Top 10 2014

IMG_5973

Truth be told, I eat a lot of chicken sal­ads. How else do you think I keep my girl­ish fig­ure after those all day food tours of far flung neigh­bor­hoods eat­ing Jim Shoe after Jim Shoe? That’s the thing about year end lists, they tend to focus on the thrills rather than the day-to-day. I like to see these lists as a way to look back at my year and see what I’ve learned, over­all pat­terns in taste and cul­ture. Of course, I’ll cover a few indul­gences– great things I ate at a new restau­rant or two and fun new drinks I got into. But hope­fully you’ll get a snap­shot of how I view the world through a food lens.

10. Ses­sion IPAs

Not to get on an aging rant, but I just can’t deal any­more with the wal­lop hang­over dealt by a six pack of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (my favorite IPA). A few years ago I would have scoffed at the thought of an IPA with an ABV lower than 6 per­cent– I’d actu­ally had one out in Salt Lake City where the state’s arcane liquor laws pro­hibit beers over 3.2 per­cent in most estab­lish­ments. Need­less to say, that beer was thin and one dimen­sional. A lot of my brewer buds have been singing the mer­its of “ses­sion beers” that are easy to drink in bulk, but most of those guys were talk­ing about sour ales, a style that is often low in alco­hol to begin with. Call me behind-the-times, but I still like the hops, so with some skep­ti­cism I approached these new lower alco­hol brews like Lagu­ni­tas Day Time and Founder’s All Day IPA. For­tu­nately these beers were much more fla­vor­ful than my expe­ri­ence in Utah. My favorite is prob­a­bly Stone Brewing’s Go To IPA, which employs a tech­nique called “hop-bursting” bulks up on the fin­ish­ing hops which results in a cit­rusy char­ac­ter with a piney fin­ish, great stuff. I def­i­nitely most fre­quently drink the Founder’s All Day, which at about $17 for a 15 pack of cans is easy on the wal­let, as well as the waist­line and the next day. This is the light beer for the craft beer gen­er­a­tion– 70 less calo­ries per 12 oz. serv­ing than my 2 Hearted. Even though these beers are designed to drink more of, I actu­ally don’t. They’re fla­vor­ful enough to sus­tain my inter­est with­out chugging.

9. The Gene & Jude’s, Johnnie’s 1–2 Punch

IMG_5769

There is no greater Chicago street food twofer than hit­ting up these two old-school-as-all-get-out stands in the near west burbs. Oddly it took me until this year to get to the cel­e­brated Gene & Judes. And, the one time I hit up John­nies a few years back, I’d not quite ordered to the best of their strengths. Leave it to the august Rob “PIGMON” Lopata to point me in the direc­tion of this lit­tle jaunt up Grand. Of course, com­ing with the ter­ri­tory of clas­sic pro­le­tariat eats, alle­giances and pref­er­ences are fierce for both Chicago dogs and Ital­ian beefs. I grew up on the south­west side and for dogs, my arche­type was set by my old man and his favorite red hots at Snyder’s in Bev­er­ley, who adhered to the dragged-through-the-garden/ Vienna Beef/ Fluky’s/ depres­sion sand­wich for­mat that is more widely observed. The his­tory of this stuff gets murky as do def­i­n­i­tions, as there is another ren­di­tion of the Chi dog, a min­i­mal­ist ver­sion if you will, that I have actu­ally come to pre­fer: reg­u­lar hot dog bun, nat­ural cas­ing beef frank, mus­tard, neon rel­ish (not for me), onion, sport pep­per, period. This is the style that Gene & Jude’s serves, though I would argue that the superb hand cut fries become another top­ping on the sand­wich as they are tightly packed with the dog and com­pul­sory with every hot­dog ordered. A few stray fries seem to always nes­tle into the hot­dog (the pros will add a few fries regard­less) and I also love how the fries pick up the per­fume of the mus­tard and onions. It’s a sum of its parts and G&J’s nails it. What gets me about the place is that no mat­ter when, 24–7, you will receive a per­fect dog. At other spots, even pre­vi­ous favorites, if you hit them at the wrong time of day you might get a gray­ing, water­logged, or mushy dog. But G&J’s is so pop­u­lar, noth­ing sits around, ever. Dat­ing back to 1950 (they started at Polk & West­ern 4 years ear­lier), the place is bare bones, I love the old school sig­nage and the no non­sense ser­vice. It’s in and out here, folks.

IMG_5770

Then on down River Road to our next stop: Johnnie’s, which is sim­i­larly always crowded, free of frills, and pre­served in amber. Their Ital­ian beef is very good, but I don’t love their gia­r­diniera and with such few com­po­nents to this ele­men­tal sand­wich, it can be a make or break deal for a beef. But you don’t eat at Johnnie’s for the gia­r­diniera. (As an aside, they prob­a­bly serve the tasti­est sweet pep­pers in town, which are chopped and sea­soned.) You eat at Johnnie’s for their Ital­ian sausage, which they grill over live char­coal. It comes out smoky, gar­licky, and very juicy. Might as well throw that in the mid­dle of an Ital­ian beef sand­wich, for a combo, and you’ve got one of the best, essen­tial sand­wiches in Chicagoland. You’ve just treated your­self to Chicago’s finest and should prob­a­bly take your lipitor.

8. Cortez Mullet

IMG_4506

The oceans seem to be dying. There are many envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, but irre­spon­si­ble fish­ing prac­tices are a major issue for many fish species. Imper­a­tively, we must look at sus­tain­able alter­na­tives to over­fish­ing, which will require us to make sac­ri­fices and look at other types of fish ~if any at all~ to help turn this impend­ing cri­sis around. You know I’m a cham­pion of find­ing the nutri­tious and deli­cious in unde­sir­able sources. Ever eat mul­let before? They’re a bit lean and a bit bony, but abun­dant, fished sus­tain­ably (in the gulf of Mex­ico), and enjoyed since Roman times. I hadn’t thought too much about mul­let until I read last year’s top ten list by John T. Edge, the direc­tor of the South­ern Food­ways Alliance and one of my favorite food writ­ers. What caught my eye was not mul­let as an ingre­di­ent specif­i­cally, but the loca­tion where he dis­cov­ered it. A pizza shop in Cortez, Florida was serv­ing a grilled Cae­sar salad with mul­let roe. My par­ents win­ter in Anna Maria Island Florida, a sun­drenched place of infi­nite oceanic views with a fairly redun­dant food scene. I like a grouper reuben as much as the next guy, but after night five, you crave stuff like, well, pizza.

The story doesn’t stop with Vil­lage Idiot Pizza. After a bit of Googling, I dis­cov­ered a piece in the New York Times about a cool dude named Seth Cripe, who sup­plies Vil­lage Idiot Pizza with their mul­let roe. Mr. Cripe salts and sun dries the roe sacs, pro­duc­ing a prod­uct called bot­targa, which you might know as an Ital­ian del­i­cacy, typ­i­cally used spar­ingly as a gar­nish due to its intense fla­vor and high price tag. Mul­let is the pri­mary catch in the fish­ing town of Cortez, which is just east of my par­ents place, where we fre­quent fish shacks for not-so-local grouper and cheap beers. I got to try that salad at Vil­lage Idiot and it was fan­tas­tic, the bot­targa sub­bing not only the brini­ness of tra­di­tional anchovy, but also the cheesi­ness of the parmesan.

Lit­tle did I know my mul­let quest had just begun? We also hap­pened to be in town the week­end of the Cortez Mul­let Fes­ti­val. This event looked like a typ­i­cal flea market/ coun­try fair type of event, with cheap crafts for sale, expen­sive shitty drinks, and a fairly decent vari­ety of food ven­dors both local and from the big city, Sara­sota. We had a few bites of decent food, but I needed to know where the mul­let was at, find­ing it strange that the name­sake fish was sorta under­rep­re­sented. Not wil­ing to throw in the towel, my unstop­pable appetite led me to the mul­let cul­ture. Fairly cen­tral to the fest, I had mis­in­ter­preted a cou­ple of extra wide smoker rigs for a BBQ set up. These old dudes were stok­ing the wood fire and duti­fully man­ning their smoker. Once I started pok­ing around with my cam­era phone they waved me over to check out the rows of small golden, but­ter­flied fish enveloped in the caress of smoke. Awe­some. I ordered a whole one. It was smoky, oily, and assertive, driz­zled with a mild BBQ type sauce. Hell, why can’t fish be BBQ, because that’s exactly what was going down. Next, I strolled over to the pier and found a group of mul­let fish­er­men engag­ing with the crowd about their work and hawk­ing what was called a “Cortez hot­dog”, a corn meal encrusted, per­fectly fried skinny filet of mul­let on a cheap bun with tar­tar sauce and a scat­ter­ing of diced onion. A deli­cious les­son in mak­ing due with what you’ve got.

7. – Amer­i­can Cuisine

IMG_5900

I’m an advo­cate for a culi­nary recon­sid­er­a­tion of the low brow, hyphen­ated Amer­i­can cuisines: eth­nic cook­ing tra­di­tions catered towards Amer­i­can palates and ingre­di­ents that began to pro­lif­er­ate in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury. Mexican-American, Chinese-American, and Italian-American. A few years back I wrote a trea­tise on my love for the Mexican-American fare of my child­hood and then joined forces with Chef Jonathan Zaragoza to re-imagine clas­sics like queso, bur­ri­tos suizos, and crispy tacos. This year I reac­quainted myself with red sauce Ital­ian as night after night of binge-watching the Soprano’s, I craved baked ziti (or mostac­ci­oli, pro­nounced musk-a-cho-lee where I come from). These types of recipes and the restau­rants that serve them have been abuzz in the food under­ground this year. My bud Rob Lopata dragged us around for a tour of old school Can­tonese egg rolls in his native north­west sub­urbs this fall and the con­cept took off in an expo­nen­tial way on LTH­Fo­rum. The ever intre­pid, Titus Rus­citti, has been archiv­ing the best deep fried tacos (and all other sorts of tacos at that) around the Mid­west on his blog, Chicago Taco Tour. While it might take some time for egg foo young, chimichangas, and lasagna to cap­ture the restau­rant world’s imag­i­na­tion, it seems like a log­i­cal exten­sion of the American/ comfort/ fast food trend of the past decade. You can’t deny that this food scratches a nos­tal­gic itch and is deeply sat­is­fy­ing in a rib-sticking, big calo­rie Amer­i­can eat­ing type of way. And screw the authen­tic­ity hang up, this is legit­i­mate cui­sine born of cul­tural cross pol­li­na­tion. Its big, bold, and, beau­ti­ful, blan­keted in bub­bling cheese.

6. Beef Noo­dle Soup

IMG_6017

I’m sick of ramen. Not just the hype, but the soup itself. Sure, it is an intri­cate art form, broths sim­mered at a tedious pace, noo­dles per­fectly cut into uni­form rib­bons. I like the stuff, but I get exhausted by its fatty broth and dou­bly heavy addi­tions of pork belly and egg. Pho, while not quite as dorked over, has a pretty cultish fol­low­ing too. I pre­fer its nuanced, lightly spice broth and super bright and fresh herbal gar­nishes to ramen, but the damned rice noo­dles get all soggy and seem to be a pretty low rent ingre­di­ent to begin with. Enter my new favorite one meal Asian noo­dle soup– Chi­nese beef noo­dle soup, or niu rou mian. Cre­ated by the Mus­lim Hui peo­ple in the Tang Dynasty, its mod­ern recipe was per­fected in Tai­wan where it remains the national dish. The basic for­mula is a deep beef broth sea­soned with spices such as star anise and gin­ger; ten­der braised cuts of beef, either shank or brisket; greens such as bok choy or spinach; and req­ui­sitely hand pulled wheat noo­dles. Some ver­sions are topped with piquant pick­led cab­bage and most ver­sions I’ve sam­pled are fin­ished with chile paste, com­mon to North­ern China. If you’re read­ing this from Chicago, a good rea­son why you’ve prob­a­bly never had (or enjoyed) this soup is because there isn’t a good ver­sion in the city proper. The short-lived Sing’s Noo­dles in Chi­na­town deliv­ered on the chewy, pulled fresh noo­dles, but fell short on a thin broth. You’ve gotta head west to the burbs to Katy’s Dumpling House– the orig­i­nal dingy store­front in West­mont is your best bet, but there’s another out­post in off-the-Green-line Oak Park. They are mas­ters at all things dough– sturdy noo­dles, chewy pan­cakes, and ten­sile dumpling skins. I can’t veer from the beef noo­dle soup, though, my favorite one meal soup in the met­ro­pol­i­tan area with its fra­grant and fiery broth, tart pickle, and sup­ple beef slices. I know there are supe­rior ver­sions– I’ve had bet­ter at a hole in the wall noodle-and-dumpling spot in Manhattan’s Lower East Side Chi­na­town called Super Taste. Recently I struck out mak­ing a pil­grim­age to a highly rec­om­mended bowl in sub­ur­ban Toronto, show­ing up on their closed Tues­day. We had an unre­mark­able, yet sat­is­fy­ing bowl next door at another shop. Until I get to Tai­wan or niu rou mian fever catches on, I’m enjoy­ing what­ever bowl I can get my hands on!

5. Ana­logue

Ana­logue is a spot that seems to be about three dudes doing them. Its not high con­cept, hell on paper the for­mula might seem incon­gru­ous: fancy cock­tails + New Orleans cui­sine + DJs. These guys kinda fear­lessly opened a place where they and their friends would like to hang every night. And that’s the imme­di­ate charm of Ana­logue, its low key. The room is, for sure, urban cool, but not overly designed, the space recedes into an ambi­ent chill. Friends from all walks of life feel comfy there– food­ies, artists, and indus­try folks alike. And you can always get out of there stuffed, with a buzz on for around $50 per per­son. But, okay okay, I’m not get­ting to my main point. The food here was some of the best things I ate all year and we have Chef Alfredo Nogu­iera to thank for this. I know Fredo through my good buddy Danny Z and we’ve devel­oped good rap­port over the years– I’d count him a kin­dred spirit in terms of ideas about good eat­ing. I’d always felt like a heel for not check­ing out Fredo’s pre­vi­ous spot at the sea­sonal bak­ery cum café, Flip­side that oper­ated in the win­ter months in a Hum­boldt Park Ital­ian Ice shack. I did not make the same mis­take with Ana­logue. At this point, I just have to have Fredo’s stuff if I let a month or two slide by. There’s no pre­tense to his cook­ing, its unre­strained, bold, and full of soul. I have loved every sin­gle bite I’ve eaten there: silky smoked white­fish dip served with Zesta saltines (did I men­tion unpre­ten­tious) with piquant house hot sauce; bis­cuits to beat the finest pas­try; lus­cious char­cu­terie; 2X crunchy chicken sand­wich; all-pigs-go-to-heaven cochon au lait po boy; ten­der smoky greens; juicy, juicy BBQ shrimp; the best fried chicken out­side my own kitchen (Tues­days only, get there early).

Hold up, hold my phone! I a’int done with the hyper­bole. One of my very favorite things I ate all year was Fredo’s gumbo, dark as delta mud, yet light on the lips. This shit is edu­ca­tional– turns out that the starches in flour break down as you toast them, so a roux the color of dark choco­late does not have the same thick­en­ing abil­i­ties as a light roux. I always likened the gumbo expe­ri­ence to eat­ing a big bowl of gravy. Well I don’t look at it like this no more and when I make gumbo at home now I go dark. Fredo’s roux gives the stuff a pleas­ant tobacco-like toasty depth. Built from the broth up, it starts with a very rich can­vas to which you might find sen­sa­tional pro­teins like duck and house made andouille sausage. Danny Z had been swear­ing to me for years that the potato salad Fredo scoops into his gumbo beats the more ortho­dox rice. He was right for a change, the creamy cool– but yes, bacon stud­ded– salad makes the per­fect foil to the deep savory soul of the bowl. My #1 favorite dish of the year is Fredo’s dirty rice, which I believe is described on the menu as “seri­ously filthy”. A’int no lie– chock full of the nasty chicken bit­sand ground pork, this stuff is funky, rich, and salty, Get some hot sauce up in there and we’re talk­ing cash money. I didn’t think my favorite restau­rant of the year would be a cock­tail bar in Logan Square, but the laid back cool and unapolo­getic stuntin in the kitchen at Ana­logue would fit right in New Orleans.

4. Virtue Cider

IMG_5745

I got hip to dry cider in Basque Coun­try a year ago and a whole world of fla­vor opened up to me. Con­ve­niently, there is a cider pro­ducer about 10 miles away from Ox-Bow, in pic­turesque Fen­nville, Michi­gan called Virtue, which opened up a few years ago by for­mer Goose Island head brewer, Greg Hall. This past year they opened up a tast­ing room at their farm and bot­tle shop. On a lark I stopped in on a rainy day off as I hap­pened to be dri­ving around the area. And so began the love affair. The place has a great vibe– the tap room is small, but cozy and the boys at the counter and their gre­gar­i­ous kitty, Pip­pin make great com­pany for an after­noon of imbib­ing. I love whiling away the after­noon on their pic­nic tables with unob­structed sun­shine and breezy views of the orchards as a back drop. With a cold, crisp pint of cider, this is my happy place.

I’ve tried all their vari­etals, at least the ones avail­able through the end of the sum­mer. Its sea­sonal stuff, obvi­ously dic­tated by the apple har­vest, so new vin­tages hit the shelves late fall. Sum­mer is quiet time for them as the fruit matures on the tree and the last year’s offer­ings alchem­i­cally mature in the bot­tle. They’re not all to my taste, I find the flag­ship Red Streak a bit one dimen­sional, the Basque style Sidra de Nava lands on the vine­gary end of kom­bucha, and their top sell­ing “The Mit­ten” is too sweet for me (though barely sweet com­pared to the crap I drank in col­lege, I’ve been trained well). First, I loved Cidre Nou­veau, which drinks like cham­pagne. This makes sense, since it is a French style and like Beau­jo­lais nou­veau, employs the youngest mature fruit early in the sea­son. I then grad­u­ated to Led­bury, which still might be my favorite– a medium Eng­lish style, which is a bit less dry with a rounded juici­ness and a pleas­ant light funk­i­ness from the wild yeast they use to fer­ment it. This cider is super apple-y as is my other fave, Lap­inette, a Nor­man style cider aged in oak bar­rels. This one is a bit on the assertive side with a pro­nounced unfil­tered funk. Virtue sources local apples, which is part of the huge appeal. The West­ern coast of Michi­gan is known as a fruit belt and one of the country’s top pro­duc­ers of tree fruit. It makes per­fect sense that this region should host the best cider mak­ing in the coun­try. Virtue ele­vates the best of the region by apply­ing hand crafted, old school tech­niques to the local bounty.

3. Asian Street Food Comes to Chicago

IMG_4824

A few years ago I wrote about the emerg­ing (and dubi­ously legal) Mex­i­can street food scene in the West Pilsen & Lit­tle Vil­lage neigh­bor­hoods. You can still find tacos de cabeza or huaraches hecho a mano if you poke around at the right times of day on the right street cor­ners, but these spots are (under­stand­ably) illu­sive. ~Insert rant about Chicago’s con­vo­luted, sys­tem­i­cally inac­ces­si­ble, and expen­sive rules and regs about street food licens­ing here~ The bat­tle for a legit­i­mate street food scene in Chicago, in my eyes, is lost. So it was with great sur­prise and delight that I started to dis­cover East Asian street foods in unex­pected places around town this year. I’ve been fol­low­ing the some­what mar­ginal, half empty food court in the Rich­land Cen­ter on the far east side of Chi­na­town for a few years now. The sprawl­ing menu at stal­wart, Snack Planet is pretty hit or miss, though reli­able for plastic-clam-shelled cold North­ern Chi­nese appe­tiz­ers. Fast for­ward to early 2014 and some very promis­ing devel­op­ments have been pop­ping up down there and with them, an invig­o­rated cus­tomer base. The first, and my favorite open­ing down there this year was Lao Pi, which I was tipped off to by a tweet of a pic of a trans­lated menu by the Trib’s Kevin Pang. They spe­cial­ize in skew­ers grilled-to-order over live char­coal, a Mus­lim North­ern Chi­nese tra­di­tion. Heavy on pro­teins, they offer lamb, beef short rib, chicken wings, whole pom­fret fish, and a smat­ter­ing of offal. Veg­gie friendly options include pizza-dough-like man­tou, tofu skin, and long mild chiles. It seems as though the sea­son­ing sprin­kled on the skew­ers is con­sis­tent for each type of skewer– an aggres­sively aro­matic mix of cumin, chile, and sesame. The lamb are my favorite and highly addic­tive, I find rea­son to pop down there for one or two when­ever I’m nearby. A recently opened stall right next door to them seems to be steal­ing much of their open­ing buzz with hand-rolled to order dumplings. In my one– off expe­ri­ence, the boiled dumplings were some­what bland, but com­fort­ingly satisfying.

So clearly, the indoor food mall con­cept fits within the city’s codes. I was tipped off in March about the “pork burg­ers” served at a food stall in the sim­i­larly named Rich­well Mar­ket. This place is owned and staffed by a very sweet woman who explained to me that there’s been a recent wave of North­ern Chi­nese busi­ness­men mov­ing to Chicago and that many of them are unmar­ried and look for food from back home that they can carry out or eat at a restau­rant. Con­sid­er­ing the recent open­ings of two Dong­bei restau­rants in Bridge­port, the Northern-leaning offer­ings at Rich­land, her stall, and the open­ing of Xi’an Cui­sine in Chi­na­town, this all makes sense. Her pork burger, a five spice-y shred­ded pulled-pork-like affair served in a split crunchy-on-the-outside flat­bread scat­tered with sesame seeds, very much resem­bles the burg­ers from the famed Xi’an Famous Foods in New York. She also offers cold to-go appe­tiz­ers such as my favorite, chile-oil dressed, pli­ant slices of pig ear, five spiced peanuts and tofu, cold noo­dles, all sorts of guts, and great big old joints, knuck­les, and trot­ters of red braised pork. While we’re talk­ing North­ern Chi­nese burg­ers, although the place is a proper brick and mor­tar sit down, Xi’an Cui­sine in Chi­na­town, with its lim­ited menu, offers many of these dishes at sim­i­larly rock bot­tom prices. Fan­tas­tic lamb and cumin flat­breads cost $3, cou­pled with a refresh­ingly tart salad-like dish of thinly sliced cel­ery and springy tofu skins for $2 makes my new favorite $5 lunch in the city.

A big­ger sur­prise was the appear­ance of an open air food stand in the park­ing lot of Joong Boo Mar­ket, which needs lit­tle intro­duc­tion to many as the city’s pre­mier Korean gro­cery store (which also has a small food stall in the back). This stand spe­cial­izes in one thing, wang man­doo– pillow-y, yeasty steamed dumplings not unlike Chi­nese pork buns. I have eaten prob­a­bly a dozen of these things by now, mak­ing spe­cial trips up the Kennedy (and sub­se­quently cook­ing a lot more Korean lunches at home these days). They offer three fill­ings– sweet black bean, pork, and kim­chi pork, the last of which I have not yet devi­ated from. So sat­is­fy­ingly pep­pery, tex­tural from cel­lo­phane noo­dles, and savory, this is my favorite, fill­ing break­fast in town for $2. Cheap food, on the go, just the way it should be.

2. Mid­west Melt­ing Pot

IMG_6129

I did not travel very far this year besides a few trips to visit friends and fam­ily. I filled in the gaps with a cou­ple of day and overnight trips to nearby cities with some of my buds. Clearly, Chicago has one of the best food scenes in the world. But as I get around the cities of the greater Mid­west, I am increas­ingly stoked to eat amaz­ingly across the board no mat­ter where I am. I mean, you can get a decent bowl of bun cha in tiny Hol­land Michi­gan at a pool hall attached to a gro­cer that sells durian and frozen giant water bugs. I know that dining-wise, fancy chefs are open­ing up spots in fly­overs across the coun­try, but you know me, I’m look­ing for the home­spun tra­di­tions and the cuisines of recently trans­planted cul­tures, the down home and the cheap. I’ve done Detroit a few times in the past few years. You’ve got the clas­sic, work­ing class chow of the Coney’s, slid­ers, and Mike’s ham place. Travel into the burbs to Dear­born and you’ll find the country’s largest Mid­dle East­ern pop­u­la­tion with the bak­eries and kebab shops to prove it. The lit­tle ham­let of Ham­tramck, nes­tled inside the city’s bor­ders is a patch­work of immi­grant pop­u­la­tions as dis­parate as Pol­ish and Bangladeshi.

Mil­wau­kee, just an hour and a half north up the lake has a killer food scene. Of course there’s the brats, tav­ern style thin crust piz­zas, and but­ter burg­ers, but also old school Jew­ish deli. Jake’s on North Divi­sion is almost sixty years old and has remained a stal­wart of the neigh­bor­hood offer­ing stacked hand cut corned beef sand­wiches to the shift­ing pop­u­la­tions of the neigh­bor­hood. Just up the street at another corned beef spot, House of Corned Beef you can taste the old world cohab­i­tat­ing with the new in a Jim Shoe sand­wich, over­flow­ing with hand cut corned beef, Ital­ian beef, and gyros. Did you know Mil­wau­kee has a South­east Asian Hmong pop­u­la­tion? There’s a gro­cery store called Phongsa­van to prove it where you can buy frozen beef bile, drag­on­fruit, black chick­ens, and locally pro­duced Hmong bacon. After shop­ping, take a load off at their food court and enjoy freshly pounded papaya salad in your choice of styles: Lao, Hmong, or Thai with a side of salty Hmong sausage. My favorite spot in the Mil­wau­kee area has got to be Ono Kine Grinz in Wauwatosa, which is proudly gay owned and serves the native Hawai­ian cui­sine of one of the own­ers. His mom does the cook­ing in the back of this very charm­ing (if not some­what clut­tered with tchotchkes) con­verted house turn­ing out soul and belly fill­ing plate lunches piled with kahlua pork, mango chicken, yes more corned beef, and poke with sides of mac­a­roni salad, pur­ple rice, and kimchi.

I had the plea­sure of join­ing Matt Zatkoff for a tour of his home­town of Indi­anapo­lis, which also, very sur­pris­ingly offered an incred­i­ble range of grub. There’s stuff you’d expect to find in the Mid­west, like south­ern style bar­be­cue at Hank’s Smoked Briskets, deli, you bet, at Shapiro’s, old school Ger­man at the Rathskeller. But there are also spots in out­ly­ing neigh­bor­hoods serv­ing more recent immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties like a Pak­istani owned gro­cery called Bom­bay Bazaar with an attached cater­ing busi­ness and like 3 greasy tables squeezed in amongst stacks of Bol­ly­wood DVDs in the back. Here we were treated to lus­cious goat biryani, siz­zling lamb chops, and deeply aro­matic spinach and goat curry. Matt’s buds recently dis­cov­ered a North­ern Thai spot mas­querad­ing as an aver­age Ameri-Thai restau­rant in a con­verted Siz­zler, where I sam­pled many new-to-me fla­vors like fer­mented chicken wings, stuffed bit­ter melon soup, and a coconut rice dessert sprin­kled with shaved, salty, dried shrimp. My favorite Mid­west bites this year were served to me from a take out win­dow in the park­ing lot behind a liquor store– the best jerk I’ve ever had at Jamaican Jerk. Around the pic­nic table, we didn’t talk much, grunt­ing our way with greasy hands through Sty­ro­foam trays of smoky, aggres­sively spicy jerk chicken and ribs served atop the best peas and rice and deep, deeply savory stewed oxtail or curry goat. On a sunny day with some Mavado test­ing the lim­its of a set of com­puter speak­ers, you’ll for­get you’re in Indi­ana. Next stop, St. Louis.

1. I See You Chicago

IMG_3482

White peo­ple like me gen­er­ally don’t ven­ture to the West­side or the South­side. Sure, we’re all used to tak­ing over Pilsen by now. But for real, giant, I mean giant swaths of the West and South sides of the city are inac­ces­si­ble to the imag­i­na­tions of those con­fined to the comfy con­ve­niences of their North­side neigh­bor­hoods. Over 90% of these neigh­bor­hoods are black. I’m not the best per­son to give you a his­tory les­son here, but a cen­tury ago real­tors set hor­ri­bly racist, restric­tive poli­cies to not rent or sell to black peo­ple in white neigh­bor­hoods, not to men­tion the straight up vio­lence met by blacks mov­ing into white neigh­bor­hoods. Then mid­cen­tury came strate­gi­cally placed, oppres­sive hous­ing projects. Over­pop­u­la­tion, unem­ploy­ment, poverty, race riots, “shoot to kill” orders, a vicious cycle ensued. Unfor­tu­nately these con­di­tions have not changed much, con­cen­trated poverty plus eco­nomic decline plus the sys­temic lock up of black men plus a steady sup­ply of guns plus plus plus has put Chicago back in the news the past few years with spik­ing mur­der rates.

These con­di­tions are abstract to most well off white folks.

I believe that by vis­it­ing these neigh­bor­hoods and actu­ally get­ting out of the car and look­ing peo­ple in the eye, this is the first step to under­stand­ing seg­re­ga­tion and where racism lies within yourself.

I found the ker­nel of racism in myself this year. I found myself in Austin, one of the most fabled bad neigh­bor­hoods on the West­side. I knew kids in high school that used to cop their heroin there. You can see the cor­ner boys, the junkies, the under­cover cops, they are there. I was there to try this jerk chicken taco that I’d heard my friends rave about. We pulled up on a fairly busy stretch of Cicero, the place was jump­ing. I was ner­vous to go in, my inner­most racist fears were quak­ing. I caught myself about to tell Jes­sica– who was wait­ing in the car while we were dou­ble parked– to lock the doors. But I refrained. There it was. The clas­sic “lock your doors, this is a bad neigh­bor­hood” hang up. The cus­tomers inside were really nice peo­ple. One guy advised me to order an extra shell, since the tacos were so over­stuffed with chicken. Another dude, rub­bing his hands in antic­i­pa­tion, exclaimed that I was in for a treat. Sure, as I ordered, I was too soft spo­ken and got hollered at by the counter lady about what I wanted on my taco and my wrist got slammed in the revolv­ing door of the bul­let proof glass as I picked up my order. But I sur­vived. But you know what? Fuck that, order­ing tacos is not even some­thing I should have to feel proud of sur­viv­ing. Sur­vival? Please. I ordered tacos. I had pleas­ant encoun­ters with other folks order­ing tacos. End of story.

I don’t care if you want to call my approach touris­tic. You are not going to see the world if you do not get out there. You are not going to first­hand con­front your sub­jec­tive judg­ments and prej­u­dices if you do not get face to face with real peo­ple. And I could go on and on about how the expe­ri­ence of food con­nects peo­ple cul­tur­ally, which I believe it does. This is sim­pler than that– its about see­ing, look­ing fel­low human beings in the eye.

Hit me up, I know where the good hand formed burger spot is in the South Shore; the real deal Belizean Gar­i­funa cui­sine in Mar­quette Park (and yes a Jim Shoe too); best jerk chicken in the city in Chatham; don’t even tell me you haven’t tried the apple frit­ter at Old Fash­ioned Donuts in Rose­land; real Chicago BBQ? gotta get to Greater Grand Cross­ing! You’ll eat well and see what Chicago really looks like. And you’ll meet some real nice peo­ple while you’re there.

Posted in Food Writing | 2 Comments

2014 in Food in Pictures

The right way to start a year

The only way to start a year

Jessica's ancestral ice cream spot in Ogden, UT

Jessica’s ances­tral ice cream spot in Ogden, UT

Sublime jackfruit salad at Spicy Lao Thai, Burbank, IL. SWSIDE

Sub­lime bam­boo shoot salad at Spicy Lao Thai, Bur­bank, IL. SWSIDE

Looks cute, tho I hear those are Sysco patties + too much goop. Au Cheval

Looks cute, tho I hear those are Sysco pat­ties + too much goop. Au Cheval

Indian potluck throwdown

Indian potluck throwdown

Florida flea market snaxx

Florida flea mar­ket snaxx

Stone crab claws, Cortez, FL

Stone crab claws, Cortez, FL

Mullett off the smoker, Cortez, FL Mullet Festival

Mul­let off the smoker, Cortez, FL Mul­let Festival

"Cortez Hotdog" Cortez, FL Mullet Festival

Cortez Hot­dog” Cortez, FL Mul­let Festival

IMG_4588

Baby’s first Mother-in-law

Baby's first Jim Shoe

Baby’s first Jim Shoe

Hot mix for beefs at Zach & Julia's rehearsal dinner party

Hot mix for beefs at Zach & Julia’s rehearsal din­ner party

My dogs on Bon Appetit's Insta! Thanks Julia!

My dogs on Bon Appetit’s Insta! Thanks Julia!

OG Hot Brown, Brown Hotel, Louisville

OG Hot Brown, Brown Hotel, Louisville

LNS

l.n.s.

Don't like donuts, but this shot worked out. Old Fashioned Donuts

Don’t like donuts, but this shot worked out. Old Fash­ioned Donuts

Uncle Joe's, Chatham

Uncle Joe’s, Chatham

IMG_4778

Sze Chuan Cuisine, hate to say this, but this is NOT OKAY

Sze Chuan Cui­sine, hate to say this, but this is NOT OKAY

One of the things I ate more than most, Kimchi wang mandoo @ Joong Boo

One of the things I ate more than most this year, Kim­chi wang man­doo @ Joong Boo

Lothson's, Dekalb

Lothson’s, Dekalb

Louisa's Pizza, Crestwood

Louisa’s Pizza, Crestwood

Viet feast at New Asia Cuisine, Albany Park

Viet feast at New Asia Cui­sine, Albany Park

Yummy pig ear from Richwell Market food stall

Pig ear from Rich­well Mar­ket food stall

Lamb brain, thanks @nookleptia!

Lamb brain, thanks @nookleptia!

Drank a lot of these. #micheladas

Drank a lot of these. #micheladas

Eckhart Park

Eck­hart Park

Baby's first octopi

Baby’s first octopi

Sujuk, Upper East Side, NYC

Sujuk, Upper East Side, NYC

#ternerderber

Prep list #ternerderber

Many tape labels

Many tape labels

Placemat menu, Grand Haven, MI

Place­mat menu, Grand Haven, MI

My Cohcinita pibil, Ox-Bow #mexicannight

My Cohcinita pibil, Ox-Bow #mexicannight

Happy place, Virtue Cider

Happy place, Virtue Cider

Best helper in the world

Best helper in the world

Lol

Lol

Dick's hive

Dick’s hive

IMG_5636

John Rossi’s 20th Anniver­sary Party

IMG_5562IMG_5620

Introducing camp to Italian Beef, they were absolute savages

Intro­duc­ing camp to Ital­ian Beef, they were absolute savages

Kimchi deuce

Kim­chi deuce

Big ol' Coral tooth mushroom, Saugatuck State Park

Big ol’ Coral tooth mush­room, Saugatuck State Park

#mac

#mac

Brisket, upping my BBQ game

Brisket, upping my BBQ game

Samson loves Vienna Beef

Sam­son loves Vienna Beef

Kenosha, WI drive in

Kenosha, WI drive in

Best burger of the year at the Spot, Kenosha, WI

Best burger of the year at the Spot, Kenosha, WI

Tacos de pescadilla, Bien Trucha, Geneva, IL

Tacos de pescadilla, Bien Trucha, Geneva, IL

#caprese

#cap­rese

Grass carp smoking at Art EXPO, Michael Rakowitz' "Every Weapon Is A Tool  If You Hold It Right"

Grass carp smok­ing at Art EXPO, Michael Rakowitz’ “Every Weapon Is A Tool
If You Hold It Right”

Bonkers advertising at Super Sub, Marquette Park

Bonkers adver­tis­ing at Super Sub, Mar­quette Park

Oh Matt, "Al Trunko" tour for Trunk Show

Oh Matt, “Al Trunko” tour for Trunk Show

Favorite queer Hawaiian joint in Milwaekee!

Favorite queer Hawai­ian joint in Milwaukee!

#rocklobster

#rock­lob­ster

Cilantro drying room @ Birrieria Zaragoza

Cilantro dry­ing room @ Bir­ri­eria Zaragoza

Spinzer Halal on Devon. Get the hunter beef sandwich!

Spinzer Halal on Devon. Get the Hunter beef sandwich!

The rigs at Jamaican Jerk, Indianapolis

The rigs at Jamaican Jerk, Indianapolis

Conch at Joong Boo

Conch at Joong Boo

Bulgogi cheesesteak, Café Orient 33, Albany Park

Bul­gogi cheeses­teak, Café Ori­ent 33, Albany Park

Happy 1st Birthday Birthday Nadia #haring

Happy 1st Birth­day Birth­day Nadia! #haring

Tarama, cod roe

Tarama, carp roe

Fish balls, Super H-Mart

Fish balls, Super H-Mart

#pulpo

#pulpo

La Quercia Acorn-fed Berkshire Prosciutto

La Quer­cia Acorn-fed Berk­shire Prosciutto

Missing Basque country, pinxtos at home

Miss­ing Basque coun­try, pinx­tos at home

Best meal of the year! #pakistanichristmas Nihari @ Bar BQ Tonite, Mississauga, Ontario

Best meal of the year! #pak­istanichrist­mas Nihari @ Bar BQ Tonite, Mis­sis­sauga, Ontario

Best meal of the year! #pakistanichristmas Reshmi & Bihari kababs @ Bar BQ Tonite, Mississauga, Ontario

Best meal of the year! #pak­istanichrist­mas Reshmi & Bihari kababs @ Bar BQ Tonite, Mis­sis­sauga, Ontario

For those that fol­low me on Insta­gram, many of these pics will look famil­iar. I do love IG. How­ever, its really chang­ing the way I shoot food, for bet­ter or worse. Pri­mar­ily, the issue is com­po­si­tion, the square for­mat. Typ­i­cally, I shoot with my iPhone’s cam­era and then edit in IG, which results in a slop­pier approach to fram­ing the orig­i­nal shot. Then of course there is the shrunken-down expe­ri­ence of view­ing images on one’s phone– its not the best for­mat to cap­ture detail. One solu­tion is a cue I’ve taken from the IG feeds of food mag­a­zines such as Bon Appetit and Saveur, which is to take over­head shots which rather than focus­ing on the gooey, sexy details of food, reduce the images into emblems or sym­bols. I like that, though with­out a tri­pod, its a tricky van­tage to shoot clean, sharp images. They might look okay on one’s phone, but even on a blog post, the images can get blurry. And lastly, there is this grow­ing stigma that food shots, like baby and pet pho­tos, are basic and passé. This has led me to shoot more of the con­text, scenery, etc. of what and where I am eat­ing rather than the food itself. I like this chal­lenge, though actual pho­tos of food always get the most likes. Insta­gram may or may not be killing food porn, but is has def­i­nitely changed the game.

Posted in Food shots | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Eric & Mike’s Christmas Carp Migration

CCM0

There’s noth­ing more whole­some than a fish”

Eric & Mike are out here to reassess how we look an invader in the eye, find a com­pro­mise, and recu­per­ate their bad name. That name is carp and Mike’s peo­ple grilled it up on the shores of the Tigris River and my peo­ple fried it up for a Christ­mas feast. But this is Amer­ica, and for one thing we don’t eat bot­tom feed­ers, nor do we ~often enough~ revere our own cul­tural tra­di­tions. Hold up, let’s cor­rect that. For our Christ­mas Carp Migra­tion we spun a loose culi­nary nar­ra­tive that cel­e­brated the move­ment of the lowly carp, both geo­graphic and cultural.

There are at least a half a dozen species of carp that are har­vested, cul­ti­vated, and cooked from Dong­bei to Vienna. And those species have been shuf­fled around– intro­duced, by us, as food and as aquatic jan­i­tors only to be scorned as an alien pest. The com­mon carp– which we got our hands on for this meal– is ances­tor of the gold­fish and inva­sive in this coun­try since 1831. It is native to water­ways tra­vers­ing all of Eura­sia, but con­ve­niently for our nar­ra­tive, first popped up in human his­tory in the Danube, the heart of Christ­mas carp coun­try. But you know what, fried fish has its place and all, but let’s look the sucker in the eye before we eat it and infuse deep aro­mat­ics like they would in Guangzhou. So we stuffed our piscine friends with scal­lions and coins of gin­ger that we tucked into slits in its torso. Michael astutely pointed out that these rhi­zomatic coins mimic the real thing hid­den in Pol­ish Christ­mas carp scales. Good luck, indeed, and for­tu­nately in our new tra­di­tion there were enough coins for everyone.

Through­out this meal, we hop­scotch­ing through a culi­nar­ily poly­glot patch­work of cul­tural tra­di­tions. For an appe­tizer we took a cue from the Greek play­book, the culi­nary gate­keep­ers of the Mediter­ranean. That creamy tart fish dip tara­masalata, it turns out, is made with carp roe! The grand Pol­ish tra­di­tion of the 12 course carp din­ner lent us piero­gies and mush­room soup made with for­aged mush­rooms and fin­ished with sour cream and dill. Michael worked his alchem­i­cal magic on an Iraqi rice dish stud­ded with pine nuts, almonds, and raisins which was the per­fect foil to a com­fort­ing Armen­ian dish of chick peas and greens that rep­re­sented a Christ­mas tra­di­tion from the Mid­dle East. Finally, our own two cul­tures met serendip­i­tously for dessert, which in a stroke of carp-inspired luck was a per­fect pair­ing of spicy, cit­ron infused, choco­late– dipped Ger­man liebekuchen co-habitating with kay­mak clot­ted cream driz­zled in Michael’s fabled Iraqi date syrup served on repli­cas of Sad­dam Hussein’s per­sonal china.

عيد ميلاد مجيد
Sliced hen and chicken of the woods mushrooms for soup. Foraged by myself and my dad, respectively in the fall.

Sliced hen and chicken of the woods mush­rooms for soup. For­aged by myself and my dad, respec­tively in the fall.

Handmade sauerkraut & mushroom pierogies

Hand­made sauer­kraut & mush­room pierogies

Taramasalata

Tara­masalata

Nevik- an Armenian Christmas dish of greens and garbanzo beans

Nevik– an Armen­ian Christ­mas dish of greens and gar­banzo beans

Our babies, about to go into the steamer

Our babies, about to go into the steamer

Jessica's festive-as-always table design

Jessica’s festive-as-always table design

The main event

The main event

Good looking plate

Good look­ing plate

Ger­many meets Iraq

Iraqi date syrup

Iraqi date syrup

Aftermath

After­math

Posted in Edible Invasives, Piranha Club | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

12/12: Piranha Club X Enemy Kitchen present: Eric & Mike’s Christmas Carp Migration

EMCCMweb

Fri­day, Decem­ber 12th, 7PM

1034 N Mil­wau­kee Ave.

Through­out Cen­tral & East­ern Europe, carp is king of the Christ­mas din­ner table, whether sauteed with a dark beer in Berlin, fried crisp and served with potato salad in Prague, or pre­sented as the cen­ter piece of a 12 course, meat­less spread in War­saw. In old school Pol­ish homes you might even find said main course swim­ming about in the bath­tub until its call to duty. A lucky diner will find a coin tucked under­neath the whole fishes’ scales. From Japan to Ger­many, the carp is a sym­bol of good luck and the per­fect offer­ing to cel­e­brate the end­ing of the year and look ahead to good tid­ings for the next.

Carp has been cel­e­brated both for its for­tu­itous rep­u­ta­tion and its sweet white flesh for mil­len­nia, fished from native waters such as the Danube and Amur River. As cul­tures have spread, as they inevitably do, breeds such as the grass carp and the big­head have been intro­duced and cul­ti­vated in other great water­ways such as the Tigris and the Mis­sis­sippi. And this is where the carp’s recent his­tory enters the Amer­i­can imag­i­na­tion– with a rep­u­ta­tion as an alien invader. Even before it was sin­is­terly dubbed “inva­sive”, it has long been dis­dained as a bot­tom feeder, a garbage fish. Chefs Eric & Mike will chal­lenge this dubi­ous Amer­i­can food pho­bia and will call on the great carp eat­ing tra­di­tions of the old world dur­ing this cel­e­bra­tory time of year. The carp migrated here long ago and now its time for its rich cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance to follow.

SOLD OUT

Din­ner includes a fes­tive buf­fet of veg­e­tar­ian or pescatar­ian offer­ings + wine and beer.
24 seats available.
Posted in Edible Invasives, Piranha Club | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#beefs

SCUZZYwebjimshoowebcomprendewebN_____webHoCBwebblackpeopleweb

Posted in #lolfoodies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Piranhas Do The Sopranos

The good lady

The good lady

Red sauce fantasies

Red sauce fantasies

Sunday gravy, hour 2/4

Sun­day gravy, hour 2/4

Gabagool!

Gaba­gool!

Brajol

Bra­jol

Schcarole

Schca­role

Da ziti

Da ziti

Coupla wiseguys

Cou­pla wiseguys

PS9

Shfooyadell, courtesy D'Amatos Italian Bakery

Shfooy­adell, cour­tesy D’Amatos Ital­ian Bakery

Posted in Piranha Club | Tagged , | Leave a comment

10/26: The Piranhas Do The Sopranos

thepiranhasweb

Sun­day Octo­ber 26th, 6PM
at Roots & Cul­ture 1034 N Mil­wau­kee Ave.

From 5th Cen­tury Rome to late 90’s New Jer­sey, the Pira­nhas have been on a bit of Ital­ian kick in 2014. With the recent announce­ment that Tony Soprano is still alive, we’d argue that this leg­endary show has never left our col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion. And how could you not crave the manigot, riga­tone, or any one of the ubiq­ui­tous cheese smoth­ered Ital­ian Amer­i­can casseroles that seem to be paraded around in just about every other scene. Join us on Octo­ber 26th to tuck into Carmella’s baked ziti and Artie Bucco’s bra­jol for a Soprano’s Sun­day dinner!

$30 fam­ily style din­ner with wine and dessert.

Buy tick­ets HERE
Posted in Piranha Club | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I Dine Al Trunko: Eric May for Trunk Show

ALTRUNKO1web

Al Trunko was a hoot! I’d like to thank every­body that joined us on a beau­ti­ful Indian Summer’s after­noon and braved the gas­tro­nom­i­cal odd­i­ties that I curated for our tour. Big thanks to Trunk Show, Raven and Jesse for cre­at­ing this oppor­tu­nity, its a won­der­ful project that lit­er­ally takes the art to the streets, how could I not be thrilled and flat­tered to par­tic­i­pate! Mostly I was just stoked to show off the south­west side of Chicago, which was unchar­tered ter­ri­tory for many of the guests. Not only did we sam­ple the native culi­naria, but the culture/ history/ architecture/ sig­nage of this part of the city offered a lot more to chew on.

AT1

The house card­board sound system!

AT2

Al Trunko sur­vival kit

AT3AT4

AT5

Mighty dog” a mother in law + a dog + cheese sauce

AT6 AT7 AT8 AT9 AT10 AT11 AT12 AT13

AT14

Jim Show totem pole, from top: crispy Jim Shoe, two large Jim Shoes, Jim Shoe Super Taco

AT15

Crispy Jim Shoe

AT16

Posted in Projects 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dionysiac Rising

“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: the artis­tic power of the whole of nature reveals itself to the supreme grat­i­fi­ca­tion of the pri­mal One­ness amidst the parox­ysms of intoxication”

I left my mak­ing com­fort zone a lit­tle bit this sum­mer. For the past two years, for Shan­non Stratton’s “Party as Form” class, I’ve been invited to lec­ture about the Fri­day night cos­tume par­ties at Ox-Bow and I’ve taken the oppor­tu­nity to unpack my his­tory with par­ty­ing (rav­ing, cos­tum­ing, gen­eral rag­ing) in these talks. I’ve felt that as an artist work­ing with social strate­gies that par­ty­ing is one of the most inclu­sive, par­tic­i­pa­tory acts of social inter­ac­tion and could be a per­fect form for this type of work. Also, I feel that plea­sure is cen­tral to my work and what is more plea­sur­able than par­ty­ing? As boy Niet­zsche so suc­cinctly puts it above, par­ty­ing is a self­less, col­lec­tive activ­ity. So par­ty­ing might have a hard time jiv­ing with the authorship-obsessed endeavor that is art mak­ing. Social prac­ti­tion­ers might be too hung up on try­ing to prove that their work is pro­duc­tive and func­tional and mak­ing an argu­ment, when maybe, the form of socia­bil­ity is organic and messy and based in desire. Dionysian rather than Apollinarian.

So I made a shrine to my own party world, which you could say is a rather insu­lar exer­cise. Though Ox-Bow, as a tiny com­mu­nity, has the inher­ent nature of being inclu­sive and col­lec­tive. And much of the pop­u­la­tion enjoys the Fri­day night par­ties, so I felt like I had a cap­tive, party lit­er­ate audi­ence that would rec­og­nize my sig­ni­fiers. I wanted to make a rit­u­al­ized space for peo­ple to party in, a shrine to the Dionysiac at Ox-Bow. I started to see ele­ments of cos­tumes as objects embed­ded with activ­ity, a liv­ing record of their very active his­tory. This piece (doc­u­mented here in video) is a jump­ing off spot, an inves­ti­ga­tion into shared expe­ri­ence, fetishized activ­ity, an attempt to find party as form.

Posted in Projects 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I’m a Raver Baby, So Why Don’t Ya Kill Me

20 years ago today I went to my first rave, the flyer for that party + fly­ers for (nearly all) of the par­ties I ever went to are below:

eRave1 eRave2 eRave3 eRave4 eRave5 eRave6 eRave7 eRave8 eRave9 eRave10 eRave11 eRave12 eRave14 eRave15 eRave16 eRave18

We’d been col­lect­ing these trippy dig­i­tally designed fly­ers at our favorite record shops. With proper con­di­tions– driver’s licenses and the per­fect alibi of sleep­ing over at each other’s houses on Sat­ur­day nights before our 9 am Early Col­lege Pro­gram ceram­ics class at the School of the Art Insti­tute– we were able to make this a real­ity. We called the hot­line on the back of the flyer, which I believe led us to Wax Trax on Damen to buy tick­ets and get the address for a sec­ond check­point where we’d pick up a map to the actual loca­tion of the party. I can­not tell you where this party was– (though a post on this mes­sage board recounts it being a sub­ur­ban loca­tion and that it got busted, nei­ther details I recall) we pulled up on a des­o­lated stretch of an indus­trial cor­ri­dor and were hur­riedly waved down a dark alley by a shad­owy fig­ure, the tell­tale thump, thump, thump sig­nal­ing to us that we were headed on the right course and not about to get jumped.

Once inside the ware­house, there was some famil­iar ambiance from our already-growing-up-too-fast-in-the-suburbs lifestyle– nitrous oxide tanks hiss­ing, inflat­ing giant punchy bal­loons and Lawn­mower Man being pro­jected onto a white sheet. The deeper we pen­e­trated the thick crowd, things got con­sid­er­ably more exotic– club kids in three foot tall plat­form shoes, naked flesh, chill out rooms drip­ping with sex and out-in-the-open drug use. The main dance floor was a wall to wall throb of too loud bass and jack­ing bod­ies. This was an urban crowd and there were all kinds of peo­ple los­ing them­selves in the orgias­tic rhythm. I remem­ber not being intim­i­dated, not like my first indus­trial con­cert a few years before, but feel­ing exhil­a­rated and a lit­tle bit jit­tery. This was a safe space to get freaky. We let our­selves go and joined the pul­sat­ing hive.

Unfor­tu­nately, the sub­se­quent 20 or so raves we attended were not quite as idyl­lic. At our sec­ond party, who did we run into within a half hour of step­ping foot into the ware­house, but the same ass­holes who were push­ing us down the stairs at school a few years ear­lier. The same kids that were cop­ping our Min­istry and Red Hot Chili Pep­per t-shirts, co-opting all of the sub­cul­tural expres­sions that we had to work so hard to dis­cover and estab­lish our­selves as dif­fer­ent from them and proud of it. Those were the times– Loll­palooza, alter­na­tive rock radio, recre­ational drugs– it was cool to be weird. At least we really were weird, and onto cool stuff a year or two before those jocks. There was a sea change in the rave scene. We’d been the first wave of sub­ur­ban kids gen­tri­fy­ing a vital urban cul­ture and it just kept going that way come 1995. The par­ties even moved to the sub­urbs, I remem­ber one in a park­ing lot of a truck­ing com­pany like a mile from my high school. I’m stoked we got to see a party like Lady­bug– to have a taste of the hal­cyon era of the early 90s that seemed to be the nat­ural pro­gres­sion of the utopia of House. Sure there were other good nights– the right con­coc­tion of a good buzz, cute looks, and com­mu­nal vibes focused on the dance. But for the most part, when these par­ties weren’t get­ting shut down by the cops, they looked like open air drug mar­kets with zomb­i­fied sub­ur­ban kids, dress­ing the part with the over­sized polos and visors, becom­ing prey to dope ped­dlers (per­haps con­nected with the pro­mot­ers) who scammed their parent’s cash in exchange for god-knows-what (the ecstasy was also very expen­sive, we could never afford designer drugs after shelling out $20– $25 at the door. My only cash flow at the time was sell­ing Fimo beads at school). This was not PLUR, kids.

But I’m glad I was there. I took pride in pulling together out­ra­geous out­fits– the over­sized plas­tic wal­let chains, GIANT pants, tiny tops repur­posed from stuffed ani­mals, all sorts of home made jew­elry. Inclu­siv­ity and indi­vid­u­al­ity were high pri­or­ity val­ues for me through­out my teens and early twen­ties and I con­stantly desired sup­port­ive scenes. These ideals were cer­tainly a major appeal of Ox-Bow for me. There’s some­thing prag­matic about the utopia of the rave– for one night, no mat­ter who you were, you could dress up, get high, and dance and every­one around you was a part of this whole. In the morn­ing, you’d drive home, go to bed, wake up and go back to work or school. The one nighter.

And of course, the music. After many years of liv­ing in the city, I’ve come to savor the imper­sonal, some­times harsh qual­ity of elec­tronic music, it reflects the land­scape. Herein lies the other dystopic/utopic flip of rave– an embrace of the urban sit­u­a­tion. Redi­rect­ing the iso­lat­ing hos­til­ity of city life and mak­ing a party of it.

Back then it was nearly impos­si­ble to fig­ure out what we were danc­ing to. I was too shy to approach the DJ booth (and back then in the white label era, DJs guarded their tracks) so mix­tapes were the only access to tak­ing the jams home. In my two years rav­ing, the music changed a lot as well. At Lady­bug and my other favorite par­ties, the DJs were play­ing hard, min­i­mal house sounds and some­times nudg­ing into faster Euro­pean techno. If you look at the fly­ers and know these DJ names, it will make sense as you scroll, I pre­ferred the Chicago vets like Der­rick Carter and Mys­tic Bill. Terry Mullen and Hyper­ac­tive were the two we fol­lowed most closely and they were very pro­lific at the time. I col­lected all of the Hyper­ac­tive mixes, which were a mix of old school Chicago acid house and more con­tem­po­rary hard­core. By 95 every­thing was get­ting faster and harder and there were more and more Euro­pean DJs fly­ing in from the Dutch, Bel­gian, and Ger­man hard­core scenes. And then jun­gle hap­pened which seemed to divide the scene fur­ther by 96. I like a lot these styles, but the old school Chicago will always be close to my heart. I could lis­ten to Acid Tracks every­day and it would sound dif­fer­ent every time– cold and alien, yet seduc­tively organic. We are Phuture you can’t defeat us.

Seem­ingly a life­long quest, I am still hunt­ing down the uniden­ti­fied ear worms that are fos­silized deep in my mem­ory banks. I started DJing about 10 years ago and have col­lected a lot of old school Chicago stuff by dig­ging through every­thing I can find on labels like Trax, Dance­ma­nia, and Relief/ Cajual. Also, for­tu­nately, on web­sites like ravearchive.com you can down­load many of these clas­sic mix tapes and with the handy tech­nol­ogy of Shazam, I’ve been able to track down a bunch of the clas­sic dance floor bangers of the era. Here’s a list of my favorite rave jams:

Phuture– Acid Tracks

And of course the flyer art. If you scroll up and down this blog, you will see the last­ing impres­sion bad old dig­i­tal design will always have on my work.

Posted in Jams | Tagged , | Leave a comment