By Michael Nagrant
I was concerned that Pat Riley, the former NBA Coach and the only man who used more Brill Cream than my grandfather, was going to come after me with a dream team of lawyers over the title of this column. It turns out though he only owns a commercial trademark on the term “three-peat,” and this column is most decidedly a journalistic one, written for the public good. Yes, it’s true, I’m back with my Oprah-inspired “favorite things” list of food finds I haven’t been able to work into a regular column, but are most definitely worthy of your gullet. Enjoy.
Superior Italian Bakery, 933 South Western, (312)733-5092
I’d known about this bakery for a few years thanks to the great sleuthing of LTHforum.com poster/historian Antonius. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to trying it, the place, which had been open for more than seventy-plus years, had closed up shop. Then earlier this year, Angelo Saccameno, a former customer who used to visit regularly with his dad growing up, bought the place, apprenticed with the original owners, the Masi family, and re-opened the spot. The selection is focused on crusty loaves of bread, generous slices off sheet-pan pizza (try anything with the fresh ricotta) and a great vanilla lemon cookie called Taralle.
Bleu Mont Cheddar
Cheesemaker Willi Lehner is such a bad-ass, he sells power to the power company. He runs an artisanal cheese operation up in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin on solar power and juice from a wind-powered turbine. His cheeses, especially his bandaged cave-aged cheddars, are just as powerful. His Earth Schmier cheeses, featuring a rind-spritzed with a filtered slurry of water and fresh earth from his farmstead is the ultimate expression of terroir, or the flavor of the local earth. Those are tough to find, unless you make a weekend pilgrimage to the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison. Thankfully, you only need to go to Oak Park to get his bandaged cheddar at the Marion Street Cheese Market, 100 South Marion.
Blue Marble Dairy Milk
I’d always thought Oberweis was the bee’s knees, or the cow’s udder, or whatever, until I took a few cold swigs of the moo juice from this Wisconsin micro-dairy. The milk from Blue Marble is quick-heat pasteurized, but not homogenized, ensuring a nice thick cream line on the top of the milk. In fact, if you shake their chocolate milk hard enough, the cream line eventually churns into chocolate butter. Add a dash of salt and a touch of sugar, and you can spread it on toast. Available at some local Whole Foods and every Wednesday and Saturday at the Green City Market.
E-San Sausage at Ben’s Noodles and Rice, 1139 West Bryn Mawr, (773)907-8936
You might be able to find more authentic Thai spots in most neighborhood’s in Chicago, but Ben’s Issan-style (called E-San here) sausage, aka the Thai answer to Polish Kielbasa, is as real as it gets. The version here is a porky, seared, rustic link-style embedded with lots of lemongrass, garlic and a touch less fish sauce than versions at other spots.
Philly’s Best Cheesesteak, 769 West Jackson, (312)715-9800
I don’t usually go looking for good eats at places I wouldn’t be caught dead in unless I’d had at least four cocktails at the Violet Hour (read: Flash Taco). Philly’s Best, which has a bunch of locations around town and serves wings, baked mostaccoli, greek-pastry-like loukamades, pizza and cheesesteak sandwiches all on the same menu without a smirk, seemed to fit that bill. However, they just opened in my ‘hood and during a rare blood-sugar depression I ambled in and ordered up one of their cheesesteaks. I can’t speak about all those other things, but the freshly griddled thin beef cheesesteak on garlic bread topped with Cheese Whiz, grilled onion and mushrooms is the closest I’ve gotten to a real Philly yet. The meat was caramelized and the whole thing was properly seasoned with salt and pepper, a welcome rarity for quick-service drunk eats.
If someone tells you they got something for you filled with some hand-picked goodies from the Peruvian Andes, it’s usually time to break out the water bong. In this particular case, you’re going to want a cocktail shaker. At $2.50 a bottle, this stuff ain’t cheap and I was pretty skeptical, but I staged a blind gin-and-tonic tasting with some friends recently and this came out way on top. It’s made with hand-picked quinine from Peru and sweetened with organic agave nectar. Using Q is the easiest way to be a better mixologist without actually doing anything. Q is available locally only at the Cork at Riverside, 2720 South Harlem, or online at kegworks.com. (Update, April 2009: Now also available at Sam’s Wine and Binny’s in the city.)