don’t know. Hang on a sec.” Turns out, the only opening they had was at 5:30 which is when they open. I told them we’d take it.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate is locate on Damen Avenue in the north side’s Bucktown Neighborhood. Coming from the south suburbs during rush hour was a little bit of a challenge. It’s only twenty miles, but with rush hour traffic, it took a little over an hour. Once we got to the neighborhood, we then had to find a spot to park. The only options are valet or finding a spot at a meter on the street. We actually got pretty lucky and found a spot on the corner just about a block away.
We walked in to Hot Chocolate and were met by a hostess who showed us to our table. The restaurant is fairly small with a bench along the back wall that acts as a seat for about ten tables. There are also a handful of four tops, a bar, a small waiting/lounge area and one table near the kitchen for larger groups. We were seated along the wall and the tables were really crammed in there. It was alright at first because there was no one sitting on either side of us, but once the tables around us were filled, it was like we were all eating together. There was just a matter of inches between the tables.
The decor is very dark and subdued. One wall is exposed brick. The wall where the bench is located is a finished wall with mirrors hanging every few feet. The ceiling has an exposed, industrial look. There is no wall separating the kitchen from the dining room. The prep counter was in plain sight and you could see what the chef’s were doing. It was really an interesting look.
The menu focuses on locally grown products. They even had an appetizer that incorporated cheese from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. We started with drinks. I stuck with a Coke, but J ordered the Cold Chocolate. It was basically a chocolate martini, but it tasted so much like chocolate milk. There was a very small after taste so you knew you had an alcoholic drink.
We passed on appetizers and went straight to the main course. We wanted to make sure there was going to be enough room for dessert which is Hot Chocolate’s specialty. I went with the hamburger. Surprise! Betcha didn’t see that one coming. Yes, I got the hamburger, but this wasn’t just any hamburger. The sandwich starts with house ground Heartland beef. The sandwich is then topped with organic bacon, Carr Valley 6-year aged cheese, and a fried egg. It’s then served on a garlic toasted bun. Homemade chips, cole slaw, and dill pickles are served on the side. The burger was awesome. The burger was really charred on the outside, but a little pink and very juicy in the middle. The cheddar was delicious, but I couldn’t really taste the egg. The flavor the egg seemed to get lost in what was a really delicious burger.
J ordered the cheddar melt which is basically a grilled cheese with the same Carr Valley 6-year aged cheddar that was on my burger served on pumperknickle bread. Her sandwich also came with homemade chips and a granny smith apple salad. She loved the sandwich. The cheddar melt really let you appreciate the aged cheese. She also loved the apple salad. The apples were covered with a honey syrup. It was about a half of an apple that was julliened and looked like carrots. She said she could have eaten a lot more of that.
We tore through dinner so we could get dessert. The waiter, who was really good by the way, came back to take our plates and asked if we wanted dessert menus. Duh…of course! The owner of Hot Chocolate, Mindy Segal has been nominated the past two years for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, so he came back with the menus for us to look over. While we were doing that, the bus boy came over and wiped down the table for us and set down new silverware. Unnecessary, but appreciated. A few minutes later, the waiter came back for dessert orders.
I split my dessert up. Instead of getting one of their creations, I started off with a cup of light hot chocolate. I chose the light hot chocolate because it was mostly white chocolate. I love white chocolate. What I overlooked on the menu was the addition of ginger and molasses. It was really good, but instead of a white chocolate taste, it had more of a gingerbread cookie taste. I shared some with J and she really liked it, but she really likes gingerbread cookies. The hot chocolate is served in an oversize coffee mug with a little spoon. I drank it like soup until it cooled down because I always burn my tounge when I try to drink hot chocolate and this one came out really hot. Even the cup was too hot to handle.
For the second part of my dessert, I got a Peanut Butter Cup milkshake. Oh My God! Can I say that? When the waiter brought the plate out, J said the plating looked like something we’d see on Iron Chef. There was a tall shot glass filled with the milkshake, a tiny chocolate chip cookie, a tiny peanut butter cookie sandwich, and another small cup filled with more of the milkshake. The milkshake was like drinking cold, liquid peanut butter. It was awesome. There were even little chunks of peanut butter cup that could be sucked through the straw. When I got about halfway done, I poured the other little pitcher into the glass. I would have been happy with just what was in the first glass, but getting that extra little shot was great. Between the meal, hot chocolate, and milkshake, I left stuffed. Best meal I have had in a long time.
J went for one of Chef Mindy’s creations. She ordered The Lesson in Chocolate Cake. It consisted of a chocolate buttermilk and bittersweet chocolate mousse layer cake valrhona chocolate cake, ice cream “cupcake” with chocolate frosting fresh honey cream and honey comb. It came in a huge bowl which the waiter served with heavy cream from a martini shaker. She loved it. She said the honey comb was like a little piece of peanut brittle. Both cakes were delicious.
We loved Hot Chocolate. We’re not people who eat at fancy restaurants very often. We figured out the last time we ate a at really fancy place was last August. Restaurants like these are two or three times a year for us, so we really enjoy these special nights out. Our bill before tip was $70 and we left stuffed. This wasn’t one of those places where you spend that much on a meal then go to the White Castle down the street because you’re still hungry. The desserts were delicious. The entrees were out of this world and the service was fantastic. Mindy’s Hot Chocolate is on Chicago’s north side a little ways from downtown, but well worth the cab or El ride to Bucktown.