Right now, in the frenzy of the work day, I could really use a Bosnian coffee. I stopped drinking coffee earlier this year, but sometimes I really need one...no mate, no tea, no Bull. Just straight up un-filtered, piping hot Bosnian coffee....with the tiny cubes of sugar rocks that come along side it. Ilidzanka, a tiny hole-in-the-wall on Lawrence has a great version and I love the place. Small, unassuming, deserted...right up my alley. They have decent chevapi, which could be made better if they didn't microwave the fantastic made-in-house-daily bread. Why microwave it? Just bizzare. Back to the coffee...it is some of the best; meaning it could stop traffic, and if I'm gonna have some, this is the type I'm craving. I love being all wired and jamming out all the days duties in an hour flat.
Being from the South, muskydime (the proper spelling is muscadine, but my little ears always heard MUSKY DIME) is a word that I've heard my entire life; muskydime grape perserves were always rolling around somewhere in the house and really, I just love the word. A few weeks ago, I was home in TN and my parents had this gigantic bowl full of huge grapes out for snacking. It's always about, "What are we snacking on?" every time I go home and I just thought these grapes were awesome. So big and plump, just soaking in a big bowl of water (I guess so little gnats don't eat 'em up), ready to be tore into. They're funny little grapes because the minute you pop them in your mouth, you bite into the skin, slurp the actual interior out (it's really slimy) and even with the big hard seeds, let that whole loose ball slide right down your throat. No chewing, no nothing. And, you're left with this somewhat bitter skin to toss about with your tongue and eventually, I just spit that part out. My parents the whole thing, skin and all, but I just like playing with the skin in my mouth. I could literally chew on one for hours. I guess that's kinda gross~whatever, though. I've never seen these up here in Chicago, so it's just another thing to do while I'm home, chillin' with a grape skin.
Miso soup is one of the most underrated meals out there. It's so simple in its preparation, but perhaps its because so many cooks slaughter it when preparing that everyone just pushes it to the wayside (I hardly ever order it, unless I know it is right on the money). But, I believe I have discovered the perfect bowl of miso soup at Sunshine Cafe (5449 N. Clark St.). It comes along with an entree (try the hand-long shrimp tempura) and is the thickest version I've experienced. Thick and cloudy, piping hot with just the tiniest hint of green onion...and then peppered with bits of tofu as a bottom-of-the-bowl surprise. Sunshine Cafe is the perfect place for soup like this, with their grandma's kitchen-like feel (very rag-tag and BYOB, too). All sorts of tiny (I mean, really teensy) Japanese elders plow through the front doors every day and that's when you know a place is serving things authentically...when even the natives can't stay away. I had a thought the other day that I'd like to have miso soup for breakfast, with a poached egg floating in it (much like the Spanish Sopa de Ajo, a rich bread and garlic soup with a poached egg flipping around in it). Does anyone even serve miso soup that way? I do that with leftover Chinese fried rice sometimes...reheat it the next day and toss a few poached eggs on for good measure. YUM~
Though there are dozens of Greek bakeries in Chicago, one that I'm loving is called Hellas Pastry(on Lawrence Ave.) and they whip up some deliciously chewy almond cookies. I've had some of these before at Artopolis in Greektown, but this tiny bakery has some of the finest that I have had. If you've never had a Greek cookie like this (I don't recall their name), they sort of taste like amaretto and caramel and are chewy little delights. They run about $9 per pound and are truly some of the most addictive treats out there. Plus, Hellas is just down th street from Ilidzanka, an even tinier Bosnian joint that has the strongest coffee this side of the Atlantic.
I know it may sound horrifying, but one of the very best thing that I've put into my mouth is the self-created fried egg club sandwich at Salt & Pepper on Lincoln Ave. Yeah, the waitress was a bit stunned that I didn't want meat on my club and would rather have a fried egg in its place, and then to toss on some extra mayo to boot. Who cares though, when you're a veggie (yeah....) ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. I know this looks like a heaping platter of food, but I did indeed mow on the entire plate---all french fries included. Salt & Pepper also has an amazing scrambled egg on grilled rye bread with oozing American cheese, but that is a whole other story!
I've developed a raging addiction to Greek fries as of late and there is simply no getting over the fact that I can slam down four or five full-blown potatoes in one sitting...and still be craving more (my mom and dad we're just as stunned as I was to realize this feat)! If you've never made them, it couldn't be simpler: You just heat up a pan full of good olive oil, toss in the thinly cut potatoes and let 'em cook til crispy. I like it when they're crispy on both sides, but soft on the inside. Then, you douse them with fresh lemon, oregano, salt and pepper. Seriously, they are a meal unto themselves. I'm also digging sauteed green beans right now with a bit of garlic salt. It's crazy, I can go drop $30 bucks on a meal at a restaurant and not be as satisfied as I am with this simple concoction...I guess there is something about the Greeks that keep me coming back. Who knew~
I'll go anywhere for a good meal. One close-up picture of a piece of sizzling bacon in a magazine could send me on a whirlwind adventure half way across the world at a moment's notice (this year's food fascinations had me apartment switching with total strangers and spending weeks exploring the side alleys in Barcelona, as well as driving from Chicago to the tip of Baja, Mexico, in a 7,000-mile fish-taco quest).
That sort of attitude can get quite expensive, though, and I've been trying to lead the globetrottin' life every day in Chicago in the meantime. Thankfully, that's pretty dang easy to do with 'hoods like these, and I never worry because there's always going to be a new place sprouting up around the corner if you look close enough.
That said, I've tired of my usual haunts and I'm finding myself going on further jaunts to find new places to eat. I'm trekking up north (La Donatella di Cucina is one of my favorite Italian restaurants and has a magnificent octopus salad); I'm heading down to Pilsen (Nuevo Leon has my favorite version of huevos rancheros for less than $4); and I'm jamming out west (Pollo Campero's chicken is much admired). But this past haul was one for the books: Almost 20 miles (one way) and $5 in tolls (round trip) led me to Pupuseria el Salvador, a tiny hole-in-the-wall practically in Indiana. The trip was absolutely worth it, but this was just for a simple lunch; such drama for a small bite to eat, you know?
A few weeks ago, I wrote this article for Red Streak (and centerstage.net) and I'd totally forgotten about all of these places until just now...it certainly would have come in handy yesterday when I was craving something good to eat for breakfast, and instead waited until I was ravenous and then shoved down some Bosninan chevappi and a dozen Greek almond cookies. That was delicious, too, but I was really wanting some eggs and a Bloody Mary. So simple.
Here is the article~
Great Brunch, Minus the Crowds:
The crowd was thick, the wait was excruciatingly long and the small talk was peppered with updates on gossip rag headlines. No, we're not talking about the crowds packing the American Idol audition lines (that snaked for more than a quarter-mile around Soldier Field), we're talking about the atrocious wait outside those ever-popular breakfast haunts: Toast, Bongo Room, Victory's Banner and Orange.
Seriously, we've almost had enough (expand, already), and in an effort to quell our ravenous bellies at 11 a.m., we've decided to ditch the popular standbys and take the less-obvious route: bars that serve a mighty fine brunch. Though the good ones are few and far between, we've managed to round up a handful that have been around the block a time or two.
I don't why, but I have heard barely a whisper about Eatzi's, the new gourmet food market in the basement of Century City Mall. Maybe it's because they're a chain and people are mortified to admit that it full on kicks ass? That has to be the only reason. I just can't get back there often enough and am always truly delighted when I get off the escalator (it's like stepping into an shining, sparkley European market). They've got rich hot chocolates ($1.65), bread baking at all hours, a mighty olive, cheese and wine selection, drinks from 'round-the-world, and food that is pretty damn good. I especially love the tomato & mozzarella salad, the tasty shrimp salad and the warm mashed potatoes. Everything is totally homemade and the place smells divine. Chain, shmain...Eatzi's still rocks~
This week, I have a new Save This Restaurant in Time Out Chicago and I can't get enough of this place. They serve the best homemade french fries and my favorite (pictured) cassava with garlic...tons of garlic. The owner is so funny and sweet and I even broke the no meat rule here and chowed on some chopped steak. Yum! Here is the write-up~
Mitad del Mundo 2922 W Irving Park Rd between Richmond St and Francisco Ave (773-866-9454)
Why the dining room of Mitad del Mundo (Spanish for "middle of the earth") is often desolate is a mystery to us. It's spic-and-span, the scent of charred meat wafts from the kitchen and the gregarious, ever-present owner, Jimmy Espinoza, is as friendly as they come.
Born in Ecuador, Espinoza has lived in Chicago most of his life, and has worked in the restaurant industry for the past 35 years. "From busboy to bartender to host, I learned everything I could until they had to put me in the kitchen," Espinoza says. "Three years ago, I opened this place, and only on the weekends do I have help. The rest of the time, I'm on my own."
The restaurant's walls are peppered with hundreds of photos of famous Latin musicians, and a clublike back room features live music on weekends. But dancing isn't what's on the minds of the small core of regulars—it's the soccer games on the TVs and the affordable, tasty Latin-American specialties. Tender, chopped steak with grilled onions, platters of fresh seafood (served fried crispy or grilled), chunks of slivered cassava in garlic sauce and cinnamon flan with fresh whipped cream all draw inspiration from Ecuador, Peru, Cuba and Colombia. And if you're looking for some late-night dancing after fueling up on the food, know that toes start tapping once midnight hits. "But remember, you no eat, you no dance," Espinoza says.