Assorted Mini Reports
A lot of this stuff has found its way into various Internet fora already.
Well, Chicago has an abundance of very good Eastern European places (and we live in close proximity to them). This is food that wows you with its elegant simplicity, its over-arching basicness, NOT its intense flavors. Still, it is very satisfy food. Klas is VERY old school a castle within a restaurant (or is that a restaurant in a castle). Lately, this remment of Cicero Bohemia has been pretty empty, and the food's been so-so (but the value outstanding). On Friday, they hosted a Czech art show/rave-up (look, real Bohemians!), and it filled the house. The food, breaded pork cutlets, potato dumplings, ligher than usual liver dumpling soup, assorted salads, kolachy's, was better than ever.
A favorite Polish spot is Halina. If nothing else, get the soups. Lunch the other day included cucumber soup and fried liver.
Grota is a Polish buffet, which serves much better food than you expect. Of course you get soup first. I got dill with soft dough dumplings. Then, you watch what's getting placed on the buffet and grab that first. Blood sausage, stuffed cabbage, fried fish. To fill in the gaps in the tummy, there's potato dumplings, boiled potatoes, blintzes, pierogis, potato pancakes, roasted potatoes and noodles with fried onions.
There is a LOT of great Mexicn food, including regional offering from Puebla, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Nayarit, D.F., Durango, Michohoacan, San Lois Potosi, and probably a few more I have yet found (although as far as I can tell, no true Vera Cruz and NO Yucataneo.) But the best Mexican food, week in, week out, is at Maxwell Street Market. Very pleasant event was seeing Rico Huarache* back. Perhaps it was the delay, but Sunday's hurache seemed better than ever. There is a level of effort in these things that makes them (almost) haute cuisine. They are folded around black beans, griddled, fried, topped with home made sauces. You get a range of textures and flavors. To steal a phrase from a SethZ, it was crisp where it should be crisp, pliant where it should be pliant (and suitably spicy where it should be spicey). The cooresponding dissapointment was the Aguascaliente birria people were missing. Swarming Jalisicans told me it must be good. It was. And I am almost positive the birria was either lamb or goat not the beef served at the Ocotolan stand nearer to Dominicks. Sunday only.
Or Maybe the best Mexican food is an hour South of Chicago in Joliet.
A fair amount of foodies will concede good Polish and good Mexican in Chicago, but good ice cream? Some will claim there aint any around here. Well, where's here? Go South young man (woman) to South Holland, Cunis Candy. To me, Cunis is an adult place. The home made peach ice cream tastes like peach, but like real peach, and the flavor is muted because it is ice cream. It is not some kinda hyped up peach that appeals to kiddies. Adults, much more than kidz, love the salty, fresh roasted pecans that go on the sundaes. And the winey, dark, near bitter fudge sauce is not so kid like either. It is really worth it for visiting foodies to Chicago to trek to Cunis or other far away ice cream parlors like Gayety or Mitchell's.
I met a friend at Freddy's in Cicero the other night for an early dinner. Freddy's is probably the best "small" Italian market around. On any given day you can admire all their house made salads, sausages, hams; choose from fried rice balls or similiar items with spinach, cheese, potato. There are entrees like roast chicken and pastas made in the 3 ingredient style found much more in the old country. Of course there is house made ices and ice creams. My purist kidz both got lemon ice the other day. Me, I got a slice of deep dish sausage pizza and took home one of their breads. Freddy's bakes about the best breads around.
When I pulled into the strip mall (small strip mall) near a bunch of office buildings for a party at Fabulous Noodles in Lisle, I immediately said to my wife, in a million years I never would have tried this place on my own. But the gentleman whose birthday we were celebrating loves this place, claiming to have eaten there over 1,000 times. And after 1 visit, I'd be happy to return. It is regular Cantonese food, but regular as in Chinatown Cantonese not suburban/chop suey stuff. We had a best of meal: crispy skin chicken with salt; stir fried ong choy with garlic, duck-taro casserole, egg noodles in broth with bbq pork; mock chicken; soft-shell crabs fried with spicy-salt (with a fair amount of jalepenos). The only dish I passed on was the ketchupy smelling shrimps. Lisle is probably a little further than Chinatown for me, but I'd go back if in the area fer sure.
McCormack's is a pure looking roadhouse at the intersection of US 41 and Illinois 176 in Lake Bluff (it's only visible from US 41). It is the kinda place that is either too good to be true or just plain awful. And our luck, find this place on the way to Milwaukee, too good. Ideal thick, red inside traditional burger.
Oh, and what did we do in Milwaukee? Besides run into Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and family at a used book store (no joke!), we ate the requisite frozen custard, this time Bella's Fat Cat, figured out what that Sunday ham/rolls thing was and visited the Wisconsin State Fair. We also had a grand Serbian dinner, but I'll (really) get around to a fuller report on that. So this ham and rolls Milwaukee thing we see advertised all over Milwaukee, it was, and you know what, not much. Regular, cheap deli ham (althought the rolls are good). The one positive, actually a pretty redeeming aspect of the ham is that it is seeped in an elixer, clove scented, honey, who knows, but it really makes this cheap ham good (or shall I say partially beyond tolerable). Then, it was on to the fair, which meant quarter glasses of flavored milk (thanks Sen. Kohl), Sheboygan brats, baked potatoes, and yes, freakin yes (Cathy2), giagantic globs of whipped cream encased in a "puff." The State Fair is a real foodie paradise. Not just for quarter-pounder sized (actually much bigger "patties") cream puffs, but Cedar Crest ice cream, honey tastings, pig roasts, corn done "elote" style (just fantastic corn it was too); elk jerky, micr0brews. Who needs corn dogs? It was damn hot and we could not last at the fair to dinner, but high tailed it instead, to the GWiv recommended, Zafiro's pizza. I would say that Zaffiro's thin is a lot better than Candlelite (based on the pizza-athon), but I am thinking that perhaps, I just am not a fan of the ultra crisp/thin school of pizza. The pizza had a lot more flavor, which I liked, but the crust itself still verges on bland like the other thin-thins I've tried.
*This is a little insider play on words. This particular stand that serves huarches (and seafood cocktails) has a big sign, "rico hauraches" or rich (or tasty) huraches (huraches are like a smooshed ball of corn dough, oblong, slighly bigger than a tortilla, but also thicker, like a sandal bottom, get it?). That sign is how most people know/find the place. Now, we joke that the owner is a guy named Rico (and yes I know if true, the place would be huaraches de Rico...)