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Bring On The Meat

Brasa Roja rescues the evening with rotisserie wonder.
Tuesday Nov 08, 2005.     By Zinny Fandel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

At first glance, our latest BYOB escapade was a rocky one: After a ridiculous amount of hemming and hawing (deep-dish pizza at home? cold bike ride?) Steamer and I headed way north to a closed restaurant (it was obviously supposed to be open) and capped off our evening by leaving a half-full bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon on the table of our eventual restaurant, forcing me to eat too much chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream once home to try to forget the loss (I didn't).

Not that the forgotten wine hurt our pocketbook much (we were toting a pleasantly drinkable $4.99 bottle) and not that it hurt the evening at all, in truth. Steamer suggested Brasa Roja, which is conveniently located near the Kedzie and Montrose intersection we were biking around like lost geese. Calling it a lucky find is an understatement.

But first, the last rocky element: When we walked in the incredibly casual front, I repeated to Steamer about four times that there was no way this place owned a wine key. Again, worrying for naught: Our bottle was grabbed, replaced a minute later opened with two wine glasses. My fretting about corkscrews didn't prevent me from taking in the basics: rows of rotisserie chickens line the front window, laminated tables sit with faux-calf-skin chairs and a hodge-podge of wind chimes and animal skins serve as decoration. It's taqueria-esque; no need to even break out your best sneaks.

We didn't feel out of place drinking our wine, though, a nod to the undisturbed comfort you quickly settle into. We had grabbed a cheapy bottle at Andy's Fruit Ranch (which has an unexpected aisle of low-price wine), the Barefoot California Cabernet Sauvignon. Though the footprint label didn't do much for me aesthetically, its bevy of "best value" accolades and jammy flavor won out in the end. It was about as fancy as you'd need at an inexpensive Colombian restaurant, and the richness was a fine complement for our hearty meats.

Brasa Roja has no appetizer menu to speak of and just a few side dishes, most of which end up making an appearance on whichever plate you choose. Though there are plenty of fried fish dishes (catfish, red snapper, silver fish), it's the meat that matters here.

I harbor a number of private, probably socially unacceptable dream worlds: The world in which I eat nothing but avocado. Nothing but Mexican maki from Cafe Sushi. Nothing but buttermilk donuts from Dunkin' Donuts (uck, I know). Nothing but...big slabs of meat. And oh, how Brasa Roja obliges.

Though the chicken seemed like its most basic element (and therefore the one to devour), we opted for the half-rotisserie rabbit and char-broiled lamb. Both hefty portions came sided by a mound of white rice, a simple lettuce salad, a so-sweet fried plantain, a potato and cassava, "the potato of the tropics," thick, lightly fried wedges that put French fries to shame.

The meat was superb. Though I expected it all to taste like one big grilled mess, our dishes were incredibly different: the rabbit came out caramel-golden, tender and moist. The lamb was a charcoaled wonder, a bit chewy in all the right places, reminding you that you're eating meat. We had more than our fill for a paltry $20 and left all a-smiles...and without the darn bottle.

Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants.


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