Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bonci

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

I know you have all been patiently waiting for my thoughts on Bonci. So I thought I better feed you them now. Bonci is one of Rome's most famous pizzerias and they recently opened their first location outside of Rome right here in Chicago. Located on Sangamon off Randolph. Parking isn't that bad.

Roman Favorite now found Chicago 

So for those who have never eaten pizza in Rome they have a style all their own. It's similar to bakery pizza in that they come cut in different shapes and sizes depending on how much you want. It's sold by the weight. Bonci is well known for their eye popping toppings and also the wonderful dough that holds them. It's uniquely Roman and one of those things that people who spend time in Rome yearn for upon returning home. While there was tons of hype with it's opening I'm happy to say it's real.

a peek inside 

I visited Bonci on back to back to back days. So that's how I came to know I liked it. There's so many places I want to try it's rare for me to go back somewhere so fast but bc they have so many different topping options the choices are endless as far as a single visit goes. Bonci cuts their pieces in rectangular shapes like those seen below. To my knowledge that's as small of a piece as you can get. After it's cut (with scissors) and weighed it's put in the oven for 5 minutes before coming out and getting sliced into squares. Each slice equals four squares and will cost you about $4. I would say you need at least two to make a lunch. Up to now I would say I've tried about 7-8 different types.

Potato (L) Arrabitta (R)

Over on Instagram and in actual reviews I read there was lots of praise for the potato pie. I thought it was good but the potatoes were pretty plain. Though as others have pointed out this is all about the dough which is extremely airy and also very crunchy. It's addictive as my back to back visits show.

 Nduja, Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts

My only complaint about this place is the fact that most of the toppings taste the same. I understand it's all about what's below them but I didn't notice much difference in taste from a spicy eggplant option and others with just vegetable toppings. The exception is any piece with nduja on it. The pepperoni spread has become uber popular over the last five years and never have I seen it paired better than with the dough of Bonci. One specific piece I highly recommend is the one seen above. All in all this place is a great addition to the city's dining scene. Add it to array of area lunch options.

Spicy Eggplant / Nduja with Mushrooms

Bonci
161 N Sangamon St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 243-4016
Website

Monday, October 16, 2017

Roxy Kabab

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Middle Eastern in Da Burbs

If you missed last weeks issue of the Chicago Reader you should make an attempt to check it out. The cover story is on immigrants and food and my guy Mike Sula found what looks to be like yet another gem. I've said this before and I'll say it again America without immigrants is a pretty boring place. Nowhere does that statement hold truer than when it comes to food. The food options in are cities metropolises are unmatched when it comes to international flavor. So today I wanted to tag along with the folks at Reader and feature a fantastic immigrant owned place we recently ate at.

Locals Favorite in Franklin Park 

Typically when one thinks of great Middle Eastern food in Chicago the city's Southwest Suburbs come to mind. For instance Bridgeview is a hot spot for Middle Eastern grub. However something I noticed of late in Franklin Park and a few other towns around O'Hare is a boom in the opening of Middle Eastern spots. There's a few I'm looking to check out but Roxy Kabab was the first one due to a handful of glowing reviews. I dont care what Bourdain and Zimmerman say I still think Yelp is the best tool for finding little mom and pop spots. This place might not have 500 reviews but the 7 or so that were on there were enthusiastic about it's quality. There's also mentions of this place being Syrian owned. I had wanted to ask but the guys were hanging out at the bar after serving us.

Plate of Hummus (free with $20 purchase)

Roxy Kabab is connected to a local watering hole. Both the bar and the restaurant are pretty bare bones. For those that have dined at Athenian Room and or Glascott's it's a similar setup. The guy taking our order was nice enough to point out that bc we spent $20 on both a mixed grill plate as well as a shawarma combo we were welcome to free hummus or falafel. The hummus was really smooth and while I cant claim to be an expert in this dish I will say it really hit the spot. It was seasoned well.

Mixed Grill Plate

The mixed grill plate consisted of a beef kebab as well as chicken and some beef shawarma. I didn't realize that we ordered beef shawarma twice but neither of us were complaining as this was the best damn beef shawarma I've ever come across. Anywhere. It's not like I've been to the Middle East but I've ate my way around Dearborn, MI and never came across beef shawarma so perfect. Usually it's slightly chewy and somewhat off in taste but this stuff was as fresh as it gets and also seasoned to perfection. Everything else was pretty good but that beef shawarma is what I'll be back for.

Shawarma Combo Plate

Roxy Kabab
9739 Franklin Ave
Franklin Park, IL 60131
(847) 349-9760

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jr's Red Hots

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

When Sam's Hot Dogs on Armitage closed it looked like it was going to be the end of an era. The corner where it sits has had a hot dog stand forever. With the way the neighborhood keeps going it seemed like it's closing would make way for more condos or maybe a mattress store. So when I heard that it was bought by the owner of of the taco shop across the corner I was happy to learn that it would stay a hot dog stand. The owner bought it for the son who fixed it up and changed names.

Newly Opened in Bucktown

Well I really like what they did with it. Sam's was cool in that classic sort of way but the dogs were skinless and the crinkle cut fries were always mushy. As long as the folks at Jr's could improve upon that they would improve upon the stand. And that's what they did. They now serve a 6/1? natural casing Vienna Beef wiener and it comes with fresh cut fries. Immediately making it a legit spot for a Chicago dog in the dragged thru the garden style. Extra points for outdoor seating in the summer.

Chicago Dog with Everything at Jr's Hot Dogs

Jr's has a small menu but not as small as Sam's used to have. Aside from hot dogs and Polish sausage they also offer chicken sandwiches and burgers. I thought the burger was good in part bc it was a char-grilled burger but it wasn't anything to get to excited about. Thus I'll stick with the hot dogs. I've driven by and seen aguas frescas (Mexican Water Juice) for sale on the sidewalk and that's another added bonus to this place. I was however kind of hoping they incorporated a Mexican Danger Dog onto the menu, nonetheless this is yet another hot dog stand worth stopping at for a hot dog.

Char-Burger at Jr's 

Jr's Red Hots
2345 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 666-5444

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Yummy Yummy Noodles

-Grubbing in Chicago
Noodle Soup in Chinatown

To get an idea of Chinatown Chicago's economic boom take a look at a place like Yummy Yummy Noodles. These people started out in the basement at Richland Center and worked their way into a B&M located just off Wentworth with a side entrance on 23rd. They're not the first place to graduate so to say. I did visit Yummy Yummy once when it was in the food court but it wasn't until they moved that it found a place in my rotation. With weather being crap of late it's time to welcome them back.

Locals Favorite in Chinatown 

I've been to yummy Yummy a handful of times but I'm by no means well versed in their menu. I haven't been able to get past the noodle soups. They have a long list of options and you can choose which type of noodles you like. My favorite is probably the spicy beef brisket made with rice noodles but they have so much more on the menu. Another option that I really enjoy is their wonton noodle soup. This isn't a dish that I've gone around trying bc I think they do a fine job and it's cost is less than a value meal at McDonald's. Nothing special as far as prep but the wontons are delicate and delicious. Meanwhile noodles in broth always hits the spot for me. Especially on a cold rainy day.

Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup 

Yummy Yummy Noodles
2334 S Wentworth Ave #105
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 842-9880
Website

Monday, October 9, 2017

ArePA George

-Grubbing in Chicago
Colombian Food Takes Off

There's been chatter about 2017 being a down year for food in Chicago. Not when it comes to the mom and pop spots. There's never a down year for them as there's always something both new and delicious for those willing to find it. Take Arepa George for example. It sits on Kedzie just south of North avenue across the street from Humbolt Park. When I first saw it I knew I would be stopping by.

Newly Opened in Humboldt Park 

My first visit in was for some empanadas and those would seal the deal for me as far as a return visit goes. These are currently my favorite empanadas in Chicago. Colombian empanadas are traditionally made by filling little pockets of dough with meat (chicken / beef) and securing them before frying. They tend to be small and are great for a quick snack. What I love about Arepa George's empanadas aside from the fact the fillings are delicious is the practice of frying them to order. You wont see these sitting in a display case ready to be ate. I love the option with shredded beef and mashed potatoes.

Empanadas at Arepa George 

The young guy behind this place is a very welcoming host. So much so he's given me samples of fresh juices they make and I'm telling you they're great. Colombians have long been known to be as serious about fresh squeezed fruit juice as anyone. After a couple trips in for those empanadas I decided I had to try something else. After all everything I saw the older Colombian lady cooking in the open air kitchen looked about as comforting as food can come. Which is how I would describe this wonderful lunch special consisting of rice mixed with a tomato creole sauce and sausage which was really just cheap Oscar Meyer style wieners. Sound gross? Nope! They worked great in this dish.

Humboldt Park Lunch Special 

Then there's the arepas. That's what's in their name so I made sure to try one of them before throwing a review up. Colombian Arepas are similar to their empanadas in that they're made with similar ingredients however they differ from Venezuelan style arepas. Some say the Colombian Arepa is lacking in flavor if you dont put good ingredients inside of it. They say the Colombian arepa is more about texture than flavor when compared to it's Venezuelan counterpart. Typically arepas are a breakfast snack in Colombia and eaten at night in Venezuela. I'm no expert but this was as good of an arepa as I've ate to date. It was a wonderful combination of shredded beef with melted cheese and creole tomato sauce inside an arepa that was crunchy on the outside and soft inside. I thought this was a flavor profile only available to me when I go to South Florida so this is a big find in my mind.

Colombian Arepa at Arepa George 

Arepa George
1552 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60651
(773) 570-9899

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Delta

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

When I learned of the future opening of a bar specializing in Mississippi Delta style food I was excited. You may remember a trip down into and through the Delta that me and some friends took back in 2012. It remains one of the if not the best Foodventure I've ever took. It's a trip that's in no way relivable due to places long gone and people no longer with us. Not to mention the fantastic Delta style tamales we ate. These quickly became one of my favorite regional eats. Enter The Delta.

Newly Opened in Wicker Park

The Delta is the owned by a guy named Eldridge Williams (Girl & the Goat, The Promontory) and it's kitchen is run by chef Adam Wendt. Their idea is to bring the food of the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and mix it with some of our favorites. Chicago and the Mississippi Delta are after all connected in many ways. One of those is tamales. No one knows for sure the history of the Delta style tamale or how it's connected to the Chicago style tamales that hot dogs stands all over town sell. But there's no doubt a connection and it's probably like all others connected through migration. Mississippi style tamales aren't like the Mexican ones so many of us know. These are made with cornmeal that's stuffed with heavily spiced beef. They're cooked in a "gravy" of boiling water with lots of spices added in. They're an African-American favorite and found all over the Delta. And for a time Chicago.

Mississippi Style Hot Tamales at The Delta

So how do the tamales at The Delta stack up to the ones in the Delta? Just fine! Man I was happy to see that these are only 3 for $5 which would be expensive in Mississippi but when you consider you're at a cocktail bar in Chicago it's pretty reasonable. I'm glad they aren't charging more. Because in the end these tamales are peasant food at it's finest. The Delta makes theirs firmer than mushier but either way is acceptable as both types can be found in the Delta. These little tamales are an excellent bar snack but it felt weird eating them on a fancy plate with silverware. Give me plastic!

Delta Tamale Unwrapped

The duo behind Delta wanted to incorporate some Chicago cuisine into the fray and I'm not talking about pizza or hot dogs. As mentioned the Delta Tamale is a snack made and sold predominantly by African-American's and the Jim Shoe sandwich is a sandwich eaten predominately by African-Americans so it seemed like a match made in heaven. The Jim Shoe Tamale looks like that of Garbage Plate. Not literally but the popular style of breakfast found in other parts of the country where everything goes onto a plate. This is a lamb tamale topped with pastrami, giardinera, sweet peppers and more. Honestly it was too much as far as flavors. But the pastrami was killer and I would eat it all day if they sold it as a snack. I think a classic Jim Shoe Sandwich served upscale is a better way go.

Jim Shoe Tamale

The Delta also makes a Mother-In-Law which is the famous tamale in a bun seen on Anthony Bourdain's show about a decade back. I wanted to try the fried rice though. I love fried rice and this version with fried chicken livers, wild mushrooms, and hens egg sounded great. Only problem was way too much seasoning was used. It tasted like straight soy sauce but I'm confident that without a salt bomb ensuing this would've been a good dish. Nonetheless the tamales are why I was excited about this place and they really are great as far as taste and taking me back to the Delta! I'll be back.

Fried Rice at The Delta

The Delta
1745 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 360-1793
Website

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Mexican Burger Special

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

At some point during the last three months I've developed serious craves for Mexican burgers. I've always liked them but of late I seemed to be wanting one damn near everyday and I think it was a burger I made for myself one summer night that did it. Most of the time when I want a burger it's bc I want some beef in me. Thus for the most part I dont like my burgers with anything extra as far as toppings go. I dont need an egg and you can hold the bacon as far as I'm concerned. It's the beef I want to taste. But every now and then I want to taste the wonderful combination of flavors that make up for a Mexican Hamburger. A couple other things that may have triggered my new found love of Mexican style burgers are my love for Mexican hot dogs which are similar in terms of all sorts of toppings and condiments being used. Also I was in Mexico City this year and was tempted by more than a few spots selling burgers alongside the streets. They looked and smelled great. Next time.
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El Porvenir Supermercado 

 Cicero, IL

I probably have about 5-6 Mexican dining projects I'm working on right now. One of them involves food found inside Mexican Supermarkets. On the weekends this is one of the best places in all of Chicagoland to get carnitas from. The place gets packed with locals. More on that in another post as they also have an everyday menu of many Mexican favorites at the little taco stand in back.

 Menu at El Porvenir Taqueria

One of the items that caught my eye was the Hamburguesa estilo D.F which would translate to a Mexico City style hamburger. This was right around the time I had the taste for these burgers so I had no choice but to try one. Before I go into what makes a Mexico City style burger I should point out that the patties used here were fresh from the butcher one aisle over. Top to bottom in between buns  this burger consisted of mayo, cheese, ham, bacon, pineapple, grilled onions, beef, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard. It came with a side of frozen crinkle cut fries that were extra crispy. A monster.

 Hamburguesa estilo D.F at El Porvenir Taqueria
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Dennis' Carry Out

Little Village

I dont know who Dennis is but he holds some weight in La Villita. I believe he owns three different food spots up and down 26th street with a couple of them being pretty typical Chicago style fast food stands and the other being a pizza place. The spot pictured up above is just west of Hamlin. The menu has all of the Chicago style favorites and then some. Including a Mexican section with both burgers and hot dogs. The Mexican burger might come on those typical frozen puck patties that weigh 6 to a lb but the toppings used combined with the charred patties make for a pretty great burger. This had those wonderful grilled onions all the Mexican places make so perfectly as well as Mozzarella for some reason. I wasn't sure about that but the cheese was lost in the flurry of toppings.

Mexican Burger at Dennis' Carry Outs
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El Duranguito

Maywood, IL

I've featured this Norteno style burrito and taco shop before. On a return visit I tried the Norteno style burger which was really good. As you may already know beef is King in Northern Mexico and they really like burgers which most likely crossed over from Texas at some point in time. El Duranguito takes the time to serve theirs with fresh cut fries which is no surprise as the ladies here make the flour tortillas for the burritos to order. The burger comes with all the toppings associated with a hamburger and then some. I believe it was served as a double and like the rest of these spots the price was right around $5. Best thing about this might've been the sesame seed bun acquired from a local panaderia. Looking back at all these I would say this burger is the one I'd eat now if given choice.

Norteno Burger at El Duranguito 
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Tacos La Reyna

Pilsen 

Here's another place from another project I've been working on. Chicago's street food scene is low key pretty great, at least the Mexican version of it which is pretty much the only version. I've been documenting all sorts of places and of course most all of them are located in predominately Hispanic neighborhoods. Pilsen might be changing but thats mostly 18th street. Go ride around on a weekend night and you'll come across all sorts of taco trucks should you leave 18th street. This one was found in the 20's and it had a nice crowd of families hanging around and eating. I had the taste for a burger and got the double cheese which was a classic in terms of prep. Another one that hit the spot.

Double Cheeseburger from Tacos La Reyna
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Raymond's Tacos #2 

Pilsen 

Regular readers and also those that drink in Pilsen with me know that I love me some Raymond's. Me and hoards of other folks from all walks of life. This is where gangbangers dine alongside hipsters. Locals from all walks of life flock to this place at all hours with late night being the busiest. The cheesy tacos are what makes Raymond's a dining destination but the burgers are also mentioned so what better time than now to finally try one? This is a classic diner style double. it's by no means the best diner style burger you'll ever have but it is delicious after five or six cold ones chased with some sips of mezcal. I am curious as to why they put the toppings on the bottom. See ya next time.

Double Cheeseburger at Raymond's Tacos #2
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El Porvenir Supermercado
2336 S Laramie Ave
Cicero, IL 60804
(708) 652-6205

Dennis' Carry Outs
3806 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 277-2711

El Duranguito
402 Lake St
Maywood, IL 60153
(708) 343-4584

Tacos La Reyna
Parked in Pilsen (check the early 20's blocks)

Raymond's Tacos #2
2406 S Blue Island Ave 
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 254-5301

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sheboygan Roadtrip

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Back to Sheboygan for more

Oktoberfest is here! My favorite Octoberfest beer is only found in Wisconsin. It's made this brewery called New Glarus, maybe you've heard of it? I ask with slight sarcasm. If not, I can only assume you've never been to Wisconsin. New Glarus is well known for their Spotted Cow brew but the Staghorn Octoberfest is my favorite beer they make. So I like to spend time in Wisconsin during the Fall. There's lots of spots to go. This week we take a roadtrip back to Sheboygan to see what's up.
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Il Ritrivo

The folks at Il Ritrovo are big time multi-taskers. They run a Neapolitan wood fired pizzeria that gets national acclaim as well as a wine bar and an Italian grocery store. Nowadays pretty much every town has a wood fired pizza place but when Il Ritrivo opened some 15 years ago it was definitely bringing something new to the people of Sheboygan. To their credit they've done nothing but support this place. I highly recommend trying one out if ever here or passing thru. It's as good as anywhere.

Sausage and Basil at Il Ritrivo in Sheboygan
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 Schwarz Fish Market

Sheboygan's location on Lake Michigan makes for some readily available fresh fish in these parts.
Schwarz Fish Market can be traced all the way back to 1912 when it started out as a smoked fish shop located on the Sheboygan River. over the years they expanded and went into the fresh fish business as well as prepared foods. If like me you're always down for a plate of fried lake perch this is a nice place to stop and get some. Even better is the fact you can take home some fresh whitefish, walleye etc. No doubt about it these places are a dying breed. One day they'll all be gone.

Fried Plate of Lake Perch at Schwarz Fish Market
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Union Oriental Market

I've posted before on Wisconsin's connections with the Hmong people and how they've successfully integrated into many Wisconsin towns. Sheboygan has a few spots where you can get your hands on Hmong style egg rolls and other prepared foods as well as ingredients to cook with. Union Oriental Market was stated in 1982 as a way for the towns local Hmong people to connect and what not. It's grown into a big grocery store with some very popular egg rolls. But it doesn't end with just the egg rolls. the carry-out menu from here is filled with treats like Hmong sausage and Hmong stuffed wings.

 Hmong Style Egg Rolls with a killer hot sauce at Union Oriental Market
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 Four of a Kind

Aside from beer and brats and lake perch and Hmong food there's quite a few other local Sheboygan specialties. One of them is the steak sandwich. It's called a steak sandwich but that's too generic a term for this half steak half hamburger style sandwich. I've posted on them before as they're available at the legendary Miesfeld's Butcher and they're technically called restaurant steaks. Though I believe these are usually popular at home grill outs etc some places like Four of a Kind also serve them. When paired with one of the local Sheboygan style hard rolls, which are the best burger buns in the world, this is a fantastic sandwich. Everything includes a big heaping amount of butter. Oh yeah.

Restaurant Steak Sandwich at Four of a Kind
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Frankie's Pub

Frankie's is a local watering hole popular for not just their booze but also their massive burgers. They easily feed two though in these parts some people can easily eat two. The burger portion of the menu boasts a traditional cheeseburger and also a couple of house creations. I shared a Frankie Burger with my cousin on our visit and it was bigger than I thought it was going to be. It basically took up an entire entree plate and came with a knife in case anyone wants to eat it like a pizza.

Frankie Burger at Frankie's Pub

The burgers are only 12 ounces of fresh angus beef but it's a wide patty on a large hard roll and in the case of the Frankie Burger it comes with alot of toppings. It was smothered with melted Swiss cheese mixed with some well placed Italian seasoning and piled high with sauteed mushrooms. All of that was drenched in beef gravy. The hard rolls being the sturdy buns they are held all of this together just fine. While it tasted more like a Sunday night Pot Roast dinner than a burger I thought my half was worth the calories consumed.

The insides
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Gosse's at the Northwestern House

No trip to Sheboygan for me is complete without a stop at Gosse's. Read all about it in this post from back in 2012. There's three things worth your time at Gosse's. One is the previously mentioned steak sandwich. Two is the lake perch sandwich and three is the torte. The last of those being a special dessert found all over Sheboygan but none do them better than Gosse's. I'm not sure why the torte became so big in Sheboygan but the multi layered cake is found all over. Gosse's are great.

Oreo Torte at Gosse's
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Brockman's Market

Two other stops I recommend come in the form of a small butcher shop. Check out Brockman's if the scene at Miesfeld's is to much for you. Then go get some custard at The Point over in the Falls.

The Point in Sheboygan Falls
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Il Ritrivo
515 S 8th St
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 803-7516

Schwarz Fish Market
828 Riverfront Dr
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 457-4486

Union Market
2022 S 17th St
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 457-0779

Frankie's Pub & Grill
2218 Indiana Ave
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 459-7000

Four of a Kind
811 Indiana Ave
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 457-0977

Gosse's at the Northwestern House
1909 Union Ave
Sheboygan, WI 53081 
(920) 457-8696 

Brockman's Market 
1708 S 12th St
Sheboygan, WI 53081
(920) 457-3063

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