Chicagoans are lucky enough to have an unlimited amount of restaurants, lounges, roof tops, and bars to choose from. Just when you thought you’ve been to the swankiest joint another one pops up. It’s almost like you need a guide to keep you informed….hmmm….well in steps our June Spotlight feature, food & drink writer, Audarshia Townsend. Audarshia is the editor of Chicagosbestrestaurant.com (a food and drink-focused site highlighting the Windy City’s top restaurants and cocktail lounges). She also writes a monthly column called A’s List, which features where folks should be dining and drinking Right Now. Audarshia gets to highlight the site and local dining attractions every month on WGN Morning News. Her recent segment on must see Chicago Roof Top lounges aired on 5/29/2017. Check it out HERE!
Audarshia is more than qualified to tell us where the hot spots are. She’s been in the food/drink business for over 20 years and is a native Chicagoan (South Side Represent! 🙂 ). As much as Audarshia is passionate about the food and drink industry… it didn’t start off that way. Getting into the food and drink arena was purely accidental. After graduating from college with a degree in Journalism (Magazine, Editing, and Publishing to be exact) Audarshia ventured to New York to begin her career in the early 90’s as an intern at Essence Magazine. There were about eight to ten other interns all vying to be placed in the fashion/beauty sections. Audarshia was assigned the food section and was very disappointed. 🙁 Remember in the early/mid 90’s food/drink wasn’t a huge craze and foodie’s were unheard of. We didn’t have Facebook/Instagram where everyone was showcasing what they ate every second of the day. Nor did we have television shows that catered to Chefs. Food was seen as substance to keep you going….and that was about it.
Audarshia, although disappointed with the department she was assigned to, took the internship working the food section of the magazine at Essence. Her job was to edit recipes, help out and observe in the test kitchen, and call chef’s/celebrities to talk food and drink. After the internship had ended and the reality of New York prices set in….Audarshia decided to move back to Chicago. She took a few media jobs and then ended up at the newspaper, The Defender. At the time Earl Calloway was the entertainment editor. Earl had been at the Defender for more than 15 years. It was known that NO ONE touches Earl’s columns/pages. Audarshia managed to sneak her way onto Earl’s pages. It started off as a column, then half a page, and next thing you know she got her own page in the Defender called “In There” where she discussed what’s going on in Chicago nightlife, parties, DJ’s, etc…
From The Defender the Chicago Tribune came calling and wanted Audarshia to start Metromix. (This is where I get star struck because I LOVED Metromix and used it as my guide through my early 20’s on where to eat and entertainment). Audarshia was one of the two founding editors. Metromix then turned into a show where she was one of the Co-Hosts. Audarshia really found her stride in the food/drink industry and started working alongside restaurant critic Phil Vettel. Phil started letting her write dining pages. Audarshia was very familiar with the clubby stuff. At the time clubs were still places where people danced and mingled and very few were doing bottle service. It was also a time where the culturally significant shows were Sex in the City and The Sopranos. On those shows she noticed the significance of the cocktails, wines, and cuisines and how that was translating over to the main stream. There was a whole retro inspired trend with the cocktails and martini’s that brought us our Apple Tini’s and Cosmopolitans into fashion. Audarshia used these shows to delve deeper into the food scene and bring the relevance to the readers.
All club days must come to an end. 🙂 As Audarshia aged out of the club scene she started hanging out more and more with chef’s and mixologists and followed the trends of their industry to share with the rest of us! Trends such as how the farm to table concept is so popular now. We actually had our sit down interview at Arbor, which is one of her favorite restaurants because of how they are able to make basic food taste great with few, natural, and fresh ingredients. I will agree the food was delicious! We had a tasty meal over great conversation and below I’m highlighting some information I’m sure you will find VERY relevant from our interview. Happy Eating/Drinking! 🙂
Tavi J from Chi@Glance interview with Food and Drink Writer Audarshia Townsend
What are a few of your favorite restaurants?
- Spiaggia – Not as uptight as it used to be. Great cocktail program and awesome Negroni.
- a tavola – Best risotto and gnocchi (They make it in house)
- BlackBird – Awesome contemporary American food
- Arami (Ukranian Village) Great Sushi!
- Dos Urban Cantina – Great place for Mexican food in Logan Square. Owned by former Rick Bayless Chef.
Favorite Hole in the wall?
- Matchbox – If your sitting at the bar people have to squeeze by you. Best Gimlet ever! Whatever drink you order you get a side car. 🙂
What drink do you think is really trendy right now that you enjoy?
Negroni – “I was drinking them before anyone else was drinking them. Bitter and Sweet. It’s red. It’s a perfect blend of Sweet vermouth, gin, bacardi. If you don’t do 3 equal parts it’s not good. It’s the simplest cocktail to make and you shouldn’t be bartending if you can’t.” To get a good Negroni any Italian place should be able to make it and Violet Hour has a pretty good one.
What Chicago neighborhood are we sleeping on that we should be venturing out to and why?
South Side: Bronzeville – A great neighborhood cause of the history, close to downtown, and some great restaurants. Night life and cocktail program has a way to go. People watching is great. Good vibe. Audarshia likes Peaches, Two Fish, and ALL the art galleries. (Bronzeville is like our Harlem) New businesses are coming in like Mariano’s and more Real Estate coming up.
North Side: Lincoln Square – Check out some of these suggestions!
- Aroy Thai – Best Thai in the city! Menu is insane. It’s like a book. Have to go with someone who knows what their doing.
- The Sixth – Fantastic cocktail lounge – same guys that do the Berkshire Room and they just opened Apogee lounge at the top of Dana Hotel. Cocktail program is prenominal! Cocktail price appropriate for neighborhood. Go on off night since it’s always packed and they don’t take reservations.
- Tiny Lounge – Owner also owns Tiny Tavern (Navy Pier) River Walk
- Luella Southern Kitchen Soul Food Focused – and a great owner!
- Artango Steakhouse and Bar ( Argentine) They teach you how to tango. Lots of steak on the menu!
- Elizabeth – Tasting menu only (James Beard)
Why the summer of Chablis? 🙂
You gotta read the article to find out 🙂 http://www.chicagosbestrestaurant.com/articles/as-list-why-im-really-trying-to-make–summerofchablis-happen
What’s your favorite foodie event you look forward to each year?
“Not the actual James Beard awards, but the pre and after parties. I’m Not a ceremony type party.”
Best advice for women or anyone trying to enter into the blog/food industry?
“Follow your passion, but be true to it. If you’re not a good writer – go the photo route. Tighten up your writing. Be out there, networking with right people, be at the right place at the right time. A lot of people aren’t in it for the love of it and you have to be.”
Last and Final Question….Why are you a Chicagoan WE Should know?
“I am a Chicago native, and I’ve made it my business to be the go-to person in the city for the best in dining and drinking. The highs and the lows of what’s hot and happening.”
Agreed! I have learned so many new places I want to try from Audarshia. Make sure to follow her on social media to stay up to date on where to Eat and Drink in Chicago!