Monday, February 28, 2022

Roadfood in Chattanooga

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties 
- Stopping in at five Scenic City favorites 

When we drove down to South Florida this last December I decided we'd stop in Chattanooga as opposed to Nashville or Atlanta. Reason being was an easy one and that was bc I'd never been to the Choo Choo City as an adult, we passed through on a roadtrip when I was a kid. It's location along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is a beauty. Since it's a part of the south I figured there was some good grub to be had and that was verified on our short two night stay. 

Sights from Chattanooga 
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Zarzour's Cafe 

I'd wanted to visit Chattanooga’s oldest restaurant (est. 1918) for a long time leading up to this trip. Zarzour’s Cafe has been on my hit list going back to the heyday of Roadfood. It was founded by a Lebanese immigrant from Syria and its currently under its fourth generation of ownership. With limited hours (11a-2p M-F) it’s a lunch only stop that according to some serves up the best burger in all of Tennessee. Actually it was named best in south by Southern Living. Burgers and hamburger steaks with gravy are always on the menu while the daily specials usually feature two entree offerings. Desserts switch by the day. A delicious rendition of the Tex-Mex favorite King Ranch Chicken casserole was on offer this visit as was some of the best banana pudding I’ve ever tried. As for the burger it was a memorable one that can only be matched with time. While there’s nothing particularly unique about the ingredients used to make these, that flattop has flavor that can only come with a few generations worth of customers. As good as that burger was (one of the best) it’s the hospitality from here I’ll remember most. The type you just don’t find too often outside of the south. I basically chose to stay 2 nights in Chattanooga bc that would allow me to finally stop at Zarzour's and it was worth it. 

Lunch at Zarzour's Cafe 
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Miss Griffin's Foot Long Hot Dogs 

While researching spots in Chattanooga I came to learn of the chopped weenie plate. It's a hyper regional dish that only a few places in town still make. Miss Griffins (est. 1939) is one of those spots. They place sliced southern style Elm Hill brand wieners on top of a bean heavy chili that's painted with mustard and hot sauce. Both Texas toast and cole slaw come served on the side. I enjoyed this dish more than I thought I would. I read it's a fave of Samuel L. Jackson who's from here originally. 

Chopped Weenie Plate at Miss Griffin's 
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Uncle Larry's Restaurant

When searching the city's best restaurants Uncle Larry's is bound to come up. It's a locally owned spot that hasn't been around as long as the first couple of spots but it feels every bit as locally loved. Uncle Larry was the designated fish fryer at family functions, which yes is a thing in the south. He was convinced to open his own fish house and did just that back in 2013. Today they have a few locations with the original on MLK Drive. The motto at Uncle Larry's is "fish so good it will smack you" and that was a pretty hard smack if I may say. Some of the best southern fried fish I've ever come across and the sides were no slouch either. Pictured is the combo plate which featured catfish, whiting, perch. 

Fried Fish at Uncle Larry's 
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Champy's Fried Chicken 

If you like fried chicken and forty's you might want to check out Champy's. It's a locally grown chain with eight locations in Tennessee and Alabama. The original is here in Chattanooga and I decided to go not for the 40 oz. bottles of beer but their other specialty which is Delta style hot tamales. These are hard to find outside of the Mississippi Delta and it would seem as though the founders of Champy's were very aware of that fact as they claim a love for the Delta is one of the restaurants inspirations. I will just about always stop for Delta style tamales when I see them which isn't all that often. Champy's makes a good one but then again I've never had a bad one. For those that have never indulged in a Delta style tamale its different than others as it's made with cornmeal and what's usually spiced ground beef. They're rolled in corn husks and cooked in liquid until just mushy. One of my favorite regional treats. The fried chicken was also good but you can find that all over the south. 

Fried Chicken and Hot Tamales at Champy's Fried Chicken 
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Sugar's Ribs

There weren't a ton of options for dinner on a Monday night so Sugar's Ribs won out over less desirable spots. The reviews were good but what constitutes good barbecue can vary greatly from person to person. I figured we were in the south and it's the ribs people seem to love so why not give them a try since I too love a good rack of ribs. Actually I enjoy both the smoked until there's a nice chewy bark type and also the fall off the bone tender variety. These were the latter with just a light touch of smoke. They had a unique setup as far as the smoker goes but there just wasn't much smoke flavor. Sides were all above average with a cup of crisply fried potato chunks leading the way. 

Rib Platter at Sugar's Ribs 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

Thursday, February 24, 2022

La Autentica De Guerrero

- Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

There's 31 states (plus one capital) that make up the political division in Mexico. Their cuisines vary by region. Some of these states are heavily represented in specific regions of US states. For example there's said to be close to a million people from Puebla that live in the Tri-state area thus you can find lots of Poblano food in areas like Queens. Across the country in Los Angeles you'll find the largest Oaxacan population outside of Oaxaca and so on. Here in Chicago large chunks of the local Mexican communities have ties to either Jalisco or Michoacán. But don't forget about Guerrero.

Newly Opened in Belmont Cragin 

Chicago is home to the second largest population of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Most people immediately think of places like Pilsen and Little Village when it comes to Mexican communities and culture within Chicago. But they're hardly the only spots you'll find large groups of people with Mexican ancestry. Chicago is home to more than 300,000 people from state of Guerrero and the majority of them seem to be scattered across the Northwest side in areas like Hermosa and Belmont-Cragin. So I wasn't surprised when I first saw La Autentica de Guerrero had opened on Central. 

Picaditas at La Autentica de Guerrero 

The regional food of Guerrero revolves around it's agricultural staples such as corn, beans and tomatoes. Picaditas are a menu item you'll find at all of Chicago's Guerrerense run Mexican restaurants. They're a popular corn based antojito in Guerrero where grandmas take balls of masa and flatten them into little corn cakes that are topped with cheese and a warm red or green salsa that's usually made with manteca. Not much different than sopes but in Guerrero they're called picaditas. I've noticed that a side of toasted sunflower seeds is common at Guerrerense run restaurants. Don't sleep on the gorditas estilo Guererro, also made with manteca. The barbacoa is also really good. 

Gordita with Barbacoa 

Thursday is pozole day in Guerrero though I'm sure it's a popular meal seven days a week. Nonetheless on Thursdays they celebrate with pozole throughout the state. La Autentica de Guerrero serves their pozole every day and offers it up in green, red, and white. It's a huge bowl served up with all of the traditional fillings including shredded pork. You may have noticed most of the city's pozole specialists hail from Guerrero which means you can find some really good versions on the NW side. 

   Pozole at La Autentica de Guerrero

On weekends they do Tamales Nejos at La Autentica de Guerrero. These are another regional treat from the state of Guerrero. These tamales are flat and come served unstuffed inside a steamed banana leaf. The steamed masa is used as a delivery vehicle for mole which you cover the tamale in before eating. I've only had these at one other spot but they were both pretty different in that La Autentica de Guerrero serves theirs with a green chicken mole (the other time I had them they came with a red mole paste). As someone whos loved the taste of masa and tamales since youth I find these to be quite pleasing even though some might find them to be filler. The combo of the tamale covered with the light in viscosity mole topped with chopped raw onion is one that I enjoyed. 

Tamales Nejos at La Autentica de Guerrero 

La Autentica de Guerrero
3051 N Central Ave Unit A
Chicago, IL 60634
(708) 831-4188

Monday, February 21, 2022

JeonJu

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)  
Korean Comfort Food in Morton Grove 

The Northwest suburbs are flooded with little Korean spots. These old school eateries can be slightly intimidating to any non Korean speakers since there's typically very little English used as far as their facades go. JeonJu in Morton Grove is a good example of the type of spot that I'm talking about. 

Locals Favorite in Morton Grove 

First things first this is not a Korean barbecue shop. They do home cooked food with an emphasis on soups, this is another common thread that these old school mom and pop Korean shops have. But I'd come to JeonJu for something specific that was not soup. That said the goat soup is one of the most common online mentions. So is the seafood pancake. I haven't had a ton of these savory treats but I tend to like them when I do try them and JeonJu makes a virtually greaseless option which made it as crisp of a version as I've tried. Lots of charred scallions and big chunks of seafood too. 

Seafood Pancake at JeonJu

My reason for visiting was for another one of their specialties - the dolsot bibimbap. Korean comfort food on a cold winter night. The combination of all the common ingredients used in a bowl of bibimbap is always good but the use of a stone bowl takes the dish to another level. The dolsot is a cooking device that retains heat extremely well. One of it's most popular uses is for Bibimbap. The idea is you get the stone pot extra hot and throw a bunch of white rice into it which crisps up at the bottom as you eat. JeonJu was said to prepare a really good version that gets golden on the bottom and that I can confirm. I needed a go-to spot for dolsot bibimbap and it looks like I've now got that place. 

Dolsot Bibimbap at JeonJu

JeonJu
5707 Dempster St
Morton Grove, IL 60053
(847) 470-0066

Friday, February 18, 2022

Roux

-Grubbing in Chicago
Southern Grub in Hyde park

Roux is a newly opened southern style cafe in Hyde Park. It's the newest project from Charlie McKenna of Lillie Q's. I recently had to meet someone who works at University of Chicago and he suggested we grab an early lunch from here. Breakfast and dinner are served simultaneously.

Newly Opened in Hyde Park 

First things first it's a very nice space that's just off campus so it should see some traffic from both students and locals alike. The menu is Southern inspired and for the most part it's pretty standard stuff as as far as the menu offerings go. You order before sitting down and then they bring your food to you. An appetizer of deviled eggs was decent but imo tasted too much like just mustard. You only get three which always annoys me as it's easier to share when it's an even number of stuff but these weren't grab another good. I had much better luck with my fried green tomato tartine which stacks a piece of Texas toast with pimento cheese, bacon, fried green tomato with an egg on top. It was pretty excellent but I burned the shit out of the roof of my mouth due to the fried tomato being piping hot. An order of shrimp and grits looked better than it tasted as there wasn't a ton of flavor to it. It was kind of plain. The beignets were pretty good, fresh fried dough usually is but we'd asked to have them after the food other items and instead it all came at once. Not a big deal but attention to the little things is always a big plus. I'd say the addition of Roux to this stretch of 55th st. is an overall plus as well. 

Brunch at Roux 

Roux 
1055 E 55th St
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 770-4785
Website

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Tandoor Samsa

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)  
Uzbek Pastries in Buffalo Grove

Here's an interesting stop up in the Northwest Suburbs. I know I've said it many times but there's some gems to be found in the strip malls of the city's suburbs. Tandoor Samsa caught my eye as I was browsing a list of places within Buffalo Grove. There seems to be a decent selection of Central Asian restaurants in town and Tandoor Samsa was interesting bc it's named after a savory pastry.  

Locals Favorite in Buffalo Grove 

According to the Central Asia travel website, samsa is Uzbek slang for samosa. These buns are made with a flaky pastry and stuffed with ground beef and lots of onion which makes them juicy. Samsas are almost always baked as opposed to the fried samosas of South Asia. Typically they're baked in a tandoor oven which is how Tandoor Samsa does theirs. They offer a nice selection of Central Asian comfort foods many of which are packed to go in the refrigerated case up front. That tells me there's a decent amount of Uzbeks in the area. On my visit there was a couple others who stopped in to take some samsas to go as there was no indoor dining at the time. I followed their lead and took six to go figuring I'd drop some off to friends or family. These come filled with ground beef, potato, and onion and are very similar to the pasties found in the U.P except they're only about a 1/4 in size. A not so spicy red sauce comes served on the side which helps give it some extra flavor. A universally loved dish that just happens to be called a number of things depending on exactly where they come from. 

Samsa at Tandoor Samsa

Tandoor Samsa
706 S Buffalo Grove Rd
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(847) 947-8284
Website

Monday, February 14, 2022

Pho Le 777

-Grubbing in Chicago
"The Restaurant from California"

There's never a bad time for a bowl of pho and the dead of winter is always a good time for one. I noticed a new spot that had just opened up north in one of the commercial lots on McCormick just off Lincoln avenue. It sits one lot over from the popular Pho 5 Lua. I was intrigued when I learned that this is the second location of a Vietnamese restaurant from California. They have great Viet food out there especially in some parts of Orange County. Pho Le 777 comes from Clovis near Fresno. 

Newly Opened in West Ridge 

The menu at Pho Le 777 is pretty standard fare but they also do Chinese Barbecue. There were quite a few mentions for the crispy pork in early online reviews but I specifically stopped in for some pho on what was a cold and windy February day. I always get the bowl that includes all of the meats which in this case is called the Pho 777. It comes with thinly sliced beef both cooked and rare as well as tendon, meatballs and shredded tripe. All of that sits in a big bowl of nicely seasoned broth that was served steaming hot (a big plus in my book). One of the best things about a bowl of Pho is you can personalize it and they had all the options to do so here including some really fresh herbs served on the side. I found Pho Le 777 to be quite satisfying which is typically the case with a hot bowl of pho. 

Pho 777 at Pho Le 777

Pho Le 777
6257 N McCormick Blvd
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 942-6630

Friday, February 11, 2022

Roadfood in St. Augustine

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties 
- Stopping in at three Ancient City favorites 

This last December I drove down to South Florida where I stayed for about six weeks. Today's post is the first to come from that trip. St. Augustine isn't the first place I stopped but it's the first of a few to come from that journey. We actually stopped in Chattanooga first for a couple nights (stay tuned) before moving on to St. Augustine where we spent the night before the final push to South Florida. So we were only there for maybe 12 hours but that's kind of all you need (to see the town anyway). This was my second trip to "the oldest city in the U.S." which is known for it's Spanish Colonial architecture and some of Northern Florida's best beaching. You can visit the country's oldest church and eat some of the country's best fried shrimp. Overall it's at the very least worth a quick stop on the way south. 

Sights from St. Augustine
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Island Donuts 

Every town has a donut shop and most of them have a few. Some are nothing special while others are fantastic. Island Donuts falls into the former with it's island inspired creations. I had been stuffing myself in the heart of Georgia the day before (stay tuned) so I wasn't all that hungry but I had to stop and doc at least one of their products. The winner was a pineapple fritter with shredded coconut. 

Pineapple Fritter at Island Donuts
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Hazel's Hot Dogs

The best hot dogs in Florida just might be found here in St. Augustine at Hazel's Hot Dogs. But you have to get the ‘spicy dog’ which puts grilled onions, spicy east coast mustard and Datil pepper relish on top of a custom made beef and pork blend griddled natural casing wiener. Plus some of the best fresh cut fries I’ve come across outside Chicago (they’re not as common elsewhere). Heck this might be the best hot dog stand in the south due to the use of a snappy natural casing wiener. Sorry but skinless is for kids (or when there’s no other option). Datil peppers are a spicy locally grown product.

The Spicy Dog from Hazel's Hot Dogs 
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O'Steen's

You can’t go to St. Augustine and not stop at O’Steen's. Of all the old time spots I hit on this trip O’Steen's might’ve been the top stop of a strong bunch. It’s been a favorite of both locals and tourists alike for more than 50 years. They do fried seafood but it’s the shrimp you’re here for specifically. Well that and the Minorcan Clam Chowder. The shrimp is the locally caught Mayport species which is fished in Jacksonville where the mouth of the St. John River meets the Atlantic. It’s served butterflied with a super light batter that has zero nicks or cracks. While a pink dipping sauce comes served on the side all the pros know you use the green bottle of Grolsch at each table which holds a Datil pepper cocktail like sauce that’s just fantastic. The majority of the worlds Datil Peppers are grown in St. Augustine. For my sides I went old school with some pickled beets plus yellow rice with gravy. Some of the finest fried seafood in the world. The fried shrimp taste like wait for it … shrimp! The clam chowder is a red blend (tomatoes) that puts all those Datil peppers to use. It’s got decent spice which is something most chowders are averse to so that’s a plus. Perhaps the coolest thing about O’Steen’s is the fact that more than half of the waitresses on staff have been there for more than 25 years. But the best thing about O'Steen's is that shrimp. A candidate for 2022 'Roadfood Stop of the Year." 

Minorcan Chowder and Fried Shrimp at O'Steen's
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See ya next time @chibbqking

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