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Random Thu Nov 15 2007

Raindrops on Roses and Deep-Fried Cheese...

Dairy is one of my favorite things. Deep-fried dairy sends me over the edge. As a transplant from our cow-mongering neighbors to the north, I've always appreciated Chicago's taste for the fermented curd. And while cheese palaces like Pastoral's new downtown shop warm my heart, sometimes I'd just rather clog it with breading and deep-fat frying. Enter the cheese curd, Wisconsin's gift to hearty eaters and cardiologists everywhere.

Usually difficult to find outside the borders of my homeland, there are a few Chicago enclaves that make at least an attempt at deep-fried cheese curds, though they're often of the sadly sub-par fresh-from-the-freezer variety. (And mozzarella sticks do not count. Period.) So the surprise of tucking into a truly well-crafted basket of curds at SmallBar - Drive Thru's apparent bar of the week - last night was both delicious and noteworthy. Details, descriptions and a few more local purveyors below the fold.

At this point, tantalized or no dear reader, it may still be unclear what precisely a cheese curd is. Basically, it's a nugget of baby cheese denied the chance of becoming a big grown up cheese relatively early in the process of production. Cheese comes out of the careful treatment milk with enzymes to create a specific kind of curdling, and then stirring, pressing and aging of those curdled pieces. When everything's still coming together, it's curds and whey (sound familiar?). Impatient dairy farmers apparently decided to just fish a few curds out and snack while they were waiting for the final product, and some fool with a deep fat fryer and some extra shore lunch breading just got a little carried away. These are my people.

Anyway, to find a good curd, one often has no other recourse than a county fair, where the pace of serving the demanding masses calls for only the freshest preparation. SmallBar seemed to keep the process in house at least, with what seemed to be a largely homemade basket. The breading was light but flavorful, a dark and peppery breadcrumb based affair, the cheese was perfectly melted and obviously fresh, and the curds came with a spicy raspberry dipping sauce that made me sheepishly re-cap the ketchup bottle. There was also some parsley tossed in with the curds, an oddly classy touch for what is essentially still a basket of deep-fried cheese. In any case, it was enough for me to upgrade SmallBar from "place I'd never been before" to "new favorite bar." Amen.

There aren't too many other places to find a decent cheese curd in the city, but before you pile in the van for a trip up to Madison, you have a few options:

Will's Northwoods Inn
I'm a relative newcomer to this bar on the edge of Lakeview, but it lives up to its name in style with plenty of taxidermy decorating the walls and the most boisterous Packers viewing crowd south of Kenosha. Look for the giant moose outside, and look forward to plates of free brats, burgers, and yes, curds on game days. The last time I was there, a woman with pointy shoes crushed my foot, immediately apologized and offered to buy me a beer. It was weird. And they're all that nice, especially if you're wearing green and gold.

Kroll's South Loop
American classics with a heavy-hand towards grilling abound at this South Side spot. The founders trace their roots back to Green Bay, and cheese curds are available as part of a finger food mix and match.

Oberweis Dairy
Not technically a spot, but the local dairy offers curds in some of its retail locations, as well as its through online ordering. Be warned, they offer cheese curds in a "ranch" flavor. That is not kosher in the homeland. Keep it real, please, and order the regular variety.

 
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Meghan / November 15, 2007 5:45 PM

Wow. I had no idea cheese curds were available at SmallBar. My heart has been quite happy that I've only indulged in these bites of heaven on trips to Wisconsin (every single trip to Wisconsin), but now this!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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