Chicago's Absolute Best Restaurants
Published: May 2009
By Jonathan Gold
A tale of unsurpassed latkes, perfect hazelnut ganache, fruit sushi, foie gras cappuccino, garbage salad, and the most outstanding restaurant to open in America last year. Oh, and hot dogs, real hot dogs.
My parents came from Chicago, and my brothers and I were brought up to believe that practically anything worth having, certainly everything worth eating, existed only in the magic land that lay between the forest preserves and Lake Shore Drive, between Northwestern University and the Indiana border. Until the day he died, my father considered California, where we lived, a culinary desert, a ravished land without deep-dish pizza, without decent corned-beef sandwiches, without a specific kind of sparerib that used to be served at a Rush Street bar called Singapore's. Many of my childhood memories involve long trips around Los Angeles in the family Studebaker in search of an acceptable Chicago-style hot dog. Pop had kind of a one-track mind.
When my mother cooked for company, she'd make the green noodles served at Riccardo's, or the cannelloni she'd eaten at some restaurant up on Clark Street, or the baked alaska made famous at the Pump Room, where she had sold flowers as a teenager. Even her banana cream pie, which I'd always assumed had been passed down from her Southern grandmother, turned out to be a relic of a Chicago cookbook.
So I dreamed of Chicago as a gastronomic wonderland eclipsing Paris, Hong Kong, and Milan, dreamed of soda fountain Green Rivers and black cows, of shrimp de Jonghe and seeded kaiser rolls, of deep-dish pizza and spaghetti joints that happened to serve ribs, of pierogi and hot dogs—real hot dogs!—sometimes clustered three stands to the block. And although few of the restaurants my parents loved best survived beyond the Eisenhower administration, Chicago is still a real good place to eat.
Meat Under the El
Gibsons Steakhouse may have a better wine list, and Morton's inspired a national chain, but Gene & Georgetti (500 N. Franklin St.; 312/527-3718; dinner for two $50) is the essential Chicago steak house, a battered old place under the El with blood-rare strip steaks the size of catcher's mitts, baked potatoes the size of footballs, and the best martinis in the world. Beefy, happy men tuck into huge platters of garbage salad—a time-honored Chicago thing not unlike a great antipasto run through a paper-shredder—and croissant-size shrimp with cocktail sauce. This is also the place to try shrimp de Jonghe, a great, neglected thirties Chicago dish of shrimp sautéed with oil, bread crumbs, and an immoderate quantity of garlic.
Gene & Georgetti has a reputation—not entirely undeserved—for being undemocratic. The men who eat in the elegant main-floor dining room do tend to wear thousand-dollar suits, and suburban guys in Blackhawks jerseys are pretty much shunted upstairs to Siberia. But while Gibsons entertains the likes of Dennis Rodman, Gene & Georgetti is a favorite of Saul Bellow's. Any questions?
Last Night a DJ Saved My Entrée
Milwaukee Avenue as it courses through Wicker Park is an anti-Magnificent Mile, the sort of shiny, gritty, multiculti welter of clubs, posh restaurants, and smoky neon bars that half the urban planners in the world are trying to install in their warehouse districts.
Okno (1332 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773/395-1313; dinner for two $60) lies at the exact nexus of street cred and the Platinum Card. The space is a techno album cover brought to throbbing life: all bright, swooping ovals and space-age chairs, performance-art lighting and subliminally pulsing disco. And for once, the chef, who seems to have been inspired by every culture that might conceivably be represented on a Tricky CD, is as creative as the DJ. Spinach salads are sprinkled with smoked tomatoes and tiny, crisp croutons, dressed with a goat-cheese emulsion. Slabs of pistachio-crusted rack of lamb stand upright and interlaced on a bed of dolma-fortified couscous, like a bizarre tableau out of Francis Bacon. And for dessert, there's fruit "sushi"—Okno's own fruit roll-ups wrapped around bits of rice pudding, garnished with sesame cookies in the shape of chopsticks and marzipan formed into a green lump of "wasabi."
Just down the street is the dark, ultrahip Soul Kitchen (1576 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773/342-9742; dinner for two $50), where chef Monique King has concocted the downtown answer to Nuevo Latino cuisine: the cooking of the New World's black diaspora. Here are country-fried quail with molasses-baked peaches; pecan-crusted catfish with black-eyed peas and collard greens; Herbsaint-inflected shrimp and grits such as no Louisianian has ever dared to make. King's brand of bold, confident African-American cooking could make her the Lauryn Hill of New American cuisine.
At the height of the railroad era, when every transcontinental journey included a layover in Chicago, the Pump Room in the Omni Ambassador East Hotel (1301 N. State Pkwy.; 312/266-0360; dinner for two $100) was the most notorious restaurant in the United States. A watering hole for every celebrity who ever set foot on a train, it was also famous for entrées served on flaming swords. My grandmother ran the flower concession in the hotel for more than 30 years, and I've been hearing about the glories of the Pump Room for as long as I can remember. The vast array of pictures on the handsomely paneled walls—of Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland among hundreds of others, mostly taken in legendary Booth One—can seem as resonant as a family album. The bar is a swell place to sip champagne cocktails and listen to crooners.
Until recently, the Pump Room was as stale as the pound cake in a baked alaska. But new proprietors have spiffed the place up, at a cost of several million dollars, and installed Martial Noguier, a gifted protégé of West Coast chefs Joachim Splichal and Michel Richard. It does sometimes seem incongruous to nibble on expense-account Los Angeles cooking in this most Chicagoan of dining rooms: tidbits of hamachi carpaccio with marinated seaweed, rare duck breast with figs, perfect cubes of hazelnut ganache. And the customers sometimes seem to be the grandparents of the people who hang out at Okno. Still, the Pump Room once again exemplifies Chicago glamour
Just south of the Loop and only 50 years behind the times, Manny's Coffee Shop (1141 S. Jefferson St.; 312/939-2855; lunch for two $18) has been a Chicago fixture since the forties, a bare-bones cafeteria-style delicatessen more haimish by half than the famous delis in Manhattan (not to mention the upstarts in Chicago's own burbs) and militantly quality-obsessed.
Manny's dining room has all the élan of a Marine Corps mess hall, though an autograph from satisfied customer Winston Churchill (a fake) lends the place some "class." But the chicken soup is nonpareil, the latkes unsurpassed, the Friday special of braised short ribs with horseradish more luscious than anything the swells are eating at Everest. Corned beef—you can get pastrami, but corned beef is more of a Chicago thing—is carved right in front of you, as fat or as lean as you'd like it, by wisecracking deli guys who flip briskets around as if they were hotcakes, then pile prosciutto-thin slices of the meat high on solid rye.
"C'mon, c'mon, I don't got all day," barks a counterman, waggling his giant blade at a customer.
"Him?. . . Him?" says another counter guy, winking. "It's all right, buddy. This one's got all day."
Pure Jewish soul.
The first things people will tell you about One Sixty Blue (160 N. Loomis St.; 312/850-0303; dinner for two $120) are that Michael Jordan is a silent partner, which is pretty much true, and that it sits on a deserted block a free throw or two from the place where he used to show up for work. The dining room, designed by Adam Tihany, has the look of a basketball arena: superhigh ceilings with bright but diffuse light, stout posts jutting out of the floor, and glass cutouts at each end of the court-size room that look like abstracted backboards. The tables, chairs, and aisles are actually scaled to basketball players' bodies, which means that anybody under six foot four is probably going to feel a little small. And while I'm pretty sure that the crowd isn't made up exclusively of sports agents and ad execs, it does seem that way sometimes.
One Sixty Blue, however, is no sports bar: like a championship basketball team, Patrick Robertson's cooking is muscular, complicated, and tall. Crisp peekytoe crab "sandwiches" may actually be an original take on the crab cake—the meat is enmeshed in a thin net of grated potato before it's fried, eliminating the need for gooey batters and preserving the delicate vanilla taste of the crab. Vividly fresh minarets of beets and goat cheese seem more like sculpture than salad; meltingly soft roulades of slow-roasted salmon practically vibrate with the flavor of lemon verbena. This may be the single best new restaurant to have opened in America last year.
The Hudson Club (504 N. Wells St.; 312/467-1947; dinner for two $60), a streamlined new place designed to recall the swoosh of a thirties automobile, draws a huge after-work crowd for its impeccable cocktails and a credible lobster-mashed potato "martini" appetizer served in a cocktail glass.
But the restaurant's reason for being is what may be the grooviest wine program in America. A vast machine, as long as a stretch limo, keeps some 100 different bottles fresh. Wines are served in flights—sets of four two-ounce tastes of vintages arranged by grape, by region, or by whimsy. For $9 or so you can sample, say, Syrahs from four countries, or four different producers of Pouilly-Fuisseacute; or champagne—all cleverly designed to make discussions of Australian terroir or malolactic fermentation flow as easily as arguments about movies.
Mexican Haute Dance
At Topolobampo (445 N. Clark St.; 312/661-1434; dinner for two $75), owners Rick and Deann Bayless sometimes seem more concerned about your taking their scholarly brand of Mexican cooking seriously than they are about your having a really good time. The waiters push Tempranillo instead of margaritas, huitlacoche crêpes instead of enchiladas—and you won't find melted cheese on anything. But as much as Chicagoans love the Baylesses' more casual Frontera Grill (445 N. Clark St.; 312/661-1434; dinner for two $70) next door, Topolobampo is generally considered the most serious Mexican restaurant in the United States. And there is a great deal of pleasure in its haute-Mexican roast veal with chipotle peppers and wild mushrooms; grilled elk; and vibrant, soothing soup of puréed Mexican green quelites. If it's on the menu, don't pass up the coconut pie, a simple crust filled with dense, sweet, labor-intensive slivers of fresh coconut.
The broad-shouldered Chicago of the old WPA posters—the massive factories, belching smokestacks, sweat-drenched union men, and lumbering nearness of big rail—exists most visibly just south of the city, in the chemical plants and steel mills of northern Indiana. Set amid heavy industry, Phil Smidt's (1205 N. Calumet Ave., Hammond, Ind.; 773/768-6686; dinner for two $50) is a 75-year-old restaurant near the lakefront, just a stone's throw from the end of the Chicago Skyway.
Sunday dinner here is a Chicago tradition. The menu is simple—frog's legs, lake perch, and nutty-tasting smelt, all simply fried and (except for the perfect frog) drizzled in butter—but everything is exactly what it should be, from crisply uniformed waitresses to the sparkling kidney-bean salad with shaved celery. Even the cottage cheese is somehow special, a notch or two fresher than you've ever tasted. Gooseberry pie is everything a dessert should be, tart and sweet and just rich enough. And if you sit by the window, you can watch the trains rumble by all night.
But of Course . . .
About a zillion miles out of town, smack on a suburban highway in the middle of Wheeling's cheap-seafood district, Le Français (269 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; 847/541-7470; dinner for two $140) could easily be mistaken for a chain restaurant, circa 1972: an oversize Norman cottage with vinyl wallpaper, faux coffered ceilings, and copper pots hanging on the walls. (The person most responsible for this décor, former chef/proprietor Jean Banchet, has been threatening a re-takeover when the restaurant's lease expires this fall.)
The waiters—tuxedoed, hand-wringing old-world types—look and act exactly like the ones who served Charles Boyer in the old movies. The average male customer on a Sunday seems to have endured at least one triple bypass. The wine list, while huge, is even more overpriced than the wine lists in Vegas. Not only is sorbet still served before the main course—a custom abandoned by fancy Parisian restaurants 20 years ago—but it comes in a glistening crystal orchid.
If you do a lot of eating at places like Charlie Trotter's, say, or Jean Georges in New York, Le Français may feel more like a theme park Gourmetland than it does a serious restaurant. But that's only until the food comes: chef Roland Liccione is the real goods. A cupful of foamy mushroom "cappuccino"—stick your spoon straight down and scoop up a bit of molten foie gras at its heart—is nearly as spectacular as the Jol Robuchon dish that inspired it. Sliced rare duck breast, glazed with persimmon and Armagnac, is as soft as butter. Chocolate soufflés are airy as a sigh.
It's almost a Chicago institution, the multicourse, candlelit, three-hour ritual I refer to as the Hundred-Dollar Dinner—see Ambria, Tallgrass, Carlos', Everest, Les Nomades—but of them all, perhaps only the one at Le Français is really worth the dough.
Leader of the Flock
When the dust begins to settle on late-nineties style, the predominant theme, I predict, will turn out to be the passionate recycling of lowbrow mid-century design, which is to say, that of the moment when postmodernism began to explicitly embrace the modern, as in the Wallpaper, Eames-worship thing. And the buzzy Chicago restaurant Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312/715-0708; dinner for two $60), in the new Randolph Street restaurant corridor just west of the Loop, may become as emblematic of the current fin de sicle as, say, La Coupole is of the last one: a stylized Jackie O.-era bus-terminal look, retrofitted for speed, all pale colors, slick surfaces, and the sort of neo-harsh lighting that flatters the young and cheekbony.
Paul Kahan's take on American grill cuisine is as neomodern as his dining room, like a menu from the Four Seasons, circa 1964, given an end-of-the-century twist—and often one ingredient too many. An amuse-gueule might be a thimble-size crab cake with tarragon or a tiny vegetable fritter that splits the difference between a country-club canapeacute; and a pakora. Crisp fillets of local pike that would have passed muster at Chicago's old-line Cape Cod Room come draped over a sort of gooey fruit chutney. Kahan's signature grilled sturgeon on a bed of soft, sweet braised celery root is sprinkled with a small, crunchy dice of dilled celery root, fortified with crisp bits of braised oxtail, and surrounded by a ring of curry oil—this cooking may have Modernist tendencies, but it is by no means minimal. Such delicious, uncomplicated desserts as crêpes stuffed with chocolate mascarpone can actually come as a relief.
Ale Fellows, Well Met
A century-old downtown bastion of schnitzel and sauerbraten, the Berghoff (17 W. Adams St.; 312/427-3170; lunch for two $16) has tons of dark wood, herds of trophy animals, and white-aproned waiters so, um, experienced that they seem to creak when they walk. At lunch, the manly, old-fashioned barroom next door is the place to be, a standing-room buffet-line annex that used to be a men's grill. The food, mostly sandwiches of corned beef or sliced bratwurst, may be just a step or two above what you'd find at a neighborhood Hofbrau, but the house-made draft beers, ales, root beers, and bourbon are renowned—the Berghoff received the very first Illinois liquor license after Prohibition ended—and most of the customers look as if they've been regulars since Ernie Banks played for the Cubs.
Meat and Potatoes (or Bacon and Dumplings)
Lithuanian cooking, or at least Lithuanian cooking in America, takes no prisoners. The national dish, kugelis, is a potato pudding dense enough to stop mortar shells, and the signature potato-starch dumpling, cepelinai, may be elastic enough to qualify as an alternative energy source. A good Lithuanian cook has never seen a dish that a little bacon and sour cream couldn't improve—the food (fortified with a bottle of Lithuanian porter) is perfect ballast for a harsh Chicago winter.
Marquette Park, a tidy bungalow neighborhood southwest of the Loop, has traditionally been the center of Lithuanian-American life in Chicago, and a stronghold of butt steaks and kugelis. But as the community drifted to the western fringes of the city, out by Midway Airport, so did its restaurants. Mabenka (7844 S. Cicero Ave.; 708/423-7679; dinner for two $14), a gleaming, suburban palace of fruit dumplings and grated potatoes, cherry blintzes and Lithuanian sausages—staffed by waitresses in starched native costume—is plain and strange and wonderful, like an outtake from the Small World set at Disneyland that just happens to serve great sauerkraut soup.
Italian beef may be the least immediately lovable of Chicago's culinary specialties, a bland sandwich of thinly sliced beef (invariably from Scala Packing) with gravy and peppers on a soggy bun. And out-of-towners, listening to yet another heated debate between partisans of one beef stand or another, often find themselves wishing they could steer the conversation toward coleslaw, or the Cubs.
Al's (1079 W. Taylor St.; 312/226-4017), a popular beef stand on the short stretch of Taylor Street that still calls itself Little Italy, has an autographed picture of Jimmy Durante, piquant hot-pepper jardiniere, and the undeniable advantage of being directly across the street from Mario's Italian Lemonade, a summer-only Italian ice stand good enough to make other so-called kings of lemon ice seem like pretenders to the throne.
Still, I can't stay away from Mr. Beef on Orleans (666 N. Orleans St.; 312/337-8500), a classic greasy dive with Jay Leno memorabilia on the walls, cooks who compress diphthongs, and long lines of customers who can't help acting like tough guys for the time it takes to nosh a sandwich.
Home, Swede Home
Chicago is among the world's great breakfast towns, from the legendary double-yolk eggs at Lou Mitchell's to enormous soul-food feasts at Army & Lou's, from cheese pierogi at Orbit to satellite-dish-size German apple pancakes at Walker Bros., from peppered bacon at Zinfandel to cheese grits at Wishbone. First among equals is the old-line Swedish-American diner Ann Sather (929 Belmont Ave.; 773/348-2378; breakfast for two $20), famous for ultra-thin Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, lethally caloric cinnamon rolls, Swedish potato sausages, and Swedish potato pancakes with Swedish meatballs on the side. The original location, a few blocks south of Wrigley Field, draws a notoriously diverse crowd, ranging from blue-haired matrons to blue-haired punk rock kids, but I like the branch next door to the Swedish-American Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood (5207 N. Clark St.; 773/271-6677), decorated with paintings out of old Swedish children's books.
Too Rich and Too Thin
If you own an NFL franchise, a Gulfstream IV jet, or a case of '82 Pétrus, Charlie Trotter's (816 W. Armitage Ave.; 773/248-6228; dinner for two $200) may well be your favorite restaurant in the world. A coolly handsome dining room in a Lincoln Park town house, Charlie Trotter's is famous for its multicourse tasting menus, as exquisitely choreographed as a Jerome Robbins entré small, precise fragments of organic game and produce arranged like jewels on enormous white plates are served by waiters who lovingly explain the provenance of each shred of leek.
The wine list is dictionary-size, but most people trust the sommelier's choices for wine by the glass. And while a meal here (there are four set menus that change nightly) may cost a cool hundred clams, tax, tip, wine, and coffee not included, Trotter's virtuosity is unequaled in this part of the country.
His startling juxtapositions of luxury ingredients—a teaspoonful of peekytoe crab, say, garnished with slivered Granny Smith apples; a pickled artichoke heart and a Malpeque oyster, glazed with pungent Lucini olive oil and served on peppery artichoke purée—may be the closest thing in the food world to an infinitely complex Fabergé egg.
Pizza may be Chicago's most famous food, but the hot dog is more emblematic, a living, steaming exemplar of the city's working-class culture. The laws of the Chicago dog were as rigorously taught in my parents' household as the Ten Commandments. A Chicago hot dog must be a slender, Vienna Beefbrand skinless frank, steamed to sort of a medium crunch; never fried, never grilled, never boiled in beer. The dog must be served on a warm, steamed bun, perhaps sprinkled with poppy seeds for a little added flavor, but never so soggy that it falls apart. Mandatory condiments are yellow mustard, freshly chopped onion, and a peculiar sort of bright-green relish that looks as if it might have secondary utility as a love lube for space aliens. If somebody tries to pass off a hot dog with ketchup on it in Chicago, I believe the Cook County charter allows you to shoot that person dead.
Garnishes include—must include—two wedges of unripe tomato, a new-pickle spear that runs the length of the bun, and a hot sport pepper or two leaking spicy vinegar. The final touch is a lashing of celery salt, generally enough of the stuff to sizzle around your fillings, but not so much that you actually sneeze. A Chicago dog is one of the great dishes of American cuisine.
Some people assume this dog has had its day. Famous stands now supplement their menus with chili dogs, fire dogs, and charred Polish dogs with cheese. The food section of the Chicago Tribune seems to favor Lincoln Park's funky late-night Wiener's Circle (2622 N. Clark St.), best known for its charred red-hots and beloved trash-talking countermen. The paper's emeritus dining critic touts the hot dogs at the Billy Goat (430 N. Michigan Ave.), a place more famous for cheeseburgers and the late Mike Royko's patronage. This is a little like discovering that the pope leads Baptist tent revival meetings in his spare time—and that the Jesuits think it's really no big deal.
But the original Byron's (1017 W. Irving Park Rd.) is a raffish traditionalist tucked under the El tracks. Superdawg (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave.), with giant hot dogs dancing on the roof, garnishes its franks (not Vienna Beef brand) with fifties ambiance and carhop service. Gold Coast Dogs (159 N. Wabash Ave.) has exemplary classic hot dogs (as well as Chicago's best cheese fries). Just off the Magnificent Mile, it's the only even passable hot dog within walking distance of downtown hotels.
Still, Fluky's (6821 N. Western Ave.), a cafeteria-style restaurant that was, not incidentally, my dad's high school hangout, continues to serve the best hot dog in Chicago: a steamy thing with a snap not unlike a plucked cello string and a heavenly rush of garlicky juice.
The Dish on Deep-Dish Pizza
There may be as many theories about deep-dish pizza as there are Chicagoans: Pizza must either be ordered when a restaurant is crowded (because the oven temperature will be right) or when the restaurant is deserted (to ensure proper attention to your pie). Sausage must be laid in thick, wide slabs, for heft, or crumbled, to let the heat circulate within the pie. Tomato sauce must be smooth or it must be chunky; a double crust is either essential to the crunch of the pizza or a crime against nature. The only things that almost everyone seems to agree on are that deep-dish pizza takes time—at least 45 minutes—and that it must be baked in a battered black iron pan.
The editors at Chicago magazine are so bored with the pizza debate that they included things like Bosnian flatbread in their last survey. Having revisited most of the famous deep-dish pizzerias myself recently, I can tell you this: Chicago pizza isn't what it used to be.
My first pie, at the dim, fragrant Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio St; 312/321-1000), where Chicago pizza was invented more than half a century ago, was barely warmed through and had a hard, sweet, dry crust that tasted like week-old cake. The pizza at Giordano's (5159 S. Pulaski Rd.; 773/582-7676), swamped with melted cheese, was marginally better, but the vaunted double crust was soggy. Edwardo's famous spinach-pizza soufflé had all the appeal of frozen supermarket lasagne. Gino's East (160 E. Superior St.; 312/943-1124) served a cheesier version of the basic Uno pie, while Lou Malnati's (6649 N. Lincoln Ave.; 847/673-0800) had a meatier, though drier, variation. (I suspect that Chicago pizzas used to contain way more fat in the crust; the flaky crusts I remember from childhood tasted almost as if they'd been fried in oil.)
So I developed a survival plan: If the crust is basically uninteresting, order pizza with lots of stuff on it. And the next two pies I tasted, with everything, at Pizzeria Due (619 N. Wabash Ave.; 312/943-2400), the sister restaurant to Uno, and Malnati's, founded by a longtime employee of Uno, were just fine.
Are These the World's Best Ribs?
What do we mean when we talk about "Chicago ribs"?Are we referring to the soft, bland spareribs at Twin Anchors (1655 N. Sedgwick St.; 312/266-1616), the fragrant Old Town family restaurant that serves as a shrine to both Frank Sinatra (who reputedly loved the place) and the Cubs?Could we mean the barbecue at Biasetti's (1625 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773/281-4442), a dark steak house near Wrigley Field (and the favorite of public-radio phenomenon Ira Glass), with lousy pasta, passable steaks, lounge singers on weekends, and remarkable racks of honey-sweet baby back ribs?Or do we mean—God forbid—the stuff charred to order in back-yard-style kettles at the suburban Weber Grill?
Carson's Ribs (612 N. Wells St.; 312/280-9200), a white-tablecloth chain restaurant that may be as famous for its chopped liver as for its barbecue, has won almost every rib poll ever conducted in Chicago: its sweet, tender slabs of baby-backs, a little crunchy, almost caramelized, are chewier than you might expect from expense-account barbecue. If your definition of barbecue is on the liberal side, you won't find better barbecued chicken than the smoky, allspice-rubbed jerk chicken at the Southside Jamaican restaurant Tropic Island Jerk Chicken (1922 E. 79th St.; 773/978-5375), and there's even a drive-through window.
But Chicago is most notably a world capital of cosmopolitan, intensely spiced African-American barbecue, a style that is to uptown 'cue what Château Lafitte is to watery domestic red. And even among the hundreds of barbecue stands on the Southside, Lem's (311 E. 75th St.; 773/994-2428; take-out only) is just astonishing, a forties shack, all glass and tile, whose tall, rusted chimney puffs hickory smoke into the troposphere. (I wouldn't be surprised if astronauts could smell Lem's from the space shuttle.)
Of course, the ambiance at Lem's is somewhat different from that of Charlie Trotter's. The interior is sheathed in grease-filmed bulletproof glass, and beverages come from a vending machine. The neighbors may not always seem entirely glad to see you. But the spareribs are worth any amount of fuss, falling off the bone in lean, leathery smoke-reddened strips that have almost the chaw of jerky, and the sauce has tempted better men than you and I to gnaw the flesh right off their fingertips.