Chicago Boys Will Make Your Meal ‘Hearty’

Hearty Boys' Steve McDonaugh pairs his mixology genius with Dan Smith's cooking wizardry

Michelle Roe Restaurants 0 Comments


If Steve McDonaugh lived in California, he says, “I would promise I would plant a lemon tree.”

A great choice for fresh fruit produce given that the talented mixologist is fond of citrus garnish and flavor. “My favorite tool would be my citrus squeezer,” he says. “I would be lost without it. It gets me through cocktails much faster.”

McDonaugh is the “drink master” to partner Dan Smith’s cooking wizardry in their Chicago-based catering company, The Hearty Boys Co. The duo will appear at the sixth annual Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, April 8-10, at the Gardens on El Paseo in Palm Desert.

The Hearty Boys are known for their lively spirits and comfort food served with great panache. “Our whole point of view is making it easy, making guests comfortable and creating food with flavor. If I can create conversation with food then I have thrown a successful party,” McDonaugh says.

Steve’s Party Throwing Secrets:

• “It’s about being prepared… so that when the party’s going on, you can enjoy yourself. Think about what things that can you make ahead of time.”

• “If people ask if they can help…say yes!

• “Most important: Once a party starts, it becomes it’s own animal. You have to roll with it. If you try to stick with a timeline or control it, you will set yourself up for disaster and you will make everyone tense.”

In addition to their sought after catering business and their wildly successful experience with a two-year pop-up restaurant, “SpritzBurger” (established with pastry chef partner, Gale Gand) the couple has charmed the culinary scene with their Food Network show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, and their subsequent cookbooks:

• Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook

The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from The Hearty Boys

At Palm Desert Food & Wine, The Hearty Boys will demonstrate their skills and signing their books. “I’ll be serving something summery (paired with Dan’s Juniper Cured Salmon on Irish soda bread). I am playing with a ginger beer and Hendricks gin for cocktails with a basil buck. A lemon basil gin that’s a yummy bright version of a highball… perfect when you are by the pool.  I’ll also share my “Desert Healer” (paired with Dan’s Pork and Apple recipe).  It’s one of my summer, warm weather, go-to, cocktails. Refreshing and simple,”   says McDonaugh says.

McDonaugh is also looking forward to getting his hands on some fresh produce, adding, “Anytime you are in California and you have access to year round produce… it makes a huge difference. Right now, in Chicago, the first sign of food coming back is ramps (known as wild leek, this garlic/onion is oft the first green vegetable that comes up in Spring in parts of North America). We are desperate to find something fresh and green. California is always so lovely and it’s so much more fun when you can find seasonal, fresh and local.”

Sixth annual Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, April 8-10, located at The Gardens on El Paseo (under the tent on the West side upper level parking deck). Tickets: www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com

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Recipe courtesy of The Hearty Boys

For the Salmon:

1 side Atlantic salmon (2 ½ -3 lbs) skin on, all bones removed
1 cup sugar
1 cup Kosher salt
¼ cup gin
2 tablespoons  juniper berries, ground in spice grinder
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
For the Sodabread:
1 cup oatmeal
3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 ½ cups buttermilk
For the Toppings:
Pickled grapes :
25 red seedless grapes
2 cups white vinegar
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons salt


Sour cream
Fennel fronds

For the salmon:

Lay out double thickness of film and place the salmon on top, skin side down. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl until the salt and sugar is the consistency of wet sand. Spread evenly over the salmon and wrap tightly in the film. Place the salmon onto a baking sheet, place another baking sheet on top and weigh down with several bricks. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 days.
When ready to serve unwrap the fish and rinse under cold water to remove the excess salt and sugar. Pat dry and slice thinly.

For the soda bread:

Pulse the oatmeal in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add to a large bowl along with the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and caraway. Stir in the buttermilk and mix until well combined. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and shape each piece into a baguette shape measuring 1 ½” in diameter. Place all on a large baking sheet and bake in the middle of a 375 degree oven for 20 – 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and begins to split. Remove from the oven and let cool. Wrap tightly in film – it slices better the next day.

For the grapes:

Slice each grape into 1/8” coins and place in a plastic sealable container
Pour the vinegar into a saucepan and place over high heat. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Once the sugar has dissolved remove from the heat and let come to room temperature. Pour over the grapes, seal the container and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 1 week

To assemble:

Slice the sodabread into 1/4” pieces. Place a folded piece of salmon on top of each piece. Garnish with a small dollop od sour cream, one pickled grape slice and a fresh fennel frond.


I first experienced the Desert Healer on a frigid February evening at home In Chicago (research and development is a hellish process).  My first thought was how perfectly refreshing it will be this summer on the patio. My second thought was that my patio is currently buried under 8 inches of snow and doom doom doom. Chicago winters notwithstanding, this is just about the perfect warm weather cocktail; juicy but not too sweet and elevated by the spicy kick of the Ginger Beer.

Ginger Beer should also be kept around the house and added to Lager as a Shandygraff, to Gosling’s Black Seal Rum as a Dark and Stormy, or to Rye for just plain deliciousness.  My preferred brand is Barritt’s from Bermuda.

1.5 ounces Gin
.5 ounce Cherry Heering
1.5 ounce Orange Juice
Ginger Beer

Combine the Gin, Cherry Heering and OJ in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice, top with Ginger Beer (about 3 – 4 ounces), and serve ungarnished*.

*I like the uncluttered simplicity of having this drink ungarnished with your feet up on a patio chair; but with a name that evokes escape from searing desert heat, I wouldn’t fault you for breaking out the little paper umbrellas.

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