Post #50: The End of Cranky and Hungry?

Dear readers,

It has been a truly successful summer of becoming a resident of Chicago rather than just someone who happens to go to school on the South Side. The irony of finally feeling like a citizen of Chicago is that it is both time for me to leave it temporarily (i.e. tomorrow) and perhaps for a long, long while (graduation is what, about 40ish weeks away?). Hungry and I embarked upon our summer in the 773 six weeks, fifty blog posts, two festivals, fourteen (or so) outings, and thirty food establishments ago and now I am the only one left in our lovely condo. Tomorrow, I will fly home to MA to stay until mid-September, when those of us who are involved in Orientation Week return to prepare the way for a whole new class of UChicago college students. Hungry is probably in China at this point and eating his way to happiness. We’ll see each other soon enough because we’re co-workers this year in Broadview Hall.

There’s plenty for me to do when I go home: eating my mom’s food, turning to my utterly neglected LSAT preparation, preparing documents for my faculty recommenders, spending time with my family, moving my cousin into college in Toronto, seeing old friends, meeting my brother’s new kitten…I’m obviously still plenty busy but the summer is surely ending.

I depart with the last two restaurant reviews and a new project in the works: Dangerous Dan and I will be blogging about our last year of college and madly running about Chicago whenever we can for last hurrahs. We would like to have many of our friends join us on these adventures and perhaps act as guest contributors. We want to become a helpful resource for to where to go in Chicago for whatever it is you’re looking for and create some tried and true food crawl routes for those who come after us. We hope you will join us in our farewell to this great city.

***

Great BBQ in Wicker Park: Lillie’s Q BBQ

Tuesday was DD’s last full day in the city before heading off to Israel to see his grandparents for a little while so he suggested we try this new joint out. It definitely lived up to the good buzz surrounding its opening and its BBQ-competition winning chef.

Sauces to try from left to right: Ivory, Carolina, Carolina Gold, Smoky, Hot Smoky

The entire place came off as very "New South" to me, like what you see in Garden & Gun, the old and nostalgic (like cotton napkins and a copper still) with the natural and new (light wood and aluminum chairs - see below).

They had an impressive beer selection that I look forward to trying when I turn 21. The lemonade however, was disappointingly not house-made. Probably should have gone with iced tea.

DD and I both got the Tri-Tip Sandwich (smoked beef on a brioche bun) "Southern style," which means with coleslaw on top. The coleslaw was adequate but nothing special whereas the meat was spot-on beefy and smoky and great even before the application of sauce. The bun also held up very well throughout the eating process, which makes a big difference in my enjoyment.

We got fries with "Carolina Dirt" seasoning (most reminiscent of Lay's BBQ chips) because 1) DD loves potatoes and 2) because we wanted something with which we could sample the house sauces over and over again.

Our sauce palette revealed the two Smokies to be sweet and smoky (duh), the Carolinas to have more tang to them (the Gold almost reminded me of curry and had a mysterious green component streaked through it), and the Ivory to be an interesting take on spicing up mayo or ranch dressing. DD and I ended up eating our sandwiches in segments, applying different sauces and sometimes mixing two sauces together before dipping the sandwich into the new condiment. It was actually harder to improve upon the sauces because they were all so complete within themselves despite being rather distinctive from each other. We had a lot of fun nonetheless.

There are so many more Southern delights at Lillie’s Q BBQ that I would like to have: beer battered fried pickles, boiled peanuts, pulled chicken, pulled pork, shrimp & grits, low country boil (my next priority), house-made bacon…we’ll be back.

Good brunch in the West Loop: Le Peep

Today was a beautiful day both inside and out; I had finished moving my things out of the condo last night and could spend today doing my last errands out in the sun. I was also taken by Broadview boss to her favorite brunch spot close to Harpo Studios.

Cute name

Omni omelette with applewood smoked bacon and ham, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms served with buttery, savory brunch potatoes, and rye toast.

The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, the food was very good, and the company was even better. A perfect low-key way to end a hectic summer.

***

Goodbye until the fall,

Cranky

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Of Tacos and Dawgs

Dear Readers,

Cars really can make life easier, even in the city! Thanks to the kind lending of a vehicle, I am now done with packing and moving (until graduation that is…). And I finished my internship today. The feeling of freedom hasn’t quite set in yet because I’m tired and I know that I have lots to do even while on “vacation,” but I am still happy with a sense of accomplishment. And in honor of that feeling, another double restaurant post!

First up: Big & Little’s

Just a few blocks away from work, I heard about this place’s seafood tacos from Dangerous Dan and got over there ASAP. My first visit was with my fellow interns before they departed and I had the daily special, a big ole piece of Mahi served taco-style, and a grilled squid taco. Both were delicious and well-priced at about $4 and $3. For my second visit, I was equipped with a camera:

A modest enough storefront...I wonder how they feel about the placement under the Bible verse

A decent foreign soda selection - me likey

My second visit - Crab Tostada, Truffle Fries, and Shrimp Taco

Generous amount of real crab meat was sweet and mineral-inflected. Tostada was crisp rather than brittle.

I don't know what truffles taste like so I don't really know what I was supposed to be tasting - the fries smelled richer and hit the mouth with a sharp salty edgy that then eased into deep, savory earthiness?

Underneath all the lettuce hid about five plump shrimp

Success, possibly the best shrimp I've had in Chicago - firm and sweet and well-dressed with tangy mayo(?) like all the other tacos

Cheap, good quality seafood tacos not too far from the Loop means that I’ll be back here soon enough. I’m actually not sure if they have any meat tacos. I know that they have a burger…more importantly, I haven’t tried their fish and chips yet!

Second up: Franks ‘N’ Dawgs

I saw this place for the first time when Hungry and I were walking to the North/Clybourn stop after seeing Iron Man 2. The second time I heard about this place was from work, as two of our clients were facing off as a part of Franks ‘N’ Dawgs monthly gourmet hot dog celebrity chef challenge where two Chicago chefs face off with encased meats and creative toppings and whoever sells the best at the end of the month stays on the board. So I finally made a trip of it with Queen Victoria. And now I have to go back until I’ve tried every one (except the FU (tofu) Dog – I can live without that one).

This place is run by a nice Australian

He recommended this root beer that is not really root beer by pastry chef Gale Gand. It was still a very good approximation of root beer.

I feel like I've been seeing a lot of LA-esque restaurant interiors - hip, modern art paired with industrial elements

QV got the Southerner, the current Charitable Dawg. Proceeds for this month went to a children's hospital. I believe it was a onion-y pork sausage topped with very good cornbread, BBQ sauce, and scallions.

I picked one of the celebrity chef dogs - The Frank 'N' Stein from Chef Todd Stein, most recently of Cibo Matto and soon-to-be of the Florentine. Short rib and Foie Gras(!) sausage with caramelized onions, crispy shallots! mustard aioli, and parsley. Intensely flavorful and almost too salty. So delicious.

The buns they use are buttered, toasted, and brioche-like in taste and texture. According to the Franks ‘N’ Dawgs website, which is updated far too infrequently, the buns are “pain de mie,” a French-style bread. Wonderful supporting player to the gourmet sausages and toppings. Will be back here soon.

-Cranky

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For the Vegetarian in your Chicago Life

As the readers of this blog know or have figured out by now, I love eating meat. But I have many friends who don’t and/or choose not to. In the event I’m cooking dinner, it’s an invitation to be creative, finding a way to make food that will satisfy my carnivorous heart while respecting my guests’ preferences and delighting their taste buds. In the event that I’m selecting a restaurant, I refer to the mental/informal list of places I’ve taken note of that have a good reputation for vegetarian and vegan options.

Last Sunday, QE1 and I headed off to the Art Institute to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit. The first pleasantness of the trip was the fact that our UChicago Arts Pass not only covered the cost of admission, but the special exhibition as well. The last special exhibition I had seen at the Art Institute was Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer, which I had loved, especially the Hopper. I really enjoyed Cartier-Bresson too (I’m a sucker for realism), especially his photo essay on China. I’m thinking of tracking down the paperback of his China photos for my father. After a few hours perusing photos and being gratified that we could read the French magazines, we ended our visit in the Modern Wing (not realism, obviously) and crossed back into the Loop via the lovely Nichols Bridgeway. It was a beautiful day to be out:

Look at that skyline

Lake in the near distance

I find the architecture of the Modern Wing more aesthetically pleasing than most of its contents

Pritzker Pavilion

After the Art Institute, QE1 and I headed up north to MANA food bar, a cute and chic street side cafe just southeast of Wicker Park located on the same block as a clothing boutique and bakery. Really ideal location. All vegetarian menu.

Nice touch - water served in frosted glass bottles. Oh, and QE1's lovely left arm.

Beautiful color - watermelon juice

Smoothie - Oatmeal, almond milk, and peaches

Bleu Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions and Red Cabbage

Favorite item of the meal - (perfectly) Seared Collard Greens

Piping hot and melty

I thought I had taken photos of QE1’s food as well, but apparently not. She had a Sweet Potato Pancake with fruit chutney, made with either apple or peaches, and creme fraiche on the side as well as a side of black beans. Great spot for all the vegetarians and vegans in your life!

Only a few more posts left!
-Cranky

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Unusual Fail Adventure

Saturday after Hungry left for home, I moped in my empty condo until Dangerous Dan came online and we decided to go to Piece in Wicker Park. I was determined to have a white clam pizza like they (they being the food establishment) famously have at Pepe’s in New Haven. On the two, three separate occasions I have been to Pepe’s, they have always been out of clams. So off we went to Wicker Park, a hipster neighborhood that I have been finding myself in more and more often. That day, the intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen had an eclectic mix of squatting 20, 30 somethings panhandling, trying to sell sketches, and in the case of one particular gentleman, street performance with beat track and nasal whine accompanied by fanny pack. This musical gentleman and one of the artists got into a shouting match over the intersection.

Undaunted by vagabond conflict, DD and I proceeded to the very busy Piece and were informed that the wait would be an hour and 45 minutes. Right. We wander aimlessly for a bit. I rule out Mexican because I’ve been having way too many tacos. This constrains our options greatly. We waver in front of Cumin but ultimately decide that we’re not dressed nicely enough. We try Big Star, thinking somehow in our heads that it was a burger joint and not a bar/warehouse with tacos. We are perplexed for a little while. We don’t go to Sultan’s Market or J. Wellington’s because we’re trying our best not to repeat restaurants. I get hungrier and crankier because I hadn’t eaten anything since my glorious Dutch Baby at OPH in the morning.

This Baby will last you most of the day

So we finally settled on Santullo’s New York style pizza – but we experienced failure there too! They have a special slice of the day and DD and I both definitely wanted a special slice that wasn’t available. Gahhhh. My “Hipster” slice was good but laced with defeat.

Roasted Red Peppers, Goat Cheese, and Defeat

Replenished by the Brooklyn-worthy portions of pizza, DD and I set off toward Logan Square to redeem ourselves as Chicago eaters. As we walked by the Western Blue Line, we spotted Belly Shack and were drawn in by its LA-ness. Inside, it was dark, cool, and industrial with a small but solid menu of Korean/Mexican/Japanese? accented food.

Apologies for the blurriness of the photos:

There must be an industry term for these doohickeys

Yuzu Lemonade: light on the tongue, perfumed with citrus, utterly refreshing

So LA

I love Japanese spice mixes and butcher paper. These were the very hot and light variety of thin french fries.

Sweet and substantial. Dotted with fried garlic chips. Kimchi was mild and cool. Wonderfully warm flatbread.

Trivia: DD actually got to hear Bill Kim (Chef-Owner of Belly Shack as well as Urban Belly) talk about being a cool guy who makes food in his class on the anthropology of food.

Victory from the ashes of defeat! I was very happy with our second dinner at Belly Shack – perfect food for a night out, light but wholesome. DD and I persevered in the face of Saturday night adversity and got to play with a kitten in Lincoln Park afterward to boot. I should mention that Belly Shack also had 3 or 4 housemade soft serves that I would have loved to try if I had had any room left after my second dinner. Intriguing combinations like Vietnamese Cinnamon Caramel.

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Hungry in the ‘Nati

Greetings, all! After a five hour drive home on Saturday, my parents and I finally arrived home, with home being Cincinnati, Ohio. I must have been much more exhausted than I thought because since then, I have spent most of the time sleeping/napping/in some form of repose.

However, I have also spent quality time with the family, and also enjoying some of the things I love about my city. One of them is the annual Cincinnati Masters, a hard-court tennis tournament that is part of the lead up to the US Open in September. Because my dad occasionally gets tickets from his work, I got a chance to see a first round match Sunday evening between Croat Marin Cilic and Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.

Cilic sets up his serve. Sponsored by Corona.

Baghdatis prepares to smash the ball back to Cilic.

While Dad wanted to stay in before starting work the next morning, Mom and I got to see a pretty good match. I was rooting for the younger Cilic the whole way through, but despite a strong start in the first set, Cilic trailed off after having his serve broken by Baghdatis. The game ended, 6-4, 7-5, Baghdatis. After little more than two hours, a disappointed Cilic exited Center Court, first round of this year’s tournament.

The crowd here tends to be a bit rowdier than those at most tennis tournaments, especially Wimbledon, giving the tournament more the feel of a quieter baseball game. Andy Roddick the perennial favorite, even though you can tell that most of the crowd doesn’t really watch much tennis. They’re here to see the top American play.

The atmosphere of the crowd leads to some displeasure on the part of the players, and this leads to some tense matches. The difference between TV and Live Tennis is the crowd, whose wave of emotions and attitudes can set the mood of a match, even for the players. And many top players maybe aren’t pushing full steam, in preparation for the upcoming US Open, leading to the upsets, always the upsets. It’s hard to predict who will win, because the lower tier events are a chance for lower-ranked players to make a name for themselves.

I find the Cincinnati Masters an endearing event. For one thing, it is the only chance to see live tennis in the Midwest. Moreover, I have led field trips of young tennis enthusiasts here, come often with friends, and one year even got to cater for the players and VIP’s (the catering itself being a memorable occasion, let alone the tournament).

Besides tennis, I’ve also gotten reacquainted with some signature Cincinnati cuisine (No, Cranky, not goetta). I don’t know what to say about Skyline Chili, though Cranky might be able to tell you about my love for this food. My first trip, every time I am back, includes a 4-way and a Cheese Coney, which is just as delicious as it sounds. The 4-way includes spaghetti, Skyline Chili, shredded cheddar cheese, and kidney beans. The Cheese Coney takes your everyday hot dog and bun and turns it into an irresistible morsel with mustard, onions, Cincinnati Chili, and shredded cheese.

They’re enough to give a Cincinnati boy the homesick blues. Fortunately, with the help of a spice packet, I’ve gotten pretty proficient at my own blend of Cincinnati-style Chili.

What goes into Cincinnati Chili, you ask? Some special Greek spices add a distinct flavor (the Chili being first cooked up at Greek diners in Cincinnati). A little bit of chocolate, and lots of tomato paste and ground beef. Simple, but irresistible when all the flavors are forged together in the slow heat of a giant, simmering pot.

With just the right amount of meatiness without being too chunky, and the heat of the spices accentuated with the odd drop of Tabasco sauce, this chili makes all others pale in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I love chili as much as the next guy, but Cincinnati’s takes the cake. A really large cake, with chili on top.

Signing off for now,

-H

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Goodbye for now Hungry!

It’s a bittersweet morning here at the homestead as Miss C&W snoozes in our breezy living room (her place can be a bit cramped and hot) and Hungry prepares to leave here for a week in Cincinnati before heading off to China (lucky dog). We have had an amazing summer together and will be reunited for one last year at UChicago in the fall. Although we both have ambitious plans to write honors-worthy B.A. papers and set ourselves up for the next academic endeavor of our lives (Fulbright/Law School for Hungry, Law School for me), we will surely see one another on a more-or-less regular basis thanks to being co-workers at our dorm, Broadview Hall.

Last night, we went to the well-reviewed Ed’s Potsticker House in Bridgeport with our Boss and her family to give Hungry a little send-off. I had been there once before, riding my modest bike there from 57th to 31st, and had been suitably pleased with the food. There are quite a few eating establishments in Bridgeport, but it’s definitely an area of Chicago not as well-served by the CTA as it could be. No photos taken but the food was very good in the Manchurian style. Service was neglectful. I’m now leaning more toward taking my family to Kam Fung in Chinatown when they come for graduation. After a dinner of sweet and sour ribs, salt and pepper fried seafood, Chinese water spinach sauteed with garlic (my mom’s favorite too), perfect scallion pancakes, Ed’s special house potstickers, and braised oxtail, we headed over to Saint’s Alp (that is their official punctuation heehee)¬†for dessert drinks. The sesame black milk tea cold is definitely not as good as the sesame black milk tea hot because of sesame powder clumpage. Yurk. I did try a bit of one of their crepes for the first time and it was powerfully eggy, vanilla-y, and sweet. Yum. The Boss remains faithful to her Creperie.

I think we’ve done a good job of sending Hungry off – Thursday, he and Miss C&W did an earlier volunteer shift for Taste of the Nation and I had the Will Call shift from 6-9. So while I dealt with the crush of people, some VIP and some not, wanting to get into the event, they were walking around in a ballroom filled with food and drinks and desserts. When I finally finished my shift, they had the glazed-over look of the very well-fed. I put in a pathetic performance of only half an hour of sampling before I was full, and I didn’t even get upstairs to the dessert! Although, since the Aragon is definitively not air-conditioned, the ice creams and sorbets were probably not their best by the end of the night.

Before the live auction began, the event organizers played this really intense video:

And then kicked off the live auction with items like two nights in Las Vegas, a celebrity chef dinner based on your favorite rock album, walk-on role for two on Curb Your Enthusiasm…obviously above our pay grade though Hungry was sorely tempted by Curb Your Enthusiasm. What a great cause, what a great event (Street Food themed!), what great chefs and restaurants (we saw Rick Bayless in person!). Very happy that Hungry and Miss C&W decided to volunteer at the last minute with me. Maybe we’ll do it again next year, wherever we are!

Anyways, I’ll be in Chicago for another week and change. Summerinthe773 is definitely ramping down, but I’m sure there will be a few more posts left in us.

Cheers,

Cranky

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Low-key weekend

August’s mugginess really came in with a vengeance and poor Hungry and I have had no relief but for that of our many fans. I haven’t been sleeping enough for the past couple of days which is a very silly considering the heat-induced lethargy. But then it’s freezing at the office. Just can’t win…

Speaking of not winning, the Boss and I had this awesome day planned out where we would get brunch from Calumet Fisheries and then go to the Indiana Dunes on Saturday. And this did occur, but not without us getting lost in Indiana for a combined total of perhaps 2 hours (the drive was supposed to take 45 min to an hour one-way). It was still kind of nice to be driving about in the greenery, but it was also frustrating to know we were surely very close to where we wanted to be! The lake, sand, and dunes were indeed very lovely when we got there. I want to go back when it’s cooler. Maybe we can take the South Shore line instead and leave the traveling up to the train engineers.

I didn’t do anything else the rest of the weekend besides a lovely get-together at PBR’s (air-conditioned!) apartment Saturday night and finishing the first draft of my altogether too long and too fanciful personal statement. We did have a strange incident where a squirrel gnawed through the screen of one of the sun room windows and had to be persuaded to leave with some purposeful rattling.

Our intruder

Hungry is departing this weekend and soon it will just be me in this large apartment. I’m going home in two weeks and I have to say that I’m very much looking forward to it. In the mean time though, there is more to do and more to eat!

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