No doubt about it, 2021 was a year of resilience and perseverance for our collection of local eateries. Despite rising food costs, significant labor shortages and customer hesitancy, restaurants in our Eats communities have proven to be adaptive and nimble in the face of extended challenges.

Thanks to passionate community members, resourceful owners and collaborative efforts we have rallied around our restaurants. In response they have kept thing things downright delicious in our little food-focused alcove. 

We know the struggles are not over for our independent eateries, but showing our support is the best way to help them through the long winter. Let’s look ahead with anticipation as we enjoy this look back at eight of our favorite bites this year.

1. Fried Chicken Sandwich from Tom and Lou’s
Drive In, Brookfield

Tom-n-Lou’s Drive In, which opened Feb. 4 at 8819 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield, is currently closed for renovations, but that doesn’t change the fact that we thoroughly enjoyed our fried chicken sandwich there earlier this year. 

The boneless chicken is buttermilk-brined, double-breaded and fried to golden brown. Topped with mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce and onion, this sandwich proved to be a notch above most chicken sandwich offerings.

2. Duck Confit from Babygold Barbecue, Berwyn

Popular pork belly, smoked turkey and brisket are always on the menu at Babygold Barbecue, 6615 W. Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, but plated specials are only available in the dining room. 

The smoked duck confit over dirty couscous we savored during the restaurant’s soft opening brought a refined energy to the regular offerings and was easily a top three dish of 2021. Dine in at the music venue and the menu is sure to take you by surprise.

3. Assorted barks from Fill My Jar, Brookfield

If you are looking for a sweet spin on custom packaging look no further than Fill My Jar, 3726 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield. The shop features a rotating line of 11 handmade barks made from all-natural ingredients. 

Standouts in the “FMJ line” include peanut butter crunch, lemon and coffee bark as well as best-selling English toffee and peppermint barks. All products are made from all-natural ingredients and flavored with top-quality 100-percent natural oils.

 4. Coconut cocktail from Catrina Tequila Bar, Riverside

Eager to share her Latin culture with the community, bar owner Gisela Muñoz, brings distinctive Día de los Muertos spirt to Riverside. The bar is known for serving an array a craft tequila cocktails, but a small yet mighty offering caught our attention. 

No matter if you sip it or shoot it, coconut, lime and tequila packed a delicious punch in this diminutive drink at Catrina Tequila Bar, 34 East Ave.

5. An Old Fashioned from Burger Antics, Brookfield

We are huge fans of the entire menu at Burger Antics (I mean, the Midland Burger is a thing of beauty), but this year we wanted to give a shout out to their cocktail program. After reopening the dining room with strict COVID protocols in place, we paid a visit to the restaurant at 3470 Grand Blvd. in Brookfield 

Dan Velcich whipped up a memorable Old Fashioned. This classic cocktail was expertly prepared with Buffalo Trace, branded ice and Luxardo cherries — practically perfect.

6. Microgreens from Old Gaffer’s Garden,
Berwyn and Riverside

Berwyn resident Holden Wilson helms a garden collective and microgreen farm designed to increase greenspaces in populous areas and making fresh produce more readily available within urban communities. 

Old Gaffers Garden harvests in Riverside in the summer and delivers locally. Their flavorful greens were available at the Oak Park and Riverside farmers markets in 2021 and we are looking forward to enjoying fresh from the garden flavors in 2022.

7. Prohibition style cocktails and spirit flights
at Quincy Street Distillery, Riverside

A longtime favorite of ours, Quincy Street Distillery, 39 E. Quincy Street in Riverside, is known for serving cocktails brimming with vintage charm. 

After the pandemic put a pause on pouring in the tasting room, the bartenders are back in action. Take a moment to slow down and savor a thoughtfully crafted cocktail or spirit flight in their speakeasy.

8. Dr. Fong, appetizers and a show at Chef Shangri-la, North Riverside

The Fong family has been serving Tiki drinks alongside an expansive menu of Chinese fusion creations in a quirky retro atmosphere since 1976. 

No meal is complete at Chef Shangri-la, 7930 26th St. in North Riverside, without Dr. Fong by your side. The recipe for the family namesake cocktail is a closely guarded secret, but it is a “safe” choice because of its lower alcohol content. A whimsical ceramic glass can be purchased to hold the rum-based umbrella drink prized for its citrus and peach flavor.