Arroz Y Gandules

What are arroz y gandules and why are you writing about them? Arroz Y Gandules is a Puerto Rican dish commonly made at Christmas time, basically it's rice and beans. During the holidays my mother always made arroz y gandules to celebrate my father's Puerto Rican heritage even though she was not from Puerto Rico, and had only visited a few times. My mother was a fantastic cook, and always wanted to make everyone happy, so she made Puerto Rican food for my father, and "regular" American food for us and anybody else who was joining us. So there were tostones ( fried crispy green plantains) , arroz y gandules, pernil ( roast pork shoulder), and mashed potatoes, a turkey, stuffing, canned cranberry, you name it. My mother would get up before daylight to start cooking, I can still see her standing at the stove Sanka in hand ( it was the seventies). It's the holiday season and arroz y gandules is on my mind, it was the first thing I asked my mother how to make, this was way before becoming a chef. She didn't have a recipe and even laughed at me. She had learned how to make it from my paternal grandmother on one her first visits to Puerto Rico, my mother was also a natural cook, and rarely if ever kept recipes.  She of course put her own spin on it, but the components were always the same, sofrito ( peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes), lard infused with annatto seed, usually pork of some kind, rice, gandules ( pigeon peas) and olives ( always goya). I usually make it around this time just to remind myself of where I came from. If you want a recipe drop me an email, I can probably throw one together. 

Photo by InkkStudios/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by InkkStudios/iStock / Getty Images

Lamb chops ala plancha

Recently we added a Moroccan style lamb dish to the menu and is proving to be very popular. The dish was inspired by another restaurant in London called Morito. The owners there were inspired by a trip to Morocco and a traditional lamb dish, lamb mechoui. Traditionally braised lamb shoulder rubbed with spices, usually paprika and cumin. They added these spices to much smaller and faster cooking lamb chops for a quick tapa. I was inspired by the fact that something so simple could be so good and satisfying. I tweaked their recipe somewhat and added espelette pepper to marinade for more of a spicy kick. Espelette pepper is a common spice from the Basque region of Spain that has a nice gentle heat. I kept the cumin, and smoked paprika and garnished with lemon and olive oil. Searing the lamb on the flat top really intensifies the spices and a little lemon and olive oil finish really brings needed acidity and fat. These are really delicious and are one of those dishes I really get excited about, simple yet packed with flavor. Next time you are in let me know what you think or if you want the recipe for the marinade drop me a line   

Fall is here.


" Autumn wins you best by this its mute  appeal to sympathy for its decay. " 

--Robert Browning

Fall is my favorite time of year without a doubt. The cool nights and windy days comfort me like an old baggy sweater. The first thing that comes to mind is apples. Roasted apples, apple pie, apple cider, apple brandy, or simlpy sliced raw and tossed with some nuts and cheese in a salad. Squash, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, greens, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, are all starting to emerge from summer's ending heat. At Vera we are working on some new fall dishes, simple and straightforward as ever, yet deliscious as well. We will be changing the menu soon to reflect the season, oxtails braised with rioja, served with butternut squash puree, or maybe roasted brussel sprouts with anchovy vinaigrette, perhaps a beet salad with whipped feta cheese, all might make an appearance .  We will be tweaking and tasting all week and if you come in this week you will probably get an advance peek.  As always if there are any questions or anything I can help you with  my email is and thank you.




What is Vera?

What kind of restaurant is Vera? Maybe I should talk about what Vera isn't.  Vera is a small independent, family run restaurant/business. We are not part of a restaurant group, or chain, or franchise. Our resources are limited. We don't have fancy kitchen equipment. We don't have a cool modern design. We don't have a huge wine list with vertical listings of hard to get vintages. We don't have a big PR/marketing firm. I could go on about all the things we can't afford or things that are just not possible in a small independent restaurant. But what do we have? 


We have heart and soul. We have passion and enthusiasm.  We have a burining desire to make our guests happy with great service and delicious food prepared simply with no pretense. We have a small but carefully and lovingly put together wine list. Vera is our home. We spend more time at Vera than our home and we don't mind because it allows us to do what we love.  Recently we had a guest comment that as many times as they had been to Vera not once did they feel like they were in a restaurant,  they felt like they were in our home. That was the biggest compliment we could have ever received.  

We wanted to create a place where people could enjoy a nice dinner, enjoy each others company, and feel like they mattered. Remember those restaurants? It seems like a lot of them are going away. 

Vera is not trendy, or cool, I suppose. But we understand the meaning of hospitality.  We put the guests needs ahead of our own. We know that there are so many great restaurants in Chicago, so many options, and are grateful for each and every person that walks through our door. 


It's strawberry time here at Vera. We had our first delivery of strawberries this year from our friends at Mick Klug farm in St. Joseph Michigan. This year we are combing them with rhubarb for a somewhat non authentic but tasty version of an empanada. The filling is cream cheese, strawberries, and rhubarb jam we make ourselves. After the empanada is baked to a golden brown it is topped with more strawberries marinated with lemon, sugar, and oloroso sherry.  If you want the recipe just drop me a line, It's fairly simple but packs a wollop. 

It's time for..... Asparagus!

It's that time of year again, asparagus season has started. Every year we are excited for that first shipment of asparagus from Mick Klug farms in St. Joseph Michigan. I have been using Mick Klug asparagus for a long time and really don't like to use anything else, although I have on occasion. But the difference between Mick's asparagus and commodity asparagus is noticeable. Mick's asparagus is sweeter, firmer, and just plain delicious. This year, we are keeping it simple, cooking it on the flattop, and serving it with romesco sauce, manchego cheese, and topping it with a farm fresh egg. 

Let us help

When I started cooking i almost 30 years ago one of my primary goals, and still is, to fundamentally make people happy. Now as a chef/owner I see how important this is to keep our customers happy but also to engage in hospitality outside of the kitchen. One of my goals has always been to have the type of place where people come to dine because of the experience itself, not just the food and wine, but also warm service and a cozy and relaxed environment. Lately I have been thinking about how to extend the hospitality of Vera outside of the usual ways. So one of the things that occured to me was giving people the ability to ask whatever question they want, related to food or wine and I or my wife Elizabeth would do our best to answer you, no strings attached. I'm far from an expert on anything but have been cooking quite a long time and have learned quite a bit in that time. Elizabeth is also an award winning sommelier that also shares a passion for all things food and wine related. So if there is a question you have regarding food, cooking, recipes, whatever, feel free to shoot me an email and I will do my best to get you an answer within a day. Whether it's where to get that hard to find ingredient or how to make paella or what wine to drink with barbecue, all you have to do is ask. If you have any questions about our menu or want recipes don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Mark Mendez