Friend dates are the best, don’t you think? I mean, sure romantic dates can be nice, too, but they can also be very very not nice (don’t we all have stories…). Date-dates carry with them expectations, whereas friend-dates more often than not mean guaranteed laughs, lots of stories, and no inhibitions because friends don’t require impressing. They love you for you, just as you are.
It’s been a month of good friend dates for me, and last week Lemon and I took the opportunity to check out a new-to-us restaurant in Evanston. For those of you that don’t know, Evanston is a charming little town just north of Chicago that houses Northwestern University. I rarely head north to go up there unless for work, but we took the opportunity to visit The Cellar, and we both left full and happy and glad we did.
There are so many great things about The Cellar that I don’t even know where to start. The cozy bistro is welcoming from get-go, with dim lighting, pillowed benches and without any air of pretension. The wine list is seasonal and apparently constantly changing. The perfect any-date atmosphere.
Let’s talk about the food because that’s why we’re all here anyway: the menu is globally eclectic, serving dishes lobster rolls to curry to weiner schnitzel (with spaetzle!), all in small plate form that are just begging to be shared, because nothing can ruin a friend-date or a date-date like food envy. You know I’m right.
We opted for none of the above, but were taken in by the butternut squash gnocchi, chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates, the Philly cheesesteak flatbread and truffle fries (because fries for the table really should always be a thing). Yes, this is a lot of food. Yes, there were only two of us. Yes, we ate almost all of it. What,? It was all ah-mazing. Like I said, no judging on friend dates.
The very helpful and attentive staff steered us in all the right directions and when it came to ordering, but especially with dessert, when we just weren’t allowed to just try one. First, a tale of two donuts: a rum maple bacon and a cocoa nib with blueberry compote. A note on the latter: no matter how much blueberry I slathered on that donut, I couldn’t taste it, but rather it only made the chocolate taste stronger. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. Science is weird and cool.
And finally, I think the star of the night, was the grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, a dessert. It goes like this: pound cake-brie-key lime curd-raspberry jam-whipped cream. Ohmygodyes.
From beginning to end, the evening was fantastic and I can’t wait to go back and eat the things on the menu that I didn’t get to try this time around. If you’re ever in the Chicago area, I highly recommend checking out The Cellar. Or, if you’re in the mood to be a little fancier, check out The Stained Glass, the wine bar next door.
For all of you that live too far and wide to make it to Evanston, I thought I’d throw together my version of that last oh-so-memorable grilled cheese sandwich. We’re starting with a cardamom pound cake, filling it with a thin layer of brie, baking it until gooey (because I just can’t get grilled cheese to come out in a pan- anyone got some advice?) and topping it with some rosemary lemon curd and raspberry jam. And of course, whipped cream, because who are we kidding.
This would be the perfect dessert for any dinner at home, for two or a crowd because it’s pretty easy to assemble and prep ahead of time. Or, if you’re really feeling it, the most decadent breakfast. Plus, it’s so pretty. So romantic. And so perfect for that calendar day with the big red heart.
Make sure you slice the pound cake relatively thin. Otherwise it’s just TOO much.
We’ve already made lemon curd, remember? Recipe + 1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary.
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups + 2 TB all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 TB ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2/3 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 325. Grease and sugar a standard sized loaf pan.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the cardamom, salt, zest and baking powder and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla.
- Alternate adding the flour with the milk, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just until all the ingredients are incorporated, careful to not over-beat.
- Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. This may vary depending on your oven.
- Let cool in the pan about 15 minutes and then turn out on a cooling rack to cool completely.
- 4 thin slices of pound cake
- 2 ounces of brie, divided in half and thinly sliced
- 4 TB lemon curd
- 2 TB raspberry jam
- whipped cream to garnish
- butter, for the pan
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Assemble the grilled cheese sandwiches by placing a thin layer of brie between two slices of pound cake.
- In an oven-safe skillet, add about 1 tsp butter. Once melted, place each sandwich in the pan and let crisp up until slightly golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip over and repeat on the other side.
- Once the sandwich has been toasted on both sides, place the pan in the preheated oven and let bake about 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is melted. You'll be able to see it.
- Remove the sandwiches from the pan, being careful to remember that the pan has been in the oven- don't burn yourself! Garnish each sandwich with a dollop of each curd and jam, and top with whipped cream. Share with those you love.
The Cellar is located at 820 Clark Street, Evanston, IL 60201.
Written after eating so much pizza with Nectarine.