Monday, November 28, 2022

All Too Well

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

While the pandemic brought us a bunch of restaurant closures there were still spots opening up shop in the middle of it all. One place that comes to mind is Evette’s in Lincoln Park, where Lebanese and Mexican flavors meet. It's a project from a restaurant vet with a Lebanese heritage. They opened on Armitage and have been going pretty strong ever since. So when the storefront next door to Evette’s became available, the owner decided to double down after being offered the space at a discounted price by his landlord. The newly leased building didn’t have a kitchen so they got creative and built it out to where it could share a kitchen with Evette’s and with that All Too Well was born. 

Newly Opened in Lincoln Park 

All Too Well doubles as a deli and a small market and it’s Lebanese inspired just like it's sister restaurant, Evette’s. Doing sandwiches was the right business move as it allows them to use the kitchen at Evette’s. The menu consists of more than ten sandwiches as well as a couple bowls for the gluten free crowd. What I really like about this place is these aren’t just any old sandwiches. You’re not going to find a turkey club or an Italian sub here. Instead you might be inclined to try something like the “I make you Lamb” sandwich which is a pressed sandwich using shredded lamb as it’s base with feta, chimichurri, mayo, pepperjack, pineapple and fried onion on a soft and sturdy ciabatta. I think it’s safe to say this is the only place where you’ll find such a sandwich. Another unique offering I’ve tried is the “Bombay Chulet” which mixes turkey with prosciutto topped with an aioli, spicy fig jam, chili crunch, Monterey Jack, arugula and fried onion. Also on a pressed ciabatta. Then they make an interesting take on Italian beef made with a kefta crumble and sumac laced giardiniera. Great spot.

The Bombay Chulet at All Too Well 

All Too Well 
352 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614 
(773) 799-8478

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Roadfood in Biloxi

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Mississippi's Gulf Coast 

We did a daytrip to Biloxi on the drive back to Chicago last year, which we did through Alabama, as you can see HERE. It’s an hour west of Mobile so we headed out early one morning with plans to indulge in some local eats while catching a Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball game. Biloxi we once the “seafood capital of the world” and it’s still a big business there but the casinos have taken over as the areas biggest draw, both from an local employers standpoint and also from a visitors angle. Most people visiting are there for some gambling. But not us. We were there to eat (crawfish) as its location along the Gulf of Mexico just 1.5 hours from New Orleans means you’ll find plenty of local options. Local as in lots of seafood mixed with plenty of influence from it’s Gulf coast location. 

Sights from Biloxi 

Le Bakery 

Our first stop up was a Vietnamese bakery known for excellent pastries and a top notch Bahn Mi. The story of Le Bakery is one that begins in Vietnam during U.S occupation. Le Nguyen, the owners mother, was twenty-seven in 1975, when the American forces finally pulled out of Vietnam. She was given passage on a military boat to Philippines, where the US had a naval base. Eventually she landed in San Diego, where her daughter Sue was born. After settling in Southern California and re-marrying they opened a restaurant before taking a trip to Mississippi one summer. They fell in love with both the climate (which was similar to Vietnam) and also the local Vietnamese community who was thriving in the local shrimping industry. They decided to stay in Biloxi and open up a small shop where they sold baked goods to the local Vietnamese community. It wasn’t until after Hurricane Katrina hit (their building was spared) that they converted their small bakery into a full fledged one that also had a cafe. It’s a no frills spot where locals will line up upon opening. They come for fresh baked treats, both savory and sweet, with options like Cajun meat pies sitting alongside the most amazing praline and pecan rolls. Extra crisp baguettes are baked fresh every morning and are the anchor for awesome Vietnamese po boy sandwiches which is what they call Bahn Mi's down here. 

Breakfast at Le Bakery 

Taranto's Crawfish

Seeing as how it was crawfish season this next stop was a must for us. Taranto’s is the name that will most always come up when discussion of Biloxi’s best crawfish boils is had. It’s also oozing with an old Gulf coast atmosphere and some friendly Southern hospitality. Locally caught and boiled Royal Red shrimps were as good if not better than the Crawfish which really hit the spot after not having any for a couple years due to the pandemic and what not. The gumbo was tasty too. But the surprise star of the show was the waitress recommended shrimp and crawfish bisque. Very cool spot. 

Lunch at Taranto's

Doris' Hot Tamales

The last time I was in Mississippi before this was more than a decade ago when we took an epic roadtrip through the Delta. We ate tons of Delta style tamales on that trip and they’ve been one of my favorite regional foods ever since then, I’m always on the prowl for them when in an area they might be found. While just about anywhere in the state is fair game for them the majority of spots are found in the Delta. But there’s at least one spot to be found in Biloxi and it’s reminiscent of the tamale stands that we visited on that 2012 roadtrip to New Orleans. Doris’ Hot Tamales was celebrating their 45th year in business when we visited last April. Its namesake was such a beloved local figure that the city named November 2nd “Doris’ Hot Tamales Day”. She’s since passed away but her daughter and grandkids were very happy to hear we were visiting from Chicago as they were headed that way for a family trip later that summer (I gave them some good pizza recs). I think I got a half dozen hot tamales to start and then ended up with six more after putting down the first six. I’ve never had a bad hot tamale down here and Doris’ was no exception. Click the link to my report from the Delta circa 2012 if you want to learn more about this fantastic regional snack with African-American roots. 

Hot Tamales at Doris' Hot Tamales 

Yul's Place 

After walking along the water and grabbing a couple drinks at a waterfront bar we made our way to the second crawfish boil of the day (get ‘em while you can). Yul’s Place was just my type of spot with its isolated island location reached by bridge and away from the casinos and such. Yul’s Place is a popular stop with locals for booze and boils and a good time to go with it. We sat out on the second level deck overlooking the coast. The crawfish served here were much more aggressively spiced than the previous stop so I preferred them but would be happy with either, especially here in Chicago. 

Crawfish at Yul's Place 

Quave Brothers Po' Boys

With its Gulf Coast location just a short ride from New Orleans, po boys are popular too in the Biloxi area. There’s a handful of spots that specialize in them but we only had the stomache space for one. I ended up picking Quave Brothers off of pictures and reviews. It’s tough to pick which style of po boy I prefer, beef or seafood. I guess a fried shrimp more times than not but I also like a roast beef po boy now and then and so I was told they make a great one here. So after going back and forth we decided to try the roast beef with debris. Though some spots will serve it sliced it’s much better when in debris form which was the case with this place. Po Boy spots in Biloxi will press the sandwiches which is interesting. Not quite up to NOLA standards but better than most of them from outside of there. 

Roast Beef Po Boy at Quave Brothers Po Boy 

Parrain's Jambalaya Kitchen 

Parrain’s Jambalaya Kitchen was by the baseball stadium so we made plans to eat there before walking over to MGM Park for a Biloxi Shuckers baseball game. Parrains is a Cajun owned spot that gets lots of love for their jambalaya plus all the other Cajun dishes like boudin balls and gumbo. We shared a plate of classic chicken and sausage jambalaya and each got a cup of gumbo. Good stuff. 

Dinner at Perrain's Jambalaya Kitchen 

The Project Lounge 

They did not have the char grilled oysters (discontinued) we thought they would at the baseball game so we ended up at this local bar for a burger afterward. The Project Lounge is a dive type spot that's not too rugged if that makes sense. The crowd was young and looking for a good time thus there were no bad vibes detected. Some say this is the place go for Biloxi's best burger (steak sandwiches are also popular). We split a cheeseburger which was of the thicker variety and cooked up right there behind the bar. Pretty standard stuff as far as ingredients and cooking of it goes, fresh beef, cheap bun cooked on a hot grill, but the burger itself was definitely not standard. It was f'ing awesome. 

Cheeseburger at The Project Lounge 

See ya next time @chibbqking 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Nine Bar

 -Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

Chinatown has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. This is going all the way back to when we would make visits with my grandparents. My grandpa was an Italian - American who loved Chinese food and it’s likely that those childhood visits were what propelled my love for both the food and the neighborhood. It’s always been such an interesting place, mysterious in some ways and inviting in others. It’s the only Chinatown in North America that’s still growing with a Chinese population and businesses to go with it. There’s always new spots opening up shop but these days it seems like all of the openings are corporate in some sort of way and they’re usually doing one of a few things - bubble tea, hot pot, or some sort of fried food like chicken or corn dogs. The recently opened Nine Bar, the neighborhoods first cocktail bar, looks to be an exception to this trend.

Newly Opened in Chinatown 

Nine Bar seems to be one of the few local neighborhood openings of late. It’s ran the family behind Moon Palace which has been a neighborhood fixture for over five decades. I didn’t realize it until I walked in but Moon Palace’s dining room has been replaced by the bar, you can still order food from what’s now called Moon Palace Express which is a pickup booth in the front room which you enter before going into the bar. The bar itself has nice lighting that isn’t too dark or too bright with a colorful backdrop and Asian inspired cocktails plus foreign and local beers and bar food too. I don’t get out for cocktails as much as I used to but the two I had from here were both really good. The first was a very well mixed Mai Tai, a fav of mine. I followed that up with a drink called ‘Paradise Lost’ that mixes clarified, novo fogo prata, rhine hall mango, ube extract, pineapple, thai coconut milk. Fantastic.

Mai Tai at Nine Bar

If you’re looking for some snacks to go with your drinks they got you covered on that. We visited at a time when the General Jones' Wings were on special (available Wed + Thurs until 8pm). Wok-fried wings are tossed in Moon Palace's general tso's sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I don’t eat wings as much I used to but I feel like these are an instant contender for the city's best batch of non-Buffalo style wings. Flawlessly fried and tossed in a very tasty sauce that perfectly coats the wings.

General Jones' Wings at Nine Bar

We also crushed an order of Mapo Hot Fries which are waffle fries topped with saucy chili pork, togarashi, spicy mayo, pickled peppers, and scallions. An awesome bar snack that I could eat all to myself but if I had one critique it would be they weren’t quite as covered in toppings as I would’ve liked.

Mapo Hot Fries

There’s a handful of vegan options including some delicious dumplings with tofu, veggies, glass noodles, chili oil, black vinegar, scallions. These had great texture and the taste didn’t skip a beat without meat. When the couple behind Nine Bar started to develop their ideas for it, it was with a bar they visited in Vancouver's Chinatown in mind. I think I know exactly which spot they visited and I too wondered why Chicago’s Chinatown didn’t have spots like it or the famous Li Po Cocktail Lounge in San Francisco’s Chinatown when I was there. Happy to report that we now have one in Nine Bar. 

Dumplings at Nine Bar 

Nine Bar
216 W Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 225-4081

Monday, November 14, 2022

Restaurant Ecuador

-Grubbing in Chicago
Ecuadorian Eats in Logan Square

Chicago has been home to a nice sized Ecuadorian community going back to the mid 60’s when the first wave of immigrants started arriving from Ecuador. Thirty years later the city saw another big wave which turned Chicago into one of the country’s largest hubs for Ecuadorian food and culture. These days Chicago is home to more than 20,000 people of Ecuadorian descent. The first wave found themselves in areas like Logan Square where the city’s oldest Ecuadorian restaurant still resides. 

Locals Favorite in Logan Square

Restaurant Ecuador has been serving a taste of home to Chicago area Ecuadorians since 1984. Whenever I visit an Ecuadorian spot such as this I have to get an empanada to start. Specifically an Empanada de viento (fried cheese). These are a very traditional variety that can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a dessert. I prefer the former bc you can use one of the best condiments in town for dipping. An Ecuadorian meal served up in a restaurant will almost always include a bowl of aji sauce to be used as a condiment. Aji refers to both a species of chili known as Capsicum Baccatum that’s native to South America and it’s also a word used to mean chili pepper. The aji sauce in Ecuadorian restaurants will most always be a homemade variety so the recipes can very in both ingredients and heat. Restaurant Ecuador makes a medium hot version loaded with shallots, onion and garlic among other stuff. It’s terrific on everything they serve but especially the empanadas. If you prefer your empanadas to lean sweet you can ask for them served with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It’s a win - win situation whichever way you choose to enjoy them. 

Empanada de Viento 

The Llapingachos is a great way to get familiar with Ecuadorian cuisine which is a merger of Spanish, Andean, and Amazonian cuisines. Llapingachos is a traditional dish of creole origin. It consists of fried mashed potato patties surrounding a cheese center that are topped with fried eggs plus peanut sauce. It’s typically served with some sort of protein and then a tomato and lettuce salad on the side. Here it comes served with a slice of steak plus a cup of white rice. If I’m being honest the beef isn’t needed as it’s a tougher cut that just gets in the way of the potato pancakes which are crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, and greatly enhanced with a creamy peanut sauce that’s poured over the top. The eggs give this dish a bit of a breakfast vibe making it a popular dish at all hours of the day.  

Llapingachos at Restaurant Ecuador 

If you visit during peak dining hours and take a look around each table you’ll notice they all have big bowls of soup on them. Ecuadorian cuisine produces some amazing soups that can vary by geographic location. If you’re near the coasts then seafood is extremely popular as are meat soups up in the Highlands. Restaurant Ecuador makes a handful of options and the Caldo de Bola is one that I recently enjoyed. It’s described as a vegetable soup but it’s got lots of protein in the form of two types of tender beef including a big bone on chunk as well as a plantain stuffed with ground beef plus chunks of potato, carrots and onion. The broth is clearly homemade as it’s got a deep beefy flavor that the canned stuff can't match. With the winter weather rolling into Chicago you’ll want to have this spot bookmarked for the upcoming soup season as they make some of the best bowls in town. 

Caldo de Bola at Restaurant Ecuador 

Restaurant Ecuador
2923 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 342-7870

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Kim's Uncle Pizza

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)  
Tavern Style Pizza in Westmont

Is this the best Fall weather we’ve ever had in Chicago? It sure feels that way. I cant remember a better one anyway. It’s been just about perfect. A couple weekends back I jumped in the car, put the windows down and took the ride out west to Westmont to check out this new pizza spot everybody’s been raving about. Kim’s Uncle Pizza comes from the team at Pizza, Fried Chicken and Ice Cream which is out of Bridgeport and has a connection to Maria’s Packaged Goods. A lady named Kim that’s friends with the lady that runs Maria’s used to run a pizza place in Westmont called Uncle Pete’s. She’s since retired but the team behind PFCIC has taken over the space and renamed it Uncle Kim’s.

Newly Opened in Westmont 

Actually it's name is Kim's Uncle Pizza but Uncle Kim's is what I have cemented into my skull. The business came with a once locally made Faulds Pizza Oven which was the pizza oven of choice for local pizzerias back in the 50’s and onward. They’re no longer made today but many are still in use at spots like Pat’s Pizza in Lincoln Park and Lino’s Pizza in Rockford. Uncle Kim’s does mostly carryout but they do have two booths inside and a picnic table outside. The menu is simple with just one size for pizzas and a few sandwiches to go with it. Drinks and t-shirts round it out (no cash). I got my classic sausage pizza which is what I judge all others by and this one is indeed as delicious and desirable as they said it was going to be. All aspects of it were above average with the sturdiness of the squares being the most impressive thing about it, aside from the taste which is all that matters. 

Sausage Pizza at Kim's Uncle Pizza

Money Shot 

Booty Shot 

Kim's Uncle Pizza
207 N Cass Ave
Westmont, IL 60559
(630) 963-1900

Monday, November 7, 2022

Kunafa Nabulsia

-Grubbing in Chicago
Moroccan Sandwiches in Irving Park 

Every time it feels like I might be out of Chicago restaurants to check out I'll dig deep to find one. In the case of Kunafa Nabulsia I was reminded I wanted to try it by looking at my hit list, a note in my iPhone of places around Chicagoland that I have my eye on. Kunafa Nabulsia opened up at some point over the last couple of years but I had lost track of it in my list. Well I recently needed a place to eat and this was one of the closest spots with it’s location being on Pulaski just off of Elston. 

Locals Favorite in Irving Park 

If you’re familiar with the dish the restaurant is named after you would assume this is a Palestinian or Lebanese or other Middle Eastern type of spot and it is in some ways including all of the pastries they serve but the food leans Moroccan and Algerian. I’m a little more familiar with the former than I am the latter but I would imagine their cuisines are pretty similar since they come from the same region (North Africa). I really liked the Mhajeb which is an Algerian flatbread made with semolina flour and a spicy tomato sauce with onions. It reminded me of Trinidadian Roti in that the ingredients are all pressed together. I read that this accompanies a meal in the same way as bread would. But it’s a large portion that can easily be lunch for one, and a cheap one at that ($3.50). 

Mhajeb at Kunafa Nabulsia 

There’s no reviews of this spot on yelp but there are a few on Google. The majority of them mention the sandwiches which were what interested me about Kunafa Nabulsia in the first place. They have a merguez option which was intriguing but I gravitated towards the kofta bc it was a bit more interesting. They take a beef kofta kebab and chop it up with a bunch of grilled onions, mushrooms, and sliced jalapeño which all gets sautéed on a hot flattop in the same way a cheese steak or chopped cheese sandwich is made. They bake their own bread and it’s soft but sturdy enough to hold the mixture of meat and veggies. I highly recommend getting it with mayo which melts when applied to a hot steaming sandwich such as this, turning it into the consistency of cheese which I thought it might be before double checking the menu to see the sandwiches do not come with cheese. You get the option of fries or soup and the veggie soup is the way to go over some standard frozen fries, but they do season them up nicely. This was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had all year and I say that bc I’m already thinking about heading back for another sometime soon. Plus they do a daily special and on Friday’s it's couscous, which a few of the online reviews rave about. Check them out!

Beef Kofta Sandwich  

Kunafa Nabulsia
4304 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641 
(773) 628-7704


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