Wednesday, April 16, 2014

State Fair

-Got beef?
The Burgers of Chi

So I finally tried State Fair in Logan Square. Despite knowing it was going to open since last winter a barrage of things prevented me from trying this small spot specializing in state fair foods. Lets start with those said foods. State Fair has a small menu with such county favorites as the corn dog, the pork tenderloin, the funnel cake and so on. My teammates over at Serious Eats did a review where they tried every item on the menu and you can check that out HERE. I'd wanted to try them but they have ridiculous hours (Open at 4p) and the couple times I tried over winter, they were closed because it was too cold. That makes me not want to stop back, every other business was open and you're closing despite erratic hours to begin with. I got lots of spots to try, I dont wait on one.

Semi New Spot on Diversey in Logan Square

Well as luck would have it I was driving by recently and it was after 4 and there was a spot off Diversey. Yes they open at 4p which is when you cant park in front on the street. Convenience isn't their thing. What caught my eye from that SE review was the fact they serve sliders. These aren't so readily available in Chicago aside from the many White Castles around town. But at the same time these are different than WC. These are old school sliders like those found at Powers Hamburgers in Fort Wayne or also the Hoagie Hut in Waukegan. They're small balls of beef that are smashed with slivers of onions and then placed on a small bakery bun. They come in singles and an order of three is $5.50. While they were a tasty snack they lacked something and I'm not sure what it was. Maybe the fact they're only open a few hours a day thus it's going to take time to get some flavor seeped into the flattop? I don't know but I wish them luck.

Slider with Cheese 

State Fair
3152 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 267-1776

State Fair on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kabul House

-Grubbing in Chicago  (land)  
Where's the Afghan Food at?

Believe it or not there are quite a few LTHforum 'Great Neighborhood Restaurants' I have never been to. For those unfamiliar a GNR as they're called is one of the many awards popular Chicagoland restaurants are presented with. It's not the most prestigious but it's certainly something restaurants take great joy in being rewarded with. If for anything because they speak for the people. Well those that post on the site anyway. Either way there's countless amazing places that are listed on this informative list. Despite the fact I'm a pretty regular contributor over there I don't get too into the GNR process but I do think it's a great tool not just for tourists but locals as well. It's not limited to specific areas so you'll find plenty of places outside the norm. One of them being Kabul House. I recently got to try the cityscapes only Afghan restaurant for the first time.

Complimentary Soup

The menu items here have a history going back a long time. It's homestyle cooking for those who grew upeating Afghanistan food or have parents who did. I knew what to expect because I've read about the place many of times but I didn't know it was so nice inside, white tablecloth dining in Skokie to be exact. We started with complimentary soups while we waited. Both a split pea with a tomato base and then a veggie with a nice blend of Middle Eastern spicing in it were a nice welcome on a cold winter day. The veggie was better from what I remember. Next up was an order of their Mantoo Beef Dumplings which I had on my radar long before I looked at the menu. I love dumplings and these seemed to have similar ingredients to Tibetan Momo with a little Middle Eastern twist so I was excited to see what was up. Unfortunately they fell a little short.  The stewed tomato sauce paired with the beef dumplings gave it a strange resemblance to Chef Boyardee Ravioli.

Beef Mantoo Appetizer

Next item out was the Qorma Sabzee which was described as "Chunks of lamb stew on a bed of sautéed spinach that is flavored with garlic and onions served with a side of white rice". This was also very comforting but again somewhat lacing in spice. Maybe this is prototypical of Afghan cooking but it tasted normal which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was all eaten but could of been spiced a little more potently.

Qorma Sabzee

The star of the show at Kabul House are their Marinated Grilled Meats. You can smell these upon entering and it can be hard not to want them once you do. Your best option is to go for the combo which gives you three meats. You get a half skewer of their most popular Murgh Kebab which is made with chunks of chicken thigh. This was probably my favorite bite of the lunch, along with some rice. The lamb and sirloin were tasty too but it's the chicken I'll be back for.

Kebab Platter

Kabul House
4949 Oakton St
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 674-3830
Website

Kabul House on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 11, 2014

Steve's Lounge

-Grubbing in Chicago
Where the locals eat and drink.
 
a longtime locals favorite in Hegewisch

This week over on Serious Eats I go check out a traditional Midwest Friday Fish Fry at the beautiful Steve's Lounge. Check it out HERE.

Steve's Lounge
13200 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-1071

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ozzie's Food Store Liquor and Deli

-The Sammy's of Chi (land)

We're going to stick with the theme of the last post and visit another favorite of Chicago's underground elite. I remember my first visit to Ozzie's like it was yesterday. When I worked summers with the Sheriffs Department we stopped in here a few times while on the road. One of the two sheriffs I worked with frequented this place as he was from around the way. It's a combination of a grocery, deli, liquor store and lotto super shop. One of a few places you might have the law to your right and the other side of it to your left when waiting at the counter. Though most folks are just regular Joe's like you and me.

A Melrose Park Favorite 

Ozzie's has been in business since 1971 and they're sandwiches are a staple for many from around this way. Over the years the menu has grown and nowadays they offer almost every sandwich you can think of and then some. Both hot and cold.

Deli Counter

With Lent season in Full swing they have the traditional pepper and egg on Friday's. The pepper and egg sandwich is an Italian-American thing that is big in communities where there's many of them. Since you're not supposed to eat meat on Friday's during Lent this is a staple of many who practice it. When it's not Friday they make a Italian scrambler sandwich that includes the pepper and eggs with onions and Italian Sausage included too.

Pepper and Egg Sandwich 

I haven't been able to try too many other options because I really like their Italian sub. These are a little different than the italian sub sandwiches found at places like JP Graziano and Bari which are both mentioned regularly when the topic of who has the best is discussed. Ozzie's Sandwiches are more like Al & Joe's but I think their bread is a little better here, at least of late. The other essential element to this Western suburb style of Italian sub sandwich is the oil. They squirt it on to the point where I'd recommend eating one like you would an Italian beef. You don't want it dripping down your arm onto your shirt. They offer both a old country Italian and an American version and they're always made to order. It's too bad we don't have Ozzie's all over the city like there are 7-11's.

Ozzie's Original Italian Sub

Ozzie's Food Store Liquor and Deli
11158 W Grand Ave
Melrose Park, IL 60164
(847) 455-0845
Website

Monday, April 7, 2014

Villa Nova Pizza

-The other Chicago-style pizza: Tavern Style

Wow, I hadn't realized it but it's been quite a while since we took a look at one of the many spots offering the real deal Chicago style pizza, tavern thin cut in squares. This is the style I grew up on and this is what most regular city folks eat. Its not that those from here don't eat deep dish, it's just we don't eat it often. It's more of a celebration thing enjoyed with the company of others. When people just want a pizza to enjoy while watching the Blackhawks game, usually it's a tavern thin variety being consumed. One of the places most commonly mentioned amongst locals favorites for this style is Villa Nova Pizza in Stickney.

Longtime Locals Favorite

I believe this location is and was the first. The recipe dates back to 1955 and there's quite a few locations scattered throughout nowadays but I don't think they're all connected. They all have a history together but different people own different locations. We wont get into any of the colorful history behind this place as I've discussed it enough and it really doesn't matter. Its all about the pizza here. Villa Nova takes the craft very seriously. This is evident from the fact you will get at least one piece of their excellent homemade Italian sausage on every last square. Aside from the sausage they get everything else that makes a good tavern style pizza down pat. It's basically takeout but with warm weather en route I wouldn't put it off just because you don't live near them. Throw the box on the hood of your trunk and get down to business.

Large Sausage Pizza

Rating Scale 5/5

crust: 4
sauce: 5
toppings: 5
Crispness: 4


Score: 18/20

Villa Nova
6821 Pershing Rd
Stickney, IL 60402
(708) 443-4880
Webpage 

Villa Nova Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 4, 2014

Big Frank's Sausage

-Exploring NW Indiana

It's been a minute since we continued on with our exploration of old Northwest Indiana. About a stones throw from deep fried tacos at Adrian's is Big Frank's Sausage where the sign outside proclaims "Best Homemade Polish Sausage Around" They make for a nice 1-2 punch followed by a fill up at Speedway a few blocks away. If  coming from the city it's about a 25 min ride via the Skyway.

Locals favorite in East Chicago, IN

You might not be able to catch it in the sign outside but Big Frank's also doubles as a bar. 20 oz drafts of Okocim are $3.50 everyday. If you wanna get the party started a little bit quicker they also sell "Polish Bombs" which is a Okocim draft served with a shot of Nalewka Babuni cherry wine. I didn't try one so I'm not sure if you're supposed to drop the shot in the beer or not but I would assume so since it's a bomb. We did sample the house specialty as well as some potato pancakes with a couple pierogi and an order of beef Uszka (Mini Polish Dumplings). Another Northwest Indiana gem.

Mini Meat Dumplings - I loved the fact you can order these by the piece ($.25/each) as they make for a great beer snack. These, the pierogi and sausage are sold ready to cook or frozen too.

Pierogi and Potato Pancakes - Both decent versions, although the pancakes were a bit greasy, not all that different from Cavalier Inn one town over.

Polish Sausage - Links are fresh (not smoked) and have nice hints of garlic and pepper. I thought it was quite tasty. All this food and three Okocim came out to less than $20. Nice neighborhood place.

Big Frank's Sausage
1417 Carroll St
East Chicago, IN 46312
(219) 378-9556
Website

Big Franks Sausage on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pitaville

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Where the locals eat.

Life has been bringing me to the Fox River Valley area more often than ever before. Some days in order to avoid traffic I'll just take Indian Trail Road from the river up until it turns into different streets to start heading back. One day while doing so I noticed a place called Pitaville in a strip mall out in Naperville. Being hungry for something other than Mexican food I decided to stop in and give it a try. After all this is an area where ethnic eats of all types are found and most all of them sit in a strip mall.

Popular Locals joint in a strip mall in Naperville

I got a nice welcoming upon entry as I spied a spit of chicken shawarma being made and the place smelled great so I was happy with my decision to stop before I even ate. I wanted something quick for there and also something I could eat later in the evening and for lunch the next day. The grill was packed with meats for other peoples orders and the smell of Kafta patties (beef) was too much to pass up. I tried it in a wrap and enjoyed my quick snack. This was a nice change of pace from my beloved burger while still getting a taste of grilled beef. Everything comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hummus and most importantly...pickles.

Kafta Kebab Wrap

With the chicken shawarma in full rotation I had a hard time passing up on it. I went with a dinner and came away pleased but not overly impressed. My biggest gripe is that they were cutting large chunks off the spit off and finishing them in a skillet. Just like most every Mexican place does with it's al pastor which just pisses me off. I want thin crispy well charred slices. There's no point in going thru the troubles of layering a spit with meat and cooking it only to hack off large pieces that might as well be chicken that was chopped while raw and then cooked in said skillet. The spicing was alright while the rice was very good, really fragrant and downright addicting. I just wish they sliced thin.

Chicken Shawarma Plate

Pitaville
1552 N Aurora Rd #106
Naperville, IL 60563
(630) 717-5200
Website

Pitaville Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 31, 2014

Analogue

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

With the opening of Analogue in Logan Square, Chicago now has a New Orleans inspired restaurant. The lack of Cajun/Creole cuisine in the city is one of the biggest glares on our dining scene. Not to say there's many weakness' plus the truth of the matter is that this style done properly is tough to find outside the Bayou. Up until now it was either ride down to the Starved Rock area to eat at Ron's Cajun Connection or plan an overnight trip to Madison and make sure to squeeze New Orleans Takeout into the dining itinerary. If neither of those were attainable then you had to make it yourself. Now when the crave hits, the option is there, it's just starting at 6pm as this is really a cocktail bar serving food.

Analogue in Logan Square

From the outside the place is pretty much hidden. There is no sign or wording anywhere and it's pretty bare inside too. This is a place for drinks and food, that said it's the food that's been getting rave reviews across the board. I was very excited to try it since many whom I know I have similar likes too were praising the place. We got in there around 6p on a Friday and were seated immediately, the place was full by about 6:40pm. First up was a dish I was very excited to attack. There's no good gumbo in Chicago, not served regularly anyway. One of my local drinking haunts Toons does a good one but it's served as a special. In the last couple years I've pretty much perfected my own recipe (all about the roux) to the point where I enjoy it more than places I was trying this past January while down in New Orleans. I know everyone loves their own but I'd put mine up against most anyone.

House Gumbo

Don't get me wrong, it was very good and a bowl I would of been happy with had I been served it in New Orleans but it just didn't what I love about a good bowl. Served with a thinner consistency ala New Orleans style gumbo this bowl had plenty of meat which was a big plus but it also had one little slice of andouille (homemade) and wasn't as potent as I was hoping for. I enjoyed the fact they serve it with a scoop of potato salad instead of rice (common in some parts of Louisiana) but it only came with a few tablespoons worth. I probably sound more harsh than I mean to be because when I cant make my own I have no problem heading over here to kick the itch. My only other problem with the whole experience was the fact they brought out the two sides we ordered a good ten minutes before the entrees. Which is stupid because you either eat them without what they were intended to be enjoyed with or let them sit and come to room temperature. The mashed potatoes were ordered to pair with the nights special of a country fried pork steak so it was an annoying mistake on their part, but one that can easily be fixed. Not a big deal for me.

Dirty Rice and Mashed Potatoes

One reason it wasn't that big of a deal was that both sides were sensational. The mashed potatoes more-so because they're always great with a fried pork steak but the dirty rice was as good it gets. No need for parenthesis surrounding the word dirty because theirs is made with chicken livers and giblets like it's supposed to be. So good we got another order to go. I went with the cochon de lait po boy for my entree and thought it was awesome. Let me stress again that this is a cocktail bar that serves food and this sandwich at $12 is exactly what I want when out drinking booze. The use of D'Amatos bread helps get some of that crunch needed for a good po boy and the pork was just perfect. I can see myself calling in for pickup of this often.

Cochon de Lait Po Boy

The menu here is pretty small so some standard favorites are still nowhere to be found around town but they do have a special most nights and on our visit this was a country fried pork steak with a micro green salad made with crunchy celery and radishes. Sensational. I was only allowed a few pieces and I honestly considered ordering a second plate so I could have more. As good of a fried piece of anything I've had lately. Perfect really. I'm welcoming Analogue into the city with open arms, we needed a place like this but still need more. I hope with it's opening, a new trend begins.

Country Fried Pork Steak 

Analogue
2523 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 904-8567

Analogue on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 28, 2014

Graze

-Got beef?
The Burgers of Wisconsin


With the Badgers in the Elite 8 and warm weather on the way, we're bringing back the 'Burgers of Wisconsin'. Best area with a high concentration of excellent burger options in-state? Madison. There's been countless and quite frankly pointless lists of the best places to eat burgers in America and one reason I'd call them pointless is the fact I've never seen Mad-Town included in any. If you haven't been keeping up, go ahead and check this round-up on why some of the best burgers in the state are located here. The reason it's as good of a place as anywhere for one is they have all sorts of excellent reps. Both the blue collar barn to bar style and the fancier farm to table varieties. There's a ton of good options. Today we try Graze.

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Madison, WI

This place is the casual sibling restaurant of the highly acclaimed L'Etoile. It sits right next door in a large office building with a really nice setup inside including a sky-high ceiling amongst plenty of seating with lots of light. They're slogan so to say is "from local pastures" and everything used on their menu they show where they source it from. Lots of ingredients come from farms within 90 miles. It's one of my favorite places to eat at in a great eating town. I especially like it for brunch and their critically acclaimed burger.

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Pub Burger from Graze

First up. Yup, those Sassy Cow fried cheese curds are every bit as good as they look. Instead of the more common choice of beer they take a different approach using a vodka batter and serve them with made in house ranch. Splurge and spend the $3 up-charge to replace the fries. As you can see the burger is a thing of beauty as well. From the house made English Muffin and pickles to locally sourced beef, cheese, and bacon this was well worth it. The founder of Serious Eats, Ed Levine, said it was the best burger he had all year a few years back and it was also one of my favorites from 2013. Many more in-state options to come.

Image
Centerfold Material

Graze
1 S Pinckney St #107
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 251-2700
Website

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Zenwich

-The Sammy's of Chi (land)

I guess this is the week I pull posts from the depths of my food folder. Because that's what I've done yet again with Zenwich which I just so happened to find while searching for something else. Original plan was to get back here before posting about it but I'm just too damn busy to plan a trip like that and because it's in Elmhurst, a place I'm not often in, I'm just going to go ahead and give them their review now. Even if it's a year or two past due.

Locals favorite in Elmhurst 

Zenwich won a GNR over at LTHforum though some folks were questionable of its status as one. I didn't really care either way. It might not be a old time mom and pop shop but it's still a locally owned place that puts out some pretty tasty sandwiches with Asian influence. It's also reasonably priced and to my knowledge most folks that go there enjoy it. So it might not be destination dining but its a spot most every neighborhood could use in one way or the other. Its fresh, its from scratch, it gets the job done. I use their cucumber salad as example. 

Cucumber Salad

Each sandwich is "handcrafted" which many people will laugh off, hell I can too but the meaning of it is these aren't your brown bag lunch sandwiches your mother used to make for you in 6th grade. I tried the Joesplosion and goofy name aside it was a really comforting sandwich, on a hot day. This place is a great summertime lunch option because of the use of stuff like pickled carrots, fresh cucumber and so on. The Joesplosion takes a chicken breast that's marinated in curry with peanut sauce on the side. fresh made chips come with each sandwich. Now that I think about it, I will get back here sooner than later as I am out this way sometimes over the summer.

Chicken Satay Sandwich 

Zenwich
416 N York St
Elmhurst, IL 60126
(630) 359-5234
Website

Zenwich on Urbanspoon

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