Let’s talk about doing things differently in 2013. Let’s talk about being creative. Let’s talked about being INSPIRED. Being original Taking some risks. Let’s talk about brining HAM WITH COFFEE, sprinkling everything with New Orleans, and serving up the most delicious stuffed pig’s trotter (Zampone). Talk about that, think about that, and then tell me what you’re going to do differently in 2013.
For someone who was gone for a while, this is casual American bar food, but grown-up. Venison chili, DUCK TACOS, pulled boar sandwiches, rabbit and dumplings, and DID I MENTION THE DUCK TACOS? And the oyster menu? And how on Tuesdays, they do $2 half pints?? The beer menu is pretty awesome as well.
Now if only they had free wifi. That would be awesome. But a minor quibble, that.
Here’s another example of how awesome they are:
They’re open for lunch now, during the week (except Mondays) but word doesn’t seem to have gotten out yet because it’s Friday as I sit here and write this and it’s pretty quiet. But that’s a welcome change from the craziness of Big Star.
My lead photo? That’s my lunch today. An Ahi tuna sandwich with crispy tobasco shallots, sprouts, WASABI GINGER MAYO, and rosemary fries. (!!!) Pretty great, for a casual Friday lunch. Excellent, actually.
Life is good.
I’ll admit it. I was afraid. I’ve been afraid of Podhalanka since I first moved to Wicker Park. Let’s face it, it looks a little sketchy from the outside, doesn’t it? Would you really want to eat here?
And then there behind the bar, there’s homemade who knows what, post cards, and little knickknacks. It didn’t take much for me to fall in love. It was like being in Grandma’s house. Maybe Grandpa’s basement. Love.
Also love: the homemade mystery juice. I asked if it was apple? No. Pear? No. Plum? No. They honestly wouldn’t tell me, but they did say they make it themselves. (Yelp suggests it’s prune juice, which might be why they didn’t want to tell me. But a prune is a plum so I don’t know.)
And the cabbage soup? At just $3.50 a BOWL, with four slices of bread, it’s a tremendously hearty delicious value. (My medium soup at Au Bon Pain always seems to come in at $4.43, and it’s a smaller portion, it’s not as good, and it doesn’t come with four slices of bread.) New favorite routine? Come home from work and head to Podhlanka for a bowl of soup and the nightly news.
And then for the heck of it during my first visit, because I was having such a good time, I ordered up a plate of latkes. Four arrived — two too many for me — so I practiced a random act of kindness and gave two of them to the guy next to me. But after I gave them away, I became tremendously sad because these were, honestly, so so good and I kinda wanted the extras back, but we have a politically incorrect phrase for that in my language. Perfectly cooked and crispy and fresh oil, not old oil. Their only fault was they could have used a pinch of salt, but that was easily remedied.
The Verdict: I love Podhalanka. Love it. Love it. Love it.
The amazingly so-good-but-so-so-bad ham and egg sandwich at Frontier on Milwaukee, one of my locals. I probably shouldn’t be eating this. But I don’t plan on eating again until somewhere around midnight (this will all become clearer shortly), so I am justifying it all.
I like Frontier. I like the menu. I like the service. I hate the volume of the music at times, and the ladies room is designed for people with no knees. But otherwise, I’m glad to have it around. Especially early on a Saturday when my cupboards are, once again, bare.
Happy weekend, everyone.
Sometimes you go to a place in your neighborhood — a place that’s not far — and you think “Gah!!! Why didn’t I come here sooner?? What is wrong with me?? There must be something wrong…something!!”
Because I went to Lovely. A Bakeshop. And I loved it. It is everything I’ve been wanting these days. Quiet. Peaceful. Nice chairs.
I had some cake for breakfast, despite being of the “I only have oatmeal or farina for breakfast” sort. My cousin, who was visiting, was cranky. Lovely and its outdoor patio calmed him down. I saw “lavender”on the menu and had to do it. Peach and lavender, I believe. Lovely. Like the shop. And the music. And the free wifi. All very very you-know-what, really.
I thought Yelp Week was gonna be huge. I mean, 50% off at a bunch of Yelp favorites? I made my reservations WEEKS in advance. Hah! Joke is on me. I showed up at Blue Star at the pre-appointed time and they had no record of my booking. “The reservations go to my phone,” he said. “Sometimes I forget to write them down.”
Not to fear though because Blue Star was EMPTY. I made the mistake of mentioning that we would have a 6-week old with us and we were relegated to the children’s section. You know…where they only other people in the bloody restaurant happened to be sitting. (With their young boy.) Sigh. Blue Star were just waiting for the crowds to arrive, I suppose.
Lucky for us, the Yelp menu was a supremely good value. $20 for FOUR COURSES. A salad, some fried cheese, some steak, and well for me, some limoncello for dessert. It was such an insanely good value that I FELT GUILTY.
We stuck to the house white and only paid something like $30 a person by the end of the evening when it came to tax and tip. I felt so guilty about how cheap Blue Star was with our 50% off that I’m mentally promised them I’ll return. And next time, I’ll actually check out the wine list.
Blue Star Wine Bar is next to a gas station and the expressway. It doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, but rumor has it they get busy after 9 pm. If you’re in the neighborhood, you should stop by.
1072 N. Milwaukee
Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
I miss having a “local.” In London, I could always depend on The Peasant on St John Street or The Well, also on St John Street (and conveniently located next to Clerkenwell’s newest Waitrose. How I miss that Waitrose). My international guests always loved The Peasant and The Well, the former for its atmosphere, the latter for its food. (IMHO, the food at both was good, not great. But take an American tourist’s preconceived notions of British food, and both of these places do amazingly well.)
Anyhow, as the one-year anniversary of my repatriation approaches, I promise to refer to London less and less in blog posts that are not about London, lest I become one of “those people.” (If I’m not already so.) So let me focus on Frontier and Chicago.
I like Frontier. It’s hard not to given its proximity to my abode. I like their Tuesday night specials even more.
$2 OYSTERS. (See above.)
$2 TACOS. We watched as two guys got what had to have been a dozen tacos on the Tuesday we visited. We probably did good work on about six in total. For $2, these were pretty high quality tacos and much better (in my opinion) than La Pasadita’s on Ashland.
Better still, Frontier has fulfilled one of my US-demands…
$2 HALF PINTS. Half pints have been nearly impossible to find in Chicago. Even Owen & Engine doesn’t have them. But Frontier does!
Ah, and I neglected to take any photos of the outdoor patio, but it’s pretty awesome. This alone is reason to go.
(Frontier also offers $2 deviled eggs on Tuesday, but they’re not my sort of thing.)
The Verdict: I like it here. I’ll be back.
I can’t stop. I really can’t. I’m addicted.
I really really REALLY love Lush, the wine shop and cafe on Chicago Ave. The staff are amazingly lovely and helpful, the wine is super well-organised, they have a HUGE $10 rack, and they have this cool machine that can chill wine in like two minutes. They’re awesome and you should visit. Yes.
My local Lush is at 1412 W Chicago, but they have other locations in Roscoe Village and University Village. They also have cool chandeliers made out of wine glasses.
Butcher & Larder
1026 N Milwaukee Ave
Date of Last Visit: 22 January 2011
The Victim: Me
The Damage: $10
The Background: Boy am I in trouble. Big trouble. Because seriously, I live WAAAYYY too close to Butcher & Larder. Way too close. Way too too close. So close that I might actually consider joining Row Fit, the somewhat odd rowing gym that I have to pass on the way to Butcher & Larder, as a counterbalance to something that is surely set to become a very very very bad habit. Very bad.
This picture really does not do justice to the deliciousness of my sandwich of roast beef with radish aioli and beer onions. (Yes, yes. Yet another $10 sandwich in Chicago. Although this time, the $10 included a Sprecher root beer and that bag of Jay’s chips.) The roast beef was perfect and I don’t think I can describe it any better than that. And I don’t know what they put in that alioli and those beer onions, but it was magic. Magic. Dying to know how much garlic was in that alioli, or if they spiced it up with something else.
The sandwich was so huge and dense that I had to ask for some tin foil so I could take the rest home. I had these visions of having the other half of the sandwich for dinner.
I got home. Unwrapped the rest of the sandwich. Stared at it for a few minutes. Debated it. And then polished it off. The best laid plans…
The Verdict: Go. Now. There’s free parking and lots of it. And the tin ceiling is awesome. Now if only they served wine. And cheese. They could become my new Fernandez & Wells. That being said, Butcher & Larder is a different animal. They are a butcher, not a coffee shop aspiring to be a restaurant. Fernandez & Wells is not a butcher; it’s a coffee shop/wine bar that serves kick ass sandwiches.
So I do think I will die and go to heaven if Butcher & Larder lays on a chorizo and manchego sandwich and if they let me BYOB from Lush or Noble Grape down the road. They might not want to order those stools anytime soon though because once they’re installed, I might not ever leave. (I’m considering a new series for my blog: Today’s Butcher & Larder Sandwich, where I document my lunch every weekend.)
The Constructive Bit: The crust on the bread made it a little hard to eat. A bit too chewy. And while I love the tin ceiling, there’s a little bit of warmth missing from the space. Fernandez & Wells in London is just as simple and streamlined and slightly retro inside, but somehow manages to convey a warmth of sorts. Maybe chalkboards are the answer? (There are an amazing number of photos of all three F&W’s on Flickr if you want to see what I’m talking about. The stools in this photo at my fave F&W will be perfect for Butcher & Larder, I think.) Critiquing the decor is pretty silly though, when we’re talking about a roast beef sandwich THIS good.
1053 N Ashland
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, November 27th, 2010
The Victim: Me
The Damage: Less than $5
The Background: Sometimes, you just want some tacos for lunch. Guanajuato Groceries is one of those places that you wish you could go back and take more pictures of. Because it’s a taco stand. In the back of a grocery store. It’s a tidy and compact operation.
And it’s cheap. Super cheap. I walked out of Guanajuato’s with two steak tacos and one carnitas (pulled pork) taco for less than $5. In hindsight, I should have gotten two carnitas and one steak as the carnitas was mouth-wateringly luscious and fatty and soft. The steak was a little overdone.
But drizzled with cilantro and onions and accompanied by a very spicy salsa? Not a bad lunch.
The Verdict: There’s something very compelling about Guanajuato’s. The only thing that’s got me thinking is that it’s been so long since I had a proper taco that I’m not quite sure what a good one should taste like anymore. So I think I need to do some more exploring before I return to Guanajuato’s.