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SAVOR Vinny's Pizza Bar; Publican Anker
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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If you want to spend some time ( whether family or post-work ) in a funky place with some delicious items, check out Vinny's Pizza Bar ( at the French Market, 130 N. Canal St.; ).

The year-old concept is based on "Vinny," an old-school Italian owner who aims to bring the fun while being serious about the quality of the food. For example, the decor includes portraits of celebrity lookalikes ( including impersonators of Michael Jackson and Angelina Jolie as well as presidents Trump and Obama ). Telegenic Director of Operations Nick O'Meara told Windy City Times: "The portraits are about satire. Some people don't get them, but Vinny's is about fun [as well as] being low-key and casual."

As for the food, the crush of pedestrians clustering around the restaurant as the server presented free samples provided my initial clue. Chef Jose Ramirez—who heads Vinny's as well as Ovie Bar & Grill next door—has concoted some dishes that run from solid to spectacular.

The pizzas are unique in that the crusts are combinations of Neapolitan and New York styles. The smoked pork-shoulder pizza is basically a Cubano in pie form, and it was very satisfying. However, the version that brings everyone in is the brie-and-apple version, with white sauce, brie cheese blend, Gala apples and balsamic roasted shallots. It was amazing—and I'd certainly return for this.

Soft breadsticks came with smoked tomato sauce and goat-cheese marinara, and the capicola and cheese fondue made for a tasty combination. Also, feel free to ask for the cheesecake—although, interestingly, it started okay and became better-tasting as wel went through our slices.

By the way, another reason has emerged to check out Vinny's: the spot's Progressive Happy Hour, in which drinks are $4 each at 4-5 p.m., $5 at 5-6 p.m., and $6 at 6-7 p.m. Bottoms up!

Publican Anker

Appearances can be very deceiving.

Judging by its name, Publican Anker ( 1576 N. Milwaukee Ave.; ) might be a gastropub that concentrates on seafood, as "anker" is German for "anchor." However, there is much more to this year-and-a-half-old Wicker Park spot ( formerly Francesca's Forno/Glazed and Infused )—and those items provide surprises of their own.

Bar snacks are anything but ordinary. For example, there's burrata, which might be standard at some places; here, however, it comes with honeycrisp apples, walnuts, farro and watercress, with a drizzle of honey. Addictive chicken wings are prepared with ingreidents such as burnt chile and yogurt, according to the menu; however, the server said that there are additional items like fish sauce that are used to give the wings their unique taste. ( I guess that would be deception by omission. )

And there are a lot more than bar snacks. Vegetable dishes include toka plums ( with crescenza, radish, urfa peppers and cashews ) as well as slightly kicky sweet corn ( accompanied by potatoes, peppers and parmesan ).

However, even the standard burger is elevated at Anker. The Super Pub Burger may look like a regular sandwich, but somehow the combination of American cheese, caramelized onions and tangy "special sauce" make this one of the best burgers I've had since the hallowed masterpiece I consumed at Mott St. But if you want something a little different for an entree, Anker caters to every taste ( pun intended ) with dishes like swordfish sausage, bavette steak and half-roasted chicken ( and I'm sure even THAT tastes different from your regular bird ).

Regarding desserts, the bakewell tart was prepared and presented beautifully, overall, although it was slightly crumbly. But if almond shortbread isn't your thing, Anker has other offerings, such as strawberry shortbread ice cream and chocolate mousse.

Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.

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