Did you know that it is national pizza week? I didn't either. In fact, I wonder if this is an officially sanctioned holiday at all, or if it is more like the Milkshake Mondays and Champagne Thursdays that I like to celebrate.
In any case, most of us don't need any encouragement to eat more pizza, official or not. But if you do, consider it your patriotic duty to partake in one of America's favorite foods this week. To make it easy to participate in this delicious holiday, we've gathered some options for you and arranged them in order of effort required:
Option One: I am too lazy to get up, but I will eat pizza if it is brought to me.
It was love at first sight. As love in the wee hours, in a dive bar, after many, many cheap beers so often is. The slender form, the genial and somewhat plain appearance, the intoxicating whiff of something between the familiar and exotic. Just begging to be taken home -- or better yet, undressed right there on the bar, in front of everyone. Aw yeah. The first time I ever tried a Chicago tamale I just knew: it was the start of a lifelong affair. They're as good for breakfast as for bar food, offer endless variations of flavors and fillings, and fit snugly into one of my very favorite categories of edibles: foods stuffed with other foods. And to clinch it, they're just one one little vowel sound away my last name ("tamal-uh"). Tamales and me, we're meant to be.
So when I learned last year about the Feria del Tamal y el Atole, there was no question I would be in attendance. The fair returns a week from Sunday, moving from the ChiTown Futbol indoor arena to Benito Juarez Community Academy this year -- if it's anything like last year, you'll barely notice you're in a school what with the swirling Mexican dance troupe, the crush of bodies and strollers (so many strollers! It's an emphatically all-ages festival), and tri-folded booth dividers that make the whole thing feel somewhat like the Central and South America section of a Model UN food court. Is there such a thing? (There should be.)
But I've had late-night dive bar tamales, you might protest, what more could possibly be done to make a festival out of masa and filling? So, so much more, my dear friend -- bright red chipotle chicken, venison, spinach, dessert tamales filled with strawberries and cream, patriotic tamales dosed liberally with red and green food coloring, flat open-faced tamales, tamales steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks...over 50 variations in all -- and atole, in everything from chocolate to prune-flavored varieties. (The prune atole was particularly good last year -- warming, sweet, rich tempered with a bit of tang.) If you love a tamale anything like I do, you're probably going to want to go, and go hungry.
Pork, bone marrow and neapolitan pizza are among a few of the things we've seen trending on menus across Chicago. This month, however, Carol Wallack from sola has brought the plum into her Hawaiian and Asian inspired fare.
Yes, the plum.
(Trivia of the day: Mature plum fruit may have a dusty-white coating that gives them a glaucous appearance; this is an epicuticular wax coating and is known as "wax bloom" - not the manufactured pesticide coating you thought it was).
Taking a cue from the beet and goat cheese standard, Carol is mixing the fruit with pea tendrils, greens, spiced walnuts, gorgonzola and a mustard- sweet soy vinaigrette. Not to forgot our fascination with pork, she's adding a liitle sweet and zest to her pork chop with a plum-candied ginger preserve, and lastly for dessert, she's serving an Adzuki Bean cake - ginger plums, jasmine ice cream, orange-plum syrup and a sesame cookie.
This special prix fixe menu lasts for the remainder of June so get your plum fixings while you can. 3868 N. Lincoln Ave.
Don't have enough farm to table meals in your life? On May 23, Uncommon Ground on Devon will host a Slow Food farm dinner. Executive Chef Matthew Holmes will prepare a multi-course (including dessert!) spring menu, not to mention passed appetizers at the rooftop farm reception. Each course will feature a seasonal cocktail prepared with Evanston based FEW Spirits small batch liquors. Proteins will be provided by Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, along with organic ingredients supplied by Harvest Moon. Plus, not only will you enjoy a farm fresh meal, but the a portion of the dinner cost will act as a donation to Slow Food Chicago, which will be using the donation as a proceed to help send local farmers to Terra Madre in Torino, Italy.
To make your reservation, call Uncommon Ground Devon at (773) 465-9801. Reservations are $65 per person. Uncommon Ground Devon is located at 1401 W Devon Ave. Rooftop reception starts at 6pm with dinner served at 7pm.
Good news for Great Plains-ers living in Chicago: later this summer, Lincoln Park will be home to an outpost of the Iowa-based Maid Rite chain, which is is known for its loose meat sandwiches (think a sloppy joe without the tomato-based sauce; add ketchup at your will). And if you want to continue the love of loose meat, the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance hosts an exploration of regional road food delights, among them the Runza, a fast food chain (for which I've professed my love before). Michael Stern of RoadFood.com, a fabulous website for feeding all of your car-based travels, will give a keynote; other programs explore other regional delicacies such as the horseshoe (an open-faced sandwich covered in fries and cheese sauce), culinary tourism, small-town cafe traditions, and supper clubs. In short, it sounds criminal to attend any of the programs on an empty stomach.
"Road Food: Exploring the Midwest One Bite at a Time" runs April 27-29 at Kendall College; admission packages run $10-85.
One doesn't just casually chat at DMK Burger Bar. Communication requires projection, from the diaphragm, over the loud (however good) music. It might feel like work, but I swear, it's worth it.
Not just for the burgers, a speciality of chef and culinary visionary Michael Kornick (of N9NE Steakhouse, Fish Bar and MK), but for one cocktail in particular. It's summer in a glass: Madame Geneva's Rhubarb Delight. Made with Hendricks Gin, lime soda, a tiny spoon of a ginger rhubarb jam and a lime on the rim. 'Cause they keep it classy. To work the fruit in, I order the bison burger, topped with pickled red onions, creamy goat cheese and-- the best part-- a blueberry barbecue sauce.
Simply put, the rhubarb and blueberry together are the proverbial bomb. Get it.
Fish Bar owner, chef Michael Kornick (of MK, DMK Burger Bar), gave you a gift, Chicago. It's called the SatchmoPo' Boy and it demands that you eat it. Delicately fried shrimp and crawfish, roasted garlic aioli, butter pickles and lettuce on perfectly toasted bread, all crying out, "Eat us! We're delicious!"
Wash it down with a Cinnamon Toast: Sailor Jerry-spiced rum and hot apple cider, served in a mason jar with a cinnamon-sugar coated rim.
Fish Bar is located at 2956 North Sheffield and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 12am.
Have you ever actually watched someone eat popcorn? Watch a rational human being become a ravenous animal. It's home and you're comfortable, watching a movie while thoughtlessly stuffing your face, kernel after kernel. What about when you're at the theater? You paid your first month's rent for that movie-goers snack combo #4 and, damn it, you're going to make sure to get your money's worth.
Popcorn can be pretty intoxicating. Once popped, heads perk up like little meerkats in the Kalahari.
"Is someone popping popcorn... anywhere?"
Well, let me tell you, there are ways to make it better still.
Remember how fat makes everything delicious? Remember how everyone (except vegetarians and vegans and folks keeping halal and kosher, and...) loves bacon? Remember how anything cooked in bacon fat is at least 50 percent tastier than before? Well, Revolution Brewery figured it out and jumped on the bacon bandwagon, except they go the extra mile,
not only cooking their popcorn in bacon fat, but adding pieces of delicious, crispy bacon on top, with a veritable snow fall of Parmesan cheese and fried sage leaves. It works. So well.
What can be better than ooey gooey mozzarella smeared on a piece of hearty bread? Ooey gooey mozzarella filled with more mozzarella, cream, and sea salt smeared on a piece of hearty bread.
Its name is Burrata, and you can find in on the menu at Chicago's Ciao Napoli Pizzeria in Logan Square. Burrata originated in Puglia, which is the Achilles' Tendon of Italy, and according to Wikipedia, we can thank the Bianchini farm for introducing it. The name conveniently means, "buttered" in Italian and it spreads just like warm, salty, cheesy, I've-never-seen-anything-like-this-before butter and cheese hybrid. Or hot delicious love. Whichever you prefer. It looks like a big-ass scrambled egg without the yolk, but don't be afraid, who needs presentation when you've got hot delicious love and a glass of Italian red wine to keep you comfort during these cold winter days. This is real foodporn, folks.
Ciao is located conveniently off the Logan Square Blue Line at 2607 N. Milwaukee Ave., and offers traditional Neapolitan fare. When you're done with the Burrata ($9) and a wine list that reminds you that you've been buying wine from Trader Joe's too long (try the Falanghina for $9), go in for the thin crust pizzas. And don't worry, with this light Italian style you can leave your resolutions at home (unless you have a second serving of Burrata, which could be highly tempting).
The RedEye's Ernest Wilkins and the Tribune's Kevin Pang made a viral splash last year with the McRushmore, all of McDonald's main sandwiches slapped together. This year, they've tried to top it by combining four Chicago classics: a burger from Kuma's (the Mastodon, in case you were wondering), a wild game sausage from Hot Doug's, a slice of Lou Malnatti's deep dish pizza and a taco de panza from Big Star. The result ain't pretty:
If your Spanish is a bit rusty or virtually non-existent like mine, then let me translate hormigas culonas for you.
It means cockroach-size insects aka big-butt ants! You may be thinking that this story was posted in this food section by mistake, but--wait for it--in Oiba, Colombia these insects are indeed a delicacy. They are eaten roasted and salted like peanuts. Apparently, first-time big-butt ant eaters are to think of these little darlings as earthy. Their nutty taste and day-old-popcorn texture should be familiar.
To learn more about these ample creatures, click here for an article by John Otis in The Global Post.
This is the mating season for the ants, so if you'll be in Northern Colombia soon, this is the time to show up your foodie friends.
Time Out Kids recently pitted Bill Kim from Urban Belly & Belly Shack against Luis Perea from Bombon and La Lagartija to see who could come up with the better rendition of spaghetti tacos, a dish popularized by the Nickelodeon kids' show "iCarly."
Neither chef chose the straightforward route. Chef Perea opted to make a dessert version, with a sugar-dusted taco shell filled with fresh fruit and buttercream frosting piped to look like spaghetti. Chef Kim decided to turn the taco into more of a pizza, serving an open-faced taco topped with Asian noodles, shrimp, jicama and other veggies, drizzled with two sauces. The tacos were judged by a panel of "iCarly" fans, and in the end the dessert taco won out. Perhaps not such a surprise there; as a 7-year-old judge noted, "kids like sweet stuff."
I'll leave the reviewing of Kanela to others. Not because the new Lakeview "breakfast club" (inhabiting the former home of Orange on Clark) isn't review-worthy, but because my brother happens to be the chef there, and that degree of nepotism seems extreme even for Chicago. Suffice to say, I'm very proud (and you can read a real review and some more details--scroll down!--on your own).
What I will write about is the presence of loukoumades on a Chicago menu. Now, you can get gyros at just about any burger shack from Andersonville to the far South Side; the taramosalata at the Greek Islands is salty and generous; the saganaki flaming up and down Halsted; Tina Fey has endorsed the roasted chicken at the Athenian Room; and good lord, the Greek-style yogurt is practically jumping off the supermarket shelves. My point is, it's not like Greek food isn't well-represented here. But I've never seen loukoumades anywhere in the city -- and there are few things better to chase a steaming pita full of succulent meat and tzatziki than a sticky-sweet ball of lemony fried dough. I'm generally not a fan of the fried pastry products, but this is a doughnut I can get behind. Possibly because I first tried it with the Mediterranean sun on my shoulders, made by a serious man named Stavros or Yannis, with a side of melty Nutella -- just in case the honey-lemon syrup wasn't doing its job to make my teeth ring. But it's so simultaneously light, crispy and chewy, so sweet and tart... I'm sold. At Kanela, bougatsa and coffee frappes are on the menu, but the Greekness of the restaurant name doesn't extend too far into the food itself. Thank goodness it made it to the loukoumades -- and at only $3 for a plate of 5-6 walnut- and cinnamon-dusted fritters, one can only hope it's a trend that will catch on. Opa!
Old-Fashioned Donuts on Michigan and 112th, in the heart of Roseland(photo credit unkown)
Strolling up to Old Fashioned Donuts on the Far South Side immediately fills one up with a sense of nostalgia. It doesn't matter if you spent your entire childhood frequenting the no-frills storefront or if it's your first time there, as the simple sight of large tubs of dough being spilled, spun and rolled out in the large glass windows evokes that sense of youthful excitement in knowing a special treat is coming your way. The fritters, about as big as a hub cap, have a perfect not-too-sweet, not-too-sticky texture, and are filled with chunks of warm apples nestled inside its moist dough. Truly impossible to finish in one serving, the fritters somehow get even better when left to sit and settle. It's almost beyond mere description. The fritters from Old-Fashioned become more than donuts, they become institutions.
Yes, it's possible to get this lofty about an apple fritter this good. Go Far South Side and stock up for the season.
It was a happy day when I discovered the Sausage T. loaf at the Meatloaf Bakery. This seasonal feast is similar to the herby turkey loaf, but mixed with a spicy turkey sausage, and topped with whipped sweet potatoes and three little marshmallows. Combined with the sweet cranberry sauce, this is a meatloaf that should not be missed (and also added to the regular menu!).
2464 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614
I can't say I was surprised yesterday to see the spaghetti tacos gracing the front of the New York Times dining section. I live with an "iCarly" fan. My 10-year-old daughter spent about a month begging me to make the Italo-Mexican treat for dinner, after Carly's older brother Spencer served his sister the tacos for dinner. Every time she requested it, my stomach turned. Finally, one night when the rest of the family was eating spaghetti, I put some taco shells on the table. She tried spaghetti tacos and never asked again. Other kids all of the country, however, have asked again and again--often enough that there are dozens of recipesonline and even a Facebook page devoted to these tacos. The thing that surprised me is the fact that Dan Schneider, the creator of "iCarly" and the spaghetti taco, is married to Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and he's only tried a low-fat version of the tacos. But, he told the Times, he plans to have a spaghetti taco party with the cast soon, where he'll eat the full-fat Spencer creation.
Traditional buffalo wings are a lot of things; they're spicy, they're greasy, they're sloppy, and more often than not they're cheap, so nobody really minds that they're spicy, greasy, and sloppy, especially since they're being soaked in blue cheese dressing. Despite (or perhaps because of) being a no-frills food, people love wings, so one might wonder what would happen if wings were actually prepared with a little more sophistication.
Enter Rockit Bar & Grill's Second Annual WingIT, a week-long celebration of wings where a different specialty gourmet wing is prepared each night. Rockit's WingIT menu includes sauce and dipping side variations inspired by Executive Chef James Gottwald's favorite taste profiles and pairings, as well as his signature Jumbo Chicken Wings.
I moved to Lincoln Square a few months ago after five years in the Ukrainian Village, and while I miss the freshly-baked rye aroma rising from my downstairs neighbors in the old apartment, I've been excited to be so much closer to Devon Street. My recourse for Indian food in the past has consisted mostly of Standard India Restaurant off the Belmont red line stop a few times a year (I still think it's the best buffet south of Rogers Park), or leftover Rajun Cajun a friend would occasionally bring back north from Hyde Park. Once in a blue moon, the long trek would be made to Canada, er, Devon Street (mostly to the now-closed Bahbi's Kitchen) if a car and willing driver could be found. Moving close to the intersection Lincoln and Montrose, I was pleased to realize I was within Grubhub range of some of the good stuff up north -- as well as to see two Indian restaurants within walking distance, one with a snack-friendly menu. But it's been two months since I've moved in, four months since Delhi 6 started offering a well-received snack-centric Indian menu, and sadly now, a few weeks since it's closed up shop in favor of an event catering service, according to its website.
Is there any other sandwich that typifies Chicago as much as the Italian beef? Are there any words more poetic than saying "Sweet Hot Dipped Combo" to your friendly sandwich-maker?
We're going to be on the prowl for the best Beef in the city, visiting as many joints as we possibly can to find that perfect mixture of giardiniera to bread texture to meat juices to... well, overflowing beef.
Recently, as the above photo attests to, we paid a visit to Fontano's Subs on Jackson in the Loop to begin our journey.There was a definite disconnect between the juiciness of the beef and the sogginess of the soft Italian bread, most likely interrupted by the mistakenly placed piece of mozzarella cheese on the bottom of the roll. Beefs should be free to stew in their juices, allowed to destroy the roll it sits on in the process. No cheese please! The beef itself seemed just a tad on the cold side, and could have used a little more kick or time to "cook in its own natural juices" as Fontano's menu states.
I appreciate foods that have been cooked in duck fat, and can't find them very often. When checking out The Duckfat Tavern and Grill's brand new patio, I tried their duckfat fries and have to say, they are the best I've had in Chicago.
The roasted garlic aioli, Mexican pesto and chipotle ketchup dipping sauces were delicious; but I almost preferred the fries on their own. The sweetness from the potato often brought out by cooking them in duckfat, was executed perfectly.
The patio is spacious and boasts daily drink specials, perfect for happy hour. The duck confit quesadillas, crispy duck breast and duck burger are also worth trying.
New Rebozo, the charming Mexican eatery in Oak Park, has been curbing my cravings for years and on my last visit amidst indecision, I learned about their mole sampler. Their homemade tortillas are served with your choice of meat or vegetables and topped with five of their masterpiece moles including: pumpkin (hints of maple), chocolate (cocoa and rose water), hazelnut (brown butter), almond (sweet with hints of cinnamon) and pistachio (salty with hints of shallot), which take a combined 96 hours to prepare. The dish was fantastic and enjoyed with their hand-crafted Patron and agave margaritas, which are large enough to share, but more fun not to.
In addition to the classic Mexican fare, there is always one featured appetizer and entrée presented by Chef Paco, who makes you feel like you're sitting right in his dining room in Puebla, Mexico.