Friday, June 11, 2021

Babygold Barbecue

 -Grubbing in Chicagoland  
New to the 'Scene'

One of the most talked about restaurants among Chicago food people right now isn't in Logan Square or the West Loop or even Hyde Park, it's in Berwyn and it's a barbecue setup through a partnership between Chicago Chef John Manion and the owner of FitzGerald's. The latter of which is a Berwyn bar with a large outdoor patio and a stage for musicians to perform. I paid a visit just last night and arrived to a patio that was about 95% full. There was a really nice energy in the air as live music was being played while people ate, drank, and enjoyed a perfect summer night. We were seated pretty quickly as it was just me and a friend who joined me for some brisket and brews out in Berwyn. 

Locals Favorite in Berwyn 

We started out the night with a couple of their exclusive Babygold Cold Beer which is pilsner brewed by a local brewery. It's served in 16 ounce cans so thumbs up to that. The guy behind the food at Babygold, Chef John Manion, runs El Che Steakhouse & Bar located on Washington and he has a butcher shop called El Che Meat & Provisions that he runs from there. So he's well versed in the grilling of meats and is now attempting to become a master at smoking them too. The menu isn't the typical served by the pound style and instead the meat comes served as a plate or a platter. There's a nice selection of appetizers as well as sandwiches and we may have ordered a little too much but that's ok bc we got to try a decent amount and figure out what some of the standout items are. The smoked whitefish salad may or may not be one of them. I'm still undecided but it was definitely a bit on the wetter side compared to some other versions I've recently ate. There was probably a little too much mayo but there also wasn't anything left when our waiter came to clear the plates. Served with a side of saltines which I appreciated bc they usually work perfect with a cold fish dish like this. 

Smoked Whitefish Dip at Babygold Barbecue

I was very intrigued with the Po Boys even though I know that the consumption of them outside of New Orleans usually results in an unsatisfying product. What caught my eye was the brisket debris option which comes the traditional way so that's good but I knew much of my opinion on it would be made based on the bread and it wasn't to my liking. Too soft and not quite right. The brisket debris tasted pretty plain to me too. Not sure if it was smoked or came from the bottom of a pan loaded with drippings but it didn't taste that way to me. I thought the sandwich was ok but I wouldn't get it again. 

Brisket Debris Po Boy at Babygold Barbecue

Ok so lets talk barbecue! It's what David Chang calls the future of dining out. He thinks that in the way people went to steakhouses and such for special nights out will soon be how the masses consume barbecue. I'm kind of in agreement in that the cost of going out for barbecue these days isn't all that much cheaper than going to a steakhouse or even sushi. When Central Texas barbecue became thee barbecue among food media and foodies alike it skyrocketed in popularity and with that beef prices have risen. Since brisket is usually front and center with Central Texas style you usually get brisket if and you're going to pay a premium for it when you do. Especially considering most spots like this understand the importance of using quality beef so long explanation short - beef just isn't that cheap anymore. It's expensive actually compared to the other options like chicken and pork. My whole point is that when you go out for barbecue in this style you're going to drop some money so it's kind of become similar to going out for steak. It's for a special meal. That sets the quality expectations very high and the truth is there's lots of bad bbq out there. The good news is that's not the case here. 

Smoked Jalapeno / Cheddar Link Platter with onion rings and braised greens 

We ended up trying a combo plate that paired brisket (ordered sliced / fatty) with the ribs plus a platter of the sausage link which we paired with the waiter recommended onion rings and some braised greens. Pretty good at least the sausage and onion rings anyway. I appreciated the pickles and pickled red onion as you have to serve those on the side if serving this style of barbecue. The ribs which get a saucing pre-trip to the grill (they're smoked before that) were the best of the smoked meats we tried. I enjoyed the smoke flavor they had as well as the grilling of them with sauce bc it gives them another layer of flavor that's different from dipping the meat into a side of sauce. I don't order brisket outside of Texas and expect to get the good stuff save for a few special instances but this wasn't one of them. I wasn't expecting a guy that decided he's going to do bbq for a business model to be able to put put a smoked brisket similar to those in Texas smoked by lifetime pitmasters. Still it was better than alot of brisket I've had. There's tons of bad brisket out there and you'll realize this if you ever try the signature stuff served at some spots in Texas. This wasn't quite that. It could've used more smoke flavor and better texture but I still ate it all and enjoyed it for what it was which was decent brisket for outside the Lone Star State. I would've liked to see Manion build a menu mixing some of his Argentinean cooking with Texas style barbecue. The sides were all just ok. The onion rings the best of a mediocre bunch that included potato salad, beans, and greens. It all suffered a bit too from being served at room temp. But the thing with barbecue is you get much better the more you make so lots of barbecue spots get better over time. If that's the case here they'll have a setup that cant be beat locally in the warmer months. I look forward to a return trip later this summer. 

Brisket and Ribs and Babygold Barbecue 

Babygold Barbecue 
6613 Roosevelt Rd
Berwyn, IL 60402
(708) 637-4364
Website

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

KFire Korean BBQ

-Grubbing in Chicago
Fast Casual Korean BBQ in Logan Square 

The 2500 block of North Milwaukee where the Megamall once rested has seen some major development / gentrification. But change is always imminent and in some cases it isn't as celebrated as others and rightfully so. I don't think the neighborhood needed a Target though for some instances it's easier that it is there. One thing the neighborhood definitely didn't need was a Qdoba or Chipotle type setup. Something so corporate it's traded on the Nasdaq. So I consider the addition of KFire Korean BBQ a win. Not just bc it's not a Jimmy John's but also bc it's a great neighborhood place. People are living in those brand new overpriced apartments they built whether people like it or not. So somebody might as well make a living off their presence and in the case of KFire it's a team of two local Chicagoan's, both of Asian descent, who are bringing fast casual Korean BBQ to the area. 

Recently Opened in Logan Square 

KFire actually opened last summer but it took me almost a year to finally try it. Timing and remembering it was there were the only things that kept me from doing so bc I liked the idea of being able to get a plate of fresh grilled Korean style bbq without having to dine-in with a group of people. While the setup is similar to Chipotle in how you order the food is actually very good, and it's not just a choose your meat and toppings type menu. There's some interesting stuff like the KFire Balls which are described on the menu as "a risotto inspired kimchi fried rice ball. Breaded and stuffed with spam and cheese. Served with a tonkatsu mayo sauce." Fried fresh to order these are a terrific treat. 

KFire Rice Balls 

KFire gives the customer the choice to personalize their meal starting with your entrée of choice. Korean favorites like Kalbi are done traditionally while their signature spicy chicken starts off as a marinated skewer that's grilled to order. All meats are grilled to order so you can expect a 5-10 minute wait which in my opinion is well worth it. Nothing sits and steams waiting for someone to order it here. Your entrée wont be cooked until after our order has been placed. You also get the choice of two sides from a selection that includes kimchi, marinated mushrooms, corn salad, and more. White rice and a fresh and crisp green onion salad come standard with each plate. I liked the look of the pork belly which in pictures seemed like it was cooked crisp and they do so by taking two long pre-cooked pieces from the fridge and grilling them on all four sides before chopping it down into bite size pieces and saucing it up with a sweet wine miso. At $14 a plate it's a bit pricier than a place like Panda Express but you get what you pay for which is a filling bowl of fresh made food that has more of a home cooked feel than work lunch filler. I'll be back as it's the type of spot I want in my neighborhood. 

Pork Belly Plate at KFire

KFire
2528 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 572-0323
Website

Monday, June 7, 2021

Dr. Bird's Jamaican Patty Shack

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

I got a chance to try one of the more anticipated recent openings in the Wicker Park area. Dr. Bird's opened a few weeks ago in the old Burger King space on Milwaukee between Ashland and Division. According to interviews with Eater this is the project of some siblings who grew up in a Jamaican restaurant in Buffalo, NY. They chose Chicago as a second home of sorts but it's a project all it's it's own. Dr. Bird's is a full fledged sitdown spot with a liquor license (and homemade juices) but they wanted to bring Jamaican patties to the area too so it's also a great place to grab a bite on the go. 

Newly Opened in Wicker Park 

So first things first let's quickly introduce those who may not have had the pleasure of enjoying a Jamaican beef patty. It's not the official dish of Jamaica (jerk chicken) but it's one of it's most popular for sure. Jamaican beef patties are the perfect snack and found all over the island and anywhere else there's a heavy Jamaican population. But up until now Caribbean American Bakery on Howard was the city's only Jamaican patty specialist. According to Wikipedia "The beef patty is a product of the long history of Jamaica, mixing pasties introduced by Cornish immigrants and cumin, curry and cayenne pepper introduced by Indian indentured labourers and African slaves who arrived to the country. The firecracker taste of the Scotch bonnet, a hot pepper indigenous to Jamaica, sealed the flavour." While Jamaican patties don't always include beef it's by far the most popular filling and Dr. Bird's makes both a regular beef and a spicy version too. They also do a chicken, spinach, and veggie patty and have the option to stuff one in some coco bread and add cheese. I'm very happy to have these a bit closer to home. In Jamaican heavy communities like Toronto and South Florida it's common to show up with a bakers dozen beef patties the same way you would with a box of donuts. 

Jamaican Beef Patty at Dr. Bird's Jamaican Patty Shack 

The rest of the menu is pretty interesting and possibly limited for now. But options like wood grilled cornish hen, jerk shawarma roti, rasta pasta, and Kennebec cut curry fries were all items I picked up last weekend. Starting with the roti I was thinking I was getting a Trinidadian style roti (dhalpuri style wrapped like a burrito) with some jerk chicken shawarma but it wasn't quite that. This was a paratha roti and that was explained on the menu so that's on me. Nonetheless this was a delicious bite that might have suffered a bit in transportation but that was expected. It's served open faced but you can still wrap it up and eat it like a burrito. You can choose (two) from of a handful of fillings to pair with it such as pickled onions and cabbage which is what my choices were. The jerk chicken shawarma seemed to be exactly what it sounds like in that it was cuts of meat that would have seemed to come from a cone spiced with Jamaican flavors opposed to Middle Eastern. Options like jerk shrimp, steak, salmon, and even wood smoked jackfruit are also available served over a paratha roll. 

Jerk Chicken Shawarma Roti 

When I first saw the menu for this place I thought it reminded me of some of the many Jamaican restaurants in Toronto due to it's inclusion of rasta pasta on the menu. This dishes origins are in Kingston but it's popular at Jamaican spots in and around Toronto. But you don't really see it at many of the Chicagoland Jamaican places. It's described as an herbaceous and cheesy pasta given the name 'rasta pasta' due to the red, gold, and green toppers. It's popular with vegans but the option to add meat or even jerked jackfruit is there. We tried it with the shrimp and it was a pretty good dish that tasted as described. If you like pesto pastas (I'm not the biggest fan) you'll enjoy this dish. 

Rasta Pasta at Dr. Bird's

I was a bit surprised to see they were doing cornish hen as opposed to regular chickens but you got to play to your neighbors I guess. Still this was pimento wood smoked jerk hen which the menu say's is the way it should be. That is indeed the case and my thing with jerk chicken is it's always harder for a spot that doesn't do just jerk chicken to make it really well. There needs to be high turnover so the chicken doesn't dry out bc it also cant be cooked to order without making people wait a rather long time. The Cornish hen at Dr. Birds was still pretty good but they clearly don't have the demand just yet that allows for a juicer product to be served. I still thought this was better than a lot of the jerk chicken around town but it's the beef patties I plan to go back for very soon. I'll probably try the jerked whole wings next time too and maybe even a jerk taco which is also on the menu. Cards only for now. 

Jerk Cornish Hen at Dr. Bird's Jamaican Patty Shack 

Dr. Bird's Jamaican Patty Shack
1215 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60642

Friday, May 28, 2021

Sugar Blow

 -Grubbing in Chicago
Venezuelan Sweets and Sandwiches in Boystown

A visit to the Venezuelan owned Sugar Blow feels like you're visiting an Instagram influencers studio. I remember when they first opened around nine months ago and the pictures on both google and Instagram were in the 100's and in the case of google they were obviously taken by a professional photographer and likely posted by the owner. It's located on Broadway in the middle of Boystown so it's flamboyant style fits right in. Sugar Blow is both a sandwich shop and a dessert emporium. All of it designed to look good on the gram. It has some very much overplayed neon hanging on the wall inside and some Boystown type art on the opposite wall. A big dessert case sits next to the register. 

Recently Opened in Boystown 

Over the last five years or so Chicago has gone from virtually no Venezuelan restaurants to what's now a couple handfuls worth of options. It's not all a feel good story though as many of the people behind these newly opened restaurants came to the United States to escape unrest in Venezuela. Many have opened restaurants as a means of making a living and also to feed many of those that have recently relocated and might be looking for a taste of the old country. Sugar Blow serves up some of the better Tequenos I've tried which admittedly aren't my favorite snack but also not something I intentionally avoid. My biggest beef with Venezuelan style cheese sticks is they're most always made ahead of time and thus served with cheese that's not well melted. That said these were pretty warm with a tasty tarter like sauce served on the side for dipping. Very popular in Venezuela. 


Venezuelan Tequenos

Lots of online reviews mention the sandwiches and the baguettes they use to build some of their interesting sandwich options. The bread is baked in house and comes stuffed with options like steak or chicken. The meats are grilled and then chopped down and all of the sandwiches come with a blanket of melted cheese on top as well as some standard food-service fries that are kicked up with a dry spice blend. The Chicken Sensation comes with grilled chicken, bacon, cheese, garlic sauce, and corn. It's an interesting sandwich that works well with the soft bread and combination of ingredients used. I was unsure how I'd like this one when I first saw it but I think I preferred it to the steak with plantains which was also really good and dressed in a similar fashion to the chicken. Dessert options like cupcakes and cookies are baked in-house and instagram worthy milkshakes are also popular.  

Chicken Sensation (Grilled Chicken, Bacon, Corn, Cheese)

King Plantain (Grilled Steak, Plantains, Garlic Sauce, Cheese, Parsley)

Sugar Blow
3409 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 857-0160 
Website

Monday, May 24, 2021

5 More Fried Fish Sandwiches

-Grubbing in Chicago
Fish Sandwich Special

Is the humble fish sandwich making a comeback in urban areas? I cant say for sure because it's not too often that food trends come from the Midwest. That said there's plenty of fish sandwich culture in the Midwest as I discussed in a previous post earlier this year. But for whatever reason they're not as popular in Chicago as they are in Middle America, or Los Angeles for that matter. A fish sandwich feature in the locally loved Los Angeles website LAtaco gives us hints that the fish sandwich could be making a comeback. I'm all in on this one. In fact I have plans to do a fish sandwich stand pop-up of my own if I can ever find the perfect pairing as far as a host goes. In the meantime I have a list of five more fried fish sandwiches I've tried around town. Find my previous fish sandwich roundup HERE.

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Parson's Chicken and Fish 

The popular summertime hang in Logan Square is quickly becoming a miniature empire with locations opening what seems to be monthly (not really but they now have four spots across the city). While it's those Negroni slushies that helped propel them to becoming a namesake fixture in Chicago's dining scene don't sleep on their excellent fish sandwich. They use a pollack filet that gets a brittle batter like crust making for a crunchier fish sandwich than most. They also do a good job of melting the slice of American cheese which I think a good filet o fish type sandwich needs. Some fresh pickles and lettuce go with a zippy tarter that gets its job done. A contender for the city's best fish sandwich.

Fried Fish Sandwich at Parson's Chicken & Fish
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Ramen Wasabi

The fried fish sliders at this always busy Logan Square ramen shop are a sleeper menu item. I imagine them to be what White Castle wishes it's fish sliders tasted like. Small filets of cod are cut to fit on a baby brioche bun and come panko breaded dressed with pickled pearl onion, mayo, japanese bbq sauce. I actually pick a couple up now and then without getting ramen (I prefer their sister spots for ramen). But these addictive little snacks make for a great appetizer pre-noodles and sushi.

Fish Slider at Ramen Wasabi
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Oyster Bah
 
Over in Lincoln Park you'll find Oyster Bah which is a New England seafood shack inspired spot with a full bar and lots of seafood options on offer. It's ran by the daughter of the Shaw's family so she knows a thing or two about seafood. The menu has a crispy codfish sandwich described as apple cider battered, with lettuce, American cheese, garlic aioli, pickled onion, tartar sauce. Served with coleslaw and fries. This was on the pricier side compared to others and not quite as satisfying do to a smaller piece of fish that was slightly over-fried. Though there were fries included they were a below average factory produced brand. That said I was getting the clam chowder from here often last winter.

Crispy Codfish Sandwich at Oyster Bah
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L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge

This place is an an icon out in Lincolnwood for which it's name is a play on. It's one of Lettuce Entertain You's older venues and in my opinion one of their best spots. It has the looks and feel of a classic Northwoods type restaurant and watering hole which is hard to pull off when not done naturally. The menu has something for everyone so it's popular with families and groups of old ladies out to eat and the likes. I stopped in one sunny day recently and dined outside with an old friend. I knew I was getting the walleye as soon as we decided on meeting here as I had plans to get over for one sooner than later. I'd had it a few years back and enjoyed their offering. This one was also good but something was missing. It may have been something as simple as some lemon for the fish or shredded lettuce instead of a bunch of leaves. It was harder to eat bc of the toppings being too much. But they make a great house tartar sauce and serve their sandwiches with a pickle slice which I like.

Walleye Sandwich at L. Woods Tap
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Hienie's Chicken and Fish

I spent a recent #FishSandwichFriday with a Chicago icon out at 104th and Torrence. Hienie McCarthey’s has been frying up chicken, fish, and shrimp since 1947. All of it fried in a mix of vegetable oil and beef tallow. Served with a hyper local to the area hot sauce that’s neon orange in color and vinegar forward in flavor. Originally developed in the 1950’s as a dip for Vitners Pork Rinds the sauce is now called Hienie’s no matter where it’s served (it’s served all over the area and popular with everything from fried chicken to chips). I never had the fish sandwich from here until my recent visit when I learned it’s two fried pieces of lake perch. At just $4.25 (with fries) I figured it was a frozen pre-breaded fish patty but I should’ve put two and two together as Hienie’s serves terrific lake perch and even breads their onion rings in-house. If there was one downgrade to this it’s the fact the buns come from the fridge and don’t take a trip to any type of heating device. Fix that and it's dynamite.

Fish Sandwich at Hienie's
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See ya next time @chibbqking

Friday, May 21, 2021

Fiya

 -Grubbing in Chicago
Modern Israeli in Andersonville  

We're up in Andersonville today where the owners of Jerry's Sandwiches closed their well known sandwich spot last year and opened a modern Israeli place where a wood burning oven is the focal point. It's a large space with a full bar and seats around the wood fired oven and a big patio in back. 

Recently Opened in Andersonville 

Fiya calls the food they serve "Soul Food of The Levant" and their menu breaks down into different sections. Those are Salatim, Hummus, Plates, Khachapuri, Pitas, and Dessert. Salatim means salad (in plural) and it's a common part of an Israeli dinner. Typically it consists of a bunch of different cold starters. In the case of the Salatim served at Fiya those starters include Roast Cauliflower, Labneh, Roast Eggplant and a Zippy Corn Relish. They were out of the cauliflower so we got the $4 hummus add-on substituted for that. It all comes with a large fluffy pita baked in that oven I mentioned. This was a nice spread for a warm weather day and I think the corn relish was my favorite part bc it was pretty unique with chopped deli pickles included among jalapeno and bell pepper. There was a side of heavily marinated olives included too. The miss was the eggplant and the pita was just room temp. 

Salatim at Fiya 

They make good use of the oven by serving Georgian style Khachapuri which is a cheese bread of sorts. This dish has been making the rounds across the country as baking has really taken off especially during the quarantine of 2020. These cheese boats as some call them are made with a soft yeast bread and typically come with an egg on top as well. The exact recipes vary by region so it's very much like pizza as far as local culture in Georgia goes. The Shakshuka version served at Fiya is a cheese + egg variety with shakshuka sauce (tomato / red bell pepper) poured into the open center. This was basically the equivalent of a really good cheesy breadstick from a pizzeria. Fantastic. 

Khachapuri at Fiya

There's some interesting options on the plates portion of the menu including a whole wood roast chicken. But there's also some puzzling options including a piece of tilapia as the lone seafood offering. However the pitas at Fiya are big and make for a great sandwich stuffer. So I decided to go with a chicken schnitzel which comes served with Torshi (pickled vegetables), Tahini (ground sesame paste), and Amba (pickled mango condiment). It comes with a comically small amount of za'atar fries on the side. Maybe like ten total but they're pretty good and maybe worth ordering as a side on their own. Overall our dinner out back was quick and pretty much what I was hoping for. Fresh and filling. 

Za'atar Chicken Schnitzel at Fiya

Fiya
5419 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(312) 493-0443
Website

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Sandlot

 -Got Beef?
The Burgers of Chi (land)

Today's stop is a story about the little guy (David) showing the Big Guy (Goliath) how it's done. It takes place in the sleepy suburb of Park Ridge which has one of those historic small town feels to it. I've always liked Park Ridge in terms of it's cool old buildings (like the movie theatre) and such but the food scene over there has always been pretty plain. I cant remember the last time I had a spot to check out in the area but The Sandlot shot onto my list when it started making the rounds on social media. Nick K. over at the Trib did a Suburban burger search and The Sandlot was just about the only spot I hadn't been that caught my eye. So I've wanted to try them for a while now and did so recently. 

Locals Favorite in Park Ridge 

The Sandlot sits in an old KFC location and judging by the flow of customers on my visit they're doing better than the Colonel did over here. Score one for the little guys. The menu is super simple at this burger joint named after the popular movie. They do West Coast style cheeseburgers, fresh cut fries, hot dogs, and a chicken sandwich. The burgers are freshly ground and served in the In-N-Out style that's become popular throughout the country. Two beef patties are cooked on a hot flattop and dressed with lettuce, tomato, special sauce and your choice of grilled or raw onions. I tried their signature double which they call a 2-N-2 and chose the grilled onions with a side of fries to go with it. The total was less than $10 and both the burger and fries were super satisfying. I wasn't a huge fan of the bun (I prefer a softer variety) but it wasn't a major distraction either. A better product than every franchised QSR within 100's of miles of any direction. You can tell they're focused on the food first and foremost bc there's like two Sandlot movie posters hanging on the walls inside and that's it. 

Double Cheeseburger and Fries at The Sandlot

The Sandlot
1120 W Touhy Ave
Park Ridge, IL 60068
(847) 692-1900

Monday, May 17, 2021

EaThai

 -Grubbing in Chicago
Thai Home Cooking in Avondale 

Around the beginning of 2021 the city got a bunch of new Thai restaurants. There were a handful listed among the openings in various online lists. EaThai replaced a Mexican restaurant at the corner of Kedzie and George right around the start of the year. While you never want to see a family owned spot close it's nice to see another one open. EaThai is the product of a longtime Chicago chef who has branched out on his own cooking the traditional food is mother made him growing up in Thailand. 

Newly Opened in Avondale 

EatThai made themselves known right away with an online presence on Facebook and Instagram. If you go over to Yelp it's been warmly welcomed to the Avondale neighborhood for the most part. I decided to try it one winter night when I didn't really know what I wanted but knew I was hungry for some sort of noodle soup. So I tried their Guay Teow Neua which is a Thai style beef noodle soup. It was exactly what I wanted without even knowing it. Nice tender chunks of stewed beef and a slightly sweet broth with green onions and stuff added for a little crunch. After that EaThai became a spot I go when I really dont have a taste for anything in particular and also for when I want some sort of Asian food that's not too far. Lots of online love for their wings and I completely agree. This was the best fry job on some fried chicken that I've had in some time. They had a super crunchy exterior with an extra juicy interior. They burst liquid like a soup dumpling. Served with a sweet & sour dipping sauce. 

Chicken Wings at Eathai 

The menu at EatThai is smaller than many other Thai restaurants but this isnt a bad thing by me. There's still a wide variety of options including sections of apps, curries, noodles, and rice. I tried the veggie Pad Thai with my wife one night and it was better than I remember many a pad thai around town to be. I was never a huge Pad Thai fan anyway. EatThai has a rotating list of specials and some have been pretty interesting over the last five months or so. An Issan platter with fried chicken, som tum, chicken skins, soup, and sticky rice was very good and something I wish was on the menu regularly. I joined my parents and two young nieces there last week and got myself the Pad Woon Sen with shrimp which is currently on special through May. This homestyle Thai dish is stir fried vermicelli noodles tossed with a housemade signature brown sauce and mixed with cabbage, carrots, green onion, bean sprouts, egg. This one somewhat reminded me of another popular Thai dish that I loved in Bangkok (stir fried sukiyaki). While it wasn't quite the same it brought back memories of something I enjoyed so that was enough to really like this dish. A very solid neighborhood spot.

Pad Woon Sen at EaThai

EaThai
2901 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 961-7612
Website

Friday, May 14, 2021

Pockets

 -Grubbing in Chicago
"Healthy" Eating in Lakeview

So I have this thing I say when discussing Chicago restaurants and how many I think I've tried, the answer to which is I don't know. Tons but there's just as many spots that I haven't tried as those I have. But while I haven't been to them all I pretty much know of them all to the point where when a new restaurant does open I notice it's new immediately. So by getting around the city and browsing through sites like google and yelp I've documented pretty much every restaurant in town in my head over time. One such spot that I documented years ago is Pockets over on the corner of Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. I've passed by this place a countless number of times in my lifetime going back to my childhood years when the logo would catch my eye. But I'd never tried it, or even thought of stopping in. The only thing that was a bigger mystery to me was the Church of Scientology located next door on Lincoln. So one day recently I said f-ck it and decided to try it out. 

Locals Favorite in Lakeview / Lincoln Park 

According to their website Pockets was born in Chicago in 1989. The Pockets franchise was founded by a guy who was inspired by a spot at the University of Michigan that served chipatis, a whole-wheat pita. The logo of Chip the Kangaroo was created by the guys landlord for $25 or so the story goes. I could see how the menu here would be popular in the early 90's as it has a very retro feel. The house named pockets is multi-grain bread that's baked on site and split open and stuffed with different salad concoctions that come with dressing on the side. They do custom pockets too. I tried the Asian Chicken Pocket which is pretty much a take on the Chinese Chicken Salad minus the citrus. I could tell the chicken was the frozen pre cooked stuff from Restaurant Depot or whatever but for those in the neighborhood that like salad this place can serve a purpose I suppose. I still ate the whole thing. 

Asian Chicken Pocket at Pockets

I was tempted by the smell of calzones being baked fresh on-site as well. I said why the hell not and got myself a traditional calzone too. These are made with the same pocket dough except they're stuffed with ingredients and folded over before being baked. I chose Italian Sausage and peppers and which was paired with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Despite the wheat baked bun this was junk food but I could see it being a guilty pleasure for some. The Italian sausage was fennel heavy and the sauce wasn't too sweet. The cheese was extremely well melted and the whole thing just worked as far as a quick carb bomb goes. They also do baked potatoes loaded with the same ingredients from their salad and calzone offerings. It's a retro spot and maybe it'll even come back into style. Hey it survived the Atkins diet phase so maybe Pockets lives long enough to make true on the belief everything that goes out of style eventually comes back in. 

Italian Sausage Calzone at Pockets

Pockets
3001 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-2167
Website

Monday, May 10, 2021

More Roadfood in Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Random Stops in the Land of Lincoln

Summer is near and lots of Roadfood is coming with it. With international travel restrictions still in place I'm expecting lot's of people to hit the road in some form or fashion this summer. I'm certainly planning to do so and will have quite a few reports from some different places to share. Plus there's always more to uncover in places I have been (expect plenty of follow up reports too). Today's post doc's five food stops in Central Illinois that I tried at some point and time in the last few years or so. 

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The Valley Inn (Green Valley, IL)

When the discussion of breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches (or BPT's) is had, Central Illinois is often overlooked in favor of Indiana and Iowa (as is Kansas City). But as residents of the middle of the state will tell you you're never far from a good BPT in these parts. The town of Spring Valley sits about 30 minutes south of Peoria and is home to one of the regions best BPT's. You can find it at The Valley Inn which is a pretty typical small town America spot where they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just be prepared to wait for lunch if it's still breakfast hours. We were there around 10:30a and lunch wasn't until 11a and she wouldn't put the order in until exactly then. I became less annoyed after hearing what sounded like pork tenderloin being pounded in the back kitchen right around 11a. While it's not the biggest BPT I've ever seen Valley Inn serves a pretty large version that's better than most. 

BPT at The Valley Inn
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Avanti's (Multiple Central Illinois locations)

If you went to college at Bradley University or Illinois St. you're probably familiar with our next stop. Avanti's is synonymous with both campuses and all the hungry students that have come through them over the years. It got it's start in Peoria across the street from Bradley University in 1966. The owner bought a previous pizza business and changed the name but kept the Gondola Submarine Sandwiches that the previous tenant sold. Except he decided to switch the bread up and bake his own. The rest of the story is Central Illinois history as that Gondola sandwich has spawned 5 locations in the Peoria area as well as two in Bloomington-Normal which are run by the founders nephews. Not just that but their popularity also meant other places would try and profit off their local fame. Pictured below is one large deluxe Gondola - ham, salami, American cheese, Mozzarella cheese, tomato and lettuce. Served on their signature super sweet house baked bread. This sandwich is cheap and filling thus its been a favorite of the regions college kids and also Illinois politicians who enjoy Gondola's annually when State Rep. Danny Brady has Avanti's cater lunch down at the Capitol in Springfield. 

Gondola Sandwich from Avanti's
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La Gondola Spaghetti House (Multiple Central Illinois locations)

I stopped into a Bloomington location of La Gondola Spaghetti House a couple years back without putting 2 and 2 together. They call their sub sandwiches "torpedo's" here and as someone told me there was a lawsuit over the name between this place and Avanti's. Although I cant find anything on it. That said people really love the pizza bread on top of the sub sandwiches from La Gondola which was also founded in Peoria around 1982. The original location still goes by Leonardo's but they expanded under the La Gondola name. I tried the popular pizza bread and came away with the same conclusion as I did for the sub sandwiches from Avanti's above - this is cheap college food. 

Pizza Bread at La Gondola Spaghetti House 
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Aloha Restaurant (Decatur, IL) 

I had some dealings down in Decatur (Birthplace of Da Bears) about a year or so ago. I can’t even front, this yelper rec’d Chinese restaurant and it's cashew chicken (bottom picture) was the goods. I had my eye on this locally loved American-Chinese restaurant due to its longstanding presence in the Decatur, Illinois community. They’ve been open for more than 40 years making them a popular spot with generations of locals. But what do you get? Well that’s where a site like yelp comes into play. I don’t use it for reviews of trendy dining but I do find use in it for mom and pop spots like this. More times than not you can find a tip or two worth putting to use or at the very least get an idea of the food from the pictures. Another review mentioned the chicken wings which was also a good call. I had to draw the line at the generic tiki cocktails though. The sugar would’ve killed me on the ride home. 

Lunch at Aloha Restaurant 
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K&H Truck Plaza (Gilman, IL)

If you're ever traveling on I-57 and you find yourself hungry around Iroquois County (90 miles south of Chicago) I suggest getting off at the K&H Plaza exit. This is a full fledged truck stop with a terrific little diner where it seems most of the food is homemade. I think we found this little gem by chance while getting gas and I decided to glance at the menu which had a bunch of daily specials that caught my eye. My friend got a standard breakfast plate and some bread pudding that he absolutely crushed. I decided to try something off the daily specials menu which is always the same it just switches by day. On this day they had a smothered pork chop with some sort of paprika / tomato sauce that rocked. I made a mental note of their other daily specials which has options like beef and homemade noodles. All that and their pie is made in-house too. The banana cream piece I took home was also top notch. 

Home Cooked Food at the K&H Truck Plaza Restaurant 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

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