Dining and food culture in Chicago

Mardi Gras in Your Mouth: Muffuletta at J.P. Graziano Grocery

Sandwiches No Comments »
Muffuletta at Central Grocery/Photo: David Hammond

Muffuletta at Central Grocery/Photo: David Hammond

The muffuletta was created at Central Grocery in New Orleans. This classic sandwich is basically antipasti—salami, mortadella and/or ham, mozzarella and provolone with a splash of olive salad—on a round sesame seed bun.

Last weekend, I sampled two muffuletta variations in the city where it all began. Read the rest of this entry »

You’re the Best of the Best: A Throwdown for Chicago’s Finest Jibarito

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Chicken Jibarito from Papa's Cache Sabroso/Photo: John Carruthers

Chicken Jibarito from Papa’s Cache Sabroso/Photo: John Carruthers

By John Carruthers and Dennis Lee

While tourists pore over reheated listicles of the “best” deep dish and hot dogs, we Chicagoans jealously guard the kung-fu secret of the Jibarito. This classic, which roughly translates to “little hillbilly,” was invented right here in Humboldt Park at El Borinquen in 1996. It’s a sandwich with meat, lettuce, tomato, garlic and mayo, all set between a pair of crispy fried planks of plantain, the banana-like fruit of the Caribbean. Just a warning: these are messy sandwiches, and your fingers inevitably get covered in a layer of garlicky oil, so don’t be shy about using a lot of napkins (the world’s going to end anyway, so might as well use all our natural resources while we’re still here).

To determine which sandwich was really the best of the best, we launched our JibaritOff by first putting on our eating pants (sounds nicer and more professional than “old sweatpants”). We then pitted two of the city’s top contenders against each other in a final battle for supremacy. We decided to judge both the steak and the chicken versions of the sandwich at each place. Read the rest of this entry »

“To Try to Raise a Foodie is Obnoxious”: Anthony Bourdain on Early Childhood Education and His Weird Life

Trends & Essays 1 Comment »
Anthony Bourdain/Photo: David Hammond

Anthony Bourdain/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

At an event in early December sponsored by Balvenie Rare Craft Collection, Anthony Bourdain (who curates the collection) and I sat down to talk. He is a very smart and articulate man. Turns out, he also has a good heart and, as you know, a colorful vocabulary.

You have a young daughter, still in single digits. How are you—or are you—educating her about food?
I think it’s imperative to not educate my daughter about food. I think to try to raise a foodie is obnoxious and weird and counterproductive. My wife’s Italian from Lombardy; I’m from where I am. The food my daughter saw her parents eating was interesting and she made her own decisions from there. I was always happy to give her pasta with butter and grilled cheese if that’s what she asked for, and I’m not going to say, “C’mon honey, try this sushi.” Read the rest of this entry »

On Beyond Morning: “Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen”

Food writing No Comments »
Ina Pinkney/Photo: Joe Mazza, Brave Lux

Ina Pinkney/Photo: Joe Mazza, Brave Lux

By Lauren Knight

Ina Pinkney weaves together life stories and cooking instructions in “Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen,” deftly illustrating and dramatizing the importance of shared food moments. Pinkney built a reputation for sharp yet homey service and comfort food in Chicago. Her three establishments—Dessert Kitchen, Ina’s Kitchen and Ina’s—drew loyal Chicago customers over three-and-a-half generations. When the time came to close Ina’s for good, however, Pinkney found she still had more to share.

Finding a place to keep her recipes alive was important, but it wasn’t all Pinkney wanted to do. “If I wrote just a cookbook, it would get lost on the shelves,” she says. She was ready to be more than just a brand; she wanted to introduce people to the sometimes larger-than-life person behind the public face of the Breakfast Queen. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2015: Dining

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Top 5 Handcrafted Tortillas
Rubi’s, Maxwell Street Market
Birrieria Zaragoza
La Quebrada
La Casa de Samuel
Nuevo Leon (RIP)
—David Hammond

Top 5 Old School American-Chinese Restaurants
Won Kow
Three Happiness
Orange Garden
Luo’s Peking (Oak Park)
Tony’s Chinese & American Restaurant
—David Hammond Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Belle: Interview with a Fairy Princess in the Walnut Room

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Suzee Belles, Fairy Princess

Suzee Belles, Fairy Princess/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

My wife and I were seated in the Walnut Room beneath the big tree. While we waited for lunch—the signature Mrs. Hering’s Chicken Pot Pie—we watched wide-eyed children gazing in awe at the holiday spectacle. A winsome young woman in a gold-laced dress seemed to float over to us, offering to grant a Christmas wish. We took her up on that. Then we got her backstory. Her name is Suzee Belles.

What does it mean to be a fairy princess?
To me, being a fairy princess is a huge deal, bigger than Santa. True, many people are lured into the store by Santa, but the real driving factor is the Walnut Room. When I was a kid, we didn’t come to Marshall Field’s to go shopping. We went to see the windows. The thing that got us INSIDE the store was the Walnut Room, and what makes it so special is the great tree and the fairy princesses. Being a fairy princess means that you are the ultimate role model. Read the rest of this entry »

A Genuine Myth: If They Call It “Authentic,” It’s Probably Baloney

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Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London.

Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Earlier this month, a chorus of Chicago food writers criticized what seemed an uninformed drubbing on Yelp of Chicago’s Cantina 1910.

You don’t have to look very deeply into the Yelp commentary about this Mexican restaurant to find statements like “It’s definitely NOT authentic Mexican” and “There is nothing authentically Mexican about this place.”

Similarly, watch just about any episode of Chicago’s excellent, Emmy Award-winning “Check, Please!” and you’ll hear citizen reviewers extolling the “authentic” flavors of this restaurant or that.

With all due respect, it doesn’t seem that many of these good people know what they’re talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Vice and Vegetables: The Fulton Market District Furiously Builds on Chicago History

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished hi-rise/Photo: MKRogers Features & Photography

View from Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise/Photo: MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

“The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied”

Riding the elevator to the top of developer Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise at the corner of Halsted and Lake, I’m fussing with the Velcro on the front of my neon yellow construction vest. The lift-operator, who looks uncannily like former mayor Richard M. Daley, has just confided that he’s afraid of heights. Somewhere between levels twelve and twenty-three—six floors shy of the top—Shapack quietly says, “This is the tallest building I’ve done yet.”

Standing in the open air looking out at the booming Fulton Market Innovation District that stretches from Halsted to Ogden below us, the Shapack Partners, Sterling Bay and other developer-owned vacant lots stand out, white blanks among the rubble and splintered timbers of demolition, as do signage-wrapped new construction sites and just-finished restaurants with so-new-it-sparkles HVAC and ductwork.

Randolph runs along the southern edge of the scene. Elevated-train-topped Lake Street is in the middle and Fulton Market sits to the north. Right now, each thoroughfare is lined with the mix of meatpackers, light industry, grunge and gleam that defines the city’s last remaining market district, which is now also its hottest restaurant neighborhood. Next year, there will be another dozen restaurants and bars down there, plus retail, new residences and hotels.

As for the industry and grunge? Says Shapack: “The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied.” The “any of us” Shapack refers to—developers and restaurateurs, meatpackers and wholesalers, politicians and planners—have all been racing to keep up with unprecedented change without losing the essence of a neighborhood they love. Read the rest of this entry »

You’re the Best of the Best: Picking Chicago’s Korean-Style Chicken Wings Champion

Korean No Comments »
Great Seas Chinese Restaurant Wings

Great Sea Chinese Restaurant Wings

By John Carruthers and Dennis Lee

Here in Chicago, we do two things extremely well: food and superlatives. Everything is delicious and everything is the BEST. Right now, some click-farm content-bot is extruding yet another list of the thirteen best burgers in Chicago.

Let’s clean up this mess.

Like two overfed children smashing action figures together to determine whether Batman or Han Solo reigns supreme, we’re pitting two allegedly best-in-Chicago places against each other in a thunderous clash for ultimate supremacy.

Korean-style chicken wings, called kampungi, are the sticky, sweet, crisp and sometimes-spicy delights that stand in sharp contrast to one-note, vinegary, Buffalo-style wings.

Contenders for best Korean-style chicken wings are Great Sea Chinese Restaurant and Crisp. Read the rest of this entry »

Grandbaby Cakes: Carrying on Kitchen Traditions from Blog to Book

Recipes 1 Comment »
Jocelyn Adams/Photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi

Jocelyn Adams/Photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi

By Rebecca Holland

One look at the food and baking blog Grandbaby Cakes, and you get hungry, fast. A fluffy red velvet cake draped with blackberry cream cheese frosting slides across the screen, followed by cookie cheesecake swirl bars. A pink theme and friendly writing pulls you into the blog, and before long you’re reading tricks and family stories, reminiscing about your own grandmother’s recipes, which is exactly what Jocelyn Adams, the Chicago food blogger and more recently cookbook author behind the site, has in mind.

“What resonates with people is this love of family,” Adams says. “They find themselves thinking about their own families and their own memories. That’s what sets it apart from other recipe sites.”

Family is also what inspired Adams to start her blog. After spending years in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother, and aunts, she developed a love of baking and a library of family recipes. Adams started Grandbaby Cakes three years ago while working as an events producer; about eighteen months ago, she took the plunge into full-time blogging. “I started the blog to share recipes and inspiration from my family, then things kind of blew up,” she says. “I fell in love with it and started doing more recipe development and learning more about both baking and blogging, until I knew I wanted to do it full-time.” Read the rest of this entry »