I know these post in reverse order…so this could be the first segment or the third on our trip…But either way, it is the part about tasting the real tastes of chicago. We started our morning by parking at the Roosevelt Road El stop and walking over to Canal Street for the Maxwell Street Market. I love markets. I love the hustle, the bustle and most of all the myriad of stuff for sale. While we wandered, I ached to have a place like this in Seattle. Our first stop for food was the eyeball taco stand. B ordered a barbacoa taco, I ordered an ojo barbacoa. The taco was shockingly tasty. The eye took in all the barbacoa flavors, but its texture was more like that of bone marrow, or the fatty part of stewed pork belly. Creamily fatty are the words I would use. It fit in to my taco perfectly. We washed them down with a giant cup of tasty horchata. Why is the horchata better there than it is here? It just isn’t fair! We continued along, through the wave of people (at least as crowded as the taste had been the day we had gone). We stopped again at a taco stand for quesadillas for the kids and a huitlacoche taco for me. Huitlacoche is a corn fungus. It is black. Black foods scare people. Fungus scares people. This looks like black beans. Feels, again, like marrow. Tastes a little like mushrooms. The fact that it was wrapped in an amazing hand made tortilla made the whole thing even better. And the hot sauce, a yellowish thing in a jar, was very good. And spicy.
It was a hot day, and the market is enormous! Tonia, B’s sister in law stopped for a corn on a stick. Those are great, if you ever see a Mexican weilding a corn stand, I reccomend stopping. We have them here, so I only tried a bit, but as usual it was covered with mayonnaise, chile and salt. Sounds strange, tastes great (If I had a tv show, I think that would be my motto). We were just heading out the north end of the market when something caught my eye–a pupusa stand! Pupusas are flat, griddled…things? They look something like a pita bread, but the texture is more like a tortilla. I got a mixta, stuffed with beans, cheese and chicharrones (pork rinds). Then I dribbled the traditonal cabbage slaw over top. This really makes the dish. It has a warm, rich mouthfeel, then the vinegary slaw just cuts right through. A great way to finish up the morning at the market.
From the Market we moved on to Greektown. We passed by a bunch of restaurants that had been reccomended–too touristy (Pantheon), too cutesy for a group of 7 with small children (Artopolis)– and ended up picking Venus because the flower boxes in the window were really cute and the bar was in the shape of a boat. Unfortunately they didn’t let us sit in the window, despite the fact that when we arrived we were the only people there (it was 230 on a Sunday afternoon, and it did fill up while we were there). The service was not bad, but was very brusque and coarse in a way I hadn’t experienced in a while. It pained me to see the Mexican busboy being so rudely ordered around in nearly incomprehensible spanish by our waiter. The bread and olives that came out immediately were both very good. We ordered a variety of appetizers. The traditional saganaki was pretty run of the mill saganaki, it was fun for the kids to see it lit on fire, but the waiter did it very methodically and didn’t bother waiting while the kids turned around, as we rushed to get them to be paying attention. The Taromasalata (a personal favorite) was a huge hit, even with squemish eaters of all ages. It helped that we did not tell them what it was (fish eggs) until later. The oven roasted potatos were a big hit with most of the crowd, but overall were nothing out of the ordinary. We also ordered a fried eggplant which was a huge dissapointment. The eggplant was not thoroughly cooked, and thus was still hard inside the flavorless breading, under the flavorless sauce. Overall, however, the meal was enjoyed by all. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but it was all good eating.
From here we hopped on the blue line to the red line and got off at Addison for a bit of wandering up there. Surprise! We got off and there was Wrigley Field! Pictures all around. There was also some sort of block party/music fest going on, which is always fun to stumble by. We headed up Grace street in search of El Mercado Meat Market. Once found, I went on a bit of a nostalgia trip from when I lived in Uruguay. Then I bought alfajores for the kids–these are to delicious, soft flaky cookies that are pressed together with a caramel like substence known as dulce de leche. I was bummed that they were out of beef empanadas, but settled for a chicken one, and it did the trick, sending me reeling down memory lane–as much as the cuisine of Argentina has a great rep, Uruguay lacks much beyond alfajores and empanadas that is worth mentioning. I lived on these things while I was there.
As we kept walking we saw a store called CB2 which I had heard good things about, unfortunately I was the only one in the mood to stop, and I was shot down. We finally made it to Laschet’s Inn, and we had some very tired people on hand. This was the last stop for all but B and myself. We had some great stuff here–wonderful German beers that were exactly what we wanted in the afternoon heat, and tasty little snacks. I had the Hofbrau Summer brew, B the Spaten Optimator. Yes, we can get these at home, but the food and the environment we can’t. The place is super cute, like a German chalet–ok, I’ve never been to a German chalet, but it was a lot like the ones in Switzerland…Low cielings, cozy feelings. And then the food–we ordered a ‘jumbo’ pretzel and hackepeter. The jumbo pretzel, was, was advertised, quite jumbo. Bigger than my head, I’d say (quiet, there in the peanut gallery), delicious, warm, doughy, with the perfect amount of salt. The hackepeter is a steak tartare. It was served on a rye bread, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, with onions and capers. The velvety texture of the steak was amazing, some of the best tartare I’ve had. I scraped it from the rye and put it on the pretzel with capers for an unbelievable treat. If you are in the Chi-town area, I reccomend a beer break here.
From here, waving goodbye to the others, B and I headed to Spoon Thai. Wow. A dive from the outside, with a sign that looks like it belongs over a jo-jo’s stand in Renton, inside was beautiful blonde wood walls and silver Thai carvings on the wall. We were only on the crawl, so we each ordered a Thai iced tea and split an appetizer off the Thai Menu. It was a beef jerky with tamarind dipping sauce and it was perfect. The beef was coated in a glaze, then with the hot/sweet of the sauce, it should excellent skill and flavors. We had them box the rest up and headed for a stop at our friends house. They were grilling, and of course, insisted we try some of the chicken they were making. Though the coals were a little hot for the thickness of the breasts, the meat turned out extremely tender and perfect for dipping in the honey habanero sauce they had made.
From here we were tired, and about to cut the tour off when I insisted we hit one last place. B’s brother, B2 had joined us at this point and the three of us headed to Palace Gate, a Ghanaian restaurant.
I have no idea what we ordered. We asked, What is best? and the lady said “mumbojumbo….but….you don’t want it….its too spicy for you” at which point B and I simoultaneously jumped out of our seats and frantically exclaimed in an effort to make sure that we got that thing. We take that quote as a perfect description of what we know we want! We also got one other thing at her reccomendation. One item was a beef and fish stew, yellow in color and viscous in texture. The other item was beef in sauce, slopped over a pile of starches that included noodles, rice, beans and plantains. We were also given a bowl of another starch, which seemed to be a cornmeal dough of some type. It reminded me of solidified arepa dough. We used it to dip into the stew sauce. This was my favorite dish of the day. I think the mucus texture of the stew must have come from okra, but I don’t mind that texture as much as many people do. It tasted good. $20 covered more food than the three of us could shake a stick at! The plate of starches was also good, the sauce on the meat especially. I also enjoyed the plaintains, but could take or leave the rice and noodles. All of it was extremely spicy, in the best kind of way, where it builds up and leaves your lips burning for a while afterword. Another strong reccomendation here.
We headed back to our friends place to round out the evening with some beers and low and behold, what should show up but a box of deep dish pizza! Well, given we were touring the city for food, we couldn’t turn down a slice of the native dish. We each had a slice of the stuff, from Chicago’s Pizza. It was pretty good, though I have little to compare it to. I would eat more of it, suffice it to say.
Finally, as the night got late, we hopped back on the Red line to journey back to Indiana. We were almost home at 130 am, when the lights of the White Castle lit up the corner. Like Harold and Kumar, B knew what needed to happen. He veered off the highway and we went in to get me that holy grail, the object of Harold and Kumar’s affection. No, I’d never had one before. Yes, I’ve now experienced one. And you know what? I’d do it again. Something quirky and wonderful about any burger served at 2 am, but this was more than that. I liked it. Wouldn’t trade a Dick’s for it, but I’d hit it up again.