WTTW's 'Check, Please!' returns Friday highlighting more Chicago and suburban restaurants
Alpana Singh was helping her niece in the kitchen while she talked about the 19th season of WTTW's venerable restaurant review series, "Check, Please!," which debuts Friday, Oct. 25.
Multi-tasking is kind of Singh's thing. Television show host is merely one of those things that have brought her renown besides being an esteemed sommelier, a noted author, a successful restaurateur and an American cheese devotee.
"What can you not do with American cheese?" she offered as an explanation to a somewhat incredulous response about what she uses for grilled cheese sandwiches. She also dips her grilled cheese into Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce.
The locally produced barbecue sauce is a key, must-have staple in her refrigerator, along with Hellman's mayonnaise, sriracha and ketchup. Everyone has their favorites, she said, which is the point of her show as well. Singh believes the success of "Check, Please!" is largely due to the show's guests and their adoration of a particular restaurant.
"This is often their absolute favorite restaurant and the show allows them to express themselves in an authentic and honest way, so when you're talking with passion about something you love, or even didn't love, you're expressing a particular vulnerability," Singh said. "And as humans we're drawn to that authenticity."
Once chiefly centered on the culinary delights of Chicago, the show has steadily branched out to the suburbs over the years. This year will be no different, Singh said.
One of the first episodes of this season will feature Quilnarnia, a Polish restaurant in Mount Prospect, producers said. It joins the likes of Arlington Heights' Passero, Mundelein's Mambo Italiano, Algonquin's Montarra Grill, Naperville's Meson Sabika, Geneva's Niche and others as part of the show's ever-expanding roster of featured suburban restaurants.
Season 19 of "Check, Please!" begins at 8 p.m. Friday with reviews of restaurants in Evanston and the River North neighborhood in Chicago, as well as the show's first trip to a coffeehouse.
"There's always an effort to make sure we have good representation from where the viewership is and producers make a concerted effort to include many suburban restaurants," Singh said. "There is definitely that pride that people in the suburbs have for their restaurants, and many of our guests from the city are pleasantly surprised and will tell us they are glad we got them out of their comfort zone when they visit these suburban places."
Singh said anyone looking for suburbs with great restaurant scenes should check out Naperville first. Singh called it a "microcosm of Chicago restaurants."
She also suggested Geneva, where the downtown food scene has blossomed in recent years.
"Downtown Geneva is super cute and it's such a nice little day trip," she said.
As for trends in dining, Singh said Indian food is having "its moment."
"You're going to start seeing Indian ingredients take over," she explained. "And you're going to start seeing a lot more restaurants that are personal and telling a story."
Singh said she's tempted to say that shishito peppers have seen their moment pass, but then admits she'd still order them.
"And we're not ready to give up on the beet either," she said. "But everyone is rolling their eyes at anything cauliflower."
And don't get her started about pretzel buns on hamburgers.
"I have some very strong thoughts about pretzel buns," she warned. "I don't want the bun to be the overpowering taste when I bite into a hamburger. I'm there for the meat."