Piranha Club: Apicius


Get­tin on my grind

Legs of goat

Legs of goat

Really getting a rise (photo ℅ Matt Zatkoff)

Really get­ting a rise (photo ℅ Matt Zatkoff)

Cool crew

Cool crew (photo ℅ Teresa Becvar)

Salted FIsh Ball with Wine Sauce

1st Course: Salted Fish Ball with Wine Sauce

2nd Course: Asparagus Custard

2nd Course: Aspara­gus Custard

3rd Course: A Tempting Dish of Peas

3rd Course: A Tempt­ing Dish of Peas (photo ℅ Teresa Becvar)

4th Course: A Dainty Dish of Kid

4th Course: A Dainty Dish of Kid (photo ℅ Teresa Becvar)

The Pea Brain

The Pea Brain (photo ℅ Teresa Becvar)

5th Course: Cottage Cheese & Honey

5th Course: Cot­tage Cheese & Honey (photo ℅ Teresa Becvar)

Had a blast pulling together this Api­cius menu with Matt Zatkoff. With such vague recipes (mainly lists of ingre­di­ents in this ancient tome), there was a lot of room for inter­pre­ta­tion. For­tu­nately, I do think we cap­tured the essence of this 1600+ year old cook­ery, I was told that the food “tasted of its his­tory, def­i­nitely not famil­iar, mod­ern fla­vors”. Enthu­si­as­ti­cally, we con­verted non-offal eaters and shared first goat eat­ing expe­ri­ences. I should give spe­cial shout-outs to our select set of sup­pli­ers for off-the-beaten path pro­teins: big thanks to Chris Turner & the Butcher & Larder for the lamb brains and C & C Meats down on Archer & 33rd for the lovely local goat. There were fla­vors that sur­prised us too, for instance the cuisine’s heavy reliance on East­ern spices (reflect­ing the Byzan­tine prove­nance of the cook­book). Matt was deter­mined to sneak cumin in his dessert, which paired won­der­fully with the cheese & honey (he even snuck some garum, aka Roman fish sauce, in there as well). We used tons of cumin and cilantro, but not one clove of gar­lic. For­tu­nately we had laser, aka asafetida, to add its sul­fu­ric pungency.

"Chefs" always trying to look tough.

Chefs” always try­ing to look tough. (photo ℅ Mark Siegal)

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4/12: Piranha Club: Apicius


April XII, 7PM

@ Roots & Cul­ture 1034 N Mil­wau­kee Ave.

The Piranha Club cooks from Apicius

Api­cius is a col­lec­tion of Roman cook­ery recipes, usu­ally thought to have been com­piled in the late 4th or early 5th cen­tury AD. Though impos­si­ble to prove a con­nec­tion, the book is attrib­uted to fabled Roman gour­mand, Mar­cus Gav­ius Api­cius. While the cook­book is meant for home cook­ery, it reflects a lav­ish, upper class diet of the era with an empha­sis on rich meats and exotic spices. The Piranha Club will team up with Matt Zatkoff (Brew­ery Zatkoff) on April 12th to inter­pret five recipes from this enig­matic tome.


Salt Fish Balls in Wine Sauce

Aspara­gus Custard

A Tempt­ing Dish of Peas

Dainty Dish of Kid

Cheese and Honey



Wine included.
Veg­e­tar­i­ans wel­come.
Limit 30 seats.

“Api­cius the Writer Most of the Api­cian direc­tions are vague, hastily jot­ted down, care­lessly edited. One of the chief rea­sons for the eter­nal mis­un­der­stand­ings! Often the author fails to state the quan­ti­ties to be used. He has a mania for giv­ing undue promi­nence to expen­sive spices and other (quite often irrel­e­vant) ingre­di­ents. Plainly, Api­cius was no writer, no edi­tor. He was a cook. He took it for granted that spices be used within the bounds of rea­son, but he could not afford to for­get them in his formulæ.”

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Piranha Club: 2 Chainz #MEALtime

On March 1st, 2014, the Piranha Club served a din­ner of recipes from 2 Chainz’s .pdf cook­book #MEALtime

#JLab killed it on the table design

#JLab killed it on the table design

#JODI came into town and killed it on the dishes

#JODI came into town and killed it on the dishes

I'm be fresh as hell if the #fedswatch

I’m be fresh as hell if the #fedswatch. #Lando killed it on the #VersaceAprons.

There were smoky greens #duh

There were smoky greens #duh

Crab cakes with mango salsa and #metime sauce

Crab cakes with mango salsa and #metime sauce

#Skrimp scampi on linguine, #smokygreens

#Skrimp scampi on lin­guine, #smokygreens



#LindsayCashews came to town, she won the #VersaceApron in the raffle and lost out on #danspits

#Lind­say­Cashews came to town, she won the #Ver­saceApron in the raf­fle and lost out on #Danspits

#PlayasCircle, our other winner, Matt #laikom Zatkoff

#Playas­Cir­cle: #JODI, #Cashews + our other win­ner, Matt #laikom Zatkoff

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3/1: Piranha Club on 2 CHAINZ #MEALTIME



March 1st, 7 PM

@ Roots & Cul­ture 1034 N Mil­wau­kee Ave.

The Piranha Club cooks recipes from 2 Chainz’ #MEALTIME cookbook.

Spe­cial guest chef: #JODI Highroller


Crab cakes with Mango Salsa & “Me Time” Sauce

Smoky Kale Greens

Shrimp Scampi w/ Linguine

Plenty of Bub



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No Thought For Food: The Installation


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No Thought For Food: The Reviews

For our “No Thought For Food” project, Alberto Aguilar and I set out to review every menu item on Food For Thought’s menu at their School of the Art Insti­tute Sharp Build­ing food ser­vice facil­ity. I’d say we got through a good 3/4 of the menu. These are the results of our taste test­ing, tran­scribed from record­ing. The objec­tive was to taste each item and write an imme­di­ate reac­tion in as few words as pos­si­ble. At the end of each ses­sion, we would com­bine our reviews into 2–4 word phrases, which are used here to describe each menu item. Bon appetit….

Day 1: 12/5/13

A: Here we go.

E: Right now I’m cut­ting in half the black and blue chicken…This is the sweet potato tem­pura sandwich…some of these have some pretty good ingre­di­ents. I saw a list that says that they source from local farms.

A: Oh yeah?

E: Yea…Some of which I rec­og­nized some of which I didn’t… You know, it was pretty cheap I spent like 23 bucks. How bout you?

A: Mine was even cheaper– it was like $16, but I got a dis­count on the curry sandwich

E: Why is that?

A: Cause they didn’t have the crispy potato crisps that are sup­posed to go on the sandwich.

E: Yeah, they changed the bread on the sweet potato sand­wich. It was sup­posed to be on a baguette this looks like a…I don’t know a cia­batta maybe… Kids are look­ing at us, talk­ing about us.

A: That’s good

E: What do you want to start with? How bout a fry?

A: Fry? Yeah what ever you want. It not usu­ally my…

E: You don’t like fries?

A: It’s not that I don’t like them. I just don’t nor­mally eat them…but…well…I’ll try two just to make sure.

E: Pizza?

A: You want to start with the junk food?

E: You don’t?

A: No cause then I’m just gonna destroy my mouth…I’m very curi­ous about this curry thing…

“Hol­low MSG(sorry no pic)

E: I thought they (the fries) tasted like arti­fi­cial fla­vor­ings. Like that fake sea­soned fry stuff…I hate that. It’s totally out of a frozen bag.

A: Yeah they were kind of hol­low, I think that when they are hol­low like that, its that they were frozen.

E: Yeah it is for sure.

A: We maybe wrong. What if we write this and we find out that these are super fresh fries.

E: No they’re not. I know they’re not. It’s nice they have the skin on, but they’re def­i­nitely a frozen prod­uct and they made me really thirsty. I would not order these. This is junk food. But I mean back at Sonny’s I used to order his waf­fle fries and they were maybe a lit­tle bet­ter. But they were still frozen junk food. So I think the fact that I don’t want to eat this any­more has to do with me being a grown up but I can see being like 19 or 20 and broke and this being the cheap­est thing on the menu.

A: Why how much was it?

E: I don’t remem­ber, a dol­lar fifty or something.

A: I took the first bite and I thought it was hol­low but I thought maybe it was just because it was an end fry, a smaller fry but then the sec­ond one was just as hollow…so if you don’t mind I’m gonna put these aside.

FFE“Fresh Faux Exotic”

E: Let’s try the sweet potato tem­pura sandwich…let’s eat the warm sand­wiches first so we get the bet­ter effect. Are yours warm?

A: They’re all warm.

E: Oh ok…. Let’s try this one…I’m just gonna take a bite. If I like it I’ll take it home for Jessica.

A: It’s hard to come up with a word for this one.

E: It is.

A: What is it?

E: This is a sweet potato tem­pura sand­wich. I think its got pea shoots, and wasabi…this is just from what I can taste, and pick­led carrots.

E: I’m gonna have another bite… This one isn’t so bad. What do you think?

A: Yeah, yeah it wasn’t too bad. It actu­ally seemed a lit­tle exotic.

E: Yeah. I mean you get a lot of wasabi right away.

A: Yeah and that’s an easy way to make some­thing taste exotic…and then it seemed to have nice, not herbs, but lettuces.

E: I think it’s a pea shoot and I’m kind of impressed that they would stock that cause the thing about these big busi­ness sort of assem­bly line food ser­vices… if you have one spe­cialty ingre­di­ent that only goes on one sand­wich it has more of an oppor­tu­nity to go bad. I’m curi­ous to see if this green pops up on another sandwich.

A: I’m sure it will.

E: Pea shoots are pretty good. So is the wasabi mayo, the tem­pura stayed pretty crunchy. It’s kind of under salted. The main sea­son­ing is the wasabi.

A: And it has a lot of sauce so that was prob­a­bly what made it taste a lit­tle excit­ing. I usu­ally don’t take so much sauce in a sand­wich but that saved this one.

E: If I was a veg­e­tar­ian, I’d be happy with this. I think a lit­tle salt on it for my taste would enhance it. But I opened it up and the ingre­di­ents look fairly fresh.

A: You want to move on?

E: Yeah, not too bad. I’m done with that.


“Blasted Sweet Basil”

A: Let’s do this tofu thing.

E: Ok. So what is it?

A: This is red curry tofu.

E: So you got a spe­cial on this one because it’s miss­ing something?

A: Yeah it’s miss­ing the crispy pota­toes. Do you want to add a French fry to yours?

E: Um, no I didn’t like the fries.

A: I got 50 cents off

E: Ok cool, let’s do it.

A: That was a great blast of basil.

E: Oh yeah I didn’t get basil on my first bite.

A: You didn’t? You see the basil is all clumped up in the cen­ter there.

E: It doesn’t look really fresh either but it tastes ok.

A: Oh its basil and cilantro.

E: It def­i­nitely has a strong curry fla­vor but I imag­ine its from a can. Canned curry prod­ucts, if they’re imported from Thai­land, are a pretty good prod­uct. I mean, talk­ing with Sonny he said he used can curry. I make it fresh at home but…

A: So you think this is canned.

E: Yeah but that’s not uncom­mon… It is really sweet.

A: What’s in red curry?

E: A lot of things. The basis of a Thai curry are actu­ally aro­matic rather than dry spices like Indian and so like galan­gal is a root like gin­ger and then lemon grass. You know lemon grass? And then usu­ally lime leaves. And then there will be like gar­lic and shal­lots and then a just lit­tle bit of dry spice like maybe cumin. You could taste it in this but it’s very sweet though. When you but the canned curry it doesn’t have added sugar.

A: Well then what takes the place of sugar.

E: It’s sugar, they’re just dump­ing sugar into the paste. I think it is too sweet for my taste.

A: I pre­fer this one over the first one.

E: Do you?

A: Yeah.

E: It’s a lit­tle more flavorful.

A: Maybe that’s why, I got the fla­vor right away.

E: It has less going on though. On that pre­vi­ous sand­wich they had to, like, make those pick­les, the car­rots and stuff. It had more fresh ingre­di­ents. And then this is like a fried tofu prod­uct. I don’t know if they fry it here or not but you can buy fried tofu. I just don’t really like tofu. I was sur­prised that…like tofu on a sand­wich sounds bad, I would never order that but this is a lit­tle bet­ter than I might have antic­i­pated. But I’m not gonna save the rest. I wouldn’t order this. Would you order this?

A: Prob­a­bly not. I don’t like these kind of exotic food sand­wiches. I’m not into that.


“Dying Oat­meal Surprise”

E: So you want to try the turkey sandwich?

A: No, I guess I’m not too much of a sand­wich guy. But to me this beet sand­wich seems to make more sense but I may be wrong about that though.

E: Do you want to try that?

A: Yeah

A: I’ll tell you one I thing, let me just start by say­ing that I tasted an oat­meal cookie when I took a bite.

E: (Laughs) yeah, weird.

A: Did you have a sim­i­lar experience?

E: My imme­di­ate response was like this taste like a dying salad bar. This is fuck­ing terrible.

A: It’s pretty bad. I per­son­ally don’t like the beet and goat cheese mixture.

E: I do. I do think that these beets are old as shit though. You can see it they’re like brown­ing around the edges and wilted. I don’t think peo­ple order this one very often.

A: But I am guess­ing for me it was the wal­nuts that took it into oatmeal…

E: Cookie ter­ri­tory. Yeah I don’t eat wal­nuts on a sand­wich but it a kind of clas­sic combo (with the beets and cheese) it think.

A: It was a combo that was pop­u­lar in the food world but it seems not as fash­ion­able now.

E: Yeah why would col­lege stu­dents want to eat this for lunch? They’re prob­a­bly try­ing to appeal to the fac­ulty on this one.

A: Yeah. Or the higher-class students.

E: (Laughter)…um I opened it up the spinach looks ter­ri­ble, the apples look decently fresh, though, but they’re totally…well the beets dye every­thing. Like that’s not a happy beet. It doesn’t look like it’s from a can at least.

A: But I think dyed bread with a beet or soggy beet bread is a very bad idea. So I think this is a bad idea of a sand­wich overall.

E: It’s a bad idea. I’m not eat­ing any­more of that.

A: So you are throw­ing almost every­thing away. I still have every­thing here just in case I decide to keep it.

E: How about the chicken sandwich?

A: Yeah lets do that and then I have a hum­mus sandwich.


“Unsalted Black­ened Vomit”

E: They call this a black and blue chicken.

A: Black and blue chicken sounds bad already. It has blue cheese I am assuming?

E: There is some avo­cado on there.

A: It’s miss­ing salt

E: Miss­ing salt. It does taste like a real black­en­ing seasoning.

A: Yeah but that could mean just…

E: From a shaker yeah. I don’t taste any blue cheese.

A: Naw, I didn’t either. There was some­thing creamy which was the avocado.

E: Avo­cado can make every­thing better.

A: Oh yeah I taste the blue cheese it like a sauce.

E: Blue cheese dress­ing. I don’t hate this one; I mean I can get some salt.

A: It needs salt. I don’t think we should put salt on it though.

E: No I don’t think so. This is my sec­ond favorite.

A: Oh, ok were rating.

E: No, I don’t know we don’t have to.

A: Yeah for me so far it was the first two sand­wiches that were the bet­ter ones. This is not on my favorite list and part of it is the fact that it is so bland. Then when you put those creamy things in with this bland taste…

E: It does have some heat though. I know you and I like some heat in our food. You like spicy food right?

A: Yeah

E: I do too. This might be too spicy for some peo­ple. There is some cayenne in it. That’s what I appre­ci­ate in it. Hummus?

A: Yeah its right here.


“Sub­ur­ban 90’s Hummus”

A: There are those good greens. Were those the same let­tuces that were used on that first sandwich?

E: Yup.

A: Yeah those are good.

E: I mostly got a mouth full of hum­mus on my first bite. Feta cheese. It def­i­nitely tastes like store bought hummus.

A: I taste peanuts. Peanuty.

E: That could be tahini, which is made of sesame.

A: And it was sour too. Some­thing was sour about this sand­wich. The feta cheese?

E: Maybe the feta. It taste like some­thing my mom would have made in the 90’s.

A: Your mom was mak­ing hum­mus in the 90’s?

E: Oh yeah, we were eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian after my grand­mother died of can­cer. Um so, yeah, when I was in col­lege I was into the Grate­ful Dead and Phish and you would go to the big con­certs and you would buy this kind of stuff. But this kind of food hasn’t gone away really…I mean everybody…

A: It’s like healthy sub­ur­ban veg­e­tar­ian food.

E: Yeah I mean there is like a whole hum­mus isle at Jewel now, you know.

A: Right, right. But back then you got it from where?

E: I’m not sure, my mom prob­a­bly got it form a health food store. But this is like …I bet it’s popular.

A: I’m not too big on it I didn’t like it.

E: It’s mushy. Like I make my own hum­mus and Amer­i­can­ized hum­mus is pretty dif­fer­ent from real hummus.

A: You know I don’t like any­thing in a wrap. I don’t like the word wrap.

E: Yeah that’s also kind of 90’s… The breads not ter­ri­ble. Did you try it on its own?

A: Um, I’m not a wrap kind of guy. You know at the same time I’m not even a flour tor­tilla type of guy. Which is what this is right?

E: Yup. It’s prob­a­bly mar­keted as a lavash bread but…yeah there is no way in hell I would order that. Should we move on to the special?

A: Yeah I’m try­ing to avoid the pizza and the uh…

E: Yeah you don’t like junk food huh?

A: Not really.

E: I do

A: I mean not when it looks like this. You see how this pizza looks? It looks like plas­tic food.

E: Does your fam­ily eat pizza ever?

A: Yeah we do.

E: Where do you get it?

A: Dif­fer­ent places. We make it.

E: You ever been to Vito and Nick’s

A: Vito and Nick’s? Yes! South­side. Yeah there and there is a place in Cicero called Al’s. You ever been there?

E: Sim­i­lar?

A: Yeah I guess it’s that old style Chicago pizza.

BPX“Bit­ter Prison Xmas”

A: What is this, first off?

E: They call it chicken breast chas­seur, mashed pota­toes, Roasted brus­sel sprouts glazed car­rots. This was prob­a­bly the worst thing yet for me. I mean I guess it’s just basic ingredients.

A: Sorry I got stuck in what to say there. That the first time I had to spit stuff out. But I started with the brus­sel sprout.

E: Do you like brus­sel sprouts?

A: I love them.

E: The most offen­sive thing to me was the chicken. It had zero sea­son­ing. I can taste like… prob­a­bly pre… it was prob­a­bly frozen. Its prob­a­bly an indus­trial prod­uct. Bad! The mashed pota­toes taste like there from pow­der a box.

A: Yeah, every­thing had a same­ness to it.

E: I called it a “Prison Thanksgiving”

A: Oh that’s good. I couldn’t think of a good one for the one. But yeah every­thing was like bland and bor­ing. But you know this is a stan­dard hos­pi­tal jail insti­tu­tion cafe­te­ria fare. But you know, this is too good for prison food. A lit­tle too good for prison but its more like hos­pi­tal food.

E: I’m gonna keep prison though.

A: No, no that’s good. Some­time you have to exag­ger­ate to get the point across. But def­i­nitely hos­pi­tal food.

E: Indus­trial grade. Although the car­rots do look prepped fresh like you can see like… chop marks maybe. Maybe. This is get­ting rough.

A: Well we’re almost done.

E: Good! Junk food time. Where’s the BBQ sauce. Wait we know what the chicken ten­ders will taste like let’s start with the pizza.

“Penny Store Oregano Gum” (sorry no pic)

A: Yeah this thing looks like a plas­tic pizza. It looks like a kids toy.

E: You know the say­ing pizza is like sex. Even bad pizza is pretty good.

A: No I never heard that and I’m not behind that state­ment. I mean for me bad pizza is bad pizza.

A: When I was in grade school there was a store across the street from the school that sold like ah one cent can­dies and they also sold pizza with lit­tle dots of cheese. That’s what this taste like.

E: This is a lit­tle bet­ter that what I ate in high school.

A: Def­i­nitely bet­ter that high school, but not good.

E: I like bad pizza. My wife loves all pizza.

A: The pizza sauce tastes pretend.

E: I can’t even taste the sauce. So for me I think just the blan­ket of cheese equals some sort of plea­sure recep­tor for me but real pizza is about the crust and this is about the most generic, phony… that might have been pre baked, pre formed frozen disc of flour. Although I don’t know what it is but I can kind of palate bad junk food most of the times.

A: I mean I can eat it and my kids would prob­a­bly like this but it’s not some­thing I would inten­tion­ally throw myself into.

E: I think it is one of the cheaper things on the menu.

A: But it has dried herbs on top.

E: Yeah that was one of my adjectives.

A: Oh you added it.

E: No. No that was one of the adjec­tives I used. I called it “Gummy Oregano”. The crust was gummy. The pizza was three bucks and 25 cents.

A: Did you taste the sausage on the pizza?

E: Yeah it’s terrible

A: I didn’t taste it.

E: Bet­ter that high school lunch qual­ity though.

A: Oh yeah that’s just like… ughh… that’s like the sausage they put on the Tony’s frozen pizza. You like those?

E: No. I mean I used to eat them when I was in college.

A: That taste like dead dog meat.

“Infi­nite Crouton-y Crunch” (sorry no pic)

E: Alright, last but not least.

A: You are excited about this?

E: I am. This seems like the one thing you can’t fuck up though.

A: I mean unless what if there frozen?

E: They prob­a­bly are.

A: That doesn’t bother you though? Were talk­ing about the chicken ten­ders. Some­thing I never eat.

E: Me nei­ther but, again, my wife loves them.

A: Oh my kids loves these. Every time we go to a wed­ding and they have the option to get these and I have to talk them out of it.

E: Well here we go. I mean I like fried chicken… This is pretty bad. As I go in for a third bite. I am impressed by how crunchy it is even though it has been sit­ting there for a long time.

A: Yeah but there is something…

E: Fake about the crunch.

A: Fake about that crunch. How do you make a fake crunch?

E: I am won­der­ing that myself.

A: I mean because if you notice… you hear it, like lis­ten every bite you take even until its done it con­tin­ues to crunch.

E: It’s the crunchi­est chicken ten­der I have ever had.

A: Yeah how do you make a fake crunch?

E: Chem­i­cals.

A: That’s a good thing to look into.

E: Chem­i­cals. It reminded me of these like bad crou­tons. You know like a real crispy arti­fi­cial crou­ton. I’m gonna fin­ish it though…So what did you like the best today?

A: I think it was the first two sand­wiches the tofu and the sweet potato tem­pura. Yeah there was some­thing fresh about it. Even the fried…in fact I’m gonna take another bite of it. It’s prob­a­bly not good it been sit­ting there forever.

E: You can tell that the way that that is breaded has a fresh home­made qual­ity ver­sus this that an indus­trial prod­uct. I mean I never tasted a chicken ten­der that is that crunchy.

A: Crunchy until the end. Crunchy til the last bite.

E: Do you want to share our responses?

A: Yeah let do that.

E: So or the fries I said “MSG Fake Frozen”

A: I said “Stan­dard Hol­low Fries”

E: On the sweet potato tem­pura I said “Horseradish-y Fresh Enough”

A: I said “Faux Exotic”

E: Red curry tofu I said “Sweet Curry”

A: I said “Basil Blast”

E: The beet one I said “Dying Salad Bar”

A: I said “Oat­meal Cookie Surprise”

E: Black and blue chicken I said “Under Salted”

A: I said “Bland Cajun Vomit”

E: Hum­mus I said “90’s”

A: “Sour Sub­ur­ban Peanuts”

E: Spe­cial I said “Prison Thanksgiving”

A: I tried to be cre­ative here but I just came up with “Bit­ter and Bland”

E: “Pizza Gummy Oregano”

A: “Penny Store Pizza”

E: Chicken ten­der I said “Crouton-y”

A: And I said “Fake Crunch Until the End”

Day 2: 1/9/14

Note: we shared our 2–4 word responses through­out this sit­ting, rather than recount them all at the end.


“Open Pit Beanblock”

E: So what do you think about veg­gie burg­ers in general?

A: Veg­gie burg­ers? I don’t eat them too much to be hon­est. This is prob­a­bly my sec­ond or third one ever. So I don’t think much of them. They’re not on my radar.

E: We talked about the 90’s and for me this falls into that. Because my par­ents were veg­e­tar­ian in the 90’s so this is the type of foods we would eat on the week­ends. There’s two styles of veg­gie burg­ers, ones that try to be like meat that are made of really processed soy and the other ones are made with beans and whole grains.

A: And this would be one of those, you can see some beans.

E: We’ve been men­tion­ing today that this is the win­ter interim and only the hot grill sta­tion is open so we’re lim­ited to that menu. But inter­est­ingly, there’s a very eager sous chef who’s been prepar­ing our food and he seems to have caught on that we might be review­ing the food.

A: And he added some per­sonal touches to the food…

E: He added some flair.

A: I’m going to take a bite, I’m super hungry.

E: This isn’t that bad, what do you think?

A: Its good. Maybe I’m super hun­gry, but it was satisfying.

E: I love cab­bage. And it has a spice to it.

A: Is that ketchup?

E: I think it’s more of a BBQ sauce. Actu­ally my response addressed it as BBQ sauce. The bun is toasted which is kinda nice. Veg­gie burg­ers like this that are made out of beans can be mushy.

A: It never had a burger con­sis­tency, that’s for sure. Its not in the burger cat­e­gory for me, it just seems like a big patty of mashed beans, refried beans.

E: But it’s a tasty enough sand­wich that I would prob­a­bly eat, a sort of healthy lunch option.

A: And it was a cheaper one, wasn’t it, it was $5.

E: How­ever, my reac­tion was “Open Pit Squish”.

A: Alright that’s good. I wrote “BBQ Bean Road­block”. That’s one thing, its really hearty.

E: Why roadblock?

A: It blocks some­thing, I don’t know, it seems pretty heavy.


“Pre­fab Cali Gorda”

E: I don’t know what we’ve got here. It’s cut in half already. It’s a chicken sand­wich. Looks like its on cia­batta. Is this the thanks­giv­ing thing? Oh, there’s bacon on there. This is the Cali chicken club, I think. Or is it the cran­berry turkey melt? No it’s the club, it’s sup­posed to have white ched­dar, caramelized onions, and avocado.

A: Does it?

E: That’s what it says. I see avocado.

A: I might have been a lit­tle cruel on this one.

E: Yeah me too. I called it pre­fab sea­soned bar food. This is the kind of thing peo­ple order at a bar that prob­a­bly spe­cial­izes in burg­ers. They want to eat some­thing healthy, but it’s really not health­ier. It’s on shitty bread and there’s bacon and may­on­naise all over it.

A: Its really heavy, even the amount of chicken that’s on it.

E: The chicken has that sort of fake mari­nade fla­vor that tastes mainly of oregano. And its weirdly not salty enough. Did you find that?

A: I did, not spiced enough and not salty.

E: There was a piece of chicken that fell off my sand­wich and I ate it on its own and it was so dis­gust­ing that I spit it into a nap­kin. It tasted water­logged– frozen and de-frosted.

A: And you know, in my view, any­time you put Cal­i­for­nia in front of some­thing its sup­posed to be health­ier. It should have a fresh, healthy flavor.

E: So what did you say?

A: As I was say­ing I was cruel, I said “Fat Cali Girl”.

E: (Laughs out loud) How about some soup for a palate cleanser… By the way, the chef looked over here.


“Fool­proof Shroomness”

A: This looks decent, you can see the fresh mushrooms.

E: They look like cri­m­ini mush­rooms… I gotta say that’s good, what do you think? It’s got a good amount of cream in it, the mush­rooms are very flavorful.

A: Wow, you’re really going at that.

E: It’s the best thing we’ve had.

A: Yeah, but how could you go wrong though, a lit­tle bit of cream, some mush­rooms, some cheese.

E: You think there’s cheese in there?

A: Yeah, some parmesan.

E: You can taste the broth, the stock in there too. I won­der if its vegetarian?

A: Prob­a­bly not.

E: Well, mush­rooms do have a lot of savory qual­i­ties. This tastes like real food, for the first time.

A: Yeah, espe­cially the mush­rooms were good, they weren’t over cooked.

E: So I called it “Home­made Shroomy Richness”

A: I said “Fool Proof Mushroom”

E: We might actu­ally fin­ish that one.


“Acid Break­fast Melt”

E: Oh boy, what the hell is this? I think this is the smoke­house burger.

A: Its greasy.

E: It is.

E: Its got the trendy pret­zel roll.

A : It’s a real burger?

E: No this isn’t a burger.

A: What is it?

E: This must be the hol­i­day thanks­giv­ing sur­prise sandwich.

A: Ooh it looks like a mess.

E: It does. This is the turkey melt.

A: Alright, I got something.

E: So, I never eat the cran­berry sauce, even when it’s homemade.

A: Never, why? You don’t like it?

E: I just don’t, I don’t really like sug­ary stuff. I don’t eat a lot of sweets. I’m usu­ally opposed to putting a lot of sweet ingre­di­ents with savory food. I mean, I get it, it can be bal­anced… And this didn’t taste like it came from a can. Some­thing in between canned and real.

A: What would that be?

E: Prob­a­bly a pre-made prod­uct, but there were actual pieces of cran­berry. I just don’t like it though… So that was the first blast. And the sec­ond blast was that fake turkey fla­vor. I don’t really like lunch­meat, do you? It didn’t taste like roast turkey, it tasted like lunch­meat. So I called it “Cloy­ing Acid Deli Melt”. The cran­ber­ries are also really sour. And was there bacon in there? I didn’t taste much cheese. How did you feel about it? Do you like cranberries?

A: I do, I don’t mind them. But for some rea­son it didn’t feel like cran­ber­ries, it tasted like jam.

E: It did. I know that some­times places make a sand­wich that has all the Thanks­giv­ing stuff on it with stuff­ing and all that, like real roast turkey. I could see the cran­berry going well on a sand­wich like that. It wasn’t like that though, it didn’t have that effect here.

A: I thought of a break­fast sand­wich… I don’t eat break­fast sand­wiches but that’s what it was like for me, because of the jelly and the bacon.

E: I see what you mean, right.

A: I wrote “Blended Break­fast Sand­wich” because it was a mess.


“Out­back Ketchup Blast”

E: Do you want to do the grilled cheese or the burger? Let’s fin­ish on the grilled cheese because he was proud of that.

A: This is prob­a­bly gonna taste just like the one we just ate. What’s spe­cial about it?

E: I wish this was on the pret­zel roll. They’re trendy, but I like a burger on them. So this thing can’t even main­tain its own struc­ture. It looks sloppy. Okay so the menu descrip­tion here is: smoke­house burger: 1/3 pound angus burger with home­made BBQ, smoked bacon, white ched­dar, crispy onion straws, let­tuce, on a rus­tic bun.

A: It does look like a rus­tic bun. (laughs)

E: Oh boy it’s big. It’s slip­pery… Also, a lot of bacon today.

A: Go ahead, what did you think? It was just a burger. I can tell you thought there was some­thing wrong with it.

E: There was way too much sauce.

A: Yeah, it was too sweet.

E: They’re call­ing it BBQ sauce, but to me it was ketchup.

A: And you talked about that sauce ear­lier. You referred to it as ketchup.

E: I liked the last one bet­ter though.

A: Oh you think this one was different?

E: I do, the black burger had a spicy kick to it and I thought it was in the sauce. But this one just tasted like way too much ketchup. I’m a snob about burg­ers. If I was order­ing this for myself I would have skipped the tomato and let­tuce. I don’t like the way that stuff sort of cooks in a burger and it always gets slip­pery. I wanted to men­tion how slip­pery it was with that piece of let­tuce. So I always pre­ferred McDonald’s to Burger King as a kid, I like the top­pings at McDonald’s and I liked how it didn’t have the fake flame-grilled taste. To me this was a Burger King burger, like a Whop­per that has all that let­tuce and tomato that’s wilt­ing. Its floppy.

A: Yeah it did taste like that, a fast food burger. But maybe a nicer fast food place like Sonic or something.

E: Well, Burger King always had onion rings too which McDonald’s didn’t. In my review I called it the “BK Ketchup Blast”.

A: The funny thing about that descrip­tion is that they tried to give onion rings another name. What did they call it?

E: Yeah they were called onion straws. Maybe it’s an irreg­u­lar onion ring.

A: Yeah, I think it was an onion ring. I called it “Rus­tic Bloom­ing Onion”

E: But you liked it okay, huh?

A: I mean it was just stan­dard. It wasn’t any­thing spec­tac­u­lar. I wouldn’t prob­a­bly eat some­thing like that.

E: Do you eat burg­ers much?

A: Yeah, I’ll eat them.

E: I really like burg­ers, I don’t eat them a lot, they’re really unhealthy. I ate a lot of them in the last month because I was traveling.

A: Yeah, I don’t eat them a lot.

E: So that’s the thing, when I eat one its gotta be good because I don’t wanna waste my burger points on crap. And I’ve had a lot of wasted burger points lately.

A: It was noth­ing spe­cial. It was more of a stan­dard fast food burger. I ate a cou­ple of bites of it because its some­thing I don’t really give to myself, this kind of junky food.

E: I’ll pass on that one. My favorite is the soup and then maybe the veg­gie burger.

A: Well, we’re not done yet.


“Nuked Bread Mush”

E: Wait there’s two more, did he give us two of some­thing? Oh, the porta­bella melt.

A: This is the mush­room one, lets see if these mush­rooms com­pare to the mush­room soup. The bread doesn’t look too good.

E: I usu­ally like this kind of bread.

A: I don’t know if it’s a good idea for a mush­room sand­wich. But let’s see. Yeah, it’s soft.

E: (laughs)

A: My stom­ach hurts.

E: That sucked.

A: I don’t know if it was just that one bite that made my stom­ach hurt.

E: That was the worst one I’ve had I think.

A: Yeah, I mean I was com­par­ing it to the soup in the begin­ning, won­der­ing if it would stand up to it. It didn’t. It was more like a piece of bread that was water­logged in soup or some­thing. And for that rea­son I actu­ally called it “Lost Bread in Shroom Soup”

E: I called it “Nuked Salad Smoosh” because again, it reminded me of that thing I was just talk­ing about with the Burger King. I don’t know what was in there but all these ingre­di­ents that should have been fresh were like cooked and stringy. And it was totally under­salted and the bread was just mush.

A: Mush, mush is a good word.

E: You like mush or smoosh?

A: Well I think “mush” room sand­wich is good.

E: Okay I’ll call it “Nuked Salad Mush” then. I could taste mush­room, but that was about the only rec­og­niz­able fla­vor other than bread. The rest was just this stringy, gross mass.

A: Yeah, I didn’t like it. It was not a good experience.


“Old Oil Cheese Lake”

E: So hope­fully we end on a high note with the chef’s spe­cial here. This is the grilled cheese… And its cheesy.

A: I think I’ve already had an over­load of cheese here, I think that’s what’s hurt­ing my stomach.

E: Are you lac­tose intolerant?

A: I must be. I don’t like so much cheese. And mostly I don’t like melted cheese so much. I like cheese that isn’t cooked, I pre­fer that. Is that weird?

E: I love cheese.

A: Is that a weird thing, to not like cooked cheese?

E: I love cheese… (groan) Another rough one for me.

A: “Cheese Lake Pizza Sandwich”

E: Is that what you called it?

A: Yeah.

E: I called it “Soggy Old Oil Cheese Paste” You know on a good grilled cheese, you taste the but­ter and its crispy. This, this tasted like they took oil out of the deep fryer and put it on the grill, it had a weird acrid burned fla­vor. To their credit, we ate this last and it prob­a­bly would have been bet­ter if we’d ate it right away because the tomato just totally sogged it out.

A: Yeah and also I think the wrap­ping of these things make them more soggy also, it takes away their crisp.

E: I’m amazed how bad it was though. It seems like some­thing that should be easy to pull off. You hated it?

A: Yeah, I can’t eat that kind of thing. It was just soggy. I called it a cheese lake.

E: I like that.

A: For me that’s just too much cheese. Like any­where you put it.

E: So you’re not going to save that?

A: It might get bet­ter as it gets harder. Not for me, but for my kids or some­thing. You’re gonna throw it out?

E: Yeah. I’m throw­ing all this shit out.

A: I guess I shouldn’t take it because I’m going to make every­one in my house­hold sick and I’m going to ruin dinner.

Posted in Food Writing, Projects 2014 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

No Thought For Food


My friends at the School of the Art Institute’s Stu­dent Union Gal­leries (SUGS) approached me about par­tic­i­pat­ing in a one night event/happening called “Party” in cel­e­bra­tion of their 20th anniver­sary. Coin­ci­den­tally it’s about the 20th anniver­sary of my affil­i­a­tion with the School– enrolling in my first Early Col­lege Pro­gram class in my junior year of high school in 1994.

Of course, I’ll par­tic­i­pate! You prob­a­bly want me to cook some­thing, yeah?

Well that’s the tricky thing– the School is pretty uptight about who pre­pares the food (no surprise).

You would have to agree to pre­pare the food in a licensed facility.


The School tends to use Food for Thought (the cater­ing ser­vice that runs the cam­pus wide din­ing facil­i­ties since just last year) for all their events.

Well, I just recently paid homage to Sonny. Maybe I can work with him. (If you are unfa­mil­iar, he ran his name­sake cafe­te­ria in the Colum­bus Dr. build­ing for 24 years until his busi­ness got phased out by Food for Thought, for who he now works as an employee)

I’d like to approach him myself.

Fast for­ward a week or so, I hadn’t found the time to talk to Sonny. In my inbox:

Eric, its Sonny, we need to talk…

I knew that the back story had an unfor­tu­nate end­ing, but while work­ing on my trib­ute to him, I tried to focus pos­i­tively on his legacy.

The School had got­ten to him before I had.

Our result­ing exchange was quite uncom­fort­able– he was not inter­ested at all in work­ing over­time for his employer. I promised him that I would drop the idea and relay this to the School.

I felt like I had fucked up.

Back­track­ing for a sec: a few of my friends were also invited to par­tic­i­pate in this party and it seemed like a ripe oppor­tu­nity to col­lab­o­rate with artists whose work I admired greatly. One of these artists was Alberto Aguilar. In grad school, before I was famil­iar with Alberto’s work, I had begun to work with sign painters to pro­duce hand painted, grocery-store-ad-style signs that would pro­claim var­i­ous ideas about food in rela­tion to my work. Alberto had a show at R&C for which he pro­duced large scale, mas­ter­fully painted signs. I liked his guy’s tighter style bet­ter than the guy I was work­ing with and he gladly shared his painter’s infor­ma­tion. And I have worked with South­west Signs ever since. The lobby of the Nie­man Cen­ter, where the Party was to be hosted, is flanked in large beau­ti­ful win­dows, so I approached Alberto about col­lab­o­rat­ing on signs to install in them.

Alberto and I met and I told him the story about the trou­ble I’d had con­ceiv­ing of a cook­ing project with the School’s rigid poli­cies, as well as my unfor­tu­nate exchange with Sonny, and my grow­ing dis­dain for Food for Thought. We brain­stormed. It seemed as though we could gen­er­ate con­tent for our signs out of the obstacle-laden expe­ri­ence I was hav­ing maneu­ver­ing through the School’s bureaucracy.

I had never actu­ally tried FFT’s prod­uct. I was biased, but I thought that per­haps Alberto would be more objec­tive in his opin­ions. He is a very good cook, in his own right, and as a father, he has a vested inter­est in nutri­tion. I trust his palate. We would sam­ple every sin­gle menu item and col­lab­o­ra­tively review them. We would take a bite and then write down a few words each to con­vey our impres­sions. We would com­pare notes and together, com­bine words from each of our reviews into sin­gle phrases to rep­re­sent each food item. They would read as funny apho­risms or poems, with slip­pery lan­guage full of dou­ble enten­dre. I liked that the idea rubbed up against the flip­pant nature of ama­teur food crit­i­cism (e.g. Yelp) and sub­ver­sively made com­ment on the qual­ity of FFT. But it would read as word soup, funny adjec­tives and unspe­cific nouns that would not directly point back to our source mate­r­ial. I thought we could get away with it.

And bless them, the SUGS team stood by our project. It seemed like it was going to work out. But then at the 11th hour, 4 pm on the Fri­day before the big final plan­ning meet­ing, I got an e-mail. The SUGS crew ran the idea up the var­i­ous bureau­cratic chan­nels and it was met with dis­ap­proval. Some of our lan­guage was too harsh– words like “vomit”, for instance. They came at me with some from-an-attorney’s-desk lan­guage that the art­work would com­pro­mise the well being of Food For Thought’s work­ers. Not so sure about that. My gut reac­tion was to pull the plug on the project. The School has a his­tory of cen­sor­ship– such as “Mirth & Girth”, the paint­ing of Mayor Harold Wash­ing­ton in women’s under­gar­ments and Dread Scott’s “What is the Proper Way to Dis­play the U.S. Flag”. Our project seems pretty ridicu­lous and innocu­ous in this con­text, but I was feel­ing worn down by the man. We con­sid­ered remov­ing the offen­sive lan­guage, but I did not want to neuter the project. We then thought about remov­ing the words from the signs and pre­sent­ing blank signs left with only the dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments intact. I liked the idea of emp­ty­ing out the lan­guage, though a friend of mine, Paul Cowan, had made nearly the same work (though likely with an entirely dif­fer­ent inten­tion). In the end we set­tled on blacked out cen­sor bars stand­ing in for the actual words. Alberto and I are actu­ally more pleased with this fin­ished project than our orig­i­nal inten­tions– the bright col­ors have a play­ful, cel­e­bra­tory pres­ence that are dis­cor­dantly inter­rupted by geo­met­ric, but irreg­u­larly– placed black bars. The for­mal­ism of the piece con­ceals the con­tent while boldly point­ing to the insti­tu­tional censorship.

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Top 10 2013

My New Buddy at Petritegi Sagardotegia, Astigarraga, ES

My New Buddy at Petritegi Sagar­dote­gia, Asti­gar­raga, ES

Some­times I won­der if I have a prob­lem, I never, I mean never, stop think­ing about food. I asked Jes­sica if she thinks about pho­tog­ra­phy non­stop and she replied “not the same way you think about food con­stantly”. I know I’ve got a big freakin appetite. It seems as though I ate a mil­lion things this year, a mil­lion more than last year. For­tu­nately, I’ve found a crew of like­minded food nerds, that I’ve met through the inter­net. It is pretty cool that in today’s vir­tual era there’s a com­mu­nity that extends beyond the track­pad to break bread IRL. These are the same guys I men­tioned in last year’s top 10 (plus a few new friends) who share a relent­less zeal for find­ing new eat­ing expe­ri­ences in every far-flung cor­ners of Chicagoland. We’re a rag­tag crew for sure and tend to raise eye­brows when six of us belly up to a table in a ran­dom south side taque­ria, order three things to share off the menu, take like 10 min­utes to take pic­tures of the food, and then if the bite isn’t worth it, we leave it behind for the sake of diges­tive real estate. It’s always an edu­ca­tion hang­ing out with these guys and I owe a lot of my favorite eats of the year to their intre­pid pur­suits. I’ll pay homage to one of my new friends shortly, but I’ve gotta give props to the other guys too. Matt “laikom” Zatkoff, who I met this year over a pot of frog hot­pot, is respon­si­ble for shar­ing two of my favorite new places to eat, Rain­bow Thai and Dan­cen, both men­tioned below (his research also led me to last year’s #8, Nha Hang Viet Nam). Also shout outs to Titus “Da Beef” Rus­citti, who’s never not on the beat, whether map­ping every sin­gle one of the city’s best tacos on his new Chicago Taco Tour or col­or­fully recount­ing his exploits in his home kitchen, around the city, and the greater Mid­west at Smokin, Chokin, and Chowin with the King. This guy gets around and I’ve had the plea­sure of going along for the ride, most mem­o­rably on a day trip to Mil­wau­kee explor­ing the city’s diverse eth­nic eats. Lastly, shouts to Rob “PIGMON” Lopata– this guy’s got his opin­ions, but I’ve prob­a­bly bro­ken bread and ban­tered with him more than any­one else next to my wife this year. His part­ner in crime, the lovely and delight­ful Kris­tine “trixie-pea” Meyer rounds out a great dou­ble date for us and can be thanked for my favorite potluck of the year, for which we all cooked recipes from Naomi Duguid’s “Rivers of Fla­vor” giv­ing us the oppor­tu­nity to try our hand at Burmese Cui­sine, which we rarely have the chance to sam­ple in Chicago.

What else? There was much more to my year in food than 4 hour, 3 lunch adven­tures with my friends “from the inter­net”. I got mar­ried! That was a big deal! And while the energy it took to plan my life’s ulti­mate party (see #6) slowed down the pace of other projects, it also pro­vided many cel­e­bra­tory eat­ing expe­ri­ences pep­pered through­out the year. In May, my best Chicago friends met my best Los Ange­les friends in the desert for my bach­e­lor party. It was a sun-drenched cos­mic week­end at Joshua Tree more focused on hijinks and land­scape. But of course we ate well, guess who did the cook­ing? Big slabs of meat were on order and I cooked my first lengua, which is a pretty intim­i­dat­ing expe­ri­ence and I’d like to thank the dudes for indulging my desire to taste the taste that tastes you back. The desert trip was book­ended by two amaz­ing Thai meals, which I will recount in more depth below. J and I hit the road to decom­press for a “soft hon­ey­moon” to the UP shortly after the fes­tiv­i­ties at the end of August and we ate our way from Mar­quette to Grand Marais and had some pleasantly-surprising bites includ­ing req­ui­site smoked lake fish, my still-favorite Cajun in the Mid­west, lovely arti­sanal baked goods, for­aged wild blue­ber­ries, and per­fectly fried Lake Supe­rior white fish. Not entirely sat­is­fied with that half rained-out camp­ing trip, we booked a real deal over­seas hon­ey­moon, which proved to be a bucketlist-worthy eat­ing tour of the Basque Coun­try (see #1). We met my fam­ily in Berlin after­wards for the hol­i­day and ate our way across the city’s fab­u­lous Christ­mas Mar­kets (#7) and were blown away by the vari­ety of sen­sa­tional Turk­ish kebab sand­wiches in the city’s south­east neigh­bor­hoods of Kreuzberg and Neukolln.

Project-wise, while it felt a lit­tle thin this year with all else going on, there were two strong cur­rents, the first was trib­ute menus, which I had done in the past– Gor­don Matta-Clark’s Bone Din­ner last year, for instance. This year, how­ever, I paid homage to two influ­en­tial eater­ies that I actu­ally spent time din­ing at, Leo’s Lunch­room and Sonny’s at SAIC. I’ll talk in depth about the rel­e­vance of these cafés in my list, but I’d like to address how uncom­fort­able, at times, these projects actu­ally were to con­cep­tu­al­ize. The trib­ute busi­ness is a funny one. On one hand, my intent was always to altru­is­ti­cally show respect to these folks and their food, which had inspired me in my early days as a bud­ding cook. And these two places, as evi­denced in the out­pour­ing of lov­ing tes­ti­mony (in response to Face­book out­reach in prepa­ra­tion for the projects) have lega­cies that resound with real col­lec­tive ado­ra­tion from the com­mu­ni­ties they served. The tricky part was dig­ging around in other people’s pasts. For both projects, I received luke­warm responses when I reached out to their pro­pri­etors. They both closed their doors under some­what unfa­vor­able cir­cum­stances and while, I still feel like these trib­utes were pos­i­tive for the com­mu­ni­ties that loved these places so much, the face-to-face under­stand­ing of the back sto­ries of their demise was pretty disheartening.

The other com­mon thread in my projects of 2013 was cook­ing in real restau­rant kitchens for the first time since my salad days busboy-ing in fine din­ing in my late teens. First, I got a chance to don my whites in Jonathan “Z-Dog” Zaragoza’s kitchen at Masa Azul, then I worked with my peeps, Bread KC! at the Riegor Hotel (lots of love for all these guys on last year’s #2). And finally I threw down with Mike and Anne at Sauce & Bread Kitchen (my 2nd col­labo with Mike this year). I’ll just say that all three of these expe­ri­ences were a thrill. For one thing, these real deal facil­i­ties offer the space and equip­ment to do things that just aren’t pos­si­ble in my rough-around-the-edges kitchen at R&C. And its fun to feel like a real chef for the day, stand­ing at the line yelling and ban­ter­ing, then care­fully tweak­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion on a long line of primped lit­tle plates. The les­son here is that fuck, pro­fes­sional cooks work hard, real fuck­ing hard. I‘m talk­ing 12 hours on your feet, no breaks to eat all this deli­cious stuff in front of your face (not that you’d want to after fuss­ing over it all day), you’re up at 6 am and after a night of drink­ing back at it the next day. This shit might sound like some Anthony Bourdain-inspired machismo myth, but its real­ity. I get a taste of it 3 months a year at Ox-Bow, but that gig is rel­a­tively cush in terms of hours and pac­ing. I feel like I’ve got the grit to live the life, but I have to think long and hard as to whether I’ve got the commitment.

With­out fur­ther ado, ze list:


10. The improv­ing Din­ing Scene in the Saugatuck Area.

On my days off at Ox-Bow, noth­ing is worse than lin­ing up in the din­ing room with my clienetele (who some­how seem to think I’m at work even though I’m wear­ing swim­ming trunks and mak­ing myself a salad). It can also be pretty uncom­fort­able watch­ing my co-workers toil away (try­ing not to notice things I would be orches­trat­ing dif­fer­ently if I was on the clock and in gen­eral feel­ing guilty about them being at work and me being on my way to the beach). This is an occu­pa­tional haz­ard very spe­cific to the live-where-you-work aspect of Ox-Bow, you sorta always feel like you’re on the clock. So, days off are pre­cious and it’s real nice to get away and eat some­where else for a change. Prob­lem is, the food around there kinda sucks. There’s been decent options that come and go over the years, taque­rias that pop up and dis­ap­pear the next year. (On a side note– very sad to see the pass­ing of Su Casa in Fen­nville, who I paid trib­ute to else­where on this blog. I’ve heard good news that they plan to reopen soon in Hol­land). Hol­land used to have a vibrant South­east Asian din­ing scene, but most spots have either closed or Amer­i­can­ized and one even turned into a sports bar. I never want to drive to Hol­land on my day off any­way. Saugatuck/Douglas is mostly pop­u­lated by over-priced Sysco product-laden bar food. There’s one fine din­ing spot that is flocked to for it’s sup­pos­edly local, scratch made food, but I have never loved it. Another “farm-to-table” fine din­ing place opened in Fen­nville a few years back, Salt of the Earth. After two mis­er­able expe­ri­ences with their front-of-the-house sev­eral years ago, I swore it off. That was a hasty deci­sion. I returned this sum­mer, and while ser­vice was awk­ward, it was endurable (much bet­ter on sub­se­quent vis­its), the food was so kick ass I fell in love with the place. They’re known for their wood-fired hearth, which turns out lovely breads and nice piz­zas (too bready for me). For me, it’s their hand with red meats, some of which are roasted in said oven. On that first return visit, we had these thick, crisp-on-the-outside, meltingly-tender-on-the-inside batons of pork belly that par­tic­u­larly tick­led. Also notable are superb steaks and a damn good burger, all paired with the same gor­geous height-of-the-season, fresh-from-market pro­duce that I source at Ox-Bow. I actu­ally ate here and at Night­wood in Chicago in the same week, and while Nightwood’s dishes were more inven­tive, SotE was a clear stand­out in terms of tasty New Amer­i­can farm food.

Lunch is per­haps more impor­tant for a relax­ing day off cam­pus, par­tic­u­larly when in-town-laundry is the focus. Three new open­ings have upped the ante in the casual realm. Odie Dog’s is a new food truck run by a kin­dred spirit named Eric. He does jus­tice to a Chicago dog, but offers more cre­ative options as well. I dig his lob­ster roll, the mayo-dressed vari­ety, though judi­ciously applied. Lucy’s Lit­tle Kitchen in Saugatuck is another great new open­ing. Opened by Matt Balmer, of Every­day Peo­ple Café fame, it’s a cute-as-a but­ton lit­tle hot­dog stand with a lovely sun dap­pled ter­race of out­door seat­ing. I’ve tried half the menu and it’s hit or miss (yes another lob­ster roll, I guess Saugatuck kinda is the Midwest’s Cape Cod). The stand­out is the black­ened catch-of-the-day sand­wich, which explodes with spice and tangy coleslaw. The end of the sum­mer saw the open­ing of cel­e­brated local caterer and my friend, Chris Fer­ris’ Farm­house Deli on the Blue Star in Dou­glas. I only had the chance to eat one very tasty roast beef sand­wich and watch John Rossi moan in delight over his grilled Pas­trami (man loves his melted cheese), but this will surely be a haunt of my days off in 2014. Lastly, shouts to Farmhouse’s neigh­bor and my favorite bite in the area, Tammy and co.’s Pizza Mambo, who do Chicago tav­ern style thin crust bet­ter than any on the north­side. A bot­tle of Pros­ecco and a large pie at the beach is the per­fect way to let the stresses of the job melt away and enjoy this very lovely cor­ner of the coun­try, now with bet­ter food!


9. Tools of the Trade

Every year that passes, the job takes its toll harder on my body. There are two essen­tial prod­ucts that ease the ache in the bones: a good pair of shoes and a sharp knife. In the old days I’d gid­diliy skip around the kitchen in flip flops (that ended when a pair­ing knife went ver­ti­cal in my big toe). Aching ankles put me in high tops for years, though the soles are often pretty flat on bball sneak­ers. I know that clogs are the thing most chefs do, easy to clean and get out of in an emer­gency. Even after endur­ing a 2nd degree burn on 40% of the sur­face of my foot, I still pre­fer sneak­ers. Run­ning shoes, in par­tic­u­lar, offer a light­ness and cush­ioned sole that lighten the load. This year I found these great Reebok’s Zigtecs, which I might call a cross trainer– light and airy soles and a durable, easy-to-clean syn­thetic upper that is way more water­proof than your mesh jog­ging shoe. And if you know me, I gotta look fly– these guys look futur­is­tic and bonkers. Another pair next year please. The knife thing goes with­out say­ing. I’ve got ten­dini­tis in my hands, so a sharp knife is cru­cial. Prized for their abil­ity to main­tain a sharp edge– I also like a bit of flare and swag­ger in my blade– I’ve always been daz­zled by Dam­as­cus style blades with their woodgrain/moiré pat­terned look. I was gifted a Shun year’s back which has been my main steel. How­ever, after a few years, I real­ized that the han­dle was fit­ted for a lefty, hello ten­dini­tis. The next few years I wore the shit out of a Wusthoff, a thin, softer blade that I watched waste away with each sharpen. This year I decided it was time for an upgrade so I bought a 9” Kikuichi made of pre­mium Dam­as­cus style nickel and stain­less steel and unlike my Shun is feather light with a rose­wood Japan­ese style han­dle. I also finally fig­ured out how to use my Japan­ese whet stone (soak overnight, repet­i­tive back and forth motion) so I’m look­ing pretty sharp these days.


8. Ger­man Christ­mas Markets

I’ve long been a fan of the Christkindl­markt that occurs the day after Thanks­giv­ing through Christ­mas in Daley Plaza. The ven­dors all seem to come from Ger­many, so there is an air of authen­tic­ity. Most impor­tantly, you can drink out in the open in down­town Chicago. There’s just some­thing about drink­ing beer and scarf­ing hot sausages out in the cold that tick­les a pri­mal sense of my German-ness. And Jes­sica likes the hot wine in the lit­tle col­lectible boot mug and the orna­ment shops. My past few expe­ri­ences there though– pro­gres­sively more crowded, herded through the aisles like cat­tle– have been less than cheer­ful. And $20 bucks for a beer and a just-decent sausage in a stale bun just doesn’t make the whole expe­ri­ence worth­while. We just returned from Berlin where my sis­ter and brother-in-law relo­cated over the sum­mer. I’ve spent sev­eral Christ­mases in Europe and I have much pre­ferred their more lax, tradition-oriented approach to the hol­i­day than the fren­zied con­sumerism that bums out Char­lie Brown and many of the rest of us, state­side. The Ger­mans are mas­ters at focused hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties, con­dens­ing the entire expe­ri­ence into their mar­kets, which are part street food mar­ket, part one– stop hol­i­day shop­ping. We hit five in total (of maybe 50 in Berlin). Each had its own vibe, from over-the-top to local chill. I was sur­prised how I main­tained so much sta­mina and down­right enthu­si­asm in our sin­gu­lar quest to mar­ket hop. This is largely because of the vari­ety and spec­ta­cle of much of the food offer­ings. And to think I used to get excited about a dinky square of leberkase (hot­dog steak) cook­ing in its own grease in Daley Plaza. I saw piles of smoked speck, shaved rib­bon thin piled on open faced toasts, suck­ling pigs spin­ning under rotis­series, giant caul­drons filled with bub­bling stew, glis­ten­ing mush­rooms, and slow cooked kale (a Ger­man Xmas tra­di­tion it turns our, not unlike South­ern greens cooked down until deep dark green flecked with smoked meat). Open flames every­where– brats cooked over smol­der­ing logs, portable wood-fired ovens turn­ing out blis­tered whole wheat flammkuchen-like flat­bread topped with sour cream and bacon, and whole sides of salmon teepeed against cedar planks smok­ing by robust fires. A ver­i­ta­ble theme park of fire and meat, how could I not fall in love. This is Christ­mas done right.


7. Learn­ing Korean

Korean cui­sine can be unap­proach­able. The ser­vice at Korean restau­rants skews unat­ten­tive to just this side of put out. I have yet to find a com­pre­hen­sive Eng­lish lan­guage Korean cook­book. A lot of the food has lit­tle to no con­text in Amer­i­can cul­ture the way Chi­nese and Mex­i­can have been well-integrated at this point. Aside from kim­chi on all the hip menus and Momo­fuku, Korean has yet to be gen­tri­fied like your ubiq­ui­tous neigh­bor­hood sushi or Thai or sushi-slash-Thai. Even banh mi and pho are becom­ing house­hold terms. You’d think that a cul­tur­ally rav­en­ous food­ster like me would know my way around a Korean menu, though until recently I’ve been pretty hope­less. BBQ, sure. Ban­chan, yes I love the dozens of gratis dishes that over­flow your table, scarf­ing igno­rantly away at spicy kim­chis (its all kim­chi, right?) and more exotic jig­gly bits– wait that’s acorn jelly? I would not know my muchim from my jorim if it weren’t for an excel­lent arti­cle writ­ten by my friend Kristina Meyer for LTHForum’s new home­page arti­cle for­mat. Thanks again to Matt Zatkoff too, who, logis­ti­cally sit­u­ated on the city’s north­west side, has worked through many menus in the city’s Korean enclaves enlight­en­ing me to the joys of naengmyeon noo­dle soup (there’s ice in my soup!) and late night bul­dak (fiery gochujang-slathered char-grilled chicken, but more on that in a sec). Last year Rob showed me the ropes with soon­dubu and other roil­ing stone pot stews. So, yup, I feel like I’m get­ting the hang of this.

The past two years I have been teach­ing fresh­man at the School of the Art Insti­tute, which has an ever grow­ing Korean stu­dent pop­u­la­tion. The class was called “You Art What You Eat” and I liked to tie in projects for which my stu­dents could share fam­ily or cul­tural recipes impor­tant to them. As soon as my Korean stu­dents heard me use the word kim­chi, they would gig­gle and whis­per to one another. But in some ways, I think it earned me street cred, because they then seemed to feel com­fort­able enough to talk at length with their fel­low stu­dents and I about their food tra­di­tions. This past spring, while not my favorite class in gen­eral, I had a group of Korean girls that enlight­ened my under­stand­ing of an aspect of Korean food in terms of the exchange of east­ern and west­ern food tra­di­tions. It was a bril­liant project that they col­lab­o­rated on for the final cri­tique. They arrived to class dressed in mil­i­tary fatigues. They set up a mise en place with a sta­tion for each of the three. The first had a rice maker filled with Korean red rice, the next a bowl of tuna salad, then finally the last had a bowl of shred­ded nori. As an assem­bly line they pre­pared these smaller-than-a-fist balls of tuna salad stuffed rice rolled in nori flakes. WTF? After we were all served they explained its his­tory. I can­not locate a trans­la­tion to this dish, but they explained the dish as rice “bombs” and that these ingre­di­ents– nori, cooked rice, canned tuna, and mayo, were a com­mon ration for sol­diers in wartime Korea. They men­tioned that Spam was also a com­mon fill­ing, which elicited an “Ewww” reac­tion from the pre­dom­i­nantly Amer­i­can rest of the class. And the result­ing debate was very eye-opening. Spam, a war era, cheap con­ve­nience food is now deemed by younger gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans as totally gross, while their Korean con­tem­po­raries con­sider it deli­cious. Read­ing up, I found that in some cases Spam is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy, in Korea it is pro­duced in a range of fla­vors and a box set is con­sid­ered a quite hon­or­able hol­i­day gift. Spam is not the only instance of appro­pri­ated mid-century Amer­i­can food­stuffs that are read­ily enjoyed in Korea–ever had a ban­chan of sus­pi­ciously grocery-store-deli-case look­ing potato salad? You’ve also got tuna salad, hot­dogs, and Amer­i­can cheese. That fire chicken at Dan­cen I men­tioned, it’s served with an oddly com­pli­men­tary salad of shred­ded cab­bage and 1000 island dress­ing. I like the idea of fusion cui­sine that works in reverse to the typ­i­cal trained-western-chef col­o­niz­ing fla­vors of other cul­tures. These foods were adopted because times were lean dur­ing the war– neces­sity food, incor­po­rated with tra­di­tional fla­vors by savvy and resource­ful home cooks. I have yet to make this or try it, but its on the books for a project early in 2014– Budae jigae, or “army base soup” which is a spicy gochujang-based soup with instant ramen noo­dles stud­ded with tra­di­tional veg and kim­chi and add ins like Spam, hot­dogs, and Amer­i­can cheese.


Photo ℅ Han­nah Tarr

6. The Food at my Wedding

I think I deserve some brag­ging rights here. Of course, my wed­ding was going to have the best food ever. I’ve dreamed of this day. Let’s start with the rehearsal din­ner; I com­mis­sioned my two favorite restau­rants in Chicago to repeat a col­lab­o­ra­tion– Bir­ri­eria Zaragoza’s roasted goat encased in pas­try by Pleas­an­t­house Bak­ery. Oh yes. The only regret I have of the week­end is that for the sake of fru­gal­ity, I chose to cook the rest of the meal, which was sim­ple enough, but just a lot of extra work on a day I was sup­posed to enjoy myself. Big thanks to Noah Singer, who stepped in and relieved me of my sta­tion so I could min­gle. The rest of the meal was sim­ple enough, a funny Mexi-anglo mash up of salsa, gua­camole, mashed pota­toes with mole gravy, and peas. Oh, and in some crazy cos­mic gift from the land, a few days before the wed­ding, the Ox-Bow woods decided to flush in thou­sands of honey mush­room clus­ters, which I had never even seen there before. I for­aged about ten pounds and even found a cou­ple of size­able hen-of-the-woods clus­ters to throw in. I sliced ‘em all up and we sautéed them sim­ply as a side. The main event was months in the mak­ing. The Saugatuck area is blessed to have one of the most bril­liant cater­ers in the land in Chris Fer­ris. She catered my best bud Ben’s wed­ding at Ox-Bow in ’08 and it was the best wed­ding food I’ve ever had. She does the Ox-Bow ben­e­fit for 400 every sum­mer and nails that. Chris and I did a stint one fall in the Ox kitchen and work­ing with her was a pure joy. So I knew we were in great hands! I wanted a roast pig. She asked if I’d ever heard of Gun­thorp Farms. Hell yeah, only on the finest menus in Chicago, I see their truck pull up next door to the Butcher & Larder on the reg­u­lar! After a very casual back and forth with those guys, a real nice fel­low named Greg pulls in the night before the wed­ding with his rig. We’re in the mid­dle of our “Wood­land Spir­its” themed cos­tume dance party and I’m in a loin­cloth and deer antlers and direct him where he should set up. “I’ll just put out a sleep­ing bag next to the pig tonight”. Alright, this guy seems cool. “You’re wel­come to join us for a beer” “I just might”. Dude is way cool. He hung out, seemed to be groov­ing through­out the next day and into the wed­ding. Dur­ing din­ner, he per­son­ally served me “the best part”, the cheek meat. Love this guy. I hadn’t real­ized at the time but he is Farmer Gun­thorp. What a plea­sure. Back to Chris and her crew. We went with a South­ern theme, here’s the rest of the menu: THE BEST local cheese­board, spicy dev­illed eggs, mini muf­fale­tas (deli­cious for break­fast the next day), tomato bacon tartlets (a fave all around), fried chicken drumettes (saved my ass that night, really amaz­ing fried chicken), a vari­ety of sauces for the meats, pick­les, three or four sal­ads, mac and cheese, bis­cuits, an insane feast. I was too busy min­gling to try every­thing (includ­ing the pies from Crane’s Pie Pantry) but it was the best wed­ding food of all time, I am cer­tain. And Chris’ crew even man­aged to switch up buf­fet ser­vice to fam­ily style as a down­pour ush­ered in dinner.


5. Peter Engler

This man needs no intro­duc­tion in some cir­cles, but I think he deserves a big col­lec­tive thank you from the Chicago food scene. Ever heard of a mother-in-law– a Chicago style “corn roll’ tamale in a bun topped with chili and dressed like a Chicago dog? You may have seen Bour­dain wolf one of these down at Fat Johnnie’s in his No Reser­va­tions Chicago episode, that’s Peter sit­ting across from him at the pic­nic table. How about a Big Baby– a dou­ble cheese­burger with grilled onions and one expertly melted slice of Amer­i­can cheese in between the pat­ties? You may have seen these recon­structed on menus at a hip Logan Square cock­tail bar or a hotel bistro in the Gold Coast. Maybe you read about this Jim Shoe sand­wich this fall, a con­coc­tion of chopped gyros and deli meat grid­dled up with gia­r­diniera and served on a roll with let­tuce, tomato, and gyro (pro­nounced guy– ro) sauce. Odds are strong that we have Peter to thank for intro­duc­ing us to these south side fast food anom­alies. In today’s era of the lis­ti­cle, user friendly enter­tain­ment web­sites serve up lazy retweeted jour­nal­ism. Its guys like Peter that are out there putting in the real work, pound­ing the pave­ment, tire­lessly research­ing sto­ries about food that a lot of peo­ple have never heard of. It can take him a decade to put together pieces like his LTH home­page story about the Jim Shoe. That’s because he is thor­ough, he gets the story. It’s been a plea­sure and an honor to have the oppor­tu­nity to trek around the city and eat with Peter. He’s an incred­i­bly gen­er­ous guy that I have counted on him to help me research a story about old fash­ioned cheese­burg­ers or call up to find the best place to buy good frozen egg rolls. Peter came and lec­tured to my “You Art What You Eat” class in the spring and it was really a joy hear­ing the sto­ries of these foods in one sit­ting. He is one of my favorite Chicagoans. Here’s to you, Peter.


4. Thai Food

Thai has long been one of my favorite cuisines. It has it all– chile heat, pro­nounced cit­ric acid­ity, fresh herbs, grilled and fried meats, fer­mented fish funk. This was a ban­ner year for me and Thai food. We have a great scene here in Chicago with sev­eral fan­tas­tic North­ern Thai places where, thanks to the work of a guy called Erik M who trans­lated Thai lan­guage “secret” menus, pro­pri­etors of these restau­rants began to offer up the real goods like fer­mented sausages, blood thick­ened soups, and minced organ meat larb along­side the more stan­dard Pad Thai and green curry menu offer­ings. The land­scape has changed over the years and my old favorites are not any longer, due to chef’s leav­ing for new restau­rants or places becom­ing too pop­u­lar. But thank­fully, I have new favorites and one of them is a match­box of an unas­sum­ing store­front on West­ern Ave. just north of Lawrence, Rain­bow Thai. The menu here is helmed by a for­mer cook at Spoon and a few of their for­merly best dishes are now the clas­sics at Rain­bow, par­tic­u­larly the lit­tle sour, greasy nuggets of house­made Isaan sausage, Nam Tod, the best fried chicken in town, and their sig­na­ture Naem Khao Tod, which is lit­tle clus­ters of deep fried rice treated like a salad with raw onion, herbs, and a cit­rusy dress­ing aug­mented with funky cubes of fer­mented Thai ham. I recently had the oppor­tu­nity to join a pri­vate party to sam­ple new sea­sonal win­ter menu items and was impressed by new-to-me dishes like fried “larb” fish cakes redo­lent of kaf­fir lime leaves and a rich tripe soup. LA has a broader Thai food scene that eas­ily rivals Chicago’s. While I’ve never been entirely impressed with the fabled Jit­lada and its East­ern Thai, on my bach­e­lor party week­end we had some North­ern Thai and Isaan style at Spicy BBQ and Isaan Sta­tion, respec­tively. Although famil­iar with North­ern Thai in Chicago, the cook­ing at Spicy BBQ was more homey and rus­tic. A jack­fruit curry had a Bolog­nese qual­ity cooked down with ground pork. Isaan Sta­tion put out super bright, pop­ping food, includ­ing one of my favorite eats of the year, a cock­les salad with plump pre­his­toric look­ing gas­tropods in a spicy, cit­rusy dress­ing and a super funki­fied fer­mented bam­boo shoot salad. Lastly, I should men­tion the Songkran Fes­ti­val I attended at a Thai com­mu­nity cen­ter in south­west sub­ur­ban Bridgeview. The cafe­te­ria there became a cacoph­o­nous mar­ket­place of dozens of food ven­dors and hap­haz­ard lines. The ven­dors ranged from city restau­rants to home cooks (I sought out the lat­ter). We tried at least a half a dozen things, salty noo­dle soup with a sweet spiced Chi­nese fla­vor pro­file, a gag­gle of fried stuff, and three dif­fer­ent som tums, each with totally unique ele­ments– raw crab, braised pork chops, and fried fish. And we were maybe two miles from my High School.

3. Lucky Peach

I love this mag­a­zine from the brain trust of Momofuku’s David Chang, his buddy/editor of the Momo­fuku cook­book Peter Mee­han, and McSweeney’s edi­tor, Chris Ying. I’d seen it on the rack at Whole Foods a few years back. I have always liked Chang, like their cook­book, but never thought to actu­ally pick up the mag­a­zine. Serendip­i­tously, I was gifted two at the same time and the China town issue, in par­tic­u­lar, sucked me right in. This is all I want from a food pub­li­ca­tion– it’s the meta– food mag­a­zine. It’s not about food porn or easy week­night recipes– there’s no fluff. There’s impor­tant stuff like Michael Pollan’s call-to-arms for cook­ing at home. There’s fun, but con­tem­po­ra­ne­ously per­ti­nent eval­u­a­tions of gen­der and cook­ing via a decon­struc­tion of Three’s Com­pany. There’s an inter­view with a gin­seng for­ager. There’s all my favorite food per­son­al­i­ties– Alice Waters, Fuschia Dun­lop, Roy Choi! Recipes, yes– thank god I now know about bunny chow! There’s Kevin Pang inter­view­ing “Poochie” from Wiener’s Cir­cle and Mar­tin Yan “Can Cook”! There’s even Edie Fake draw­ings!!! Basi­cally, if I could make a food mag, this would be it.

Susie at work at Noon Hour Grill

Susie at work at Noon Hour Grill

2. Community-based Eateries

Par­don me for invent­ing a term. Its kind of a vague one at that, I mean this could mean many things: a school cafe­te­ria, a cof­fee shop (suc­ceed­ing the diner in con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica), a neigh­bor­hood tav­ern with pub grub, a Somali cab­bie joint, a gro­cery store taque­ria. Chi­na­town… If we accept the def­i­n­i­tion of com­mu­nity as a group of peo­ple with a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in com­mon, we could argue that someone’s inter­est in the same restau­rant as some­one else makes them a com­mu­nity. My inter­est is in places that aim to serve com­mu­ni­ties– have a role greater than just feed­ing their clien­tele, becom­ing con­vivial nexuses of their neigh­bor­hoods, that encour­age peo­ple to hang out. I have two exam­ples that I wit­nessed recently at two pretty old restau­rants that exem­plify this kind of hos­pi­tal­ity: Pod­ha­lanka is one of my favorite places to have a leisurely lunch in my neigh­bor­hood. On any given day you can wit­ness a cross sec­tion of the neighborhood’s demo­graphic din­ing there: an amal­gam of old timers, cops, Pol­ish speak­ers, young fam­i­lies, and the young, hip, and upwardly mobile. As gen­tri­fied as most of the sur­round­ing area may seem though, the “tri­an­gle” at Ash­land, Divi­sion, and Mil­wau­kee remains a gath­er­ing place for the day­time drink­ing crowd. Pod­ha­lanka remains mostly unchanged to how it felt when I first dined there in the late 90s and has a frozen-in-amber vibe that harkens back to the bygone hey­day of old “Pol­ish Down­town”. In the past, the room was always lov­ingly presided over by owner Helena, who would offer com­pli­men­tary com­pote juice as you took to your table. In the past few years a younger mem­ber of the fam­ily has relieved Helena of the lion’s share of the front of the house duties. I, and other long­time patrons I know, have had a rough tran­si­tion deal­ing with the new server. He treats much of the clien­tele like noobs who have never heard of a pierogi before, upselling you mul­ti­ple plates of food before you have a chance to crack open the menu. I was wor­ried this favorite place of mine was los­ing its hos­pitable charms. But the new guy got to know me, picked up on my typ­i­cal order and now things feel cozy as always. A few months ago I wit­nessed just how impor­tant this place is to its com­mu­nity, though, when a down-and-out denizen of the tri­an­gle plopped down at the bar for cof­fee. He was in a bad way. The server guy emerged from the back with two packed to-go bags and gave them to the home­less man. He insisted that the food was free and reminded the man that they’d be closed on Sun­day, so he packed him enough food for two days. This moment made me care a lot less about that time I felt like I was treated like just another naïve walk in hip­ster. My other exam­ple is not in my neigh­bor­hood and I’ve only been once, but based on the col­lec­tive love from guys I know who grew up eat­ing there in the 70s and 80s as well as younger Roger’s Park natives, Noon Hour Grill holds a warm and fuzzy place in a lot of Chicagoan’s hearts. This cozy diner, for­merly known as Pusan House is owned and run by Susie Lee, a one woman force who cooks up mighty fine bibim­bap and while we’re talk­ing Korean fusion, crazy omelet con­coc­tions like bulgogi/kimchi/American cheese. When we walked through the front door I imme­di­ately ran into a for­mer stu­dent of mine who lives in the neigh­bor­hood. I asked him what his go-to order is and he said “bibim­bap, Susie knows”. Appar­ently she remem­bers every face that walks though her door. This place is a real gem.

My trib­ute projects got me think­ing about how eater­ies func­tion in artist’s com­mu­ni­ties– start­ing with FOOD in the early 70s, a restau­rant run by artists serv­ing other artists, cre­at­ing a social hub. These places seem to come and go with the move­ment of artists in cities. Leo’s Lunch­room, for instance, existed in a golden time and place: an on-the-cusp-of– gen­tri­fy­ing part of town that attracted a lot of cre­ative tal­ent in a moment when Chicago was attract­ing and export­ing much of this tal­ent. The place reflected the neigh­bor­hood and its cus­tomers: a cheap, slightly dingy hole in the wall of a cof­fee shop turn­ing out scratch made, cre­ative food. Lit­er­ally nour­ish­ing the vibrancy of the scene. But the neigh­bor­hood changed and as artists and musi­cians were priced out the need for Leo’s waned. Sonny’s may have had a cap­tive audi­ence of being the only eatery sit­u­ated within an insti­tu­tion, but again, he offered cheap, home­made food to a cus­tomer base that he took the time to inter­act with and get to know. I sup­pose I long for my own cozy hole in the wall serv­ing hon­est, from scratch grub by a friendly face where I can feel com­fort­able to hang up my hat and hang for awhile. For now, I’ve got Pod­ha­lanka and Susie’s, hope­fully they’ll stick around for awhile…


1. Basque Country

Jes­sica and I were com­pletely enchanted by the Basque Coun­try on our recent hon­ey­moon. The land is gor­geous: dra­matic moun­tains with a ragged arid land­scape on their south­ern face yield­ing to lush pine forests and fer­tile pas­tures fac­ing the Bay of Bis­cay. Our online research on accom­mo­da­tions– the area hosts hun­dreds of centuries-old guest­houses called casas rurales– proved to be much luck­ier than we could have imag­ined. We were perched on a moun­tain­side over look­ing San Sebastián just 6 km to the south in a cider-producing town called Asti­gar­raga. The house and fam­ily that owned the place were as charm­ing as could be– we were very com­fort­able. San Sebastián, or Donos­tia in the native Basque or Euskadi lan­guage, is very well known as a culi­nary des­ti­na­tion both for its den­sity of Miche­lin starred pil­lars of mod­ernist cui­sine, but also for its tapas, or pinx­tos, which are the most esteemed in Spain. The lat­ter would make up the bulk of our itin­er­ary– I tend to favor the uniquely local over the lofty inven­tive. It took us a few days to accli­mate to the Span­ish sched­ule, quickly learn­ing that our happy hour was smack in the mid­dle of their siesta. The pinx­tos bars would be closed from two in the after­noon through eight in the evening and often­times, punc­tu­al­ity was not a com­mon virtue. So we’d load up at lunch, have a few drinks, then take a walk before head­ing home for a late after­noon siesta. That’s the life.

So what did we eat? We hit about a dozen or so of the most rec­om­mended pinx­tos spots. In the old sec­tion of Donos­tia with its charm­ing, nar­row cob­bled streets and just-enough sou­venir shops to remind you that you are on vaca­tion, just about every other store­front is a bar with piles of pin­txos for the tak­ing. You can see the rela­tion­ship between the pre­sen­ta­tion of this food and mod­ernist cui­sine, and I’m not sure which is the chicken or the egg, but many of these small bites are fan­ci­fully gar­nished, stacked high and driz­zled and tweezed, even in the more homely estab­lish­ments. Despite the frilly looks, there is a pretty sim­ple for­mula to your aver­age pinto, a basic palette of ingre­di­ents: lots of egg, hard­boiled or grated finely like cheese (I thought there was grated cojack on every­thing at first, lol) or also made into salad (in par­tic­u­lar ensal­ada rusa or Russ­ian salad, for­ti­fied with ham and pota­toes), then jamón of course, which is usu­ally the good Iberico stuff, anchovies, shrimp, and guindilla chile pep­pers, all assem­bled into whim­si­cal lit­tle sculp­tures atop slices of very nice baguette. Good bread abounds, per­haps due to the prox­im­ity to France. Although I grew tired of the eggy stuff, I found a few of these more tra­di­tional pinx­tos that I fell in love with. Par­tic­u­larly at the sleek, down­town (not in the old town) Bar Anto­nio, which seems to spe­cial­ize in cured fish evi­denced by the ros­ter of gor­geous fru­tas de mer sus­pended in oil in ceramic dishes on their bar. Their igueldo pinxto was a fore­run­ner for favorite of all– roasted tomato rubbed into baguette topped with oil-cured tuna and draped with gor­geous anchovies and piquant guindilla chiles. Decep­tively sim­ple fla­vors with an ele­gant pre­sen­ta­tion, a reoc­cur­ring theme of the pinxto. A les­son we learned early is that many of the best pinx­tos aren’t out on the bar at all. One bite we ate almost every­day was a dead sim­ple nugget of per­fectly seared sir­loin draped with roasted pep­per called solomillo at Bar Gonadarias. On the lat­ter half of our stay we honed in on bars helmed by young chefs, some trained in the mod­ernist kitchens. These bars offered no pinx­tos on the bar, all ordered from a menu. A few spots seemed to try too hard to fool the palate with ironic twists on clas­sic dishes, but we landed at two cel­e­brated spots turn­ing out refined, yet sim­ple plates with a rev­er­ence for pre­mium ingre­di­ents. La Cucaracha de San Telmo, which frus­trat­ingly opens and closes on their own whims, served us my favorite pinxto, a suc­cu­lent braised rab­bit loin with porcini mush­rooms. Decadant and remark­ably in the same price range as just about every other pinxto, about 3 Euro. Around the cor­ner we had some great bites at Borda Berri, which was always packed to the rafters. A few things were overly gar­nished and fussed over, but their braised veal cheek was rich, salty, and real good.

Drink is also quite dis­tinc­tive in the Basque Coun­try– I fell in love with my first white wine, the ubiq­ui­tous Txakoli, which is a per­fect train­ing wheels white– very dry and semi-sparkling– for this lover of bub­bly. The wine is served in a dra­matic high pour to aer­ate and max­i­mize its fizzi­ness. This tech­nique is also employed for the leg­endary Basque cider, which is flat­ter than other ciders I’ve had. Its also intensely sour and has a pro­nounced yeast­i­ness, lovers of sour Bel­gian beers would love the stuff. I had my fill in the course of our five days. Par­tic­u­larly in one epic evening at the local sidreria or sagar­dote­gia (cider mill). We fig­ured we were stay­ing in a cider town, so we might as well soak up the local fla­vor. This proved to be the apex of our time in Basque Coun­try. Petritegi Sagar­dote­gia was rec­om­mended by the adorable grandma of the fam­ily we were stay­ing with. The place is mas­sive, appar­ently seat­ing up to 700 at long wood com­mu­nal tables. The cel­lars are wide open and the din­ers are encour­aged to wan­der amongst the 10 foot tall oak bar­rels. We were seated next to a pair of old cou­ples who at first did not pay much atten­tion to us. We were served a few deli­cious courses of cooked chorizo and a bacalao omelet. I noticed that the men next to us were leav­ing the table to get their cider from the cel­lars. Orig­i­nally, we’d had a bot­tle brought to our table. I decided to inves­ti­gate and real­ized that many of the bar­rels were tapped and folks were help­ing them­selves to the tapped cider. A friendly Eng­lish speaker taught me the ropes, you open the tap and as far from the spigot as pos­si­ble you catch the stream­ing cider on the inner side of your glass, cre­at­ing a cas­cade of bub­bles. I ran into our table­mates on the way back to the table and now I was ini­ti­ated. The guys spoke only Euskadi and French, so our com­mu­ni­ca­tion was lim­ited to ges­tures, but we got on the same page fast, run­ning back and forth form the bar­rels, pound­ing the cider. Too much fun. Back to the food: my favorite bite of the trip was prob­a­bly the third course– fried mer­luza (a com­mon catch in the Bay) topped with a tan­gle of fried pep­pers and onions. So fresh, so sim­ple, per­fect. The main course was a giant t-bone for two, which had that real fat taste of grass fed beef. Jes­sica, the steak lover in the fam­ily declared it the best steak she’d ever had. Dessert was cheese, quince paste, and wal­nuts in the shell. More unfussy, pris­tine ingre­di­ents. The tab: 28 Euros apiece. A once-in-a-lifetime meal and one of my favorites.

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2013 in Food in Pictures




Sean's special wedding pretzel for J & I

Sean’s spe­cial wed­ding pret­zel for J & I

Chinese medicine: cordyceps

Chi­nese med­i­cine: cordyceps

Salsas at Pollo Vagabundo

Sal­sas from the bar at Pollo Vagabundo

Latham Zearfoss' lovely installation at R&C

Latham Zear­foss’ lovely instal­la­tion at R&C

Fresh octo at Greek Islands

Fresh octo at Greek Islands

Shimeji shroomz

Shimeji shroomz

Cheese goo w/ chicharron: E2thaZ3

Cheese goo w/ chichar­ron: E2thaZ3

Late night snaxx mosaic w J

Late night snaxx mosaic w J

The boyz overdoing it at Ghareeb Nawaz

The boyz over­do­ing it at Gha­reeb Nawaz

Home made grilled pork neck larb

Home made grilled pork neck larb

Chinese medicine: gecko

Chi­nese med­i­cine: gecko

Renegade cabeza stand on Western @ Logan

Rene­gade cabeza stand on West­ern @ Logan

Entomophogy book from Bob Loescher's food book collection @ Flaxman Library

Ento­moph­ogy book from Bob Loescher’s food book col­lec­tion @ Flax­man Library

My first Town Topic!

My first Town Topic!

Happy accident at Riegor Hotel & Exchange for Bread KC! brunch

Happy acci­dent at Riegor Hotel & Exchange for Bread KC! brunch

Reluctantly, my fave BBQ (so far) in KC @ Oklahoma Joe's

Reluc­tantly, my fave BBQ (so far) in KC @ Okla­homa Joe’s

Molly Hewitt killing it on the food product art

Molly Hewitt killing it on the food prod­uct art

Birthday lunch: Kai Tod @ Rainbow Thai

Birth­day lunch: Kai Tod @ Rain­bow Thai

Birthday lunch: Naem khao tod @ Rainbow Thai

Birth­day lunch: Naem khao tod @ Rain­bow Thai

Birthday dinner: Chilled tofu @ Sumi Robata Bar

Birth­day din­ner: Chilled tofu @ Sumi Robata Bar

Birthday dinner: assorted skewers @ Sumi Robata Bar

Birth­day din­ner: assorted skew­ers @ Sumi Robata Bar

Bubblegum-lookin raw kibbeh @ Al Ajami, Dearborn, MI

Bubblegum-lookin raw kibbeh @ Al Ajami, Dear­born, MI

Bachelor party lengua

Bach­e­lor party lengua

Cockles salad @ Isaan Station, LA

Cock­les salad @ Isaan Sta­tion, LA

Carmen's big ol' airport calamari martini

Carmen’s big ol’ air­port cala­mari martini

Survival snaxx for Mike's bday: foraged mushroom pinxtos & Spam musubi

Sur­vival snaxx for Mike’s bday: for­aged mush­room pinx­tos & Spam musubi

Nice looking lobster roll from Odie Dog's food truck, Douglas, MI

Nice look­ing lob­ster roll from Odie Dog’s food truck, Dou­glas, MI

nuff said

nuff said

Bizarro Lunch, Ox-Bow

Bizarro Lunch, Ox-Bow

The how-many-rubberbands-does-it-take-to-explode-a-watermelon-game

The how-many-rubberbands-does-it-take-to-explode-a-watermelon-game







Epic haul of honey & hen mushrooms that I cooked up for our wedding rehearsal dinner

Epic haul of honey & hen mush­rooms that I cooked up for our wed­ding rehearsal dinner

Manitowoc, WI

Man­i­towoc, WI

Bounty of the Northwoods camping bfast

Bounty of the North­woods camp­ing bfast

Wild blueberries (w wedding band)

Wild blue­ber­ries (w wed­ding band)

Best pulpo of the year at Boston Fish Market, Des Plaines

Best pulpo of the year at Boston Fish Mar­ket, Des Plaines

Mural @ Stony Sub

Mural @ Stony Sub

Deep fried Jim Shoe @ Super Sub, Marquette Park

Deep fried Jim Shoe @ Super Sub, Mar­quette Park

Pork love @ Carnitas Uruapan

Porcine love @ Car­ni­tas Uruapan

Hoop house at Growing Power

Hoop house at Grow­ing Power

My man, Yoland's Mississippi Delta Tamale cart

My man, Yoland’s Mis­sis­sippi Delta Tamale cart

Flirty Momo food truck, Milwaukee

Flirty Momo food truck, Milwaukee

Hmong farmer's market, Milwaukee

Hmong farmer’s mar­ket, Milwaukee

Hmong grocery, Milwaukee

Hmong gro­cery, Milwaukee

Dainty sandwiches at Duran European Sandwiches

Dainty sand­wiches at Duran Euro­pean Sandwiches

Old school: Heston Supper Club

Old school: Hes­ton Sup­per Club

J's meyer lemon tree

J’s meyer lemon tree

Egg Foo Young @ "Little" Three Happiness

Egg Foo Young @ “Lit­tle” Three Happiness

The always-photogenic Pollo Vagabundo

The always-photogenic Pollo Vagabundo

Found donut-scape, West Loop

Found donut-scape, West Loop

Holiday cheer @ R&C

Hol­i­day cheer @ R&C

Food porn from Piranha in the Stew

Food porn from Piranha in the Stew

Solomillo, sirloin pinxto @ Gondaria's, Donostia- San Sebsatian

Solomillo (sir­loin) pinxto @ Gondaria’s, Donos­tia– San Sebastián

Suckling pig pinxto @ La Cucaracha de San Telmo, Donostia- San Sebsatian

Suck­ling pig pinxto @ La Cucaracha de San Telmo, Donos­tia– San Sebastián

Jamon Iberico de Bellotá

Jamon Iberico de Bellotá

The classiest of the pinto bars with their cured fish, Bar Antonio, Donostia- San Sebsatian

The classi­est of the pinxto bars with their cured fish, Bar Anto­nio, Donos­tia– San Sebastián

Igueldo pinxto, Bar Antonio, Donostia- San Sebsatian

Igueldo pinxto, Bar Anto­nio, Donos­tia– San Sebastián

Merluza (hake) with fried peppers and onions, Petretegi Tolare Sagardotegia, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa

Mer­luza (hake) with fried pep­pers and onions, Petretegi Tolare Sagar­dote­gia, Asti­gar­raga, Gipuzkoa

Learning the cider pour steez, Petretegi Tolare Sagardotegia, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa

Learn­ing the cider pour steez, Petretegi Tolare Sagar­dote­gia, Asti­gar­raga, Gipuzkoa

And how the locals do it

And how the locals do it

Weird xmas snake cake, Donostia- San Sebastian

Weird xmas snake cake, Donos­tia– San Sebastian

Decadently classy pan-euro Xmas eve snacks

Deca­dently classy pan-euro Xmas eve snacks

Doner guy, Mustafa's Gemuse Kebap, Berlin

Doner guy, Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebap, Berlin

The legendary Mustafa's Gemuse Kebap, Berlin

The leg­endary Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebap, Berlin

My first (and last?) currywurst, Curry 36, Berlin

My first (and last?) cur­ry­wurst, Curry 36, Berlin

Berlin grocery store oddities

Berlin gro­cery store oddities

Berlin grocery store oddities

Berlin gro­cery store oddities

The good stuff: smoked speck

The good stuff: smoked speck

Amazing portable wood-fired oven, Alexanderplatz Christmas Market, Berlin

Amaz­ing portable wood-fired oven, Alexan­der­platz Christ­mas Mar­ket, Berlin

Kofte sandwich, Gel Gor, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Kofte sand­wich, Gel Gor, Kreuzberg, Berlin

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Piranha in the Stew


Oh man, this ruled. My third col­labo with Mike Ban­croft, but first with both he and Anne Kostroski of Crumb Bread fame at their totally kick ass Sauce & Bread Kitchen space. Since 2009, they have run Stew Sup­per Club, a kin­dred spirit of Piranha Club, a monthly themed din­ner party with inven­tive ambi­tions. We had been talk­ing about this meet­ing of the minds for a few years now and it finally came together far exceed­ing my expec­ta­tions. Every Decem­ber they host a Feast of the Seven Fishes, which lent itself per­fectly to the idea of toss­ing the Piranha in the Stew, so we put a South Amer­i­can spin on the Ital­ian tra­di­tion with dishes like empanadas, ceviche, and moqueca. The food porn you’ll see below is tes­ta­ment to the level of qual­ity and craft that went into this meal. As homey the kitchen at R&C is, its a treat to work in a fully equipped facil­ity with ample space and good light­ing. So, this meal was con­sid­er­ably more refined than your typ­i­cal PC, though the fla­vors were bold and down-to-earth. The ache in my bones after an 11 hour day reminded of the endurable hard work that real cooks face day in day out, although between the beers and plea­sur­able com­pany of Mike and Anne, prepar­ing this feast was a com­plete joy. Thanks guys!


Down in the cel­lars where Coop is brew­ing cider, some of which became granita for the oysters


Anne get­ting some pre-game bak­ing done. Very cool process.


Banana chips (plan­tains actually)


Kumamoto oys­ters with Coop cider granita


Grilled Caesar with poached egg

Grilled Cae­sar with poached egg


Mak­ing the magic happen




Aru­gala & feta empanadas with bagna cauda chimichurri





Piranha in the Stew: Moqueca


Minto choco­late fish cook­ies with mango sorbetto


This guy spiels more than I do!

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