Friday, October 14, 2005

What's Interesting This Week at Caputo's

Olives. Yea, yea, Caputo's always has olives. This week they have fresh, awful-tasting, fresh olives. Cure your own!
Farmer Vicki Contact Info

I should have included this in the post below. Those interested in Farmer Vicki's Fall and Spring CSA's should contact her at
Greetings from Farmer Vicki

Not only is there a plug in here for my daughter's school, but as we've been talking about, here's a way to keep local past the market season. I hope to post more resources like this soon.

What a wonderful season! The cooler weather is refreshing and the new crops are loving it. This morning I was out early looking things over and had to rejoice in the beauty of the land. It was very foggy and the dew was heavy. The land was covered with cob webs that were moist with dew. In the early light it was like a myriad of diamonds across the land. How often does nature present us with such beauty and we fail to notice because we are so busily on our way here or there? It pays to stop and enjoy the wonder of creation. What I felt was a combination of awe, inspiration, joy and peace. It caused me to stop to look and listen. The corn stalks were rustling, the leaves in the cottonwoods were murmuring and the roosters were crowing. Then I saw a toad hop off on his way to find a yummy breakfast treat. A few grasshoppers pinged their way across the field and a wooly caterpillar wiggled his way to who knows where. A lady bug sat quietly on a leaf drinking in the dew and waiting for a tasty treat to come its way. There is so much life around us. A whole world exists under us and around us. When the school kids were here a couple weeks ago they were more interested in the insects than they were anything else. Perhaps we should take a lesson form the kids at Hatch and take the time to enjoy the little things.

The fall crops are coming along very nicely - both inside and out. We have new little peppers and tomatoes in the greenhouse. I am amazed at how fast they are growing. We are prepared now to plant greens and such in the ground in one of the greenhouses, but the outside crops are doing so great in this weather that I am just thrilled. The guys hoed and cultivated everything this week and it looks beautiful. We should have a nice variety available for the fall/ winter CSA. The location and day for pick up have been arranged and are as follows: The Oak Park Children's School, located at 124 N. Kenilworth. It is located in a large, green house called Gale House, just south of Unity Temple. There is a large, covered porch where the boxes can be stacked. I will deliver on Wednesdays by approx 9:30 AM. The school asks that people not pick up during the time that parents would be picking up their children to reduce traffic stress. To sign up, just let me know and make payment either at market or by mail. A couple of folks have indicated that they would need to pick up after work and I will find out if that is workable. Ask me at market and I will let you know. The cost is $140.00 for the season. Then I will take January and February off and will hopefully begin again in March or April with a Spring share.

The picture is of the guys out picking greens. Don't those greens look great? Hope your lives are filled with as much joy and wonder as is mine. Famer Vicki

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More La Quebrada

I've been twice of late to La Quebrada, so I guess that's what's inspired two posts. Still, the meal I had last night is about fits the model for the Suggest-A-Meal, a concept originated by ChiNola on the

For the table - Nachos - Nachos ARE Mexican in the sense that they were first conceived and served in Mexico, but for food historians, I think they are kinda Mexican in the same way Caesar salad is Mexican. In other words, more of a dish associated with Mexican restaurants in the USA. Well, La Quebrada's in the USA and they make great nachos. These are not the loaded 10,000 calorie, seven layer, nachos that can be sit in the dark and listen to Brittney Spears, guilty pleasure good. Instead, they are near minimal nachos. Some of the chips barely have a coating. Yet, it's great, like all melted Mexican cheese, great cheese, very fine guacamole, some crema, some beans, some pickled jalepenos, it stems any hunger pangs while the rest of the meal comes.

For Daddy and daughter to split - Several tacos de cesina (see previous post) and a carne asada campestre. In anticipation of this post, I asked the staff yesterday what was in the oily, spicy campestre sauce. They laughed at me. The dish is Quebrada's benchmark arranchera under a coating of queso fresca, charro beans, and nopales and soaked in this mystery sauce. I go through several tortillas just mopping the sauce.

For someone - Chiliquilles en salsa verde con cecina. It does not take a genius to realize that the best chiliquilles will come from the best tortillas. With the contrasting cecina, it is a great dish of textures and strong flavors melded against a soft background.

For the other person - A dish. Here's your chance to explore the 50 or so dishes on the Quebrada menu. Chances are, anything but the soups will be good. A lot of people have liked the chicken legs, although I have never tried. The enchilladas are boring but good, tostadas de ceviche and seafood cocktails can hit the spot when the moods is right.

There's some flan in a case but I never get around to it. If it is early enough in the day, zip over to Cermak and try some candy at Old Fashioned Candy.

I'm about six months too late in pointing out this new blog, but my new blogging motto will (soon) be, better late than ever. Since, a little brilliant one has been whispering in my ear all week, I figger now's as a good as time as ever to make things right and mention this blog.

The writer of this blog has a special place in the annals of Chicago Chowhounds. Once upon a time, our palates were shaded, shaded by our menu limitations. We knew a place as simple as Yum Thai in Forest Park seemed to offer treats beyond its stated choices. In fact, there was a secret menu, but a menu no one could actually read. Awfully hungry, we posted the menu on the Internet, seeking the kindness of a stranger who would tell us what to eat. e.e. cumming's like foodfirst came to our rescue. From the across the sea, she translated our Yum Thai menu and then later Spoon Thai's. It's been fun eatin' every since. Of course ErikM has had the advantage of visiting the restaurants and ironing out certain terms, but foodfirst did it first.

Needless to say, her blog justifies the revelation we hold her in, in Chicago.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Save the Ramova Theater

This came in the mail box, but it's pretty cool/worthwhile:

The following is some info on TheRamova Theater in bridgeport, the 'sister' theater to the north side Music Box Theater. There is a current push to save the interior of this historic old theater - currently developers want to gut the interior, which is very similar to the music box. Also threatened with emolition is the Ramova Grill, to which I have never been, but some of you may have.

If any of you have an interest in signing the petition to save this theater or want to get more information, please check out the website listed at the bottom of this newsletter...

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a great two- page article by Misha Davenport (thanks Misha!) in the Wednesday October 5th paper, page 53. You can see the online version of this article by clicking here. The photos are the first pictures published of the theatre's interior in 20 years...and while they're not pretty scenes, they definitely don't show the total devastation we were repeatedly warned to expect.

It looks to us as if that damage had to have been in place at the time in 2002 when the City published their Request For Proposals that spelled out their preference for a theatrical use for the building. So no matter what happened to the building while it was in care of the city, the city agrees: it can rehabilitated to be used as a theatre, even in its damaged state. To see that original DPD RFP, visit our new blog by clicking here.
Doing My Part for

Last week let everyone know that it's broke. Now, you won't find me sending them any money as I am infrequent user of their site. But I will help. I was putting together post today and I realized that I had never blogged on Hugo's Frog Bar, one of my favorite places to eat in Chicago. So, I decided to re-post my Chowhound Hugo's posts. This way, you can read the stuff on the blog and save Jim Leff the bandwidth costs by engaging his servers. I hope to re-post more stuff soon and save Chowhound even more money.

Hugo's Post #1

It has been a good few weeks, providing vial information to manage risks, so feeling a bit flush we made a beeline to the place we love to drop our wad. Of course, we could have spent less money and had been in the wonderful company of the Chilean chowers, but sometimes, a mayor and his consort have to do their own thing.

We got to Hugo's pretty much on time for our reservation, the place was just filling up, but we got plunked in one of the gosh darn worst seats in the house. A comfy, circular banquette that was too close to the kitchen door. Every time it opened, we got serenaded by the crash of dishes and other assorted work-in-progress noises. They moved us easily, but it still rankles me a bit, why did WE get that booth? The new booth was just as comfy and circular and built for canoodling and before long all thoughts of noise were gone.

The Condiment Queen expressed pleasure she had been served pretty much her ideal repast: shrimp de jonge, the crab cakes with hot pink mayo and a veggie combination platter that included asparagus, broccoli, sauted mushrooms, creamed spinach and sauted onions.

The shrimp de jonge was true revelation on this Chicago classic. Very large shrimps not in the least mushy or possessing that certain cooked shrimp taste I do not like--imagine that poor rendition of shrimp creole you once ate. The twelve or so shrimps were covered in the de jonge, a mix of butter, garlic and breadcrumbs. It was a dryer mix, almost a paste, but I liked it better that way. The crab cake was still terrific although perhaps because I have spent some extra time with Evil Ronnie, I was a bit more discerning on it. I did not seem pure jumbo lump, rather a mix, with only nuggets of lump interspersed. I cannot say whether this is a trend or if it has always been that way, it is only recently that I have taken this keener approach to crab cakes.

Hugo's does a very fine job with the smaller things. Not too many people whip up a better blue cheese dressing, and that effusive hot pink mayo works awfully well. The three kinds of bread on the table were even better. We resisted mightedly before meal, just nibbling on the raisin, but faced with a plate of spare de jonge, we went carb crazy. We liked all the vegetables. The simple ones, broccoli and asparagus, prospered without treatment. The more fancy spinach was just as good, tasting of spinach and cream but not too much else.

Hugo's Post #2

On Saturday night we decided to spend a fair amount of money for dinner. Deciding to put my money where my mouth is, we picked Hugo's Well, first of all, we succeeded in spending a lot of money. With tax and tip and one drink, we hit a cool three figures. What did we get for that amount of money? Did we validate my constant call?

They push the seafood. Soon after sitting down, in an alternative to the morton/gibson's meat display, they bring a fish display. This is not necessarily good marketing. I mean it would work if they brought by sparklingly fresh, whole species with bloody red gills and ultra-clear eyes, but dragging an oxidized slab of fish meat to each table, what does that prove. I mean no one wants the fish they show. Still, the menu descriptions sounded good.

I was spoiling Ms. VI and I went along with two fish dishes, forsaking the lake perch deal I really wanted. For newcomers to Hugo's, I would highly advise on the perch. Instead, we got the giant slab o'tuna and a black grouper with wild mushrooms. On the side we ordered a big helping of greenbeans and to start, the crabcake appetizer with the hot pink mayo. Everything worked with its minimal garnish. When you offer high quality stuff, why muck it up anyway with sauces. The primo dish, as always was the crab cake. I know of no better version outside of Baltimore. Ms. VI's on an anti-carb thing, and she initially shied away from the cakes. No worry, barely any bread-related product in these crab cakes. The tuna came purely rare with just the right skin of crust. With the wasabi and soy sauce offered, it was like slicing your own sushi. The other fish had a very grandma like coating of paprika type spices, but underneath was perfectly done grilled fish. The greenbeans straddled expertly the line between trendy under-done and old fashioned mushiness.

We skipped any mondo desserts, but they are fun if you have a few more people.

1024 North Rush Street, (between Oak Street and Bellevue)
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 640-0999
Eating at Home or Shopping in Chicago

As a unit, the VI family loves eating out. We do it often for convenience, for instance when Mickey's and its tasty Big Mickey's are right there between soccer games. We like the spectacle of a Todai or Fogo de Chao. We like the chance to dress up and feel like a high roller (like here or here). A lot of eating out I think comes from wanting to sample so many types of food. Indian today, Afghan tomorrow, Shanghainese during the week, Czech on weekends. Finally, I know some of it comes from the fact that no one in our clan much likes to clean up. So, we eat out a lot. But eating in, I am coming to realize, may be as good if not better.

For one thing, the ingredients available to the home cook are far superior to all but what the best restaurants are using. Granted, I am not buying Waygu beef briskets too often, but I do have great local sources. I will write soon (really) about what's in the Farmer's Markets about now. Today, I want to mention a few stores we have recently visited.

Caputo's Cheese Factory

When we started visiting this store in Melrose Park, owned by one of the Caputo brothers, it was truly a factory. Then, it sold mostly cheese and served up cheap lunches including chicken sandwich that managed to be both grilled and fried. Over time, the factory has moved out and the space taken over by more and more stuff. For a while, they tried to sell fresh produce but that did not take. Today, Caputo's is mostly about cheese with a smattering of great deals on other products. They make excellent fresh mozzarella, and we nearly always buy some. They are also especially strong in grating cheeses and provolone. It is near impossible to walk out without some of the ricotta decorated with ridges from its molding.

Argo Georgian Bakery

Or the place with the oven in the middle of the floor. It's hard to believe that for a while, I did not like this place, victim of a stale bread that I was too dumb to realize was a fluke. Now, we visit every time we hit Da'Bomb. The breads, either round or long and skinny are about as primal a loaf as possible. You really taste the flour and yeast. For the kidz, we buy up all the hatchapuri's on offer. These are a flaky pastry encasing a blend of cheeses--a blend made to simulate fresh Georgian cheese. The hatchapuris are one of the few things we know daughter number 2 will always eat for breakfast. See here for some great Argo pictures.

Elliott's Dairy

What's with the dairy thing? The milk department is nothing special. Elliott's is a supermarket that competed with Jewel and Dominick's in like 1957. As they grew, Elliott's stayed the same. If I lived in the neighborhood, I might shop for a few things. Overall, it is not that special of a store. Yet, what is worth stopping in for, are a few items. Mainly, the corned beef. Chicago, since the demise of Winklestein's, is not a town of great corned beef. It IS a town of very good corned beef, and oddly enough, one of the best sources is this store just outside of Chicago on Nagle. Maybe because they know what they do well, Elliott's is set up for the full corned beef spread. They sell very good Chicago style (i.e., not so sour) pickles from a quasi-barrel and Rosen's premier rye, one with an actual crust. They always seem to find some kinda condiments not seen at Costco. Yesterday they had Da' Coach's mustards.

Avenue's Supermarket

If Elliott's long ago stopped competing with other supermarkets around town, it has come of late that the biggies have been eclipsed as well. Chicago is, in my opinion, receiving a supermarket renaissance. Of course there is Whole Foods for Amish milk and good bread, but the real action is in the hoods, massive A&G with its extensive selection of offal along with canned goods from every corner of the map, sparkling Mexican outlets like Carneceria Guanajunto, the various "Fresh Markets" and a host of Polish markets well below most people's radars.

Avenues is a true supermarket, with aisles stuffed with stuff, several varieties of jellies and jams, a whole section of wild Polish mushrooms in cans, the requisite quasi barrels with pickles, and three kinds of sauerkraut. The deli counter is huge. I was not sure if I could manage it when the numbers were being called strictly in Polish. But the turkey looked especially good, so I managed. Once I managed to "hear" my number by watching the ticker, the staff spoke enough English for me. Most of the stuff in the cases is clearly marked, although there are all sortsa smoked sausages and smoked ribs without labels. At another counter we got herring in both vinegar and oil for only $2.99 /lb for each kind. Like all Polish stores, it is a great source for dairy--here the dairy bar name would fit, and we got a log of Amish butter as well as farmer's cheese and kefir.

New York Kosher

When I wrote the section on Da'Bomb for the Slow Food Chicago book, I lamented the state of the kosher markets remaining on Devon. New York Kosher is not what I would call a stellar store. It nearly makes Elliott's look like Zabar's, but they have a couple of neat things buried in the dreck. They make a "Persian whitefish". I am not sure what Persian Whitefish is, Google left me bare. What New York Kosher sells is a white fish, like cod or haddock, breaded with a coarse crumb, then fried. It holds up very well though as cold dish, and there is something in there, perhaps the Persian part, that gives it a neat taste. At times, there are other fresh things in the case worth buying including grape leaves, a potato salad with something red in the dressing and a good beet salad. My wife likes the ample supply of Mantiowoc Farms breads.

Caputo Cheese Market
1931 N. 15th Avenue
Melrose Park, IL 60160

Argo, Inc. Georgian Bakery
2812 w. Devon ave.chicago, IL 60659-1502

Elliotts Dairy & Deli
4800 N Nagle Ave
Harwood Heights
(708) 867-9044

Avenues Supermarket
Somewhere west on Belmont, past Oak Park Avenue

Moshe's New York Kosher
2900 W. Devon
Chicago, IL 60659
773 338-3354
La Quebrada - New(ish) Menu

La Quebrada changes its menu nearly as often as Alinea. Perhaps like ChefG, the maestros at Quebrada stay up late seeing how they can stretch the envelope of salted dried beef (a/k/a cecina). Actually, the new menu seems all about trying to get the Quebrada customer to eat more. There are several combinations ranging from $8.99 to $35 mostly combing grilled meats, but there is also a combination Teloloapan, which is like a restaurant version of the famed Maroon vans, fried tacos and enchilladas in Guerenese sweet dark brown Teloloapan mole. I'd like to comment on these items more, but I have never tried them.

La Quebrada makes some exceptional sauces, the curry scented salsa India (no joke), the house warm molcajete, with roasted tomatoes and chiles (I believe guaijillo) and the extra spicy, one dimensional, but one brutally great dimension arbol. Still, I've mostly settled in, of late with the antojitos (tacos, sopes, gorditas, picaditas).

All the antojitos at Quebrada start with a mass of nixtamal or corn masa dough (but NOT instant!). One woman in the kitchen forms to order the masa into different shapes depending on what you want. Gorditas have a thick base and the thinnest of tops for their stuffings, I especially like to have them with the steamed goat (barbacoa de chivo). If you are feeling vegetarian, get the picaditas, think a gordita without its top. While a lot of places make gorditas and such from scratch, few places also serve their tacos on fresh made tortillas.

I have not found a better tortilla in Chicago than the ones La Quebrada makes, large and thick. Stack about five and eat them with maple syrup for breakfast. The taco de cecina is, with the tacos de barbacoa at La Ley, my favorite taco outside of Maxwell Street. The ingredients do not look like much, typical friojoles refrito, bits of drab cecina (a truly ugly product), a sprinkling of pico de gallo and a dab of guacamole. Because all of the materials, from the tortilla upward, are so well done, the taco is so well done. That's what sums up La Quebrada.

From the outside it looks like nothing special, certainly one of any of thousands of Mexican places around Chicago. Inside, they make the effort to make things better. Guacamole, salsas, pico de gallo are not difficult things to make, even tortillas are not THAT difficult, assuming ideal nixtamal, yet Quebrada coaxes the most out of these things. Over time, La Quebrada has spread. You have no excuse from finding your own location. Check the new menu because it may change soon.

4859 W. Roosevelt - Cicero
3818 W. 63rd - Chicago
5100 S. California - Chicago
2906 W. Cermak - Chicago
723 S. Broadway - Aurora