Thursday, October 30, 2008

What The Heck is Phillys Best?

-The Sammy's of Chi

What the heck is Phillys Best?

Philly's Best has four Chicagoland locations

"The only Philly steak in Chicago" - Chicago Tribune

"Best sub in Chicago" - Channel 2 News

"The place to get a Philly steak in Chicago" - Philadelphia Magazine

"In Chicago, the place for steaks" - Philadelphia Inquirer

Cheesesteak from Phillys Best--Read about below & click pic to see just how serious they are.

The Philadelphia Phillies are your 2008 MLB champions. Hey Cubs fans, you think we got it hard? Philadelphia hadn't won a championship in 100 years when you combine the four major teams together. Congrats to the city and its fans. I never had any beefs with Philly fans and I even had a few as roommates thru the years and they are pretty knowledgeable and definitely passionate about their sports teams. We also have a little connection as a state to Philly sports with Mt. Carmel's Donovon McNabb QB of the Eagles and the 76'ers rising star Andre Iguodala is from Springfield.

No one really picked the Phillies when the year started and many didn't even pick them when the playoffs started. Baseball has really become a two season sport just like NCAA basketball. Everything you accomplished in the regular season is thrown out the door when MLB playoffs start. When the Cardinals beat the Tigers in '06, they were the two worst teams in the playoffs. The only other sport where that is really like this is mens basketball with March Madness.

Here is an interesting little fact about the world series and how bad it has been for viewers that have no affiliation with the winning team--The losing team has now won a total of two games the last five years. The Rays took one from Philly this year and the Tigers beat the Cardinals once in that series. Not so entertaining for the fans, huh?

Anyways since Philly is the best in baseball its time to introduce you to Philly's best. I gave you a peak into PB in my World Series preview. PB was started by a Greek family from Philly who moved to Chicago and couldn't get their beloved cheesesteaks anymore. What do you do when you cant get a certain food in a certain area? make it yourself and that's just what they did. Their first location was and is on Belmont a half block from the red line station. They now have four locations which you can find on their website.

Cheesesteak with Greek fried cheese balls

When it comes to authentic cheesesteaks in Chicago, this is where it starts and ends. The brothers fly in the meat from Philly and offer them "wit" onions and cheese whiz for that authentic Philly flair. No worries if that doesn't sound appealing to you they also have regular cheese, peppers and other toppings for your steak. They offer a bunch of different oven grinders and other stuff like pizza and fried appetizers. There are four things I order from PB...that's it.

I mentioned it was a Greek family that owned this place and for an appetizer you have to try the fried cheese, its da bomb. Obviously they have an awesome cheesesteak and I get that 90% of the time and I always go footlong. But the lesser known Philly chicken is just as good for all you chicken heads. When you order a Philly chicken go with green peppers, onions and white American cheese. The other item you have to try is the Greek fried dough which is lightly fried dough served with honey lemon sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Great for dessert. This is one of Chicago's best chicken sandwiches. Its also one of the best delivery options in the Wrigleyville Lincoln Park area. It's the perfect poker food too. Whether it's internet poker or the real deal, it's not a true poker game without cheesesteaks and beer!

Trust me boys, she's pretty on the inside.

So for for all you people that have transplanted to Chicago from Philly, you have a spot that tastes like home and its called Philly's Best. They also have Tastykakes for all you Philly stoners. If you've been eating at PB as long as I have then you probably remember those funny commercials on during daytime trash TV of the guy yelling "What the heck is Phillys Best?" Well its the best cheesesteak sandwich you can find outside that region. Get at it. Now hows that for showing love Philly?

Philly's Best (four locations)
907 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525-7900

Philly's Best on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

el gallo bravo #5

-Got Beef? taco's de carne asada

If el gallo bravo sounds familiar it probably is. They are a family owned operation with numerous locations throughout the city and they stay open 24 hours at most of them. EGB is an above average taqueria, the steak tacos and burritos are the most popular menu items. It has a steady flow of traffic and does a good business in both dine in and take out. If you choose to eat there chips and homemade salsa are are served complementary. There is a large bowl of fire roasted jalapeños and onions that is also available free of charge.

There isnt much to say about this place except it passes the taco test. The portions are always done right and the steak tacos are more than passable. This is why we are so lucky living in Chicago with all of our selection, a place like this would be a goldmine elsewhere. The Steak is finely chopped and griddled into small pieces and loaded into a tortilla. If you like your tacos done old school (onions and cilantro with some salsa is how tacos are supposed to be eaten) you have to request that here, otherwise you get lettuce, tomato etcetera. EGB might be my favorite steak taco place where they cook the steak on a flattop.

Steak taco from el gallo bravo

Rating Scale 5/5

steak: 4
cilantro/onions: 3
tortilla: 3
salsa: 3

Score: 13/20

El Gallo Bravo #5
1429 W. Montrose
Chicago, IL 60613

Monday, October 27, 2008

KingT's Wings & DRose For Real (Combo)

Dish me out a combo: Food & Sports


The 2008-2009 NBA Basketball season is upon us. Let me start out by saying that basketball is by far the sport that I am most knowledgeable about. There were a few years when the NBA was on a decline and it just wasn't as entertaining as it was during its heyday of MJ and the Bulls and the rest of the greats that played during that era. So the league went thru a little recession period and there weren't any super-superstars and talent was weak and it wasnt entertaining to watch. Players like Eddie Robinson, Eddy Curry and Erick Dampier got insane contracts because there just wasn't much natural ability around the league. Well thats all changed because the way I see it is that the league might be at a new all time highpoint. We haven't had this many superstars and players on the verge of Hall of Fame careers to watch ball since the days of MJ and his peers.

You got Lebron James who has arrived and is just amazing to watch play. Like he said we are all witness'. Kobe Bryant is still trying to get that title without Shaq and he is playing at a peak that establishes him as one of the greatest ever and the Lakers are deep and ready to get back into the finals.

The Celtics are meaningful again and they come back as the favorites to defend the title with Kevin Garnett who sealed his legacy as one of the greats with a ring last year.

Dwayne Wade is back and healthy and showed over the summer in Beijing that he is still one of the games best. They lost Wade for the year last year and won Michael Beasley for years to come this year.

How will a young stacked Portland team do with last years #1 Greg Oden 's arrival and Rudy Fernandez coming in from overseas? I was most impressed with Rudy of all the players in the Olympics.

What about the Atlanta Hawks...who? Thats right ATL is stacked with young talent that is actually panning out and after taking Boston to seven last year in the first the only way to go is up.

There are so many story lines it would take a day to write them all. Was there a better city to see a revival of a team than in New Orleans after what happened to the city? Chris Paul is the leader in a line of future stars that is as long as I can remember.

Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Josh Smith, Kevin Durant, Danny Granger, Brandon Roy, David West, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Lamarcus Aldridge, Mike Conley, Jose Calderon, Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, Al Horford, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson and not to mention quite a rookie class lead by Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and O.J Mayo.

As for the 2008 Bulls preview and what we can expect ill keep it short and sweet. Derrick Rose is the best talent to come to Chicago since 23. Im not saying he is going to be better or anything like that because they are two totally different players. However an important trait that they do share is the fire and passion to win and to not accept losing and when you combine that with the talent they have it makes for a scary player. Not even MJ was this talented out of college as far as raw athleticism and skills go.

He wont wear #23 (he wears #1) but Derrick Rose has Bulls fans as excited as they were during the heydays

There are years when teams luck out and win the draft lottery in the right year to do so. The Spurs won it in '97 and got Tim Duncan--the Clippers won it the next year and got Michael Olowokandi. The Cavs won it in '03 and got Lebron and then Orlando got Dwight in '04. Milwaukee then won in '05 and got Bogut and Toronto got Bargnani in '06. Its all about luck and having that luck in the right year. The Bulls lucked out and we won the lottery and if there was ever a year to do so...we did it. Next years top draft prospect is Ricky Rubio. While the PG from Barcelona is said to be skilled he has no where near the game of this years number one, DRose. With Rose being selected number one and Rubio projected as next years top talent and the emergence of Chris Paul and Deron Williams the league is clearly going the way of the point guard.

Rick Rubio got a taste of NBA "D" in Beijing this summer

I dont know what to expect from the Bulls this season but all that matters is the growing of Derrick Rose into NBA superstar and best point guard in the league for years to come. thats all I care about and that is all I will be watching. Something tells me that the Bulls could make some noise and turn some heads and sneak into the 7th or 8th slot in the east. I think DRose will go through some growing pains but will catch on much faster than anticipated and the rest of the team and its players will benefit greatly. We haven't had a leader on offense like this since MJ and we haven't had such a pesky one on one defender since ScoPip.

My 2008-2009 bold prediction: The Knicks will average 110 points per game under new Coach Mike D'Antoni...but will give up 125 ppg.

Somebody is going to get it worse from DRose than Scottie did

I share the same passion for wings as I do for BBall and so before it gets too cold to enjoy some amazing wings on the grill, get at these. When it comes to consuming food while watching sports is there anything more widely eaten then chicken wings? They seem to go hand in hand. I will start my wing-ding (reviews of the best wings in Chicago) next week with an article about my favorite bar to get them at...stay tuned.

For any of you that love hearing the snap, crackle and pop of wings on the grill but have trouble finding the right wings, I got you covered. Over at Strack & Van Til they carry wings from Rosebud Farms that are labeled "wing drummettes" They come with just the drumette part so there is no cutting of the whole wing with your worn down shears and they are the perfect size, not to small and too big either. Yes there is such thing as to big of wings. Jumbo wing's tend to be rubbery because they dont have the same skin to meat ratio that medium sized wings do. Two of my favorite preparations for these wings....

Heavily Jerked with Boston Bay jerk marinade/paste from Danny's old world Caribbean market on Broadway and grilled over hickory.

Wings rubbed with Mike Mills' "magic dust" and also grilled over charcoal and hickory and when done thrown in a bowl and tossed with Rupert Johnson's BBQ sauce.

These are so easy to do that even some NBA players could do it. Just kidding--I love this game. I just wish its players would stop loving the cheesecake factory. One taste of these wings and they'll love me and ditch the cheesecake factory for good.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Helluva lot happenin' at Hella's

--Got Beef? (and lamb)
KingT's gyro-tron

Our next stop on the gyro-tron is Hella's. Located right off the Bryn Mawr stop on the red line in the Edgewater neighborhood. If you like the places that haven't changed thru time then you'll most likely love Hella's. Nothing and I mean nothing has changed over there. This is for the better and worse as you will soon read.

Ill take a gyro but skip the Budweiser and gimme a High Life

They dont do much as far as upkeep goes over at Hella's. The lighting is so dim that I think they may not have switched the light bulbs in 5-6 years. There is a Jim McMahon poster that sits right over the counter and on it you can see different layers of grease from over the years, its almost like a grease rainbow. There's a display cabinet with all sorts of useless junk that the owner keeps there because I assume he doesnt have anymore room at his place. There is a stack of phone book's to the ceiling that im guessing is every edition put out by yellowbook from the past 20 years. The customers arent exactly your Starbucks crowd. They are interesting to say the least. When we left I saw a really short old Asian guy entering with a tall young black transvestite. So they say the neighborhood has changed, not that night. Its also a favorite with the cops though as I saw a few come and go for food. Many people were stopping in to purchase 40 oz. of Miller Lite which along with the gyros seem to be the hot seller. If you like crack with your spanakopita...I'm sure you can find that too.

My site was nominated for Best Food Blog!
Dont forget to vote for me this election season

But then there is the food which hasnt changed either and that is for the better. You see Hella doesnt use one of Chicago's gyro manufacturer's. They have a homemade mix that they make in house and have since they opened. There is something really entertaining about the old Greek guy with a thick white mustache cutting the meat from the spit super fast and in style. He had a ninja like approach to cutting that meat.

you can tell from this picture of the spit how dim it is inside

The characters inside are interesting, and the decor is a bit grimy but this place is an old-school uptown gyro spot that gives a little idea of what that neighborhood was like in the 70's and 80's. Aside from gyros they have all sorts of Greek favorites including saganaki (another Chicago original) which I will be back to try. Im interested to see how the old guy lights it without burning off his mustache. The gyro was good but my main complaint was that it is sliced to thick for me. I prefer my gyro's thin and crispy but everything about it was good including the greasy fries. I ate my dinner so quick all I got a pic of was my sandwich when I made it. This is a good gyro I might say. Plus points for using sport peppers as one of the toppings along with tomato and onions. I had never seen that before but I enjoyed it and it gave the gyro even more Chicago flare. In case you didnt know gyros were introduced to America in Chicago.

Rating Scale 5/5

Gyro meat: 3
tzatziki: 3
fries: 3
freshness of pita and toppings: 3

Score: 12/20

Hella's Gyros
133 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Chicago, IL 60660

Hellas Gyros on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Meet the Loose Meat's

Eating like a local: Regional food specialties
--The elusive loose meat in Iowa and other Midwest states

This next post is a combo post that includes a entry into the "regional eats" category and also a recipe for that regional food and the tailgating category. The loose meat sandwich is a creation from Iowa that can best be described as a sloppy Joe without the slop. The origin and creator of this sandwich is hazy and information on the internet is scattered with different stories. Another common name for a loose meat is a "maid-rite." This term comes from the name of one of America's first quick service casual dining restaurants started in Iowa in 1926 by a man named Fred Angell, a butcher from Iowa. When Angell turned his walk up spot into one of America's first eat-in joints, a craze was unleashed. The loose meat sandwich gained even more fame around the world when Roseanne served them at her fictional restaurant the "Lanford Lunch-Box" on her sitcom in 1992.

a Midwest tradition

Since they were introduced back in the '20's, Maid-Rite and the loose meat sandwich has spread all over the Midwest into small towns across IA, IL, NE, IN, MN and a recently opened location of Maid-Rite in Madison, WI. It is a sandwich that has decreased in popularity over time but is making a comeback of late with Maid-Rite leading the way. While Maid-Rite might be the most well known of the loose meat slangers these sandwiches are served at many taverns across Iowa and fast food places alike. Just like a hamburger and everything else the recipe/technique differs at each location. While alot of the Maid-rites along the highways and in Midwestern cities may be new and squeaky clean corporate locations, you can still find many that are independently owned and haven't changed at all thru time. On my recent trip thru hog heaven we found an old school outlet in Christopher, IL. It was my first Maid-Rite since a couple years back when I got to experience another old school Maid-Rite in Davenport, IA.

a locals favorite in Christopher, IL

Homemade Reese's pie

Old School Pie display with todays selection

Maid-Rite Sandwich (Christopher, IL)

When I first read about these things a few years ago they brought back a memory I had of eating them way back in the day and I immediately liked the idea of making my own and seeing what they were all about. Over the past couple year's I have created what I like to think is one of the better loose meats you can have. The LM is basically a old school 30's style cheeseburger with the meat being loose instead of formed to a patty. Other important factors in creating the perfect LM's are to make sure that you use regular cheap hamburger buns and make sure they are steamed. It is important that you grind down the meat so that there are no little clumps at all, use a potato masher to do so.

KingT's Loose Meat's (Serves 4)

2 lb's ground beef (80/20 works best)
1 small/medium sized onion diced and chopped finely
cheap hamburger buns like Wonder
slices of cheap American cheese
thinly sliced pickles (I use deli kosher)
chopped raw onions
1 to 2 cans of chicken Stock
salt & pepper

1) Add onion's into a large skillet and proceed to add the ground beef and break it down with back of wooden spoon. Sprinkle with S&P.

2) Let beef/onion mixture continue to cook and drain the fat when it reaches a high point. Continue the cook the mixture and use a potato masher to mash down the meat and let cook until it gets dark and edges become crispy.

Meat halfway thru beginning to be mashed

3) When the beef has cooked thru and is well mashed sprinkle some Lawry's salt and fresh ground pepper on top and give it a few squirts of mustard. Cover the beef mixture with chicken stock until just slightly covered.

4) Let the mixture cook on low until the stock has been completely absorbed into the beef.

5) Take your steamed bun and use an ice cream scooper or spoon to put a few spoonfuls on the bottom of the bun and immediately top with slice of cheese (or not) and some raw onions, pickles and mustard. For a super easy meal serve these with Ore-Ida crispy tator tots.

Roseanne aint got shit on these...KingT's mobile home hamburgers

103 W Sylvia Ave
Christopher, IL 62822
(618) 724-4960

Maid-Rite (Locations through-out Iowa & the Midwest)

My site was nominated for Best Food Blog!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

2008 World Series: The Cheesesteak vs The Cuban

Dish me out a combo: Food & Sports

If not for that choke of a squad on the north side I would be doing pretty well right now in my 2008 playoff predictions. It was me who had the Red Sox over the Angels and the Rays handing it to the White Sox. I had the Phillies over the Brew Crew but I also had the Cubs over the Dodgers and thats where shit hit the fan. I should of known better but something in me really made me believe that we had as good a shot as ever...yea right. Once again our hitting was nowhere to be found. Im not going to waste my time writing about the misery and what needs to done but lets just say that Derek Lee in the three hole needs to change now. We need a number three hitter, plain and simple. We dont need to trade Derek but he doesn't belong there and ARam needs to stay in the four slot. Free agent. Trade. Whatever. Get it done!


Tampa might be home to more than just the strip club capitol of the world and good Cuban food series champs?

Not only did I go 3 for 4 on the first round but I also told you that the Devil Rays (they'll always be that to me) would beat the Red Sox in seven games in the ALCS. Not just that but I told you to keep your eye out for David Price and that the future was now. I bet you know who he is now and your probably with me in my assessment that the "Price is right" This year was a hard one for Cubs fans, we were swept out of the playoffs again and have now lost nine playoff games in a row. Im sick of it and fed up to the point where I wont be in a bummy mood and im not wasting my time crying about a bunch of underachievers. Let me just ask one question. Where the hell was the fire? why did it seem like Cubs players were playing in another series from the long regular season? In a five game series you need to be in a do or die mode from game one and they just weren't into it. They should of known they had to go into game one with a game seven mentality and the pressure they would face in game two if they lost the first one. Maybe next year? ya sure.

I have been a fan of the Rays since they were useless, I spent many a nights at Tropicana in 2000-2001 when I lived down in Tampa and me and buddy's were a few of the 100+ people in the stands. Trust me it was so deserted in the bleachers we shared a few hits of our own here and there and ate Cuban sandwiches when the munchies hit. How times have changed. Big props to the Rays for building a legit ball club in just 11 years. Im a die hard Bulls-Bears-Cubs fan and have no 2nd teams in any of those sports but the Rays are the closest thing to it. I enjoy watching them play. I remember hearing Terry Boers from 670 the score on the radio over summer and he was just trashing the Rays for their trade of Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. It was mid June and Garza went on the DL and Boers said something along the line of "boy we know who robbed who in that deal, what a heist job the Twins did to the Rays" Hey Terry how is that trade working out now? Pretty, pretty good...for Tampa. They got ALCS MVP Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett who manager Joe Maddon calls the "glue" and got rid of the headache that was Delmon Young and his selfish/snob antics that came with him.

The Rays...yes the Rays! are four wins away from their first WS title

So in the end we are left with a battle of Philly's Cheesesteak sandwich and Tampa's Cuban sandwich for the 2008 world series. Not the dream world series of the Italian Beef vs. The Lobster Roll that MLB and Cubs/Red Sox fan's had hoped for but still a very entertaining matchup with tons of star power and talent on display that fans of the game will be watching. Ill let Karl Ravech, John Kruk, Steve Phillips and Peter Gammons break down the baseball aspect for you and ill do the food.

Like many places in the U.S each of these team's cities has a popular sandwich and pretty damn authentic versions of each can be found in Chicago. The cheesesteaks at Philly's Best come from two brothers who grew up in Philly and moved to Chicago. They get the meat flown in from Philly and are serious about their cheesesteaks. Most experts agree that these are the best cheesesteaks outside that area in the entire country. I have never been to Philly but I have been eating these since the crew used to chilax over at 1014 Altgeld which seems like years ago and they are da bomb. Notice the cheeze whiz in the picture? they do them authentic. Having lived in Tampa I can tell you that there is a very good and close to authentic Cuban sandwich served at 90 miles Cuban Cafe.

2008 MLB World Series

The Philadelphia Phillies & The Cheesesteak


The Tampa Bay Rays & The Cuban Sandwich

So who is going to win the 2008 world series? Look no further than the food for the answer. As good as cheesesteaks are and the Phillies are good, Cuban's are better and so are the Rays. We all know my favorite sandwich in the world is da beef but the Cuban might be my second. I love the Cubs (its love/hate) and I like the Rays. I expect a very close entertaining series and should of known from the get go that this was the Rays year.

You see it all started back in '03 when the Cubs blew the 3-1 series lead to the Marlins who eventually went on to win it all...the Marlins?!?!?!? for the 2nd time none the less. Then in 2004 it got worse, the Red Sox broke their curse. What happened in 2005? White Sox win. Then in 2006 our arch-rivals the cardinals take one home and the once "cursed" Red Sox win again in 2007. Now who is the only team that could win in 2008 to make it hurt even more for Cubs fans who have now waited 100 years? The once god-awful "Detract (the) Rays" are now four wins away from a world series title in year eleven...ouch.

T's 2008 World Series adjustment
Rays (4) Phillies (3)

For Wikipedias take on the cheesesteak click here...for its take on the Cuban click here.

Having a party for the games? Try making some frita cubanas and or cheesesteak sliders for food.

Frita Cubana Recipe

Slider recipe

Philly's Best (various locations)
907 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525-7900

90 Miles (Cuban Cafe)
3101 N. Clybourn
Chicago, IL 60618
Closed on Sunday's

My site was nominated for Best Food Blog!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Now that's a burger!

-Got Beef?
The Burgers of Chi

It is time to introduce you to my favorite burger joint in the city. You've heard of Billy Goats, Top Notch, Kuma's, Moody's Pub, Fat Burger has arrived in Chi and all sorts of other various well publicized hamburger spots around Chicago. Now its time for me to share a little secret with you. My favorite burger joint in Chicago goes by the name "Thats-A-Burger" or TAB or "Thatsa" as we call it. The little burger joint that slang's perfect, juicy-burgers from behind bullet proof glass in a little storefront on 71st in the South Shore neighborhood might be Chicago's best little culinary treasure. If you want a cocktail and some truffle fries with your burger then forget about this place, go to Rockit, or somewhere Chicago Scene told you to go. If you want a real hand formed burger that is just that...a burger, then get over there.

TAB does the bare minimum when it comes to decor and ambiance but who gives a hoot, the burger is the best in the city. Ive been to TAB countless times and still drive by it sometimes because it can be really hard to spot, they have a little sign in the window that is half torn off, that's it. Along with their top notch hand made burgers they are said to make an amazing turkey burger, I don't doubt that it is by far the best TB in the city.

You gotta love any place with house specials. They dont disappoint

The chili is some of my favorite in the city as well

TAB is a very popular neighborhood stop for hungry locals, there is always going to be a wait, even if your the only person in there. It takes time to form the patty and cook it, its a sign of good things to come when you have to wait 10-15 at a burger joint. The only downer I ever had is the wait, but whats wrong with waiting for your burger to be made, they aren't taken out of a freezer and thrown on the flames and they aren't thin either so it takes some time to grill them. The fresh cut fries are also the perfect compliment to your cheeseburger and are included with each burger. Locals will usually call in their order because they know that at peak hours it can take up 45 minutes, so you do the same. Put the number in your phone and place your order when your 10-15 minutes away.

Burgers are what they do here and they don't bother with much else (1/2 lb) you can make it a double if you dare, the standard comes with onions (grilled or raw) lettuce, pickle, mustard, and ketchup. Other toppings available for extra include includes choice of sport, jalapeño, or giardinara peppers, American, Swiss, or Cheddar cheese, chili, bacon, or a fried egg. In my book the only way to go is with a egg on top. So here ladies and gentleman is what you've been waiting for.

Thats a not miss this place.

Overall Grade: A+

Strengths--This is what every burger place ought to be. They dont do anything wrong here. Hows that for a strength?

Weakness--Take-out only, if that even is one, you have to eat the burger on the hood of your car or in your car. Also there is always a wait. Decide if you want a beef or turkey burger and what you want on it and call in your order 15-20 minutes prior to your arrival.

2134 E 71st St
Chicago, IL 60649
(773) 493-2080
take-out only

That's a Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

24 hour eats @ El Presidente

Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City
...mamá's home cooking from the ladies at El Presidente

If you lived/live in the Lincoln Park/ashland area at any time over the last 30 years then odds are you have eaten at El Presidente. Chicago has its fair share of 24 hour joints and Presidente is by far my favorite. In a city that has some of the best Mexican eats anywhere, El Presidente is one of the best examples of homestyle Mexican grub. It is actually in the bottom of a house and the owners/employees live above so that they can serve Chicago at every hour of the day. It is BYOB in case you wanted to drank more. Talk about homey.

The sign at Ashland/Wrightwood

Like alot of other 24 hour spots, el presidente serves up all sorts of clientèle. The menu has all the basic offerings of a Mexican restaurant and a nice selection of combos along with meat/seafood selection and breakfast is available all day/night. But what puts this place on the radar is the homestyle cooking from the ladies of the kitchen. Ive been here countless times over the past 15 years and every time im in there you will see the mothers/grandmas back in the kitchen dishing out their amazing family recipes.

Homemade chips and salsa (free with dinner) are among the better

If you haven't had the nachos from El Presidente then you are missing out on some of the best nachos in town. Homer Simpson would singing "nacho, nacho man" into the late night if he had a taste of these. These are how nachos used to be back in the day, I remember them as a kid and nachos like this are what turned me onto Mexican food at such a young age. They take their fresh fried tortilla strips and load them with beans, homemade ranchero sauce and then cover the entire plate in chihuahua cheese and put it under the broiler until the cheese browns. Served with guacamole and sour cream. Folks I am telling you these are amazing at 2pm and heaven on a plate at 4am. Make sure you get these dining in, they have to be eaten fresh from the broiler.

Close up of el presidente's nachos (click for closer up view)

The best nachos in Chicago (el presidente)

The ladies of presidente also do some of the better flauta's I have had around town. They are large overstuffed fresh fried and loaded with toppings. I also like the enchilada's and breakfast items. Combos are never a bad choice if you cant figure out what to get. I am not a big fan of the tacos however. So if you want some late night food but don't want to deal with the pathetic starbucks in the morning-preppie-yuppie's eating at Wiener circle and TBP singing "I kissed a girl and I liked it" then try this place out. If your eating at la bamba then I'm assuming the only other Mexican food you ever ate was at the Taco Bell back home in Wasilla, Alaska. Sorry but that place taste so bad I dont care how much Jameson I drank, Id rather eat moose meat stew with Mz. Palin.

flauta, enchilada combo

El Presidente
2558 N Ashland ave
Chicago, IL 60614

El Presidente on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hog Heaven

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

--Peace, love and BBQ in Southern Illinois

If there is a single food that sums up regional eating and everything it is, BBQ would have to be it. When people travel the country there are different specialties of BBQ at every corner. Go to Memphis and you will find the amazing dry rubbed ribs, in Texas, beef is king and the brisket and sausage from the eastern European settlers is legendary. Go to the Carolina's and you will find pit's of pork with people making their family's traditional pulled pork sandwiches that are millions of Americans "last meal on earth."Owensboro, Kentucky gets the most unique BBQ for their mutton. In Baltimore they do the pit beef sandwich, Chicago is the land of rib tips, Cali the tri-tip, Kansas City has the sauce and those to die for burnt ends, St. Louis got that snoot and it goes on and on.

Southern Illinois might not be on your BBQ trail...if so your missing out.

What if I told you there was a place where you could get real bbq pork sandwich's as good as those in the Carolina's? and in this same area you will find BBQ sauce as good as anything in Kansas City but it doesn't end there, Ill lead you to some of the best rib tips in the state of Illinois (land of the tip) and along with those sandwiches and sauce you will find the best ribs in the entire world including Memphis. If I told you all of this was all together in Southern Illinois of all places you might say to me "sure and pigs are flying down there too right?" Guess what? pigs are flying.

17th St. bar & grill and the surrounding area is heaven for smoke heads

On a recent trip down to Southern-Illinois, I got to experience peace, love and barbecue all rolled into a little area of the state that hasn't changed much with time. They still do alot of things old school down there and BBQ is one of them. The true definition of barbecue is a hunk of meat cooked low and slow with indirect heat and usually a combination of charcoal and wood. Anything else is just grilled or BBQ flavored whatever. Down in southern Illinois they take great pride in their BBQ and most of it is a family tradition that has been passed along and kept alive due to the areas unwillingness to take easier less time consuming ways of creating perfect BBQ. Its an art that is slowly disappearing thru time but will never go away in this part of the Land of Lincoln. Some might say it is America's best kept culinary secret. If you dont dine with swine, stop reading now...I am about to take you to hog heaven.

Land of Lincoln and Porky the Pig

Johnson's BBQ (Harrisburg, IL)

Our first stop on this euphoric journey was in Harrisburg, where we stopped at Johnson's Southern Style Barbecue. Rupert Johnson is a fourth generation BBQ'er who has perfected the art of the sauce. Ladies and gentleman, over the years I have sampled 100's of different sauces of every background imaginable. I am hear to tell you that me and you no longer need to look any further. Johnson's southern style BBQ sauce is the best sauce in the world.

Rupert Johnson's BBQ sauce is a fourth generation recipe that continues to be handed down

As mentioned above the pig is king down south and one of the locals favorite ways to enjoy it is "a barbecue." The popular lunch item for folks of the area are smoked pork sandwiches with the places signature BBQ sauce. They are available at different pits all over the area. Rupert uses the best fresh pork he can get his hands. Him and his people rub the butts all over with their secret rub and then proceed to cook it low and slow on one of his mammoth pits using just charcoal. Johnson's serves their amazing barbecues sliced instead of chopped or shredded and the pig combined with his top notch sauce is one heavenly combo. Check below for online ordering information. Makes a great gift for any grillmaster.

Johnson's barbecue sandwich with its blue ribbon BBQ sauce

John Johns BBQ (Colp, IL)

About 35 miles to the west of Johnson's Southern BBQ is John Johns BBQ in the town of Colp, IL. JJs is all in the family. I am going to proclaim this super friendly group as Illinois "first family of barbecue." JJ is the pitmaster and helping him run the show are his mother who you know can cook, his brothers and his little nephew Andrew provides the customers with entertainment putting a smile on everyones face. The food here will keep that smile on your face all day long. The star of the show is the best barbecue sandwich I have ever had. JJ uses hickory to slow cook the house spice rubbed pig and they top off the perfectly smoked meat with yet another amazing BBQ sauce I found on my trip down there. The result is perfection-both crispy and juicy pieces of pulled pork with perfect smoke flavor and BBQ sauce that compliments it all. This family takes great pride in their cooking as I was told by one of JJ's brothers and it sure does show. JJ's brother does up rib tips (pic at bottom) that are as good and probably better than anything I have found in Chicago and those in the know will agree that Chicago is a rib-tip town. I would have liked to have tried moms fried blue gill which you just know is good. There will be a next time, thats for sure.

John Johns does one of the best sandwiches I have had...period.

17th ST. Bar & Grill is a living legend on the BBQ trail (Muphysboro, IL)

ATTN: Residents of Chicago. The last place im taking you to is the mecca of ribs. If you like ribs and you havent been to 17 St. then you just cant say you have eaten the best ribs on earth. If I told you the best ribs in the world were on I-57 you would assume im talking about Memphis, a place known for their ribs across the world. But these ribs are in a small town in Illinois a few hours before Memphis along 57 and the home of the Michael Jordan of BBQ. Mike Mills is a legend in the wide world of BBQ. The Murphysboro resident is the three time "Memphis in May" world BBQ champ, it is the super bowl of BBQ. In fact Mike and his team won so many times that they asked him to become a grandmaster judge. Mr. Mills has perfected and I mean PERFECTED the art of the rib.

Dont let that pretty pink meat fool you...these are cooked/smoked perfectly.

Over at 17th St. they use a secret rub called "magic dust" consisting of 18 different spices. They rub the ribs and then smoke them to perfection using apple wood that is local to the area. The dust is the best rub I have found and I was happy to be able to purchase more than a few for my BBQ experiments. If you are taking a trip down to Memphis make sure you stop here along the way for these ribs. With all due respect to Charlie Trotter and the rest of the high end chefs who create different types of culinary art...these ribs are the "Mona Lisa" of food. Graham Elliot Bowles and Bill Kim need to take a road trip down south to 17th St. and then they will see why we go crazy for food. I didnt get a chance to meet Mike this time because he was in Las Vegas making sure his BBQ joint there was running up to his standards. The only way to go is a full slab "dry" (no sauce on the ribs) this way you get to taste the true beauty of what they do here.

Full slab of the best ribs in the world from 17th St bar & grill (Murphysboro, IL)

I had no idea that Southern Illinois was so rich in BBQ. You can find pit's in every town and everyone has a place they go to and eat and chat and enjoy the country life. All these places mentioned above do catering and provide the respective communities with food and service. The people of the towns are lucky to have them and they know it by continuing to support these family run operations. If you are ever in the area or driving through it, dont you dare stop at Cracker Barrel, BW-3's or Chili's when you have these options. Here are some more pics from this wonderful journey that should tempt you to take a road trip some time soon.

"aint no place, like this place, close to this place, so this must be the place" (Johnson's BBQ)

These rib tips are as good as it gets and the sauce is amazing too (John Johns)

Every pitmaster has his own secret rub to pat down the pig (Johnson's BBQ)

Mike Mills' ribs won the world BBQ championship three times, only team to ever do so (17th St.)

Im still thinking about Rupert Johnson's sliced pork barbecues (Johnson's BBQ)

a member of the John John family tries to fly away on the pig (John Johns)

every pitmaster has his own BBQ pit that provide the towns with joy (Johnsons BBQ)

a close up of heaven with some magic dust sprinkled on top (17th St.)

You didnt think I went back home to Chicago with out any piggy bag's? (17th St.)

Johnson's Southern Style Barbecue
700 e. Walnut St.
Harrisburg, IL 62946
(618) 252-0477

Johnson Southern Style Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

John John's BBQ
103 N Mayor Caliper Dr
Carterville, IL 62918
(618) 985-2781

17th St. Bar & Grill
32 n. 17th St.
Murphysboro, IL 62966
(618) 684-3722

17th Street Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


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