Monday, April 25, 2022

Basant Modern Indian

-Grubbing in Chicago
Modern Indian Food in North Center

Indian food is having a bit of a moment in Chicago right now. It's by no means new to the city. Over on Devon (or "Little India" as some people call it) Indian food and culture has had a major presence in the area since the 1960's. As time went on mom and pop Indian restaurants began to open in neighborhoods like Wicker Park and such and with that Indian food became readily available in and around Chicago. Over the last five years or so it's taken the next step as the city has welcomed a collection of new restaurants and pop-ups doing things we hadn't previously seen in terms of both regionality and originality. This next step is typically taken when a new generation of chefs start to come up. Chefs that grew up in Indian households but did so in the U.S or elsewhere and in doing so were exposed to different food and cultures that they can be inspired by plus all of that which they learned in their own homes. I hope that makes sense. What I'm saying is I think Indian food is headed where other Asian cuisines have recently gone in Chicago. We're seeing more places that focus in on the regional aspects of the cuisine while also putting their own creative spins on the classics and such. Basant is that type of spot. It opened last year and I was immediately intrigued. 

Newly Opened in North Center 

Basant describes itself as both modern and traditional. It's location is kind of hidden on Byron street right off of Lincoln avenue. But that hasn't stopped the neighborhood from taking note. We recently dined in on a Friday night around the peak time for reservations (7:30) and the place was completely booked. So reservations are recommended. Most of the online reviews are glowing but it's always tough to gauge the knowledge of those doing the reviews. But then it was the menu that got me in to begin with. There isn't as many options as a typical Indian restaurant though plenty of the favorites can still be found. For starters an order of veggie (potato) samosas hit the spot we were looking to scratch when we decided we wanted Indian food for dinner. Since it was a Friday during Lent we also chose to get an order of Fish Amritsari and Chips. Truth be told we would've ordered this no matter what day and or season it was. Both the fish and chips were seasoned really nicely with a dry spice similar to chaat masala. My knowledge of Indian food is limited but what I do know is it's one of the most regional cuisines in the world so I'm always on the lookout for regional specific dishes. I found one here by way of the Kashmir Valley. It's called Lamb Gushtaba and it consists of tender meatballs in yogurt based sauce. It certainly hit the spot. Basant has a full bar with interesting cocktails too. 

Dinner at Basant (click pics to enhance) 

Basant Modern Indian
1939 W Byron St
Chicago, IL 60613 
(773) 770-3616

Monday, April 18, 2022

TriBecca's Sandwich Shop

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

The restaurant openings in Chicago have been lackluster of late. This is totally understandable when you take the pandemic into account and everything that's come from it and or been revealed during it. Who would want to open a spot right now? Well some people are still brave enough with no fucks left to give though in many cases they're not offering anything interesting you want to run over to try. One exception of late has been TriBecca's Sandwich Shop which had the good fortune of being an entity before their recent opening on Belmont in Avondale. They first popped up in Revival Food Hall.

Newly Opened in Avondale

TriBecca's is the project of Rebecca Grothe, a former cook at Honey Butter Fried Chicken which is where this story begins. Before they did an extended stay at Revival they were serving Cuban sandwiches at Honey Butter's pop-up dinner series they used to do. It was from that which the opportunity to do Cuban sandwiches at Revival Food Hall came about. After their short stay over there the pandemic hit but they just opened a brick and mortar on Belmont east of Sacramento. It's a sandwich shop that features the aforementioned Cuban sandwich and a variety of other offerings a couple of which pay homage to it's Midwest location. The space is small with just one booth and a L shaped counter that extends around it. Also of note is the partnership with Tuber's Donuts, another pop-up that's now full time. I visited with my mom, bother and niece so I got to try most of the menu items that were tempting me to visit. There's a selection of veggie offerings as well. A fun stop.

The Cubano- High quality ingredients all around though the use of a ciabatta bun and a chipotle aioli makes this one more of a Snowbird than a true year round Floridian. Nonetheless an excellent sandwich that’s portioned just right for a Cuban. 

The “Maidwrong” - An ode to one of the Midwest’s most polarizing sandwiches, the loosemeat or the “Maid Rite” when ordered at the regional chain of the same name. Ground beef is served loose with classic yellow mustard in use but that’s about it as far it being made right as this one also comes with agrodolce grilled onions, steak sauce aioli, and Muenster cheese on a buttery bun. This was a decadent big city version of the small town favorite.

The Horseshoe - Another loved / hated Midwest classic that’s typically found in and around the state capital down in Springfield. You’d think there’d be more spots around Chicago doing these but then again the rest of the state is almost in a different world than those of us up here. This one is also dressed up for a night out on the town as it’s made with two Slagel Family Farm beef patties, Pullman bread, crinkle cut fries and a pepper-jack cheese sauce. Tasty but it needed more sauce which was also a bit too thick.

Spicy Tuna Melt - I love a good tuna sandwich and this was that. Made with well sourced ingredients such as Mighty Vine tomatoes, Pickled Prince banana peppers and pHlour Bakery sourdough on top of high quality tuna, white cheddar, arugula. The use of top shelf ingredients made this simple sandwich a succulent one.

Tubers Donuts - So glad I finally got to try these potato based donuts one of which comes served up as a loaded baked potato. I’ll have to try that next time as we went with a couple of the sweet options, one glazed and one dusted. A great addition to the Avondale area.

TriBecca's Sandwich Shop
2949 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 878-2717

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Don Pablo's Kitchen & Bakeshop

-Grubbing in Chicago
Chilean Empanadas in Uptown

Over the last decade or so there hasn't been anywhere in Chicagoland to get Chilean food, except maybe a Chilean persons kitchen. You can find all sorts of restaurants serving food from other South American countries but Chilean food had been non-existent in Chicago for some time. That was until just last year when a local news reporter of Chilean descent decided to start selling empanadas out of a ghost kitchen. Mike Sula with the story. They've since gone full brick & mortar in Uptown. 

Recently Opened in Uptown

Because there is no definitive Chilean community in Chicago owner Pablo Soto chose to open in Uptown bc of it's diversity. Empanadas are indeed a universally loved snack. They come in all shapes and sizes and most of the time they're fried but sometimes they're baked. Chilean empanadas are different than most others bc of their both large size and the fact their most traditional version is baked. After the pandemic made Soto and so many others question their priorities he decided it was time to start his own thing and he did so by traveling back to Chile and gathering all the info he could about his homelands signature snack, the empanada. Some secrets were learned and with that his dough was perfected. Mike Sula's article in the Reader mentions the use of white wine in the dough. 

Empanadas at Don Pablo's Kitchen & Bakeshop 

I made sure to give the “Clásica” a try on my first trip in. It’s made with hand-cut sirloin steak, onions, hard boiled egg, black olives and spices. Also pictured up above is the “Pluma Pesto” which is served fried with pulled chicken, creamy pesto, onions, hard boiled egg, black olive and spices inside. The dough on each of these was high quality and I very much enjoyed them both. I thought the classic baked version was better than a busy spot in Miami that I recently tried (there's a handful of Chilean restaurants in South Florida). They also make a popular Chilean dish that they call the “Epic Corn Pie” or Pastel de Choclo which is a comforting casserole that feels at home in the Midwest. It has sweet corn, basil, and layers of hand-cut angus sirloin steak with pulled chicken breast and hard boiled egg and black olives. It'll be interesting to see what else is added to the menu as time goes by.

Epic Corn Pie at Don Pablo's Kitchen & Bakeshop 

Don Pablo's Kitchen & Bakeshop
1007 W Argyle St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 293-7040


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