Monday, March 9, 2020

Le Bouchon

-Grubbing in Chicago
Classic French Food in Chicago

In case you couldn't tell from reading - a majority of my meals out are either some sort of Asian food or Mexican. I like Italian food, I like Greek food, and I like French food too. But as far as the European countries go I don't get constant craves for those cuisines like I do Chinese or Mexican food. Times have changed and the days of French food being mainstream are a thing of the past. There's still a nice number of French restaurants in town but the glory days are long behind us. I wasn't even around back then but if you spent time in Chicago during the 70's you probably visited a popular French restaurant. I actually did get a little taste of that era as I'm good friends with the son of Bernard Le Coq of Lincoln Park's Cafe Bernard (RIP). So we ate the restaurant a few times back when. Chicagoan's interested in the history of French food in Chicago should check out this amazing site. Today we're going to visit one of the cities old school French restaurant survivors in Bucktown.

 Locals Favorite in Bucktown 

Le Bouchon opened in 1993. So while it's not exactly from the golden era of the 70's it's old enough to where it still has that classic French restaurant feel. Newer hip French restaurants will try to recreate that atmosphere at a mostly unsuccessful rate. Part of the reason Le Bouchon has that classic feel is the restaurants founding father, the late Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey closed his popular restaurant Jean Claude the same year he opened Le Bouchon. These days it's run by his son Chef Oliver Poilevey who hasn't really messed with anything as far as what made it a neighborhood staple. The menus feature classic French plates for both lunch and dinner. I actually prefer lunch for the fact it's reminiscent of many of the cafes we've visited in Lyon during the daytime hours. Le Bouchon thrives on the fact it's menu is super consistent to where it's pretty much all good so just order what sounds like something you'd enjoy. For me that's a simple but perfectly executed Lyonaisse Salad which must have the real French lardon as they do here. Le Bouchon's pate stuffed with pistachios is second in the city only to my uncles. My favorite plate at Le Bouchon is one that goes on and off the menu but it's a French breakfast plate consisting of both Toulouse sausage and blood sausage served with egg, sauerkraut, baked beans, and toast. One of the best breakfast plates in the city. Anyways with all the constant coverage of new openings let us not forget about the all time classics.

Lunch at Le Bouchon 

Le Bouchon
1958 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 862-6600
Website

Friday, March 6, 2020

El Rodeo Mexican Grill and Seafood

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

I recently did a little survey for Eater Chicago regarding the 2019 dining scene in Chicago. In it I was asked for the years biggest dining surprises. I tried to make all my answers unique so no one else's were the same as mine. That wasn't a problem for my answer on the years biggest dining surprise - "Real deal Cuban sandwiches and Sinaloan seafood found in Elk Grove Village (Cubano Bros, El Rodeo Restaurant)". The former of which I posted about HERE, and now the latter of which is today's featured post. I found El Rodeo by searching for Sinaloa seafood restaurants in Chicago. Unlike out in LA there's only a few in Chicagoland and El Rodeo Seafood was the most intriguing of the trio.

 Locals Favorite in Elk Grove Village

This spot would be pretty hard to find randomly as it's right off the highway on a one way strip so it's rare for anyone to just happen to pass by, not to mention it's in the corner of a small strip mall with only one entrance which makes it a hidden gem of sorts (you would only see it if driving by the street with no entrance into the strip mall). El Rodeo caught my eye bc they offer up Seafood Towers aka "Torres" which are all the rage in LA these days. As you know anything that gets popular in LA is likely to venture to other spots across the country. I've even seen pictures of Torres in Detroit posted on social media and such. More on the torres in a minute bc the other menu section to catch my eye was the "Tacos Del Mar" part of the menu. These are house special seafood tacos that come in orders of two. I'm usually not a fan of that but I don't know where else you can find popular regional tacos like Tacos Gobernador and Costra tacos. Gobernador tacos are popular in Sinaloa where a former governors wife once requested tacos with shrimp, onion, peppers, tomato, cheese. It's a delicious combo and puts the myth that Mexicans don't eat cheese with their tacos to bed. Also worth ordering are the Costra Tacos de Camaron. Costra tacos are made by grilling a bunch of cheese until crisp and laying the cheese on a tortilla with meats like steak or in this case shrimp.

 Seafood Tacos at El Rodeo Mexican Grill

El Rodeo actually lists it's charcoal grilled carne asada as it's house specialty. So I had to make sure to at least try a steak taco on one of my visits. Another really well made taco that definitely had some good charcoal grilled steak flavor. I also appreciated the large pieces of  carne asada as opposed to the more chopped up stuff you see at so many other spots. So don't worry about coming here with someone who doesn't like seafood. I haven't tried the flame grilled burgers but I bet they're good.

Steak Taco at El Rodeo Mexican Grill and Seafood

Now for the specialty seafood towers. These are rising in popularity in so many SoCal mariscos restaurants. Most of them have Sinaloa ties as this dish is popular in Northern Sinaloa where they like to eat dishes with the toppings piled on, be it with seafood or a bag of chips. These torres are made by piling different seafood and ceviches, as well as diced veggies, avocado, and more into a ring mold, and then pouring some sort of sauce onto all of it and serving them with saltine crackers and tostada shells. They're great for instagram so no surprise that they're so popular in LA. El Rodeo makes three different towers that aren't quite as tall as some of the others I've seen out in LA but they still taste great which is really all that matters. Of the two I've tried (La Topolobampo / Marinera) I really like the 'Torres Marinera' made with shrimp ceviche, cooked shrimp, scallops, octopus, avocado, cucumber, and onion. There's also a nice reddish salsa and lots of Maggi poured on top.

Seafood Torres at El Rodeo Mexican Grill and Seafood

Lastly there's the camaron burger. Exactly as it sounds except it's not made from some mysterious patty they say is minced shrimp meat. Though you can order a char burger with shrimp as a topping you can also get just a shrimp burger with fries. It consists of a couple handfuls worth of well cooked plump shrimp mixed with bacon, chihuahua cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, sliced avocado, and a semi spicy mango habanero salsa. I rarely ever think of making a shrimp sandwich like this but come summer I plan on making my own version using grilled shrimps with similar toppings. Fun stop.

Camaron Burger

El Rodeo Mexican Grill and Seafood
1181 Biesterfield Rd
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
(847) 252-9686
Website

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hagen's Fish Market

-Grubbing in Chicago
One of the city's last old time fish markets

I've been going to today's stop most of my life. So I'm not sure what took me so long to post about it. I just know when I went searching for what I thought was an old post on Hagen's Fish Market it was nowhere to be found. I figured I had to have posted about it back in the blogs younger day as this was a place we went to before I could even drive to get my own food. My dad grew up not far so there were times when we'd stop in while visiting my grandparents or just so happened to be in the neighborhood. Hagen's has been a part of the area since 1946. They're still one of just a couple old time fisheries allowed to smoke fish on premises. They double as a fish market / takeout shop.

Locals Favorite in Portgage Park 

Hagen's is a classic Chicago style fish shack. These places are so rare when the few that are left are gone they'll all be extinct. As I said you cant smoke fish on site due to city regulations etc that have come about since the days when the Chicago River was flooded with fisheries and shrimp shacks like Hagen's. The neighborhood old timers are obviously big fans of Hagen's smoked fishes which are always available alongside the fresh seafood offerings. As time evolved they had to basically make a complete menu which now has just about any seafood fried you could want and all the fried sides as well. One item that I think stands above the rest is the fish sandwich. I'm not even sure what kind of fish they use (I always forget to ask) but that's not all that important when consuming a fried fish sandwich. What is important is the fry job, lots of spots will fry their filets so hard it turns into a puck. The people at Hagen's have a good hand for the fry basket and deliver what I think is one of the city's best fish sandwiches. They nail the bun selection using a not too fancy, light product. Tartar sauce is made in-house and cheese is an option. I think it's needed on a fried fish sandwich like this.

Fish Sandwich at Hagen's Fish Market

Hagen's Fish Market
5635 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60634
(773) 283-1944
Website

Monday, March 2, 2020

My Place

-Grubbing in Chicago
Cantonese Comfort Food in the South Loop

It's been mentioned by many how Chicago's Chinatown is undergoing a major change. Just like anything does through time. One big sign of this change happened when a local Chinatown landlord decided to squeeze out a longtime spot. I always passed My Place as it was located at the end or beginning of Chinatown Square depending on how you look at it. Since I always park over by the Richland Center My Place was usually the first or second spot I passed while walking into the Square. If it was the evening it was bound to be packed with a younger Chinatown demographic.

Locals Favorite now in the South Loop 

With it having been a longtime Chinatown spot My Place features classic Cantonese cooking. They closed at the end of 2019 and returned just last month. I'd always wondered what was good from here over the years (reviews are average and scattered). It wasn't until @brian_eng started giving it some online love that I started to entertain a visit. It took me long enough but eventually I went and found a specific dish to be fantastic. So much so I returned for it a couple times and then boom they closed. Well they're back on Wabash in the South Loop where some of their wypipo neighbors are pissed another Chinese restaurant has opened in the area. The type of idiots that would move to Bridgeport to escape it. That said I got to join Brian and his wife, both regulars, this past weekend for a lunch. While there the crowd was only about half Chinese so from what I could see there were quite a few South Loopers happy to have them in the neighborhood. By joining Brian and his lovely wife I got to get a feel for My Place past the Portuguese Rice Dishes that made me start to really like the place.

Stir Fried Duck Noodles (rice noodle) at My Place

We ordered up a four pack of the Eng's favorite hits. A plate of stir fried rice noodles with shredded duck was just what I needed as far as figuring out what else to order from here. I really liked this simple dish specifically for the wok job. As they told me as we ate you can rely on most of the wok fried noodle dishes including the beef chow fun. I'll have to try that next time as Hong Kong style (served dry) beef chow fun is a favorite. Here's another great tip I learned from our meal. On the specials combo page (meals with soup and drink included) there's a noodle soup served with a fried pork chop. Ask for the fried pork chop on the side and you'll get a big bowl of egg noodle soup (delicious on a cold day) and a fried pork chop sliced up bone-on and all. For $6-7 it's a steal considering you also get your choice of drink and so I was told they make great HK style teas.

Pork Chop and Noodle Soup Combo Special 

Another dish I never would've known to order is listed as "Eggplant preserved in fish, and chicken in the mini wok". Strips of eggplant are fried until bubbling hot along with little shreds of chicken and salted dried fish. You can really smell the fish when it arrives but the taste of it was pretty mild overall. I'd definitely recommend this to a group of people dining in looking to try a variety of menu items.

Eggplant served with Chicken and Salted Fish

Then there's the Portuguese Baked Rice dishes. The reason I first came here at their now old location. To those asking what are they doing serving Portuguese food at a Chinese restaurant? Well not quite. I believe the native term for this dish is Galinha à Portuguesa and it's debatable whether it originated in Hong Kong or Macau. Either way they don't eat this in Portugal. It's just another one of the amazing dishes that fusion food has brought us. The closest comparison for this baked rice dish served with a mild yellow curry is Japanese curry. It's a classic Cantonese / Macanese comfort dish found on the menu of many tea restaurants (like a diner) in Hong Kong and Macau. It's a gratin of rice topped with your choice of meat which can be a tough decision at My Place. The first couple times I tried it with the pork chop and it rocked. The other day we got the chicken which is little chunks of fried meat similar to karaage. Rice and meat are then topped with a very mild but tasty yellow curry and cheese. It's quickly become one of my favorite dishes in town. If you're looking for a night out food option in the South Loop they also serve booze. It's also worth mentioning they do live seafood from the tank and the lobster noodles are popular. It's good to have this Cantonese classic back.

Portuguese Baked Chicken Rice at My Place

My Place
1307 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 763-6935
Website

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Tacos de Canasta in Chicago

- On the road with the 'Chicago Taco Tour'

Did anyone catch the special issue Bon Appetit recently did dedicated to tacos in the United States? It was called 'Taco Nation' and it was very well done. Except one thing was missing - Chicago. Unless I missed it I didn't see anything on Chicago in the 20+ stories they commissioned. That's too bad bc Chicago really is one of the top 2 or 3 spots to eat Mexican food outside of Mexico. Update: They did have one feature written by author Sandra Cisernos. It was a very good read. Even after coming back from a trip to Mexico I find myself wanting certain tacos in Chicago. Mexican food is our city's number one food strength yet it's often overlooked unless it's one of the higher end chefs being mentioned. One of whom is so filthy rich he really doesn't need anymore free press. But I digress. Instead of complaining I'll just continue to spread the gospel to those who follow along both here and at the #ChiTacoTour hashtag on instagram. Speaking of social media tacos de canasta are having a moment across the country. Most likely attributed to the fact Netflix's 'Taco Chronicles' featured the humble Mexican snack in one of it's episodes. While they've been available in Chicago for a while (Serious Eats Post from 2013) they're really starting to take off of late. Today I have a non-definitive guide on where to get them in Chicago. Some of them already covered. I still think Tacos de Canasta Rossy are the best. Maybe the most "authentic" tacos in town if judging them by the closest you'll find to those in Mexico. FYI they recently moved a few doors down and are now open Fridays.

Tacos de Canasta from TdC Rossy 

For those who aren't familiar with tacos de canasta they translate to basket tacos. In Mexico vendors will pile up a basket of tortillas filled a few tbsp of filling and cover the basket leaving them to steam while they walk around and sell them. These days there's actual restaurants dedicated to them in places like Mexico City (go to Los Especiales). While typically eaten for breakfast many spots will serve them all day. Other Chicago restaurants previously covered include what is probably the best taqueria in Chicago top to bottom. While it's the suadero, longaniza and crispy tripas I always get at La Chaparrita they also do a very good batch of tacos de canasta. Sometimes you can find another family member selling them along Kedzie. The city's first brick and mortar TdC specialist (El Conde S.A) is still open on South Kedzie too. Another Southside spot called Guapo Taco opened a few years back and tacos de canasta and tamales are just about all they sell. If you go west down Fullerton you'll come across La Chilangueada where they make cute mini TdC. In Belmont Cragin the under the radar Taqueria Belen makes great fresh ones. Sometimes spots will make tacos de canasta to order which is kind of cheating. Then again rarely any of these places make them in actual baskets. Some however do prepare ahead of time which makes them that much better. Aside from all these spots you're likely to find a street vendor or two selling real versions made earlier that morning.

Tacos de Canasta from Guapo Taco 
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 Kafecito 

As you can see from the homemade sign on the window they sell tacos de canasta at this juice specialist in Little Village. I stopped by on a weekend after seeing the sign so it may be a weekends only thing. Not a bad $6 spent considering I got six tacos with the usual fillings (bean, potato, chicharron prensado) along with a big scoop of a colorful vinegar based cole slaw alongside some spicy pumpkin seeds. Also included was a cup of well made avocado salsa. The tacos were perhaps a bit dry but the condiments helped take care of that. I'd try to go get them close to opening time.

Tacos de Canasta at Kafecito 
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 Don Pepe Carne en su Jugo 

Another spot on 26th street in Little Village where you can find TdC is Don Pepe's Carne en su Jugo. Unfortunately I've always found the carne en su jugo here to be average at best. A big buzz kill the first time I tried it a decade or so ago. That said they've been serving tacos de canasta since then too. I noticed them bc a few different tables of families had them on my visit way back when. They offer six different fillings and include a big cup of vinegar doused cabbage with each plate. Pretty damn good.

Tacos al Vapor / Canasta at Don Pepe Carne en su Jugo 
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 Del Pueblo Restaurant 

I featured this Norteno spot in Cicero just last year. It's ran by a family from Durango and they're pushing some delicious home cooked recipes. Aside from the unique in Chicagoland Tacos Banados which I featured them for they also make tacos al vapor. As well as Northern Mexico style burritos which are really just flour tortilla tacos. In Northern Mexico they like to fill their burritos, gorditas, and tacos al vapor with guisados many of which are meat forward. Del Pueblo makes their tacos al vapor to order but they dont suffer too much as it's the Norteno fillings that make them. Make sure to get one if not a couple of the deshebrada in chile rojo. They also do steamed beef by the pound.

Tacos al Vapor at Del Pueblo Restaurant 
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 La Huarachita

I noticed the sign in the window above while driving down Milwaukee a few months ago. Eventually I stopped at La Huarachita which is just north of Belmont. They sell a package of six tacos de canasta with two each of Chorizo & Potato, Chicken Mole, Chicharron Prensado. Not bad but I'm not a big fan of the made to order versions. Unlike say pre-sliced al pastor meat, steamed tacos benefit greatly from a complete steam and not a short one. So spots that like to pre-slice al pastor and leave it to steam in a tray should be good at tacos al vapor. That said it’s the specialists you should seek out.

Tacos de Canasta at La Huarachita 
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 La Canastita de Laura 

Speaking of specialists have I got a fun one for you. It was recently suggested by instagram that I follow an account @la_canastita_de_laura. Of course the name caught my eye and for once the apps on my phone that spy on me made good of their espionage. It turns out this a small local start-up ran by a few people that will deliver tacos de canasta estilo DF to your door. All you have to do is send them a message a day or two ahead so they can prepare your order and depending on your location in the city they will deliver you some tacos de canasta. Not just the tacos but both a fiery red and a cool green salsa as well. I tried them this past weekend and got 21 tacos de canasta delivered to my door for $25 (I tipped them $4). This is something I will def do again. It couldn't be any easier and judging from the texture of the tortillas these felt like they were steamed for a good while. They make a bean, potato (favorite), and a chicharron prensado in a red chile sauce. Try them out this weekend!

Tacos de Canasta from La Canastita de Laura
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See ya next time @chibbqking #ChiTacoTour

Monday, February 24, 2020

JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop

-Grubbing in Chicago
Midwest Sandwiches in Irving Park

Is it just me or do sandwich shops pop up in threes? Quite a few new ones to check out around town. The first of which is JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop on Elston. It sits in an old Nancy's Pizza space. The owner is from the Quad Cities area and now lives with his family in Chicago. The JT's name is the combination of the first letter of each of his two kids names. The concept is regional sandwiches with common favorites like fried chicken sandwiches and burgers. There's a big Midwest presence. In case you missed it I recently did a feature of JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop for Chicago Magazine.

Newly Opened in Irving Park

I've been to JT's three times now as it's a quick ride from my house. In that time I've basically got to try everything I wanted to try after checking out the menu when they first opened. While I haven't had everything, everything I've had has been really good. Even the chili which I normally avoid elsewhere. It's a hearty blend with beans but there aren't too many. Perfectly spiced and topped with fritos, cheese, sour cream, and green onion. It's really well done. Try it on a hot dog, fries, or as is.

Chili at JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop

I met MikeG from fooditor on my first trip here. We tried a few things and the fried chicken sandwich was the biggest surprise of the bunch. I'm not the biggest fan of the fried chicken sandwich but I would 100% get this one again. In fact I like fried chicken sandwiches a little more after this one. 

Fried Chicken (buttermilk brined thigh, dill pickle, maple chipotle mayo, buttery bun )

The menu item drawing the biggest buzz from online food commenters is the Italian roast pork with greens. This is a nod to Philadelphia where locals love this sandwich as much if not more than the cheesesteak. I've had a roast pork from a couple of the famous Philly spots and it really is one of the best regional sandwiches in the world. It's similar to Italian beef in that it's thinly sliced roast pork that sits in a gravy and goes into a roll with provolone and comes served with or without broccoli rabe. You can get the sandwich dipped in the pork's gravy if you like it wet. I've also had this sandwich at a few spots outside Philly and it's never quite the same. JT's gets credit for best effort of any of the spots outside the Philadelphia area. It wasn't perfect as I thought it was light on meat and needed more juice soaked into the bun but nonetheless it was scarfed down and enjoyed. The bread comes from nearby Tony's Market which was surprising to me. It's worth using if you make sandwiches at home.

Italian Roast Pork

There's even an international offering in the Steak & Potato sandwich. JT's takes the Midwestern favorite of steak and potato and puts it all in a sandwich with Argentinian flavors. Char grilled skirt steak is diced up and loaded into a Tony's Roll with handfuls worth of fries and chimichurri sauce mixed with truffle mayo and manchego cheese. It eats like it could be a Midwest regional specialty.

Steak & Potato Sandwich at JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop 

As mentioned the owner Chris Cunningham is from the Quad Cities region. So no surprise to find perhaps their two most well known regional sandwiches taking their rightful place on the menu. The first is the loose meat aka Maid-Rite aka Tavern style sandwich. I've posted about these before (recipe HERE) and am on record as enjoying them. As best described they're a Sloppy Joe without the slop which really just makes them steamed cheeseburgers without the patty but rather a bunch of loose meat. JT's sells what has to be the country's most expensive loose meat sandwich at something like $6.95 but this isn't Sioux City. Ask any Big Ten transplant about living in Chicago and they'll mention the rent is double what they're used to back home. JT's makes a traditional loose meat and I enjoyed it though I thought the bun was a bit too fancy. The cheaper the white bun the better for these.

Loose Meat Sandwich at JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop 

Then there's the BPT aka Breaded Pork Tenderloin. Perhaps the country's most polarizing regional sandwich. One both Iowa and Indiana like to claim but it's also very popular around Kansas City and Central Illinois. Some people out there find this sandwich to be extremely bland and even flat out avoidable. I'm on record as liking a good one when in Rome. Problem is there's definitely more bad ones than there are good. Just like anything else really. But I still contend when well made they're as enjoyable as a fried chicken sandwich which while boring in and of itself can still be good. JT's takes no short cuts with their BPT. They slice Iowa pork to size which isn't the comically large pieces you'll find down at some Indiana spots. It only overlaps the bun by a couple inches. But it's buttermilk brined and fried to order which makes it extremely tender and also hot which is contrasted by the cold pickles, onion, mustard, mayo, and lettuce. It's a fine sandwich and at just $6.95 it's a steal.

Breaded Pork Tenderloin at JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop

JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop
3970 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 754-7729
Website

Friday, February 21, 2020

Choongman Chicken

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
KFC in Glenview

Today's stop is west on Milwaukee near the Glenview/Niles border. I'm not sure what the building Choongman Chicken is in used to be but I'm guessing it replaced a failed chain. CM Chicken as it's called for short is also a chain. They're from Seoul, South Korea originally and they opened their first US locations out east. It's popular in states like Virginia and Maryland and slowly making it's way out west. The Chicago suburbs being their first Midwest stop. Judging from online reviews it's popular.

 Locals Favorite in Glenview

I visited CM Chicken with Da Hungry Hound not too long ago. It was on my radar since their opening almost a year ago but this isn't the type of spot you can dine solo. At least not for dinner. They do have chicken sandwiches for lunch and so the yelpers say they're great. Korean Fried Chicken has been big in the States for years now. There's lots of spots in Chicago where you can get some good KFC. So it's important to stand out in one way or another. Choongman Chicken has a couple signature items. The first of which is called Snow Chicken. I was very much intrigued by this dish made with your choice of fried bird (whole, wings, boneless) topped with a cold creamy sauce consisting of lots of thinly sliced onions. The cold sauce works surprisingly well with the piping hot chicken which is always fried to order. We tried this with the boneless tenders which I was also surprised by in that I would never order them but these were juicy chunks of tender chicken with no resistance whatsoever. They must brine it or something. Yeah it's a weird dish but it works well.

 Snow Chicken at Choongman Chicken

The other item reviewers vow to keep coming back for is their Tikku chicken which is fried and then grilled. We tried the whole bird (16 pieces) in the sticky garlic soy sauce. Some of the chicken parts such as the breast and the thigh are cut up and the backbone is also included hence the 16 pieces per order. Unfortunately you cant order a half a chicken. This was also really good. The sauce is dry and as the franchisee told us all of it is made back in South Korea and shipped to their US locations. I'm not as crazy about Korean Fried Chicken as others but who doesn't love some good fried bird? This is definitely a spot you go to with a group and get six packs to pair with your food. Open until midnight on the wkd and so we were told they get packed. Nice crowd for lunch actually including a group of four Korean auntie types pounding mugs of Miller Lite while chowing down on delicious KFC.

Tikku Chicken at Choongman Chicken

Choongman Chicken
9850 N Milwaukee Ave
Glenview, IL 60025
(224) 361-3334
Website

Monday, February 17, 2020

Hot Dog Stand Tamales

-Grubbing in Chicago
Eating Tamales at Hot Dog Stands

Aside from hot dogs there might not be a single item more associated with a Chicago hot dog stand than tamales. To many old school Chicagoan's tamales are more likely to be enjoyed with a hot dog than a taco. It goes back to as early as 1927. That's when Iltaco got it's start. Iltaco being short for Illinois Tamale Company. During that time tamales were a big thing. Sold by tamale vendors in the streets along with chili, the tamale was a part of many peoples diets back then. Iltaco was one of the firsts to start selling them commercially though they later focused in on the pizza puff leaving Tom Tom Tamale to carry the torch. The Chicago style hot dog stand tamale is factory made from cheap ingredients. The filling is said to be beef but there's soy too. To this day Chicago tamales are easily found around town and in many cases it's the only non sausage or potato item that some of the city's most historic stands sell. Today we head to three hot dog stands where the tamale stands out.
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Chicago's Original Maxwell Street on Western

The Southside of the city is littered with Maxwell style sausage stands that mimic the originals now found on Union ave. This one is located at 53rd and Western right around Gage Park. Like most of the others it's a 24 hour operation. Unlike some of the others they have a little area where customers can eat during the winter. Otherwise it's a walk up to the window and order establishment. They advertise jumbo "homemade" tamales which always caught my eye. I stopped to try one, and a Polish sausage, this past summer. I was thinking I was going to get a large classic Mexican style tamale but was semi surprised to find I was given an extra large version of a Chicago style tamale. I've never seen one this big and quite frankly I never need to again. I know quite a few people who view the Chicago style tamales as no more than a topping for your chili. That was the case with this one which was double the cornmeal mush and mystery meat which meant double the dryness.

Jumbo "Homemade" Tamale and Polish Sausage at Chicago's Original Maxwell Street
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 Little Mel's

The tamales at my local hot dog stand are different than most other hot dog spots around town. Little Mel's has been in the Logan Square neighborhood right off the California blue line longer than most people living in the area. It's a family owned spot with them always being there. The Chicago style fast food side to the menu is pretty typical with the prices being stuck in the 90's. There's also some Mexican stuff including the moms homemade Oaxacan style tamales. At just $2 each they're a great snack that come served with a mild red salsa and filled with lots of shredded chicken. I love when neighborhood hot dog stands feature international menu items from their family's ethnic background.

Oaxacan style Tamale at Little Mel's Hot Dogs 
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 Parky's Hot Dogs

I could've sworn I wrote about this Forest Park favorite before. If you grew up in or near the OPRF area you probably already know about Parky's. It's a classic Chicago style hot dog stand that has a legion of fans. Parky's is one of the city's few stands that doesn't use Vienna beef hot dogs instead opting for a pretty typical pork-beef blend. They may have their fans but I'm not one of them. That said I can find other ways to love a hot dog stand that's been around since 1947. One of them is just the design of the place. It's futuristic design always catches the eye when riding by on Harlem. Another thing to like about Parky's are the fresh cut fries. I recently learned from friend of the food chain David Hammond that they make a really great chili cheese tamale. A blue collar favorite found at many Chicagoland hot dog stands. Here they throw a bunched tamale (four small ones) into a bowl with their homemade Texas red chili. You can get cheese and or sport peppers if you want. You do. Best use of a Tom Tom I’ve tried. It makes for a great ingredient in the chili which is very well made.

Chili Tamale at Parky's Hot Dogs 
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Chicago's Maxwell
5304 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60609
(605) 313-0713

Little Mel's
2205 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 342-7378

Parky's Hot Dogs
329 S Harlem Ave
Forest Park, IL 60130
(708) 366-3090

Friday, February 14, 2020

Moody Tongue Brewing Company

-Grubbing in Chicago
Elevated Bar Food in the South Loop

I stalled this past year on making NYE dinner plans like I do every year. As I browsed a list of spots I'd like to try I noticed a few openings at Moody Tongue Brewery in the South Loop. Aside from the fact they brew beer here they also sport two separate kitchens one of which is fast becoming one of the city's most coveted reservations. That said there were no openings for the Moody Tongue Tasting Room that night. I would like to check it out and will plan on doing so soon. In the meantime they also have an ala carte kitchen menu where you can eat above average bar food and drink their beer.

Newly Opened in South Loop

Some trusted people in Chicago food have spoke highly of the tasting menu. So I kind of figured the same execution was being put into the regular kitchen albeit with a slightly less adventurous menu. This is a brewery after all. That said the menu is much more mature than your typical sausage and burger options. Yes they do have a burger but it's a pimento cheeseburger. A cult classic among chefs these days. I didn't get to try it but I would come back for it based on the dishes we did try. Chicken Liver pate was served with a super fresh side of housemade pickled vegetables in the style of giardiniera. The pate itself was ricos and they gave us plenty of extra bread. I didn't love the sweet potato agnolotti which was the long cigar shaped kind. But it's no longer on the menu if their website is up to date. Mussels are mixed with one of their house beers and served with toasted baguettes. Nice batch of mostly plump specimens. Moody Tongue does a whole fried branzino which caught both my eyes and hers. Whole fried fish is one of our favorite dishes when done right. Theirs is served with a Calabrian chili relish. Well done. It had a nice fry job and the relish wasn't too overpowering. I also tried a beer sampler but couldn't tell you which ones. As far as bar food goes this was terrific.

Dinner at Moody Tongue Bar (click pics to enhance)

Moody Tongue Brewing Company
2515 S Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 600-5111
Website

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