Monday, July 30, 2012

La Lagartija

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

There was just an excellent Chicago taco roundup or quest as others call them over on Grubstreet by Mike G who is the man behind Sky Full of Bacon. I was glad to see Taqueria La Lagartija on his list. Which I should also add was excellent in getting all over the city and not just the trendy neighborhood hot spots where hipsters like to hang and drink cans of bad beer. La Lagartija falls somewhere in between the hipster hot spots of Wicker Park and the real deal authentic grocery shops with taquerias in back found in other parts of the city. Its over on Ashland just off Ogden not too far from the United Center. When the Bulls and Blackhawks are in season this is a great place to pre-game.

Ashland Avenue near the UIC neighborhood

La Lagartija is a nice place inside with service from a waiter and they do serve drinks. But it's not priced like some other half decent inside sitdown places who up-charge because of the neighborhood their in. It's a great place for all. You might see some Mexican families dining in while some young yuppie couple do the same. The main reason its a good place for all though is because its really good. I was hesitant to try this place at first but after a few glowing reviews from people whom I trusted had good taste I made sure to get over and I've been back quite a few times since.

Fresh al pastor Spit spinning away

Very good housemade salsas served with limes

The kitchen here is in view of those dining in and its always a great thing when you see a big hunk of fresh al pastor meat spinning away. If I see one and thus know a places al pastor is made the authentic way I'm pretty much a guarantee to give it a try. Its not always spinning fresh like that in the pic but on weekends and nights leading up to them I know it is. During the most recent heatwave I decided to try their house chopped salad and although I don't eat much salad unless I make it at home, this was the best one I've had all year. Everything in it worked great and most importantly tasted fresh.

House Chopped Salad

The reason this place rocks in my book is it is pretty damn authentic but with the use of really good ingredients. It's all about the tacos here though, that's pretty much what they do and they do them very well. This is a good things with the use of 'Taqueria' in its name. They do burrittos too which are basically overstuffed tacos and also have really good quesadillas which are kind of like the "grilled cheese" of the taco family. They point out some specialty items on the menu including their "Volcan" which is a tostada with al pastor meat and cheese. Very good in an at home sense. Something most anyone can make at home but with their excellent authentic al pastor cone its going to be hard to replicate that.

"Volcan" Tostada

a trip of tacos

I haven't had anything bad here or something that I would stay away from but of course theres some things that are much better than others. The carne asada is actually pretty good all things considered but I like to eat that at little shacks that specialize in it. The al pastor as mentioned is very good especially when its on the spit rolling. I like the addition of a long piece of pineapple on top. I haven't had a chance to try the alambres which are basically make your own taco plates, some of which sound great. Reason I haven't tried one of those yet is because these are the best shrimp tacos I've had outside of Mexico and maybe best overall period. As featured on the Grubstreet article these are one of my favorite tacos in the city. See ya next time at S'C'&C.

Shrimp Taco

La Lagartija Taqueria
132 South Ashland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-7772

La Lagartija on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Passing thru Southern Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-More salameats, More BBQ and Peach farms too

What sure seems like a longtime ago I took one of my 1st "foodventure" trips. It took us to the area where IL, IN and KY are near. The only reason I ever bought a camera was so I could snap some photos to always have and share my finds with others interested. Well I was back down in Southern Illinois for the first time since then this past weekend. We were in St. Louis but en route down we took I-57 as opposed to I-55. this so that we could stop in at a couple places my politician buddy who gets all around the state wanted me to see down there, where its another world from up here. One state, two totally different places with alot of boring in between.

Cruisin' Southern Illinois

But not before heading back into Herrin and over to Louie's once again for one of their famous if your from down there salameat sandwiches. Herrin Illinois has an interesting past. There was a massacre named after the town that took place there in 1922 and during prohibition it was the site of some bloody battles between bootleggers and the KKK who were trying to help enforce it. Today its pretty quiet and aside from a few restaurants and Louie's along with a small hospitable theres not much else going on. I read they're trying to go back to their Italian roots by attracting Italian owned businesses to open up shop and create some kind of "Little Italy" town. They already throw one of the areas largest festivals called HerrinFesta Italiana.

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A Trip back Louie's P&R Deli

Louie's is well known for their salameats which there isn't much on out here on the WWW. There's a recipe HERE and then there's another HERE with a little history about them that says "Italian restaurants in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky began to serve salameats in the 1980's" but that's not accurate as Louie's has been making them alot longer than that. I wish they weren't so busy when we stopped in but to date the best piece of info about these Southern IL specialties is that the salameat is what they refer to the casing used to stuff them. They're alot different in texture than your normal Italian sausage and these are much more popular at cookouts around here than brats or hot dogs. Is it a play on salamini to mean dry sausage with raw meat inside? Still not sure.

One of a few articles proudly on display

There are some great pics of the old Louie's with huge bins of pastas along the walls that shows this old mining town really was flooded with Italian immigrants and first generation born Americans. A few of the old articles give insight to the salameat including the one pictured above from the the Southern Illinoisan about making Zampat aka stuffed pigs foot. Its an old time Italian holiday tradition. "The foot is stuffed with sausage prepared with Grappa brandy, Marsala wine, Parmesan cheese and lots of spices. That sausage is also used to stuff salameat casings which are popular" In Louie's heyday during the 50's they made 100's of these for families which ordered them for their Christmas feasts. The article which is old in itself says that the number was down to about 10 when it was printed.

Salameat Sandwich from Louie's P&R Deli

The best way to explain a salameat is an Italian sausage with the casing of landjager. They're damn good too if that helps. These arent made with hogs or sheep casing but I'm not sure exactly what they are as far as ingredients go. Not many outside the family do. Not many outside the region have ever heard of these. On we rode taking in the sights and sounds on this fine Friday afternoon. Unlike Central Illinois, Southern Illinois is somewhat hilly with lots of lakes and some very scenic views and lots of wildlife as I saw as we rode thru Big Giant State Park which is a beauty. To go with all that you have some interesting little towns you go thru with different vibes in each.

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Top: View at Alto's Pass -- Bottom: Driving thru an old hippie town & Union County Jail

Alto Pass Illinois

I had hoped to stop in and eat at the Root Beer Saloon in Alto Pass but they were just getting ready to leave. This is maybe the most interesting restaurant I've ever been in. There's not an empty space on the walls which are filled with animals of all sorts and other old school memorabilia. The menu has things like Cioppino and crab cakes or fresh sliced country ham. Its very unique as are the owners. The husband hates the Cardinals and was passionate about them. Hilarious. As were were riding away the old timer was getting ready to take off himself but not before riding up to the car window and asking "What do you give to those Redbird fans when you see them?" Proceeding to flick us off as he rode off.

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Helps keeps the mystique of the place high...Permission given to Cubs fans

Totally a stop for that Guy on Food Network. We didn't get to have food but they poured us some root beer from the tap and we talked baseball and Chicago. He went down there from Chicagoland after college a few decades back and hasn't left. Our final destination was a couple of centennial farms down and around Alto Pass known for their peaches and apples. First up was a place that my buddy had actually never stopped in at always opting to go to the other place instead. I'm glad I made him stop here first.

Flamm Orchards in Cobden, IL

Flamm Orchards started back in 1888 when Leonhard Flamm, a German immigrant, purchased the original 117 acres of the Flamm Farm. Early crops included rhubarb, asparagus, cherries and then later they shifted the focus over to peaches and apples. In the early days the fruit packing plant was simply a tent in the orchard. Times and technology have changed as they now have some heavy duty modernized equipment on display where the fruit is prepped for sale.

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Some sights from the farm incl. the equipment used to separate fruits and box them

The peaches were in full bloom this past weekend. At Flamm they had a few different kinds of them including Loring peaches and Flaming Fury Peck peaches. They had freshly picked ones still waiting to change color once ripe as well as soft spots ready to eat. $13 for a 1/2 bundle my buddy got two only to ask me after the fact if I would make something with them. Flamm has a fruits and cream stand as seen in the collage above. The menu changes with whats in season so depending when your there it could be anything from strawberry shortcake to apple pie and apple dumpling on the menu. With peaches in season they had fresh sliced those available as well as a classic in cobbler and a handful of ice cream selections too.

Flamm Orchards Peach Cobbler from their Roadside Stand

This was really good, not quite as nice as the version I had from a gas station in Mississippi but with the ice cream and extreme heat and all it was exactly what we were hoping they'd have. After Flamm we wandered a few miles over to Rendleman Orchards which is in Alto Pass. "Rendleman Orchards began in 1873 when John and Isabelle Rendleman bought and established the original 88 acre family farm raising chickens, cows and corn for livestock. In this past century, the small family farm has grown and developed into our present day modern agricultural enterprise while maintaining its identity as a family farm." From their Website.

Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass, IL

Both of these places are great examples of the old time family farms that used to flood America. As each generation passed the farm has grown. It wasn't until around 1910 that they started to grow fruits. This due to the fact one of the original owners daughter in laws family was well known for their fruit growing ability around the area so they started up a branch of that too. Nowadays they grow peaches as well as nectarines and apples too but their main crop is their peaches. Peach trees line the roads down in this area, they're everywhere. Both Orchard stops are a must do in my book. You cant just go to one and get out of there with a little bit of everything like you should.

Too Plump, Too Sweet, Too Juicy, Too Good

I thought the peach selection on the day we visited was better at Flamm and loved the fact they had a Fruit & Cream stand. I got some good looking homemade peach jam from them too. But Rendleman might of had the better options as far as what they make with their peaches and other things you need. They had the family cookbooks ready for sale and they package their own mix to make peach cobbler and crisp. If its the weekends they offer fresh smoothies and they make some of the best cider I have ever had. They offer different flavors but don't not try the peach. Get one of the smaller cold ones for the road and stock up on the Growlers which at $7 with no deposit on the bottle are worth it. If anyone is looking for something to do the first weekend in August it's the 75th Annual Peach Fest down in Cobden.

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The Southern IL Peach Trail

As is seen in this old post HERE, Southern Illinois is a hidden gem on the American BBQ trail. It has a big BBQ culture and after stopping in at 17th Street for what continue to be some of if not the best baby backs Ive had, I made my buddy pull over and into the lot of Dixie BBQ which we drove by while riding around. Even though I just had a full slab of some fantastic hard to beat that BBQ I had to stop in and try Dixie so I could know what its deal was.

Jonesboro, IL

The people weren't the most welcoming I'll start off with that. They were kind of snobbish after I asked what the difference in a couple things were as if I'm supposed to know. Down here they eat sliced pork sandwiches and call them BBQ's. Just like a few other spots down there they slice cold smoked butt here into sandwich meat which is reheated when served. I got a small for around $3 and after staring at sit next to the lady while she chatted with a local for five minutes I got it and it was just ok. A little dry and the sauce wasn't anything worth buying a bottle of. I was thinking if they only had some sort of au jus for the thinly sliced smoked pork meat, it might of made these great. Nonetheless I was glad I stopped in and cant wait to get back to Southern Illinois for more exploration soon. See ya next time y'alls.

BBQ Sandwich from Dixie BBQ

Louie's P and R Deli
120 E. Walnut Street
Herrin, IL 62948
(618) 942-3394

Root Beer Saloon
4 Main Street
Alto Pass, IL 62905
(618) 893-1634

Flamm Orchards
8760 Old Highway 51 N
Cobden, IL 62920
(618) 893-4241

Rendleman Orchards
9680 State Route 127 N
Alto Pass, IL 62905
(618) 893-2771

Dixie Barbecue
205 West Broad Street
Jonesboro, IL 62952
(618) 833-6437

Monday, July 23, 2012

Passing thru the Quad Cities

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-Old World Butcher/Ice Cream Shops and Burmese Cuisine

I was in the Quad Cities for a few hours this spring and knew that a trip to the original Lagomarcino's in Moline would be in order but wasn't expecting a delight like that in which I got just down the block from the old time ice cream shoppe. Back to that in a minute. I continue to be fascinated with the Mississippi River and all of the towns located along it throughout the country and the Quad Cities remains a place I'd like to further explore. I remembered Grubseeker mentioning a couple meat markets around there so I looked them up and enjoyed my stop in at each.

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Davenports Meat Markets

Golick's and Johnnies in Davenport, IA are about a three minute drive from each other and each different in their own ways. I'd be alright with having either or of these places as an option for grilling meats so its nice that the folks near there have both. Golick's is housed in an old building and was once a general store but has been a butcher shop the past decade or so. The grill outside was going and the guys inside there were both really nice and happy to talk and see pictures of their place being taken. I got some really nice Iowa pork chops and housemade brats. Both were great on the grill earlier this week. The brats had a distinct flavor to them, not in a bad or unpleasant way, just unlike other butcher shop brats I've had.

Grilled Brats

Johnnie's is another cool place and was really hopping the afternoon I walked in. They're def. the choice for the locals from around that way and reminded me of a smaller version of Peoria Packing here in Chicago. There's some other interesting old time bars/halls to be further explored on Washington ave where Johnnie's is at. After Davenport it was over to Moline and Lagomarcino's an old world Ice Cream Parlor known by many. There is a 2nd location in Davenport but Moline is the original, since 1908, a year I hate when I hear it. I know others do too...maybe next year Cubs fans?

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A legend in Moline. Since 1908.

Lago's was a classic stop and the type of place I seek out while riding the American roads. Opened by an immigrant from Northern Italy it'll take you back into another time upon stepping inside. There's some beautiful old booths but I had to have a seat at the "bar" and plopped down at a stool there. The service was very pleasant and all the ladies working in there, some 20 something some 70 something years old, brought a great vibe to the place.

View Inside

I started with a chocolate egg creme soda which was great and couldn't pass on what their known for in their hot fudge sundae. OK so I don't really eat all that much ice cream or desert (I'd rather just eat more appetizers and entrees) but I would had I lived near Lagos. So simple and so good. Obviously the quality of both the vanilla ice cream and the hot fudge they serve it with is what makes this great. I look forward to getting back. I even found Sunkist Fruit Gems in their candy bins, one of my favorites as a kid, I hadn't seen those in forever. Cool place.

Ice Cream Sundae

Before going into Lago's I saw a red draped place on the corner down the block. I was wrestling back and forth with my food demons about the idea of trying the QC loved 'Taco Pizza' from Happy Joe's. Well I was alot happier than Joe could of made me when I decided to walk down and check the place out. At first glance upon it I saw what looked to be your typical Chinese-American place that you already see in every US city, suburb, town and outlet malls included. Even the name 'Little Rangoon' turned me off as I thought it was a lame play on the 1960's Jewish grandmothers of Miami favorite, Crab Rangoon. But nope upon further look it was Chinese AND Burmese food and upon further education, Rangoon aka Yangon is Burma's largest city and former capitol.

Moline, IL

I talked to the guy inside and asked him how or what led him to start cooking Burmese and that's where his wife is from and shes responsible for the recipes. He said they've gotten a really good response from the locals and people there love it. I think they opened in 2006 so its nice to see they're still around and going good from what I could tell and read. Upon getting back and looking around the internet I was glad to see Little Rangoon has already got some love over at LTHforum and on Yelp! too. I'm here to give it more.

Mini Egg Rolls with their crack like sauce

Everything sounded great as far as the Burmese selections go. I mentioned I was from Chicago and he said, "You don't even have this over there huh?" I said no and asked what he thought I should get. On his rec I tried the shan khuak swe aka pork over noodles (lo mein). Served with a really wonderful spicy cabbage salad, the pork itself wasn't spicy at all but had subtle notes of curry, peanut butter and pig. The homemade sauce they offer is special so get an extra one of those. Truly terrific! Fantastic! If you're not a picky Peggy eater and you ever find yourself near here you need to go. I'm now hooked and wondering when my next trip to the Quad Cities will come, hopefully soon enough. Stay tuned. See ya next time at S'C'&C.

Excellent Burmese Cuisine in Moline, IL

Golick's Meat Market
1141 East High Street
Davenport, IA 52803
(563) 322-2142

Johnnie's Meat Market
1302 Washington Street
Davenport, IA 52804

1422 5th Avenue
Moline, IL 61265
(309) 764-1814

Little Rangoon
1401 5th Avenue
Moline, IL 61265
(309) 736-7770

Friday, July 20, 2012

Three Aces

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'.

Summertime Chicago is a beautiful thing. Although this current one has been almost unbearable with the heat factor forcing many like myself to stay indoors wear the AC is on low. Eventually the temperatures will be a little more bearable and when they are I like to dine at places with nice outdoor seating. A recent article in the Red Eye which I read at the gym featured some of Chicago's hottest "eating" and dining streets and speaking of good places with outdoor seats and a street I think will join the hot blocks to dine on scene, Three Aces on Taylor Street is where were headed today.

a new young hip peoples favorite on Taylor Street

Three Aces is described on its website and Twitter account as "The Italian Countryside Meets the American farmhouse in Keith Richards Basement Bar" and its not a bad description at all. This place is geared toward a younger crowd that's taking over this part of Taylor Street that once wasn't as hopping as the other parts but with the empty lot across the street as well as other spaces available I think Three Aces will set off this little strip as the next popular spot to open a hip and happening place. I've been a few times most recently with my family and before that it was nice enough to sit outside where they have a really nice patio for people to do so.

The outside eating/drinking area

They did a really nice job with this old space that used to be a Bar Louie and before that an old school Italian restaurant. It's got a rock and roll vibe inside with a bar area to greet you as well as plenty of tables to sit at. You can play pool or hop into the old school photo booth while you eat and drink. Its a cool place to have in the new University Village neighborhood. They even have a spectacular special for the college crowd on Monday's when their pizzetta is half price. They make some good pizza here and I pretty much like them all and think that the calabrese with spicy salami is really good but the ram merguez and pork belly pies are without a doubt their two best.

Ram sausage w/ roasted baby carrots, goat cheese, local greens, pistachio oil & chile

Everyone in my big family dinner which we celebrated my birthday during agreed that these two were the best and we tried them all. The pork belly was great with charred crispy edges and a spectacular combination of flavors incl. the pork belly with pickled spring onions, sun dried tomato pesto, ricotta salata, calabrian chiles and honey. They have a nice selection of menu items ranging from bar food like the pizza and others like duck fat chips and arancini. I remember really liking this offering below which included some really solid braised meat. They took this old school Italian dish up another level.


I've tried their Clams Calabrese twice and had mixed results. On one visit when we sat outside I think they might of been a special but don't remember if they were already on the menu like they are now. The first time this dish really shined with some nice plump manilla clams inside an excellent pork belly wine sauce broth with the spice from the Calabrian chile being an excellent addition to clams which are a favorite of mine. The most recent visit we made this dish was below average unfortunately. The clams were very tiny. I know they are naturally but these had barely any meat that wanted to come off. They say they give a 1/2 pound but the 2nd time around there was no way that's how much there were. The baked oysters are pretty good and nice to have as a snack option if your drinking one of their house cocktails or one of the many fine beers they have on tap and in bottles and cans.

Clams Calabrese

Baked Oyster

I knew I would be a fan of the Bolognese fries before I ever tried them just from reading the description. How could hand cut fries topped with their house special Bolognese sauce and Parmesan not be good? They are indeed pretty great. These will make a great winter time snack as they are pretty heavy but very hearty. Think of these as an Italian take on chili cheese fries.

Bolognese Fries

On the "mill" section of the menu they have a Bruschetta as well as house made ricotta gnocchi and Goat Cheese Caramelle. At my bday dinner we decided as a table to try the caramelle. The caramelle is a house made pasta which is served al dente in tube form. Inside of the pasta is citrus goat cheese, arugula pesto, toasted walnuts and parmesan. I thought this dish was an excellent eat for summer. It was pretty citrusy but it all worked out with the pesto and al dente pasta paired with everything else. The Steelhead tartare was another great eat in this summer of heat. It was served with beet chips, caper berries, chervil, lemon, Fresno chiles, cucumber and chives. Very cooling and an item I would order again.

Goat Cheese Caramelle

I'm not the biggest fan of octopus unless its cut up in smaller pieces but my entire family enjoyed their Grilled offering of it. I thought it was really good too and worked really well with the white beans, watercress puree, Italian sambal, cured lemon, sundried tomato and black garlic. Yet another very nice summertime snack. They do a good job with their menu changing it up as the seasons go by and service is really nice. Don't be afraid of the fact everyone has tattoos. Its a rock and roll atmosphere. My uncle wanted to know if they had a parlor in back. In fact the night we went for my bday recently the waitress that took care of us was great. She was friendly and very patient and ready to answer any questions my family asked. Most of which had nothing to do with the food or menu.

Steelhead Tatare

Grilled Octopus

But for me the star of the show in what I've tried thus far at Three Aces is their burger. The Ace Burger as it's called and an ace it is. This one has Cy Young stuff. Their beef is magnificent and easily the best part about this burger and that better be the case if you want to be one of the best. Its a little loose because it's a fresh blend and when they add some bacon jam with aged cheddar, trimmings, aioli, garlic and hops pickle it becomes one of the best "fancy" burgers I have had. The house cut fries served with a little lemon zest and parsley come with a magnificent aioli and I couldn't stop eating those despite eating most of what you see up above. We had to pass on their steak but we all decided we'd be back. I know I'll be back for another burger. And sooner than later.

Ace Burger at Three Aces

Three Aces
1321 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 243-1577

Three Aces on Urbanspoon


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