Out of all the culinary pleasures in life, nothing impresses me more than the simple, aromatic presence of garlic. This is likely due to a tremendous childhood debt I owe to the stuff. My father hated it, but my mother couldn't cook anything without a heavy-handed pass with the McCormick garlic shaker. It didn't take me long to realize that my mother was slyly using the pungent bite of garlic powder to hide from us that she was terrible cook, but it didn't matter: I was hooked on the stuff.
As far as addictions go, garlic seems to be a habit worth forming. Used in ancient times to promote strength and endurance (it was consumed by athletes and soldiers in Greek and Roman civilizations) garlic has since been proven to harbor an enormous amount of medicinal benefits.
Thankfully, my culinary graces aren't quite as dismal as Mom's, but I did inherit the tendency to overdo it on the garlic, which led me to try these incredibly potent plates.
Garlicious Breast at Pick Me Up
In the market for a new favorite sandwich? Look no further than the aptly named Garlicious Breast ($8.50) at Lakeview's hipster haven, Pick Me Up. A grilled chicken breast, marinated in garlicky goodness, gets the full smother treatment with goat cheese and pesto. Choose white bread or the diner's stellar 12-grain, and enjoy with a side of fries, pasta salad or soup. Residual effects of consuming this delicious creation include horrible breath for the rest of the evening, dissatisfaction with any other sandwich and a long future of drunken late-night trips to satisfy your addiction. These minor setbacks are well worth the plunge; garlic has been found to contain antioxidants that protect against free-radicals, so ending an all-night bender at the open-24-hours-on-weekends cafe is actually good for your health.
Patatas Ali-Oli at Cafe Iberico
By far Iberico's most garlic-laden offering, the Patatas Ali-Oli ($4.95) is bound to delight true lovers of the stinking rose. Containing only red potatoes mixed with a garlic-mayonnaise base, this cold tapa is as simple as it gets. The perfect date may likely involve sharing hot little plates of spicy tapas, loosening up with copious quantities of sangria and engaging in seamless hours of witty, flirtatious banter to while away Iberico's lengthy wait. And despite what you may think about its damage to your breath, the wallop of garlic in the cold potato salad should actually improve your date; garlic boasts a longstanding rep as a potent aphrodisiac. It's known to improve blood circulation, boost testosterone and stimulate the production of "nitric oxide synthase," an enzyme essential for the mechanism of erections.
Garlic spread at Bistro 110
Known to ward off demons, werewolves and vampires, the almighty garlic clove doesn't seem to have the same effect on tourists. Quite the opposite actually, as the opening ceremony to a meal at Bistro 110 is a major boon to Magnificent Mile visitors-in-the-know. The requisite pre-meal bread comes with a gooey bulb of oven-roasted garlic; heavy on the olive oil, the cloves soften just enough to spread onto bread like butter, proof positive that sometimes the best things in life are free (and smelly). All that folklore about garlic's ability to protect from evil beings is believed to stem from the tremendous antibiotic properties of this mighty plant: Its antibacterial, antiparasitic effects are strong enough to get rid of infections. Championed by 19th-century French chemist Louis Pasteur and used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during both World Wars, garlic is most useful as an antibiotic because our bodies don't build up a resistance to it.
Garlic fries at Candlelite Chicago
Finding a neighborhood pizza parlor that's worthy of your patronage is not always an easy feat, but those on the Far-North Side flock to Candlelite. This Rogers Park mainstay has an inspired beer selection, a mean crust recipe and a comfy ambiance, but the people come back for the garlic fries ($2.95). Thin-cut potatoes wearing a slick of olive oil and weighted down with absurd amounts of garlic, these babies have a fiercely loyal following. Fans raised hell on the food forums a few years back when the recipe fluctuated, proving that it's never a good idea to mess with a mob's appetizer-of-choice. So how do you justify gorging on a greasy pile of Candlelite's signature item? Garlic happens to be a superfood when it comes to fighting LDL cholesterol (that's the really bad stuff), maintaining a healthy heart and even losing weight. Does that mean these fries are good for you? Don't be silly. They're fries. But at least now you have some fodder to rationalize that second order.