postcard from honey pie cafe

I had been on the road for two months of intensive equal parts work and personal travel. A reboot was overdue from the long run on the trail and up in the air. I was looking forward to the intentional grounding at home. If you would have told me then, after landing from the last trip, that I would be back on the road to Milwaukee a few days later, I would have promptly said uncle. 

And then... the phone rang. 

My dear friend Julie called the day after I returned to Chicago with the awful news of her dad's very sudden passing. If the news hit me like a brick, it hit her like a tidal wave. Two days later, friends Carl and Nadia's beloved dog Becca died. She was old, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but it was deeply sorrowing nonetheless. She was one of my favorite people ever  -- and she was a dog. 

Immediately, I thought FOOD. I can provide food! Food helps during rough times, right?  I'm so so sorry for your loss. Do you guys need food? I'm sorry. Can I send food? I'm sorry. Food? 

As a chef and restaurant owner, my main goal is to bring people together by connecting them through food. It’s what gives my work focus and purpose. If the food comforts them in times of happiness, chaos, sadness, or simply the day to day ups and downs we all experience, all the better. 

But nobody needed or wanted food this time. So what then? What do you do when someone you love's heart shatters? The only thing I could think of: just be there. 

I texted Nadia happy Becca pictures and memories, and made plans to see her when she was ready. Then I booked a last minute hotel, arranged for a day off work, and headed north to MKE to be with Julie.

I hugged her a lot and played with her kids before and after the service. I listened to her and her family speak about her father and it almost broke my heart. But in the best way you can imagine something like that happening - by being overwhelmed with gratitude to witness so much love. It changed how I thought about things. 

I had a bunch of downtime alone in Milwaukee and didn't know what to do with myself. I got some work done, but it was hard to focus. I guess funerals can have that effect on people. I had no energy or desire to be social, nor did that feel appropriate. I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day. 

Maybe food… is what I needed. 

So I went out and found an old comfort of my own. 

Honey Pie Cafe has been a special place of mine for many years. Because it is a longstanding touchstone to my past, it provides a meaningful setting in the present. I find great comfort in 1) their chicken biscuit pot pie and 2) that no matter what the circumstances are when I come here, no matter what is going on in the world, or where I am in my life -- Honey Pie is always the same to me. 

Maybe the decor shifts a little, or a couple of new items grace the menu, or staff members have come and gone... but its bones are strong, and its soul runs deep. I’d like to believe it is a place that most people would like. It feels like home. 

The food and beverages are consistently good, created from much Wisconsin made or grown product. While they are known for their huge cupcakes, I’m in their dessert game for the brownies. (Side note: if you buy one for your friend’s kids, forget to give it to them, and then find it in your car the next morning -- try not to eat the whole thing for breakfast.) I hadn’t been there in a long time, and was glad to go that day. I sat at the bar, on that quiet sunny late afternoon, and was nourished by the food and spirit of Honey Pie Cafe. 

Sometimes people don't need food when they are hurting. Sometimes they only need you to listen, to hug them, to tell them this sucks, I'm here for you, and we are gonna get through this. Sometimes, you sit next to them and watch them cry out all the tears. Then, once things are empty, we can work on filling them back up. It starts by showing up for the important people in your life. 

It wasn’t under the best conditions, and it certainly wasn’t my intention by any means -- but in showing up for my friend, I ended up also showing up for myself. After all the travel, going to Milwaukee is what gifted me the reboot. Being there for Julie, and a visit to Honey Pie, was what I needed. Well, that… and a little chicken biscuit pot pie. 



postcard from a birthday breakfast

While we all celebrate Honey Butter Fried Chicken’s 2nd birthday during these two current weeks -- today, September 14th, is HBFC's actual birthday. Two years ago today, we opened the doors and the rest, as always, is history.

Today was also the first day in the clear after a marathon six or so weeks of work for me, my co-chef Josh, and our hard working staff. It was the first day that I can remember in recent months that I felt like I could… just breathe. I had nothing on my agenda other than buy new chef shoes. (That, and an afternoon appointment to see if Heather, massage therapist extraordinaire and mender of damaged bodies, could mend my damaged chef hip. TBD on how that works out.)

My former chef shoes were damaged in a basement flood at HBFC last week, on my own birthday no less, so I headed up to Andersonville’s Alamo Shoes to replace them. It’s funny, but it seems that I only get up to Andersonville when I need new chef shoes. And I realized, as I got into my car, the last time I went there was right after the HBFC opening. New chef shoes -- solid bookends to the last two years.

Heading north from Logan Square, I got an unexpected drive up memory lane. The park where I took my dog to play many years ago. The office/warehouse where I worked as a wine sales rep before going to culinary school. Neighborhoods I used to live in. Restaurants I used to eat at. Bars I used to drink at. The people I spent time with in those places. Twenty years in Chicago, seen in flashes as my car passed them by, playing out unexpectedly on a golden sunny fall morning. The Milk Carton Kids streaming, providing the unexpectedly perfect soundtrack. The timing could not have been more meaningful. On the 2nd birthday of my restaurant, arguably the thing that changed everything the most, all the memories of the last two years flooding my mind as well. What thing to behold -- the passage of so much time, revisited in a thirty minute drive.

Armed (footed?) with new shoes and a head full of memories, and finding myself conveniently uptown, I decided to buy myself breakfast at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. It’s a new place for me, as I’ve only known about it for a few months, but I felt the pull to go there today. It's the place my friend Nora took me when she was in the midst of dealing with a cancer diagnosis and the awfulness of going through chemo, and we laughed a lot and talked about so many hard things. It’s also the place where our friends gathered to celebrate when she was done with treatment. It’s a place where life is lived and also honored.

As sentimental as the attachment is, there are other good reasons I like to eat there. Namely, they have INCREDIBLE chilaquiles. Served with roasted plantains, rice and beans, and eggs, the chilaquiles come wrapped in a banana leaf, smothered in salsa verde and with a healthy handful of cotija cheese. And the bread pudding french toast -- indulgent, doused with powdered sugar and orange coulis, but so worth it, even if you don’t typically go for sweets.

The place is quaint but not kitschy, bright but with soft light, comfortable but not homely. It reminds me of one of my favorite breakfast places in the world, but much closer to my house. The vibe is of a small, unpretentious neighborhood joint. Seating is half wooden chairs, half church basementy-type folding chairs. There seems to be a loose deer theme in the wall decor, which I’m curious about. There are flowers and creamers and sugars on the tables, and I like that. I didn’t notice any of the details on previous visits. It’s not often that I take the time to soak a place in, but I’m glad I did today.

I sat quietly and I wrote. I ate delicious chilaquiles. I was grateful for the good food and service, the day free of commitments, the new shoes -- and two year old HBFC, the little restaurant that could that I couldn’t be more proud of.

As it turns out, HBFC gave me a birthday present today. A lovely memory at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club, made on a day full of memories.


Chilaquiles with salsa verde, with a side of charming table settings and church basementy chairs. 

Chilaquiles with salsa verde, with a side of charming table settings and church basementy chairs. 

Postcard from Inside Out

When my friend Bridgette suggested a ladies night out in the form of complimentary movie passes, I jumped in head first without knowing what we were going to see. I so very much love going to see movies. Confession: I’m highly motivated by the popcorn. But also by being transported to another world for a few hours via film. Combine those things with the pleasurable company of fine females I don’t see nearly enough, and I had myself a trifecta winning Monday evening.

The consensus on flick choice was Inside Out. The only knowledge I had about it beforehand was that it is a Pixar production and Amy Poehler is in it. How bad could that be? With a bag of freshly buttered popcorn in hand, I snuggled into a cushy theater seat and prepared to be entertained, animated family movie style.

What a delightful film. You don’t need to be a kid to appreciate its value. It has all the good feels. From the five of us who attended, a resounding ten thumbs up. And yes - for the record - we were the group of 30-something ladies either laughing hysterically, crying silently, or somewhere in between during the entire film. We are comfortable with our wide range of emotions.

Adult take aways below, without spoilers, I promise. That said, don’t read ‘em if you don’t want to know absolutely anything about the movie.

It parallels one of my favorite quotes of all time, Tom Robbins’s “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood". The film sparked memories of both youth and youthful adulthood challenges and triumphs, and encouraged new ways of thinking about how we hold those memories.

We all need big, beautiful memory islands for fantasy, fun, goofiness, interests, loves, and passions. I’m excited for the continued growth of islands, and inspired by the development of future ones -- not just for myself, but for others as well.

Some memories are ok to lose, so you can make room for new ones.

Anger, Fear and Disgust CANNOT run a person. Chaos will ensue and it won’t be even slightly funny like in a Disney movie.

Adolescent boys have the most comical animated fear emotion. Still cracking up about this.

Subconscious can be a scary, dark place. But there’s also stuff in there that is funny. And there’s also stuff in there that can wake you up when you need to be woken up.

As I suspect many others will do, I left the theater with mixed feelings. A small smile with a hint of melancholy. A realization that Joy cannot fully exist without Sadness. Recalling a great essay on the subject that I pledged to reread upon arriving home. Thankful for the night out with friends, for all the people who created that lovely work of film art for our enjoyment, and for all the memories that I still have. Even the sad ones.

Everyone has that one core memory island that holds them together when the others have fallen, or are crumbling, or are feeling a little shaken up. 11 year old Riley’s was heartwarming, and appropriate to the theme of the film. Throughout our lives, our core island might change. But it’s always good to know at any point in time what your strongest island is. Infinite gratitude for my friend island, that keeps me afloat.

As I drove home with the windows down, the cool summer night air streaming in my car, joy and sadness hugged it out up in Christine headquarters. Creating a new core memory -- rooted in friendship, compassion, and love. A shiny orb, in mixed shades of gold and blue.