Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lao BBQ in Wisconsin

- Chowing on Wisconsin

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a real deal Laotian Barbecue up in the Lake Geneva Wisconsin area. It was hosted by the folks at Hometown Sausage Kitchen which is located in East Troy about 20 minutes north of Lake Geneva and about 45 minutes west of Racine. Hometown doubles as a retail and commercial butcher. They teamed up with Sap Sap Sausage which is a commercially sold Lao sausage company owned by a Laotian refugee turned American businessman named Alex Hanesakda. While I just read the 2018 BBQ sold out super quick they may add another.

East Troy, WI

Sap Sap does pop-up dinners throughout the summer and they can range from something grand like that which I attended to a low key pho cookout on the farm. Alex was the main host of this dinner as well as all of the other ones they've done. He came to the States from Laos at a young age when his family was sponsored by a Milwaukee family. They later moved to Burlington (WI) to be closer to other family members. It was in his mothers Burlington kitchen that Alex learned to love his heritage and particularly it's food. So one day he decided to put on these pop-ups promoting the cuisine of his home country. He's not the only one as I recently learned in a cool story from the Dallas Observer.

a peek inside

I found out of the barbecue through the promotion of it on Facebook. The fact Alex was able to get acclaimed Lao Chef Phet Schwader of NYC's Khe-Yo to co-host was a good reason to go. That and the fact it was a perfect Saturday as far as weather and the farm it's on was beautiful. It would've been a great day without the food and with the food it turned into a memorable one. Well worth the $60 pricetag with the BYOB option and all. Chef Phet did it up family style and bc of that I really felt like this was close as I'll get to a Lao feast here in the States. Everything was really great. They even had music and dancers which is typical entertainment at Lao bbq's. Here's what we ate pic'd below.

Food Spread (1/2)

- Khao-Neow / Sticky Rice Jaews / Sauce: Jaew-Sohm / Thai Chili Jaew-Mak-Len / Charred Tomato Jaew-Bong / Smoked Chili

- Sien-Savan / Heavenly Beef Jerky Thum-Mak-Hoong / Smashed Papaya Salad Thum-Mak-Thang / Smashed Cucumber Salad

- Ping-Gai / Yuppie Hill Grilled Laos-Style Chicken

Food Spread (2/2)

- Laap-Gai / Chicken Salad Gaeng-Sohm / Hot & Sour Soup

- Ping-Moo / Charcoal Grilled Lemongrass Baby Back Ribs

- Pouhn-Pa / Poached Local Pike, Charred Apple Eggplant, Chilies & Garlic Steamed Broccoli

- Puhn-Pa / Charcoal Grilled Local Fish Fresh Herbs & Lettuce, Shaved Lemongrass, & Sliced Cucumbers Rice Vermicelli Noodles & Sweet Carrot Peanut Sauce

Food Spread (dessert)

Considering how little presence Lao restaurants have in Chicago I thought this was well worth the drive which isn't all that far anyway. It ended up being a great day not just for food, weather, and surroundings but also in terms of meeting some really nice people including our hosts. I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as Alex's family and it was an absolute honor. Of course I asked them where to get the best Lao food in Wisconsin and of course they told me I was eating it as we were speaking. No dispute from me on that. Like the Sap-Sap page on Facebook to get more info on the pop-ups's as they're announced. I plan on going back for more. Hope to see some of y'all there.

Alex (L) Chef Phet (R)

Hometown Sausage Kitchen
W1184 Co Rd L
East Troy, WI 53120
(262) 642-3264

Friday, May 25, 2018

Polish Food Trailer

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Polish Food and Tools

Usually a trip to the Home Depot's or Menards means a Chicago dog. Albeit a boring skinless wiener. But about four months ago I noticed a Polish food trailer permanently parked in the lot of Menard's on Clybourn. My first thought was it was a pretty awesome idea. After two visits he seems to be getting a steady crowd so how cool would it be if this became a thing? I guess it makes to much sense.

Polish Food Trailer parked in Menards at 2601 N. Clybourn 

I dont know much about the people behind the trailer but they do seem to be Polish if not Eastern European. The menu had quite a few options both Polish and also American. The latter of which are things like burgers, corn on the cob, and fair style fried potato sticks. As far as the Polish food goes it's pretty traditional as far as the classics go. You know stuff like potato pancakes, Polish sausage, stuffed cabbage, and of course pierogi. My first trip there I got some potato pancakes. I love them but I didn't love these. Had I known that they would comes with sour cream, bbq sauce, and some sort of orange colored concoction I would have said put it all on the side. But aside from that the pancakes came out so quick who knows how long they'd been sitting in there. They didn't seem so fresh.

Potato Pancakes

I still gave them a second chance and damn-it it didn't go much better. I tried the pierogi and forgot to mention that of there was sauce not to put any on them. Reason being is they have pictures of all the food and they aren't sauced in the pic nor do they mention it in the description. On top of all that they said it was a mix of meat. potato, and cheese but all they gave me was the meat. To one dimensional and I'm not a fan of bbq sauce on my Polish dumplings. I'm thinking the sausage is the way to go.

Pierogi at the Polish Food Trailer

The Polish Food Trailer
Parked in the lot at Menards
2601 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bunny Chow

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Regional South African up north

I'm noticing a small trend happening in Chicago restaurant openings right now. Places cooking the food of different African countries are slowly popping up. Chicago and Uptown in particular have always had a steady presence of African food but there are new places popping up in areas other than there. Today's stop is the first South African restaurant within city limits not including Nando's.

Newly Opened in Rogers Park

Bunny Chow is named after the dish it specializes in. That dish is the signature snack of Durban which is the country's second largest city in terms of population. It's also the home to more Indian people then any other city outside of India. Bunny Chow is thus a hybrid of both Indian and African. It's essentially at heart a curry dish by which the curry can vary. It can be anything from Cape Malay Beef Curry to a classic Butter Chicken. It's unique in that it's served different in that it comes served in a hollowed out halved loaf of bread. You use the hollowed out portion of the bread to pick at the curry never needing the use of utensils. I got try a few different options when in Cape Town a couple of years ago but I've never seen the dish over here in the States. Bunny Chow served a pretty mild blend of beef curry that definitely had that home cooked taste. In case you were wondering the only other South African restaurant in the state is in Aurora where a Durban family is making meat pies.

Bunny Chow at Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow
6979 N Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL 60626
(872) 208-6004 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ca Phe Da

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Shortly after returning from a few weeks in SE Asia this past winter we wanted more as far as the food. So we hopped in the car and headed over to Pilsen where the folks behind HaiSous (write up HERE) opened a casual Vietnamese coffee shop. The hip coffee shop type cafe is big in Vietnam's larger cities and I remember commenting that this could easily be a spot like those in Hanoi.

New locals favorite in Pilsen

It's a bright and airy space with a really nice selection of both drinks and snacks. As far as the drinks go they have all the specialty Vietnamese style coffee drinks as well as cocktails. It's nice for those in the neighborhood to have a place you can get a good drink at before 5p. Then if want you can get some really good elevated bar food too. The menu is pretty simple with a handful of options and some really good ones at that. A mandatory starter for anyone drinking a brew are the crisped up chicken skins. I know the term chicken crack is heavily used for other dishes but this is just as dangerous.

Fried Chicken Skins at Ca Phe Da

One of the more popular items next door at HaiSous are the chicken wings. They seemed to have brought those over here and why not as wings make for a great drinking snack. For those of us that like the flavors of fish sauce these wings are hard to beat when it comes to the non-buffalo variety.

Fried Chicken Wings at Ca Phe Da

While I loved the little Bahn Mi stand they have behind the counter it did not produce the tastes I was hoping they could replicate. Though in fairness I dont think anywhere outside of Vietnam can after trying the best of the best. The biggest problem with this sandwich was the bread itself. It was as soft as the rolls at Jimmy John's thus it just didn't taste right. While I also wasn't fond of the meat itself I think that was more of a personal preference as I like pork a little less fatty than what they had.

Banh Mi at Ca Phe Da

My favorite thing on the menu is the dish that tasted most like our trip. That was the Goi Ga which is a traditional Vietnamese chicken salad. Folks in SE Asia eat chicken a bit differently in that it can almost come across as raw but it's not it's just really fresh. I love the combination of flavors in this dish that also features roasted nuts, lots of herbs and sticky rice, fish sauce and the likes. I'd eat this salad for lunch pretty regularly if I had easy access to it. Pilsen is changing. Spots like this are part of the reason but change doesn't have to be bad and a place like Ca Phe Da is a good ex. of why.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad at Ca Phe Da

Ca Phe Da
1/2, 1800 S Carpenter St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 999-1800

Monday, May 14, 2018

Eating BIG in Rome

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Via Roma!

It's time for another travel guide. How about Rome? It's a spot that took me long enough to get but I have intentions of returning soon. We set out for Italy at the end of March after scoring some fantastic non-stop tickets. Of course it can never be too good as we ended up losing the entire first day (and night) of our trip when American had to cancel our flight due to multiple maintenance issues. So if this round-up looks a bit thinner than previous trips you can thank them for their incompetence. I've never been so annoyed in my life as we went to the airport waited for a delayed flight for hours, got on the flight, and waited another hour only to get a text the flight was cancelled until tomorrow. But enough of the bad stuff. Because after that it was all good. From when we arrived all the way until we got home.

Sights from Rome (click pics to enhance)

If I'm being honest what can I tell you about Rome that others already haven't? It's one of the most traveled cities in the world and there's literally information out there about everything. Still with it being such a big tourist destination comes lots of mediocre stuff despite what some review on TripAdvisor by Beth in Massachusetts has to say. So I suggest someone who knows Rome the way I know Chicago. Her name is Katie Parla and if you've ever read a travel article about Rome, odds are she wrote it. Her knowledge alone will get you through a trip and then some. But there's plenty of other guides out there. Though none seem to be as informative as Katie when it comes to the food.

Sights from Rome

A little more honesty if I may. While I was definitely looking forward to visiting Italy I wasn't as excited as I usually am for a trip and that's bc we had just come from SE Asia. I wanted to go back there as I wasn't sure Europe excited my snobbish ass anymore. I love good Italian food but I'd wondered if I'd be able to eat pasta all day everyday in the same way I was able to eat noodles in Asia. It didn't take long to learn that yes I could definitely eat pizza and pasta all the time. It's so damn fresh as far as ingredients and they're so good at getting the max flavor out of simple stuff. Italy is definitely one of those countries I could explore for years on end. Without further ado...three nights in Rome.

Sights from Rome


As many of you already know we have one of Rome's most famous pizzerias in Chicago now. It's a fantastic place with some great pizza but it's the little balls of suppli that I really love from there. So when Katie Parla recommend this stop that makes just Suppli I knew I had to go. It turned out to be not far at all from our AirBNB which made it the first stop of the trip. As Parla describes this is a place serving elevated street food. At $3 each the suppli are about double the price of elsewhere but they're 100 times better than most. Fried to order the fillings include the classic of tomato sauce, rice, and cheese as well as other Roman inspired flavors such as Carbonara and Amatriciana. Damn!

Trio of Suppli

Pane & Salame

I think this was one of her spots. Either that or we happened to be passing by and liked what we saw so we stopped. While it looks like there's a huge line most of the people outside were waiting for to-go orders so we were able to get a table right away. That said that may not always be the case as this is a city that see's over 5 million tourists a year. So plan accordingly. Though we pretty much got to go everywhere we wanted to. This spot is right in the middle of it all so good chance you find yourself near here and if so it's a good place to indulge in a board of meats and cheese. They go all out in presentation. If you're in Rome with a big group this is a good spot. They have huge boards.

Charcuterie and Cheese at Pane & Salame

Cremì Artisan Gelato 

First gelato stop of the trip was a place on my maps within 5 minutes of our rental. So we stopped early on. This place was a good primer for what was to come. The best gelato in the world was found by accident in Florence and all the other stops on this trip couldn't hold a candle to it. Stay tuned.

Gelato at Cremì Artisan Gelato


We had a reservation for each night in town. I read about this upscale spot called Pianostrada located in Trastevere and made a reservation for my wife's bday. It seemed like a nice spot to celebrate and I was right. Prices are a bit more but the three ladies that own Pianostrada really go all out as far as providing a wonderful experience. From what I could tell the clientele was mostly locals and most of them seemed to be there celebrating something. I liked the atmosphere here alot. Very festive.

Roman Artichoke

Our server did a wonderful job with recommending a wine which seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the trip. We didn't have a bad sip. Our first pasta in Italy would be one of the most memorable of the trip. The menu changes seasonally and while I dont remember the exact name of the pasta dish we got I can tell you it's their signature dish so it's most likely always an option. It takes a long spaghetti like pasta and coats it in the most wonderful marinara sauce you'll be sure to remember. On top are a couple slices of cheese and some shredded parmigiano as well. So good.

Pasta at Pianostrada

Pizzeria Remo

One thing I was as excited as anything else to try was Roman style pizza. Not the pizza al taglio that the folks at Bonci brought to Chicago but rather the old school Roman pie that became popular during Word War 2. Pizzaiollo's would do what they could to get the most out of their dough by pounding it super thin which ensures the edges get crispy. Having grown up on tavern style thin this is my type of pie. I saw Pizzeria Remo on 'The Pizza Show' on Vice. It was on not to long before we left so it shot onto my radar and then onto to my must-try list. We arrived around 10:30p (they dont open until the evening) and managed to to get a table right away. But you may have to wait as it's a popular spot having served the neighborhood since the 70's I believe. If you saw the Rome episode of 'The Pizza Show' you know this place has some characters working here and we got one of them. We also got a pretty damn good pizza. The edges were nicely charred while the sausage was on par with the stuff in Chicago. My only complaint is would be alot better pre-cut in slices or better yet how about squares?

Sausage Pizza at Pizzeria da Remo

Panificio Bonci

I didn't feel the need to go to any of the Bonci Pizza shops as we have one in Chicago and from what I heard they did a really good job translating it here. But I did want to go to one of his bakeries as I'd heard from Katie Parla the one by the Vatican had the best porchetta in the city. But they were out.

a peek inside

Damnit! I really wanted to try that. After being informed they didn't have anymore for the day the man himself Gabriel Bonci walked in and I got a chance to say hello and thank him for bringing his pizza to Chicago. He asked if I tried the bakery pizza in the display case seen up above and I told him no so I guess that propelled him to give us a few slices to sample. Damn is his team good. I could eat that stuff all day, especially in the morning. Also wonderful was what he described as a Italian style ham sandwich which was high quality ham on some wonderful ciabatta bread. Highly recommended.

Ham and Cheese Sandwich at Panificio Bonci 


Me and the wife developed a deep love for artichokes while in Barcelona a few years ago. So we were very excited to be going to Rome right around the time artichoke season was beginning. There's quite a few spots in Rome that are known for their artichoke preparations and Piperno in the Jewish Ghetto is one of them. We stopped in for a quick snack which was some wine with a plate of their signature artichokes which come in orders of two. Man were they good. You could basically eat the entire thing due to the hard cooking of them. I wish we had more time to try a few other spots.

Artichoke at Piperno


I guess I forgot to snap a picture of the outside at Emma. This place wasn't our first choice for lunch one day but after getting denied at a spot nearby we walked over. It's a big restaurant so they were able to sit us right away. It was on my list bc I'd read somewhere that the pizza was really good. That's what I ended up ordering. I ordered a Pizza Margherita without really looking at the menu and came to learn that in Rome a Pizza Margherita is just a cheese pizza. There is no basil on it.

Amatriciana Pasta

Even without the basil my pizza was pretty damn delicious. Again I just wish they cut the pizzas over there. When doing it yourself with a crappy butter knife it really tears the pie apart. The wife got a pasta dish of Carbonara that she liked but said it was towards the bottom as far as rankings amongst the other bowls we ate on this trip. My cousin whom happened to be in Rome the same day as us tried a bowl of Pasta Amatriciana which she said was really good. Good spot if you're near there.

Pasta Carbonara at Emma

Antica Norcineria Iacozzilli

Rome is well known for it's pasta and pizza but dont sleep on the porchetta either. Nowhere else out there do they take it so seriously. There's countless spots specializing in the savory pork roast. One of them happened to be within walking distance of our AirBNB so I shot over there while she rested one day. Antica Norcineria Iacozzilli reminded me alot of the butchers you see in France. I felt like it was near identical to some of the spots I visited in Lyon. The biggest difference being pasta was on the shelves here. In the window was the porchetta which you can buy by the pound or in sandwich form. For about $3 I walked out with a wonderfully simple sandwich made with quality ingredients.

Porchetta Sandwich at Antica Norcineria Iacozzilli

La Tavernaccia

This was one of the spots I made sure we had a reservation for. Too bad American let the food go bad or whatever it was. We missed dinner here but were able to snag seats a couple nights later. I'm glad we made the decision to do so bc our meal was quite memorable. For an appetizer we loved the made in-house egg noodle pasta used in a flawless ex. of Pasta Alla Gricia (pasta with guanciale).

Pasta Alla Gricia

For our main plate we knew what we were there for. That was the wood roasted suckling pig which is a dish you'll find on the menu most nights. Lots of the food here is cooked in a old school wood fired oven and boy can you taste the flames. I think we got a rib from the pig which you can see below. Served with some pig fat laced potatoes it might not be the prettiest plate of food but it was great.

Wood Roasted Suckling Pig at La Tavernaccia

As you can probably already tell I'm not a big dessert at the restaurant guy. Usually my sweet tooth comes calling later in the night. Though she loves a plate of good cheese and our waiter had described their options with such passion we had no choice but to take his advice. He was right. I'm not the biggest cheese plate guy but I do love the soft ones which were on offer here. So delicious.

Cheese Plate at La Tavernaccia


On our last day in Rome (and by extension Italy) we stayed in the Monti 'hood due to it's proximity to the Coliseum. Lucky for us it was also the neighborhood where Trieste Pizza is located. The family behind this place comes from the Italian beach town called Trieste. Opened in 1946 they became a favorite of vacationing Italians. Eventually they moved to Rome and brought their pizza with them.

Pizza on Display

Trieste specializes in pizzette which are small round pizzas. They make for an excellent snack as when you order one to go they fold it like a sandwich making it easily eaten on the go. One will set you back just a few euros and consider yourself the holder of super powers if you only eat one. These little pies were honestly maybe the best pizza I've ever ate. For our first one we got a classic with marinara, cheese, and sausage. Man that sausage was as good as it gets outside of Chicago. Meanwhile sauce was perfect and crust was on point. I'm no Rome pizza expert but this was special.

Sausage Pizza at Trieste

Gelato Paolessi

While walking around Monti neighborhood we came across this gelato spot called Gelato Paolessi. As this was our last day in Italy I was more than familiar with the things you should look for to find good gelato. First thing to remember those shops with their cases displayed on the street with rolls and rolls of gelato are trash. The good spots make it in small batches and store them at different temps in small medal containers. We knew this spot was the truth. Worth the calories consumed.

Gelato at Gelato Paolessi


Another spot within walking distance on my pizza radar. Or should I say pinse? Pinse is pretty much pizza but they too are personal pizzas. Made with a focaccia like flatbread the toppings can pretty much be endless. The owner here is a real outgoing guy and he insisted we try two pinse. One with flavors from Northern Italy and the other with what you'd find in Southern Italy. They were both fantastic. Pictured below is the southern one with nduja, red onion, and very light sauce, and cheese. According to said owner he's coming to America soon and NYC will be Pinsere's first stop. Nice.

Pinse at Pinsere

Mercato Centrale 

Seeing as how Rome is a hip and happening city it's no surprise to find a food hall. The Mercato Centrale is located right by the city's main train station. It consists of maybe 20 different stands all run by well known chef's in the city. It's said to be a popular spot with commuters making the daily commute to and from work as most of the stuff is served pretty quickly. You can find pizza from Bonci, and a spot specializing in truffles, gelato and so on. I realized I hadn't ate much seafood this trip and decided to get an order of fried calamari from the fresh fish stand. I watched as they coated it fresh before frying. Served alongside uninspiring frozen fries the tentacles as always hit the spot.

Fried Calamari at Mercato Centrale 

Osteria del Cavaliere

For our last meal in Italy we went out with a bang. Osteria del Cavaliere isn't exactly in an area most tourists make it to. the only reason I found the place was bc sometimes I'll browse a city in google maps and click on businesses I happen to see. Which was the case for Osteria del Cavaliere. I clicked on the pin and saw a high score thus was intrigued. What I saw in the google search results was a place I wanted to check out. It seemed like a real locals type spot and that it was. Though there were definitely a few of us that weren't from Rome. Still we all did our homework bc this place might've felt the most like Italy out of all the spots we dined at. They've been around since the 70's.

Fettuccine with pork cheek and fresh tomato

What looked good when I researched the place? First and foremost the pasta. All of it is made in-house and I'm pretty confident in saying all of it is amazing. That's based on the fact that the two options we tried were damn near to die for. Up above is a simple fettuccine with pork cheek and fresh tomato. My mouth is drooling thinking about that one and it wasn't even my favorite of the two. One thing you'll always find on the menu here is Maltagliati al cartoccio con Salsiccia. Maltagliati is a popular pasta in the Emilia-Romagna region. The dough is rolled and then cut into thin strips, producing noodles. Kind of like the shaved noodles you find at Chinese noodle shops. This dish is delivered to your table in a pouch of aluminum foil. I think that's to melt the cheese and meld everything together. Everything being the noodles, loose sausage, creamy marinara, and cheese. This was the most Italian-American tasting dish of the trip but I've never had anything as good over here.

Maltagliati al cartoccio con Salsiccia at Osteria del Cavaliere

For an entree we had an interesting item you wont see on many menus in Rome. Lamb skewers. I was very intrigued and had to try an order. Wow. These were some of the best skewers of anything I've had from anywhere. Perfectly fatty little chunks of lamb were crisped up and popped in your mouth from the flavors produced by the high quality meat meeting the fire. One thing I can say for sure as far as a return to Rome goes is this place will be on my itinerary again. Well worth the trek.

Lamb Skewers at Osteria del Cavaliere

Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Rome. Florence coming next month.


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