Monday, May 27, 2019

Dive Bar Food

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Where to find Cheap Booze and Good Food

I have alot of little projects going on here at S'C'&C. Some of them have been in the works for years while others come together rather fast. Originally today's post was going to be a blowout extravaganza but I've decided to turn it into a running series. Something I always thought of as fun to do is check out the local dive bars in Chicagoland. There's quite a few if you're willing to leave the comfort of the Near Northside. Some of them even serve food. Some of those spots serve pretty good food. So today's post features five dive bars where the food is better than the cheap booze. Bar crawl!
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Sunnyday Tap (Chicago, IL)

There's not many dives left on the Northside. You will find one up on Elston though. The Sunnyday Tap has been around here a long time. Exactly how long I'm not sure but the inside goes back to at least the 70's. Any Northside dives still around are most likely Polish though Sunnyday is a hangout for folks from the Balkan crowd. They serve food what seems to be once in a blue moon. I've tried to eat here on a few occasions and they never had a cook. They grill up the standards like Cevapi and kebabs. One time I got lucky and decided to try the Sunday special Serbian Hamburger. It's a minced patty that's grilled up and served with some warm lepinja and a big scoop of Eastern European butter. Fresh cut fries come served with all lunches and dinners but they suffer from a single fry. I actually expected something totally different as the picture of what I ordered was an actual burger. Nonetheless I enjoyed this meat forward plate of drinking food and the beer here is dirt cheap.

Serb Burger at Sunnyday Tap
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 Small World Inn (Chicago, IL)

What I mean when I say you need to head towards Indiana to find the dives iss you gotta go south. The closer you get to the border the more dives there seems to be. The Eastside of the city has it's own little community and the bars are a big part of it. Small World Inn sits on the busy stretch of 106th street just east of the bridge. I've written about this Eastern European bar before over on Serious Eats. At some point during the past calendar year I became aware of a Tuesday night taco special going on. Small World's location on the Eastside puts it in the middle of the Chicagoland deep fried taco pocket. An area where you’ll find a few spots on both sides of the IL/IN border where they make tacos this way. None of that store bought hard shell crap in these parts. Corn tortillas are stuffed with ground beef and held together with toothpicks while they take a bath in the deep fryer until golden and crispy. Toppings (L,T,C) go on when toothpicks are taken out. Tuesday’s only.

Deep Fried Taco Night at Small World Inn
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Crow Bar (Chicago, IL)

Just down the block towards the Skyway is this old time dive. I finally stopped in here for Corned Beef and Cabbage day over the Southside parade. An annual event at this longtime bar on 106th that once successfully sued the long gone Crobar on account of disruption from non stop calls of people trying to contact Crobar but calling the Crow Bar instead. I'm not sure how long they've been doing their St. Patrick's Day corned beef special but it's definitely a big tradition in the area. Tons of families packed both the bar and also the banquet hall next door. The corned beef is all you can eat and comes served with all the traditional fixings as well as potato soup and Irish soda bread. Impressive job with the tender corned beef considering they make 100’s of pounds in celebration of Southside parade day each year. That said they make it for the menu year round. Call ahead though. You never know.

Corned Beef and Cabbage at Crow Bar
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Cookie's Restaurant (Minooka, IL)

Cookie's is way out in Minooka. I'm not even sure how I ended up here. It was a couple years ago and I was out this way for something and must've found this little dive popular with locals. Aside from the booze they seem to really like the Poor Boy sandwich from here. Not to be confused with a Po Boy from New Orleans. A Poor Boy is actually a hyper regional eat from around this way. There's a place outside of Joliet called Merichka's that's pretty famous for this sandwich. Other spots in the area serve them and I gotta say I liked Cookie's version much more than Merichka's. Maybe that was bc I was splitting this heavy hitter made with a semi ground steak patty (essentially ground beef) that's put onto a long roll that's been slathered with garlic and butter if not margarine or something to the likes. They always seem to be served on 8 inch rolls thus are big plates of food. They're said to have derived as an option for those who didn't want to spend on a steak but still wanted to get full.

Poor Boy Sandwich at Cookie's
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Andy & Sophie's (Joliet, IL)

Thursday's are Cabbage Roll Day at Andy & Sophie’s in Joliet. Best get there early bc we arrived at 1:00 and got the last of the batch. Upon walking in we easily brought the average weight of customers down about 100 lbs. Blue Collar America is alive and well in these parts. As for the owners they came to the area from Poland and bought the place in 1974. They still live upstairs. Sophie does the cooking and Andy does the schmoozing. He’s got lots of stories to tell but beware bc PG-13 they are not, and why would they be? This was like a peek into the 70’s. A spot stuck in another time.

a peek inside

The menu changes daily and so the bartender daughter said the corned beef and cabbage on Wed. is the most popular. Interesting bc the cabbage rolls were killer. I planned on returning for some of that corned beef and more stories from Andy who’s pretty much a walking stereotype of an old Polish guy who owns a bar BUT he and Sophie are retiring in June. What a shame but also what an awesome ending for this couple who's run this bar for the last 44 years. You can catch their story on retirement HERE. Sophie will still be cooking her comfort food thru June. There's little doubt the new owner would change it up but you never know. Plus it wont be the same without the namesake couple.

Cabbage Rolls at Andy & Sophie's
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See ya next time @chibbqking

Monday, May 20, 2019

Eating BIG in Portland Pt. 2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- More Exploring of the Rip City aka The City of Roses

Little do most you know I almost ended up a resident of Portland, Oregon this past winter. My wife got a very nice job offer from one of the worlds biggest brands and we had to seriously consider the move. So much so we flew out there on the company's dime so she could meet with some of their higher ups and we could explore Portland and it's neighborhoods. I'm not going to lie I found the idea of moving there to be pretty exciting. First and foremost for the adventure that comes with moving somewhere new and also bc the region itself is one of the prettiest and most relaxing places in the country from my experience. Not to mention the food is pretty damn good. It's not as big as Chicago but this wasn't necessarily going to be a permanent move. All this said there were a few things going on here that we couldn't up and leave and so we decided to stay in Chicago for now. You never know.

 Portland, Oregon

Seeing as how we had just visited Portland for the first time less than a year ago this was a quick return trip. We have so many spots we want to go that I wasn't sure I'd be back to Portland anytime soon despite the fact I thought it was awesome our first trip in. This trip was no different. In fact I fell further in love with the area which is pretty much a 180 from what I'm used to as far as the outdoors go. We ate great that first trip but I think this time around the food was even better. We had less time as we were only in town for three nights but I'd already had a thorough guide handy of where to go. It was mid January and the weather was really nice with it reaching the 60's during the day. So that of course was another thing I could get used to. Yeah it snows but their winters are much milder.

Sights from Portland
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Kale

On our first trip to Portland last year this place was near the top of my list. Then I learned it closed. Hot damn. Well as luck would have it they reopened at some point in between my visits. Their downtown location makes them a popular lunch stop for those that work in the area. But judging by the nighttime crowd they still bring them in when the sun goes down. Japanese style Katsu Curry is the specialty of the house. Curry is big all across Japan including in Kobe where the owner is from. They make baked Katsu (cutlet) here which is common at alot of spots in Kobe. One of my favorite Yoshoku dishes (Japanese style western cuisine) is Doria which is one of a few things on the menu here. Doria is the name for this dish consisting of baked rice with beef curry, melted cheddar and mozzarella. I chose to add a baked chicken tonkatsu on top. This was a glorious dish. I loved it.

Japanese Doria with Tonkatsu at Kale
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 Pok Pok

We missed Pok Pok on our first trip in. For those that don't know this is probably the most well known restaurant in Portland. The type of spot that probably has more TripAdvisor reviews than any other restaurant in the city. Thus it's loved by some and not liked so much by others. Most tourists with a taste for good food will make it into here while many locals will tell you there's better here or there. All that said one cannot discount the influence that Chef Andy Ricker's flagship restaurant has had on the city. Some people think it's typical that a white guy is charging $16 for chicken wings cooking the food of somebody else's people. But it's kind of ignorant to dismiss the fact the kitchen here is run by mostly Asian immigrants many of whom have put their own touch into the food. That's the case for the famous Pok Pok wings which became so popular they now have their own restaurant with a few locations across the country. 

Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok

Nicknamed ‘Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings’ after a daytime cook named Ike who shared his family recipe from Vietnam. These are marinated in fish sauce and sugar, and then deep fried, and tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic. I thought they were a bit salty but still pretty damn good paired with some local beer. I also really enjoyed an order of Cha Ca Long which is a famous dish from Hanoi. It’s catfish marinated in turmeric and sour rice, fried in turmeric oil with scallions and dill, served on rice vermicelli noodles with peanuts, mint, cilantro, and mam nem. While that took me back to the Vietnam capital, an order of Kung Op Wun Sen took us back to the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market in Bangkok. Wild caught gulf prawns are baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery, and bean thread noodles. It’s served with an out of this world naam jiim (dipping sauce) made from cilantro root and equal parts raw garlic and Thai chiles among other things. Say what you will but these dishes show both dedication and respect to a couple of the worlds greatest cuisines and I'd happily go back.

Regional SE Asian Dishes at Pok Pok
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 Stretch the Noodle

Portland's food cart scene is always changing so I was excited to check out some of the newer spots. First stop up was a weekday only noodle shop where a husband and wife team are making killer La Mian noodles. For those who have an instagram account I post videos from trips on my page @chibbqking. There you can see the wife in her cart stretching noodles by hand for some insanely good beef noodle soup. I got here right when they opened so I was the 2nd or 3rd customer but by 11:20a there was a line of at least 10 people. I've had some really good eats from Portland's food carts but none were as memorable as this soup. The noodles were all sorts of chewy in a way only fresh hand stretched noodles can be. They lose that chewiness after about 20 mins of shelf life. The best way to eat the noodles is in a Sichuan beef soup with extra tender beef and really potent broth.

Beef Noodle Soup at Stretch the Noodle
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 Chochu Local

My last trip in one of more exciting stops I had planned was for some food from Guam. I ended up taking the bus over to this food cart parked in a pod on Sandy Boulevard and came to learn it was the last day for PDX-671. They were sold out of almost everything including a local chicken salad type dish I really wanted to try. Bummer bc where else am I going to try the food of Guam aside from the island itself? Enter Chochu Local. The owner of Chochu Local took over the PDX671 cart thus the area never really lost it's Guam food connection. As the owner of this cart told me if Guam was a nation then Chicken Kelaguen would be the National dish. It’s chicken grilled over mesquite and left in the fridge overnight. The next morning it gets chopped down into bite sized pieces and mixed with citrus, onions, hot peppers, and a touch of grated coconut. Turning it into some of the best chicken salads I’ve tried. I loved the smokey notes from the grilled bird. Super refreshing which isn’t something you tend to say when discussing grilled meats. Another fantastic foodcart worth seeking out.

Chicken Kelaguen at Chochu Local
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Master Kong

With our visit coming in January I was able to browse thru all the Best of 2018 food lists from local publications. One spot that kept popping up was this Chinese restaurant in the Chinese part of town. I don't want to call them just a Jianbing shop bc they have more than that but that's the main thing people were talking about from here. Though there were tons of mentions for the wonton soup too. The menu is pretty small with a couple handfuls worth of options that mainly focus on Chinese breakfast. I was there for the Jianbing which lived up to the hype of Portland's food obsessed. 

Jianbing at Master Kong
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TM Banh Mi

I couldn't resist a picture of what sums up Portland's oddities so perfectly. This is a marijuana dispensary next to a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich shop. What a 1-2 punch! The dispensary itself didn't seem all that special but I looked up the Banh Mi shop and a local newspaper named it the best in a blind taste off. How do I pass on that? I'm glad I didn't bc not only was this a sensational banh mi sandwich but the older lady who owned the place was a gracious host. As she warmed the bread (crucial move) she gave me a list of spots to check out in town. Mostly breweries that she and her husband like to frequent. One of the best banh mi's I've had in the States and great hospitality.

House Special Banh Mi at TM Banh Mi
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Kargi Gogo

The food of Georgia is having a moment right now. So of course there’s a spot or two in Portland pushing it. These dumplings pic'd below are called Khinkali. They’re the perfect ex. of a cuisine that was built at the intersection of Europe and Asia. They’re freshly made with raw pork and beef which cooks when boiling. This also creates a little pool of broth inside each dumpling. Essentially making them soup dumplings. The little knobs on top are used to hold them to eat. It’s recommended you take a small bite out of the fat bottom part and suck the juice out. Back in Georgia the little knobs on top aren’t eaten but rather used to count how many dumplings each person ate when it’s time to pay. I thought these were great.  I loved the subtle notes of both dill and cilantro. Pretty hip huh? Oh yeah.

Khinkali at Kargi Gogo
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Ava Gene's

The wife really likes pasta so we usually try to check out the local pasta scene in cities were visiting. We had great success in the pasta department last trip in and this one was no different. I snagged a reservation at Ava Gene's which is a regular mention in the conversation of Portland's best restaurants. This place has made the rounds as far as national publications go so it's pretty much always packed. The menu is Italian with vegetables and pasta playing a big role. We had the fried calamari and two bowls of pasta - one of which was agnolotti which is a favorite of mine. Excellent.

Dinner at Ava Gene's
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Fried Egg I'm in Love

Another contender for best bite from a food cart came from a popular breakfast sandwich shop. Fried Egg I'm In Love had just opened a brick and mortar but we weren't far at all from their permanent cart parked downtown. Many of the downtown carts are closed on the weekends but Fried Egg I'm in love is not. They do breakfast sandwiches and serve them on delicious locally made bread. The star of the show and the sandwich that enabled them to open that B&M spot is called the Yolko Ono. It's made with fried egg, homemade pesto, Parmesan, and a hand-pressed house sausage patty. I think this was the best damn breakfast sandwich I've ever had. My wife went back for seconds the next day. I'll try recreating this but it'll be hard getting the toasted sourdough from Portland French Bakery.

Yolko Ono Breakfast Sandwich at Fried Egg I'm in Love
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Panza Cafe

I have yet to get to New Mexico. It's probably #1 on my US bucket list. For whatever reason Portland has a few New Mexican restaurants. Considering we have none in Chicago I gotta get my fix of green and red chiles from somewhere. The couple that owns this cute little cafe in small strip mall is from New Mexico. So these are the dishes they cook for themselves at home. I'm always down for a Christmas Burrito (half green chile / half red chile) with pinto beans and pork pozole. A regional treat.

Christmas Burrito at Panza Cafe
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Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine

I came across this Oaxacan food cart in a popular trailer park sitting in a residential neighborhood. The yelp scores were near perfect with a few mentions of the mole. I gave that a go in the form of some chicken enchiladas. What a delicious plate of food. Yet another memorable dish from the trip.

Mole Enchiladas at Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine
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Taqueria Nueve

We did some Happy Hour drinking at this modern Mexican taqueria. It came on good rec from my guy José @tacotrail and was on my radar anyway just bc I'm always looking up tacos when searching through another city's food. Taqueria Nueve is your typical modern Mexican taqueria. Though the tacos were slightly better than most new school spots. Tortillas are made on site and all tacos are just $2 each during happy hour. I tried a few with the suadero shining brightest. A steal at just $2 apiece.

Happy Hour Tacos at Taqueria Nueve
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Jacqueline

This awesome little corner spot was the only place we returned to (along with Providore Fine Foods). Jacqueline is the type of place one dreams of having down the block from their house. It's a seasonal seafood-centric spot with lots of charm. They're home to one of the best happy hours in the city which includes local oysters at $1 each. Those were great as always but how about this picture of some crab toast below? KILLER. Local Dungeness crab meat piled high on some more of that fantastic locally made Portland bread. This trip was last minute and the hits were constant. The true sign of a good food city. Pound for pound Portland has to be considered among the country's best.

Dungeness Crab Toast at Jacqueline
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Paadee

I'd wanted to try the Thai tasting menu at Langbaan both trips in. However neither of them were planned that far in advance to where I was able to snag reservations. As a fallback we decided to try the little sister restaurant to Langbaan - Paadee. The Thai phrase “paa dee” means “to bring good things”. Well that's exactly what they're doing at Paadee. This is classic Thai comfort food slightly elevated as far as ingredients and atmosphere goes. My wife loved the cocktails here and we both lusted over the food. I wasn't sure what to expect as this is by definition a trendy spot and what not. Well the kitchen doesn't skip a beat as far as flavor. An order of Kor Muu (Kurobuta pork jowl) was yet another contender for best bite this trip. She had the Khao Soi (yellow curry noodles) which was it's usual kick ass self. I couldn't resist an order of Guay Tiew Kua Gai which is a wok fried noodle dish from Bangkok that I still think about often. It consists of flat rice noodles, chicken, egg, sprouts, scallions, and salted radish over romaine. Not quite as wonderful as those made in Bangkok at the dishes namesake alley but still really tasty. Overall this was a big hit. Do not miss that pork jowl.

Food at Paadee
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Cameo Pancake & Steak

My final stop was probably my favorite of the trip. I got up bright and early (although it was extra foggy) and took the ride to this little blue collar diner in a random part of town. Owned by a Korean lady thus the menu has some interesting items such as kimchi hash amongst other things. We got a few of these types of spots in Chicago and they're all classics so no surprise to find the same in the Cameo Pancake & Steak. They serve all the breakfast regulars and then some of those previously mentioned Korean dishes too. I was there for the house special. Sue Gee’s Pindaettok - vegetables, beans, spices, and ground rice added to a mung bean batter and cooked like a pancake. Served with duck sauce, two eggs, bacon, and toast. Yo! Guy Fieri! Get in the red Camaro and get over here!

Pindaettok Platter
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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 Portland. 

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