Monday, June 26, 2023

Rosie's Sidekick

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Italian Deli Fare in Logan Square

The Bear is back for a second season on HULU / FX so I figured now was as good of a time as ever to share some Italian beef content. As longtime readers know I used to have a sister blog to S’C’&C called “What’s Your Beef?” where I reviewed all of the Italian beef sandwiches in town. Ok maybe not all of them but all of the ones worth trying which are the spots where they make their beef from scratch as opposed to taking it out of a bag. Eventually I ran out of places to review as there's been a long period where we’re losing more Italian beef stands than we’re gaining. I’m talking about the specialist spots and not places like Portillo’s or the mom and pop hot dog stands that use beef from a bag. I’m referring to places like Rosie’s Sidekick on California which has been making Italian beef in house since they first opened which wasn’t that long ago but it was at least a couple years before The Bear made Italian beef trendy on a national stage. For the first time in what feels like forever, Italian beef is getting its due and new school spots like Rosie’s are slowly starting to pop up.

Locals Favorite in Logan Square 

Rosie’s is an Italian deli that makes their Italian beef in-house. There tends to be two types of Italian beef, three if you include the factory produced stuff. Beef from Italian beef stands and beef from Italian delis each have their own characteristics with deli beefs tending to be a thicker cut similar to roast beef. Rosie’s does what I would describe as a deli style beef. Another characteristic of deli style is sometimes to slice the beef to order before giving it a quick bath in the gravy. The beef stands tend to have more traffic so it doesn’t sit in the gravy as long and thus doesn’t need to be dropped to order. Rosie’s beef is very similar to hot roast beef. I’ve had it as is with hot peppers and it’s pretty good but I prefer “The Couch” which is a lesser seen combo when it comes to Italian beef. The Couch consists of beef and meatballs plus marinara and cheese and your choice of peppers. Rosie’s makes great meatballs (baked not fried) and the beef works well with them. I’m not sure it makes a meatball sandwich any better but it doesn’t make it worse. But if I had to pick between the two I would get the meatball over the beef. Then again meatballs just work better with marinara and cheese. 

The Couch Sandwich at Rosie's Sidekick 

While all of the hot sandwiches I’ve had here are of a high quality it’s the pizza bread I've been most impressed with. They take baked on site muffuletta bread and top it with marinara and mozzarella and your choice of any two toppings before a trip to the oven. I decided to try one with meatballs and giardiniera and came away with a new neighborhood option when I want pizza or something similar. I wouldn’t call family owned Italian Delis like Rosie’s a dying breed but they’re certainly close to going on the endangered list so make sure to support your local spots while they’re still around as they’re fading fast.

Muffuletta Pizza 

Rosie's Sidekick 
2610 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 697-3000

Monday, June 19, 2023

Tuk Tuk Thai Isan Street Food

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Isan Cuisine in Lakeview

Chicago’s Thai food scene continues to grow with the opening of Thai restuarants pretty much always being a thing. Which ones do you try first (or ever) is also a thing you have to figure out. For me it simply comes down to the menu and maybe the presentation of it. What I mean when I say the menu plays a big part in whether or not I’m going to check a spot out is what do they have, if anything, that sets them apart from other Thai spots in town. So I’m looking for more than the usual suspects as far as Pad Thai or spring rolls and so forth. Just like with any other cuisine I’m always on the prowl for regional offerings too which is what got me into Tuk Tuk Thai Isan on Clark a few doors down from the old Century Mall. It's owned by the family who runs Green Tea Japanese Restaurant which is also on Clark up in Lincoln Park (across from Francis Parker school). They’re Thai and figured why not open a spot serving the food they typically make for themselves at home and family gatherings and the likes. The family has roots in Northeast Thailand which is the Isan region up near Laos.

Recently Opened in Lakeview 

The food of the region is famous for being very spicy and pungent and well seasoned with fresh herbs and fermented fish being abundant. This cuisine has more in common with that of Laos then the rest of Thailand, as the people of Isan have been more heavily influenced by the neighboring country's culture than a place like Bangkok. They even speak in a dialect closely related to Laos and thus food is also more like Lao cuisine than it is Thai in alot of ways. So it’s always nice to get an Isan option since there’s just one Lao restaurant in Chicago and it’s only a ghost kitchen at the moment. Tuk Tuk is planning on getting a liquor license but it’s byob for now so bring some beer and some friends bc the menu is the type that’s really good for sharing. Of course we had to start with a papaya salad and we chose the Isan style which comes pounded with green beans, tomatoes, garlic, lime dressing, fish sauce, thai chili with fermented anchovies and salted crabs. This had that funk one wants when they want a proper papaya salad. We also got an order of the fried meatballs (pork) aka Laab Moo Tod. My only complaint with them was some were really small and thus fried kind of hard. The larger meatballs were much juicier so maybe they could increase the size of them just a bit. A good start nonetheless. 

Appetizers at Tuk Tuk Thai Isan 

Moving along we also tried a couple of the entrees as appetizers since there was four of us. We got the green curry with shrimp and also the Rad Nar with shrimp and both were a hit. In the case of the curry I enjoyed the fresh chunks of Thai eggplant that had clearly been cooked to order and not left in the pot to sit and get soft. It wasn’t the best curry I’ve had in town but it was a good one. As far as the Rad Nar we all liked that too. First off the shrimp that it came with were some of the better textured shrimp that I’ve had in Chicago in a long time. It was served up with fresh Chinese broccoli that still had a lot of snap which is how I like it. The gravy was pretty spot on and the noodles were soft as expected with them being covered in sauce but overall this dish was also a hit with the group. 

Shrimp Rad Nar

Tuk Tuk presents a few signature dishes and they all seemed worth ordering but we had to do a whole fried fish just because in my opinion nobody fries up a whole piece of fish better than the good people of Thailand. Almost all of the best versions of whole fried fish that I’ve had came on a trip to Thailand and I’ve had a few good ones at Thai spots in the States too so with this being a favorite dish of mine I decided we would try that and was happy that we did. They serve their deep fried snapper topped with a Thai-style three flavor sauce - spicy, sweet & sour. I detected some tomatoes, green onion and cilantro plus dried chiles on top of the sauce. My only real complaint was that we didn’t get a second fish as this is going to feed one or maybe two people as a meal in of itself but we also ordered a few rounds of sticky rice and it came with some regular steamed rice as well so we all felt like we ate just enough after we tried the housemade coconut ice cream served up with peanuts, fresh chunks of coconut and evaporated milk. I love any and all Asian desserts but I have a special bond with Thai style coconut ice cream going back to a visit to a popular Bangkok Market where I ate more than a few scoops on what was a hot ass day. With the weather heating up and Northeastern Thai food being the perfect match for a warm summer day I recommend Tuk Tuk to those in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park area looking for the exciting and delicious flavors of Isan style Thai.

Whole Fried Fish (Pla Rad Plik)

Tuk Tuk Thai Isan Street Food
2852 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 661-9739

Monday, June 12, 2023


-Grubbing in Chicago  
Kerala Cuisine in Avondale

Thattu was one of the years most anticipated openings. The Kerala inspired kitchen is the product of a husband and wife team who first started doing pop-ups before finding a space at the now defunct Politan Row. When the West Loop food hall closed, Thattu was left without a home. Chef Margaret Pak and her husband Vinod Kalathil went back to doing pop-ups and that brought them into contact with the people at Guild Row in Avondale. It’s a social club and working space for local creatives ranging from artists to chefs. Pak and her husband hosted a dinner there that left the founders of Guild Row so impressed that they offered up space for Thattu to go full fledged brick and mortar. 

Recently opened in Avondale 

The story of Thattu is actually one that begins when Chef / Owner Margaret Pak left a desk job after a decade plus and started working at Kimski in Bridgeport. She wasn’t just cooking there but also at home where she would prepare the recipes of her mother in law from Kerala. She and her husband Vinod would start to do some pop-ups at spots like Kimski which is where the people from Politan Row found them and offered up a spot. Fast forward all the way to today and they’ve transformed an old warehouse near the Diversey Bowl into a really nice place with lots of light and open space where they also plan to stock regional food products from Kerala and other parts of India. At first they opened just for lunch but dinner was just added as well. If you visit during their lunch hours that means that the ChaaterTots will be an option and whatever you do start with those. Tater tots are not something I would typically order and that goes for all other frozen potato products too but sprinkle some kick ass spicing to them and I’m much more prone to give them a try. I love the Masala fries common at Indian fast food type establishments and I ordered the tots with those in mind but what I got was even better. First off they’re fried fresh to a perfect golden hue and the seasoning really alliances itself in a way that only freshly ground spices can. To top them off they come with a delicious beet ketchup that I really enjoyed even though I typically don’t like ketchup on anything incl. fries. 

ChaaterTots at Thattu 

The KFC chicken sandwich is a great match for the aforementioned ChaaterTots. In this instance KFC does not stand for that bland stuff based out of Kentucky but rather the Kerala Fried Chicken sandwich that goes back to their days at Politan Row. I’m not a big fried chicken sandwich fan but I do still enjoy them every now and then though I would much rather try one like this than the typical / traditional style most spots seem to do. Actually that goes for hot chicken too. I’d much rather have a chicken sandwich with a generous rubbing of spices commonly used in the recipes of Kerala India. Spicy “naked” fried chicken (thigh) is joined by greens, spicy cucumber pickle, and curry leaf aioli on a toasted brioche bun. It’s a lot of fun as far as a fried chicken sandwich goes and it's better than most.

KFC Sandwich 

The food of Kerala consists of many meat options but also lots of veggie options. It has some variety as far as ingredients too with fish and red meat both being popular on top of all the local spices and produce that are produced on India’s southwestern Malabar Coast. Vegetarians will want to peep the Chorum Kariyum which is a vegetarian combo meal consisting of the curry of day served up with two side dishes, rice, pappadum, and a sidecar of rasam (South Indian soup-like dish). Moru was the special during our lunch visit. It’s a yogurt curry made with green plantains that is pretty much unlike any curry I’ve had just based off the fact I’d never had a plantain curry before this. It was light but not like a salad so l liked that as it already comes with a black chickpea salad plus collard greens in a tomato gravy and also the aforementioned pappadam which is a fermented rice pancake of sorts. 

Chorum Kariyum at Thattu 

I saw an Instagram post from Thattu that announced the start of dinner service. With it was a picture of what they deemed to be “the star of the dinner menu” in the Pork Chop Peralan. The pic was really speaking to me in a way that said "get your ass over here for dinner tonight" so that’s what I did (attention restauranteurs: organic social media works). Pork is popular in Kerala where there’s a nice sized Christian community. I searched online and found at least a few different recipes including a few for Pork Peralan. A recipe from the Kerala tourism board uses bite sized pieces of pork butt or the likes that’s generously spiced with Coriander powder and Chilli powder and Turmeric powder among other things including vinegar which leads me to believe there could be a connection to pork vindaloo, a popular dish in Goa due to the arrival of the Portuguese way back when. Here the Pork Peralan is made with a heavily seasoned bone-in pork chop that sits atop a fried yuca cake on a plate of tangy tomato based Peralan gravy. Collard greens come on the side. It was pretty much everything I was hoping it would be which is also how I feel about Thattu as a whole. We got a good one, Chicago. I expect to see Thattu on a few best new restaurant lists when those start to come back around. 

Pork Chop Peralan 

2601 W Fletcher St
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 754-0199

Monday, June 5, 2023


-Grubbing in Chicago  
Lebanese in Lincoln Park

There’s a new Lebanese restaurant in Lincoln Park. Suda’s opened about a month ago on Fullerton and I was quick to visit them since it’s close to my parents home and we needed a nearby place to grab some dinner recently. It’s a woman owned restaurant in a space that’s housed a couple other Mediterranean and or Middle Eastern spots previous to this. The inside was redone and it’s a very nice space that should attract some of the locals to a lesser visited part of Lincoln Park as far as dining out goes. There were a few groups of people dining in on my visit. I don’t know if they plan to expand the hours or not not but for now it’s dinner only (4-10p closed Tuesdays). 

Recently Opened in Lincoln Park 

The menu is a mix of traditional Lebanese dishes in the form of cold and hot mezze plus soups, salads, and kebabs. We started out with the labneh spread which comes up to five different ways including pistachio, mint, spicy sumac, zaatar, black currant. Little falafel sized balls of drained goat milk yogurt are preserved in evoo and rolled around in the seasonings of your choosing. You can choose any three or all five and it comes served with housemade pita chips. I thought these were pretty good but the seasonings didn’t come off very strong so they all had a pretty similar taste. I’d only get it if you have a big group, as it’s a big order. We decided to try the Sambusas from the selection of hot mezze on offer thanks to a tip from our waitress. They came out piping hot from a trip to the fryer and were nice and crisp on the outside while the ground beef on the inside was warm, soft, and really well seasoned. I thought these were the best bite of the night. We also got the Adis bil hamod which is a Lebanese lentil soup with swiss chard, onions, potatoes, and cilantro and they comped a traditional soup made with red lentils. Both of them were pretty good but I thought they could’ve used the same aggressive seasoning that the sambusas were given.

Hot and Cold Mezze at Suda's

The grilled items all sit in the $20-$26 range but can be split among your group depending on the number of poeple. I decided to try the lamb skewer since that’s my gold standard for a good kebab, lamb takes on that grilled flavor so well. The meat was tender and quality from what I could tell but I just wish it was a bit more seasoned. It would’ve been much better had it been grilled over charcoal but that’s not a fair criticism since so few places are actually able to do it that way. Don’t get me wrong I ate everything on the plate including some fabulously fluffy rice but it felt like something was missing be it a dip in some fat before grilling or some extra dry spices. The service was courteous and they have a fully stocked bar including Lebanese wines and also the distilled Levantine spirit known as Arak. Suda’s should make for a nice option in apart of Lincoln Park with less options than elsewhere.

Lamb Kebab

1524 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60614 
(773) 687-8413


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