July 4th, 2015: Cheese Your Face

"Not as big of a Dead fan as I might look"

Not as big of a Dead fan as I might look”

My ever-helpful hippie mama

My ever-helpful hip­pie mama

Shakedown street

Shake­down street

Jerry would approve

Jerry would approve

Acid Rollins Your Face?

Acid Rollins Your Face?

Still got it

Still got it

Gotta start em young!

Gotta start em young!

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The Piranha Club Presents: Cheese Your Face: 7/4

CYF

Sat­ur­day, July 4th. 1–4 PM

@ Roots & Cul­ture, 1034 N Mil­wau­kee Ave.

Before I devel­oped a taste for Jerry’s end­less mean­der­ing riffs, Bobby’s good old boy (not always in tune) har­mo­niz­ing, and Phil’s psych the­atrics, I was drawn to the idea of the park­ing lot. An unreg­u­lated open air mar­ket, where con­cert venues seem­ingly turned a blind eye toward the ped­dling of illicit sub­stances, hip­pie crafts, expen­sive beer, and a cer­tain genre of veg­gie stoner junk food. I found my call­ing in the hawk­ing of the more whole­some lat­ter cat­e­gory, my spe­cialty: the grilled cheese.

Before I got into the hand­painted PVC didgeri­doo game, I’d hap­pily pocket hun­dreds of dol­lars a day sling­ing but­tery, gooey grilled cheese sand­wiches con­structed the way most of our moms made them out of cheap squishy white bread and Amer­i­can cheese sin­gles. That would set you back a buck back in ’95. Look­ing for a more gour­mand expe­ri­ence? Add tomato for 50¢. What really lured in the munchie– addled hordes of patch­work clad, patchouli stink­ing col­lege kids was a lit­tle trick I dis­cov­ered smok­ing my way through my family’s spice rack– a sprin­kle of oregano would not only add a classy touch to the sand­wich, but the over-spill off the sand­wich would inevitably burn on the hot pan, releas­ing a musky herbal scent in the vicin­ity, entic­ing more and more hippies.

So to cel­e­brate the Dead’s “final” shows this 4th of July hol­i­day at Sol­dier Field as well as the spirit of hip­pie entre­pre­neur­ship, I’m dust­ing off the old Cole­man camp stove and The Piranha Club will host a grilled cheese party. $5 for a grilled cheese, chips, & a drink. Your choice of the “junkie” made the way mom would on squishy white bread with sin­gles or the “crusty” made on a crusty sour­dough with a pro­pri­etary arti­sanal cheese blend. $1 add ons include tomato, avo­cado, ham, or bacon. There will prob­a­bly be some Sierra Nevadas and Sammy Smiths on hand as well. Ven­dors wel­come, so bring your cus­tom devil sticks, hemp neck­laces, and patch­work pipe totes on down! It’ll be a reg­u­lar shake down street!

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The World’s Largest ~Artisanal~ Jim Shoe

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Fre­quent read­ers of this blog will rec­og­nize my fix­a­tion with the Jim Shoe sand­wich. This sand­wich could be described as a culi­nary abom­i­na­tion, a wrong idea in most every sense, a prank that could have been con­cocted by any num­ber of ~stoned~ caloric thrill seek­ers, not too far astray from the street food fan­tasies of its booze-sopping Latin Amer­i­can cousins. A sub roll + grid­dled “corn” beef, roast beef, AND gyros + mayo and mus­tard + let­tuce and tomato, gilded with guy-ro sauce (aka tzatziki), some­times with optional cheese, grilled onions, and requisite-for-me giardiniera.

But its pure Chicago– born behind the bul­let proof glass of South­side sub shops, ubiq­ui­tous spots that seem to do more of their busi­ness in low rent grease (gyros, burg­ers, deep fried stuff) than their name­sake sand­wiches. The his­tory of the thing is dubi­ous, likely born out of some sort of mani­a­cal hunger-distorted vision that became the stuff of urban leg­end that sub­se­quently went viral over the past few decades. Like most northside-dwelling inter­net food hounds, I was turned on to them by Dr. Peter Engler, a Chicago food his­to­rian and a true leg­end of the food inter­net under­ground. I’d heard whis­pers about this sand­wich from mutual friends, but patiently waited for Peter to unleash this decade-in-the-making trea­tise on the subject.

Bad idea or not, it turned out I actu­ally quite like these mon­strosi­ties. Best in mea­sured doses– shared amongst friends, this is a true exam­ple of the sum-equals-more-than-its-parts the­ory. I’ve sam­pled them across the south and west sides, in all of their forms: meats sliced or chopped on the grid­dle; spilling out of a pita; wrapped in a bur­rito shell and deep fried; and even made with higher qual­ity ingre­di­ents up in Milwaukee.

This last form sparked a con­ver­sa­tion amongst a few of my food pals on a day trip up to Chicago’s north­ern­most neigh­bor­hood. What would a truly arti­sanal Shoe taste like? Made with the best ingre­di­ents of their class: a proper Ital­ian sub roll stuffed with home made meats and gia­r­diniera. The per­fect oppor­tu­nity arose last week­end when my bud Matt “laikom” Zatkoff hosted a Chicago themed potluck BBQ. I was mak­ing 7 lbs. of my famous Ital­ian beef any­how and also had to make a stop at the cor­ner of Grand and May for a 1–2 punch of D’Amatos crusty 3 ft. extra long Ital­ian rolls and Bari’s deeply mar­i­nated hot gia­r­diniere. Ital­ian beef is not typ­i­cal on Chicago shoes, but had fea­tured in that ren­di­tion at Milwaukee’s House of Corned beef, upping the Chicago ter­roir of this sand­wich a notch. So my Ital­ian beef would fill in for the roast beef. Mark “fro­pones” Sie­gal painstak­ingly crafted a house-cured corned beef and PIGMON and trixie-pea were kind enough to cruise up the Edens to grab a few pounds of the favored house made gyros (and tztaziki) from Psis­tria on Touhy in Lin­col­nwood. And while, there are some pretty mas­sive Jim Shoes already on the mar­ket, since we had a 3 foot long sub roll we could dub this the “world’s largest Jim Shoe”, I’ll insert “arti­sanal” as a descrip­tor before folks start call­ing afoul.

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Photo c/o Matt Zatkoff

I’m a huge fan of the chopped style of Jim Shoe, for which the meats are chopped on the grid­dle as they brown, often with onions and gia­rdiera. Watch­ing a true grid­dle mas­ter at a sub shop offers quite the show, a brisk and aggres­sive, yet finessed dance. A term that comes up in Jim Shoe lore is kat-a-kat, the name of a Pak­istani dish of offal that is fried and chopped, the word an ono­matopoeia for the sound of two blades hit­ting the grid­dle as they cut up the meat. Since many of the grid­dle men at these sub shops are Pak­istani natives, this makes sense.

I’ve noticed that the cook­ing imple­ments often employed look like (or prob­a­bly are) spackle knives, so I chipped any resid­ual joint com­pound off a cou­ple of spat­u­las from my paint­ing toolkit and proudly wielded them as my kat-a-kat weaponry. Our slow cooked meats broke down into an almost hash-like con­sis­tency and as I let the meat crisp up real nice, a good hash might be a fair anal­ogy. You can see my spackle knife in the photo below.

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Photo c/o Matt Zatkoff

So how was this? Deli­cious of course, the sum-of-its-parts as a true Shoe should be. But was it as good as the real thing? I might argue no, at least not as good as the best ren­di­tions from Super Sub in Mar­quette Park or Stony Sub down on Stony Island. An authen­tic Jim Shoe takes hum­ble, mass pro­duced, (and impor­tant here) sodium-laden prod­ucts that on their own have lit­tle merit to a dis­cern­ing palate and ele­vate them into some­thing wor­thy. We took prod­ucts that were deli­cious in their own right and while Voltron-ed together were still delec­table, they lost their own inherit qual­i­ties a bit in the mix. A lack of salt whal­lop was the most dis­cernible dif­fer­ence, par­tic­u­larly in the gyros, which sev­eral BBQ-goers were quick to note. Even the Bari gia­r­diniere had a cer­tain dain­ti­ness com­pared to its more processed coun­ter­parts. Sat­is­fy­ing, but not quite on that down ‘n dirty.

Look at this shit eating grin

Look at this shit eat­ing grin. Photo c/o Justin Oesterreich

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I’m From Ox-Bow

emay

Photo c/o Skip Bal­lou

I’m from Ox-Bow.

I’ve been say­ing this a lot lately. I’m okay with some bugs in the house, spi­ders, a wel­come vis­i­tor. That hole in the screen? It can wait a few weeks. The old, the rot­ting– famil­iar and com­fort­ing. Just give it a fly paint job.

Jes­sica & I bought a house a few months ago, which sig­naled a major shift in my lifestyle. After 15 full sum­mers of work­ing at Ox-Bow, it’s finally time to hang up my chef’s hat. If you could see our house though, its more than a lit­tle rem­i­nis­cent of the quirky, over­grown, vibrantly painted col­lec­tion of shacks on the lagoon~ with prob­a­bly a few less bugs inside. Though I can’t say that I con­sciously chose the house because of its campy-ness, Jes­sica says that she knew imme­di­ately that it was going to be our house because it felt like Ox-Bow. It felt like home.

Home.

There was a time when I con­sid­ered Ox-Bow my home. I was in my early 20s and oth­er­wise itin­er­ant in where I laid my head. I was still in the needing-to-feel-as-far-away-from-my-parent’s-nest phase. That moment I first set eyes on the lagoon on that balmy after­noon in late July of 1998 is the sin­gu­lar most strik­ing mem­ory I have of the place. Expe­ri­enc­ing that view for 100 days straight is prob­a­bly the one thing I’ll miss most. The place felt totally famil­iar, I had spent a chunk of every sum­mer of my child­hood and ado­les­cence in the sandy dunes and lakeshore of West Michi­gan. But there was a cer­tain sense of grandeur– the vista of the mean­der­ing lagoon set against a dra­matic back­drop of tow­er­ing, densely wooded dunes. A pal­pa­ble spirit quak­ing in the wind.

And those funny cab­ins, I got to live in four of them and had count­less laughs, beers, and weird sleep­overs in just about the rest of them. The buzz of campers in the old inn, entic­ing food smells, humid lazy lunches on the side porch. Cool grown ups. All those crazy artists everywhere.

I’m going to keep the sen­ti­men­tal­ity in check. The place is fueled by it. You’re liv­ing in your best mem­o­ries in real time. Every­one feels like, well, your broth­ers and sis­ters. Time both flies by and feels like it’s last­ing for­ever at once. You yearn for the place Sep­tem­ber through May, count­ing down the days. The magic, blah, blah, blah.

I think that for a lot of us (and I mean every­one who falls in love with the place), Ox-Bow pro­vides us with what we strug­gle to find else­where in life. A con­nec­tion to nature, belief in the unseen, magic. A feel­ing of com­mu­nity, fam­ily, home. Noth­ing wrong with that. I think for me, it was just that my par­ents never sent me away to sum­mer camp. It was my place to be the me I felt unsafe being in the real world– to wear a dress and make up, to run around naked, to get wasted every night. A per­pet­ual state of ado­les­cent rebel­lion. But I swear I grew up at Ox-Bow, I really did…

I fell in love at Ox-Bow for the first time and maybe a cou­ple more times. I met about ¾ of my best friends there. I got mar­ried at Ox-Bow! I felt a sense of com­mu­nity that has inspired and dri­ven all of the work in my life since. I learned to work at Ox-Bow. I was a lazy kid, always look­ing for short­cuts, averse to hard work. As a work study dish­washer at Ox-Bow, for the first time in my life, I felt pride in labor– my sweat, a con­tri­bu­tion to the col­lec­tive endeavor. I learned that ser­vice and work­ing with food were my life’s work.

But I also had my heart bro­ken there. I fought with friends. Friend­ships col­lapsed. I buried pets there. My friend drowned.

Life in sharp focus.

I watched Ox-Bow grow up with me. The days of drum cir­cles, day­time skinny dip­ping, and day drink­ing gave way to a more but­toned up pro­fes­sion­al­ism. I was there, man, but shortly came ren­o­va­tion and expan­sion. And oh boy, did we not like it. How dare they bull­doze our sacred ground. What do you mean we can’t smoke joints when­ever and wher­ever we want? But alas, the rebel­lion was short­sighted. We were lifted up out of hippy provin­cial­ism and became a world class insti­tu­tion. It was good that a hand­ful of us old timers car­ried some of the old spirit into the new era, shar­ing our com­mu­nal­ism and funky old ways. And I like to think that we passed down some of our knowl­edge to a new gen­er­a­tion. That’s the thing, even though we had new big shiny build­ings and dozens more campers, the vibe didn’t change all that much. But some of that sense of com­mu­nity was lost, things just got geo­graph­i­cally spread out more, it was harder to get to know all those new faces.

There were big­ger per­sonal shifts going on as I grew up at Ox-Bow. As I was pro­moted to a man­age­ment posi­tion and then wit­nessed the pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing of the ser­vices we offered, some of my roman­tic rela­tion­ship with the place and feel­ings of “home” and “fam­ily” started to wane. But this was all okay. I was there to serve. Serve the mis­sion of Ox-Bow. I took great pride in my job. The cush­est ser­vice indus­try gig ever– a free place to live, sur­rounded by nature, free access to world class ped­a­gogy, feed­ing and mak­ing happy friends and respected col­leagues. In the end of the day, I came to terms with the fact that Ox-Bow was just a job, best gig in the world or not.

Back to that home and fam­ily thing. As I grew up I real­ized that Ox-Bow was only 3 months of my life and the other ¾ of the year inevitably had to take pri­or­ity. I found a new home and fam­ily. Back at camp I started to crave pri­vacy, nor­malcy, a good wifi con­nec­tion. I missed my wifey.

Speak­ing of pri­vacy, the hard­est part of the job is sort­ing out the inevitably blurry bound­aries between pri­vate and pub­lic. Where work begins and ends and really doesn’t. This is where all the trou­ble hap­pens. My fatal flaw with my job was try­ing to keep every­one happy. Kinda fucked up to have to man­age your friends– your broth­ers and sis­ters– though. My only regret is not telling my friends that they were bad work­ers some­times and not telling my work­ers that they were bad friends other times. I could have been more forth­right, less con­fronta­tion– averse and it could have saved me a lot of grief.

But all I ever wanted was to keep the peace. Seri­ously folks, lis­ten up haters. Even though you can blame me for walk­ing around with too much swag­ger for my own good and inces­santly turn­ing the vol­ume up, some­times at the expense of the peace of my neigh­bors, every­thing I did at Ox-Bow on the clock, ever, I did for the realm.

I grew up at Ox-Bow. And many other wily young artists will for gen­er­a­tions to come. Some­how the place takes care of it self, it’s about regen­er­a­tion. My best pal, Car­men said this at a sum­mer end bur­ial. My other best pal Sarah Workneh shared a ker­nal of wis­dom passed down to her as she was part­ing with the place, by the astute elder, Ellen Lanyon, “Ox-Bow will always be okay.” As I walk away from this cush­est of jobs, I remind myself this. After spend­ing every sum­mer of my adult life at the place, it’s hard to not get a lit­tle hung up on legacy or fret what will hap­pen in my absence. But I know its gonna be great. The place takes care of itself.

Okay, I’ll end with sen­ti­men­tal­ity. Of course I’ll miss the damned place. I love Ox-Bow like a liv­ing, breath­ing per­son. This is not good­bye. I will be back time and time again through­out my life to enjoy the caress of the warm sum­mer breeze com­ing in off the lagoon. I know she’ll wel­come me back. After­all, I am from Ox-Bow.

I’d like to thank all you beau­ti­ful campers, who I had a beer or a thou­sand with:

George Liebert, Jakub Kuchar­czyk, Rafael Vera, James Schnei­der, Olivia Petrides, Molly Muste, Mar­garet Her­bert, Karl “Ze Moon Belongs to Ze Peo­ple”, John Rossi, Heather Mac­in­tyre, Lani John­son, Rachel Fenker (Vera), Beylka Krupp, Mikey Hen­der­berg, Spe­cial K, Hank Adams, Maryann Lipaj, Chain­saw Dave, Andrew Win­ship, Scott Win­ship, Linda Char­vat, Winslow & Gus Liebert, Mike Noise, Janel Rouge, Yoh, Draga Susanj, Matt Fed­erico, Cather­ine Sky, David Baker, Kath­leen Mark­land, Sally & Liz, Lind­say Mad­den, Alex Her­zog, Shari Doyel, Becky Wehmer, Dawn Stafford, Bill Pad­nos, Tim Straub­ing, Matt Helander, Rick Malette, Liz Wheeler, Ken Burak, Nick Hig­bee, Zack Peavler, Katie Her­zog, Erin Zona, Jess Bohus, Jerry Cata­nia, Rob McClurg, EW Ross & fam­ily, Sheila O’Donnell, Mark Pas­cale, Jea­nine Coupe– Ryd­ing, Holly Green­berg, Michael Ryan, Mar­ion Kryczka & fam­ily, Andrea Peter­son & fam­ily, Colin Browne, Mike Wolf, Liz Nielsen, Dan Mackessy, Peter Bar­rett, Ted­ders Nathanson, Matt “Skip” Bal­lou, Lind­sey Brash­ler, Pam Zim­mer­man, Reid Thomp­son, Amanda Cohen, Amy Buc­ci­ferro, Sarah, Lisa Wain­wright, John Cor­bett, Lane Relyea, Mikro­naut, Matt Mars­den, Siebren Ver­steeg, Joe Klee­man, Dahlia Tulett, Jesse Baker, Luba Hal­icki, Mon­ica Marin, Jeremy Holden, Steamer Sea­mons, Ryan Fenchel, Andy Mal­one, Melissa Hogan, Shan­non Mustipher, Liz Nuren­burg, Leslie Vega, Maria Stubbs, Sarah Workneh, Lau­rie Price, Anna Mayer, Shara Hughes, Katie Ham­mond (Hal­ton), Lau­ren Cas­teel, Stacy Shier­holz, Jamisen Ogg, Rob Bell, Eric Mirabito, Al Hal­ton, Pauly Lukachin­ski Men­doza, Rachel Clark, Rich Fos­hay, Michelle Grab­ner & fam­ily, Tom Bar­tel, Cas­san­dra Cham­bers, Chresten Sorensen, Kate Gron­ner, Phil Han­son, Alex Han­son, Deirdre McConnell, Jes­sica Williams, Lon­nie Pot­ter, Shanna Shearer, Stacy Hol­loway, Caleb Lyons, CJ Math­erne, Nate Wolf, Pat Rios, Kelly Reeves, John Phillips, Israel Davis, Jeff Blan­ford, Kevin Puta­lik, Andrea Oleniczak, Steve & Bobbi Meier & fam­ily, Betsy Rup­precht & Jan Cun­ning­ham, Todd Warnock, Norm & Con­nie Deam, Phil & Cindy Visser & Fam­ily, Scott & Nancy Bru­ursema, The Sev­er­ances, The Leutzingers, The Suarez Fam­ily, Pete Pala­zollo, Dave Sei­del, Emily Wal­lace, Todd Knight & Michael Leonard, Mike Rossi, Car­men Price, Michelle Froh, Lakela Brown, Ram­bler, Tyler Poni, Grandma, Mar­i­anne McGrath, Danny Z, Miles Votek, Lau­ren Ander­son, Vanesa Zen­de­jas, Megan Reilly, Oli Watt, Aline Cautis, Piper Brett, Daniel Petraitis, Frog, Mus­tache Phil, Tay­lor Kur­rle, Tony Amato, Kelsey, Chris & Sam Fer­ris, Jason Kala­jainen, Richard Deutsch, Jimmy Wright, Eliz­a­beth Cho­dos, Brian McN­ear­ney, George Git­tens, Ji, Erin Cun­ning­ham, Alex who was into house music, Julianne Shi­bata, Jerry Saltz, Scott Reeder, Tyson Reeder, Jim Lutes, Carl Baratta, Rut Baratta, Kate Naka­mura, Kara Hall, Sara Cof­fin, Trash­ley, Efren Arcoiris, Geof­frey Hamer­linck, Teena McCle­land, Dan John­son, Tony & Tina Lar­son & fam­ily, Melanie Schiff, Erin Chapla, Dempsey, Katie Scan­lan, Ash­leigh Burskey, Car­o­line Woolard, Kari Rinn, Nate Doro­tiak, Amy Stibich, Stu­art Snoddy, Teruko Nimura, Vic­tor Sun, Mike Andrews, Alex Chitty, Rachel Nif­f­eneg­ger, Justin Swin­burne, Dan Ose­di­acz, John Parot, Justin Goodall, Andrew Svec, Nick John­ston, Chris Pow­ers, Julia Ash­er­man, Nate Ton­ning, Mari Miller, Kathy Leisen, Becca Bald­win, Rob Doran, Gor­don Hall, Hugh Zei­gler, Caiti Hack­ett, Chris Mrozik, Sarah Faux, Anja, Beau & Lily, Alec Appl, Met­als tech John, Joel Dean, Craig Doty, Aspen Mays, Michael Thibault, Sara Condo, Stephanie Nadeau, Max Hege­dus, Mar­tin Basher, Arlen Austin, Kelly Kaczyn­ski, John Bart­lang, Adam Eck­strom, Lau­ren Was, Tim Roby, Lisa Rybovich– Crallé, , Kari Rear­don, Andy Pomylka­ski, Tommy Cole­man, Daniel Lane, Chris Bost­wick, Kate Clark, Ben Love, Eric Steen, Sarah Rabeda, Mac Kat­ter, Evan Jenk­ins, Moira O’Neil. Casey McG­o­na­gle, Mark Ben­son, Jonah Groeneboer, Kate Rug­geri, Car­son Fisk– Vit­tori, Arend deGruyter– Helfer, McK­eever Dono­van, Sofia Leiby, Tiana Tucker, Betsy O’Brien, Mickey Pom­frey, Blake, Oliver Apte, Ben Medan­ski, Ben McCarthy, Natalie Edwards, Stephanie Brooks, Isak Applin, Lone Wolf & Cub, Han­nah Tarr, Priya Wittman, Ye Qin Zhu, Henry Criss­man, Ginny Tor­rance, Dul­cee Boehm, James Payne, Jonas Sebura, Jill Mason, Jovan­nah Nichol­son, Theaster Gates, Bill O’Brien, Chris Johansen & Jo Jack­son, Erin Nel­son, Sally Jerome, Peter Lin­den, David Schmitt, Scott Carter, Joven­cio De La Paz, Anthony Cree­den, Sophie Roessler, Alex Gartel­man, Har­rell Fletcher, Crys­tal Bax­ley, Rimas Simaitis, Tre Reis­ing, Neal Van­den­bergh, Andrew Mausert– Mooney, Biff Bolen, Danny Giles, Mar­i­anne Fair­banks, Jessie Edel­man, Sam Davis, Jamie Steele, Eileen Mueller, Jenny Drum­goole, Patrick Sarmiento, Miah Jones, Kirk Faber, Eli­jah Burgher, Rebecca Walz, Ryan Pfeif­fer, Jesse Har­rod, Rebecca Rin­quist, Ector Gar­cia, Amanda Wong, Rachel Brown­ing, Kendell Harbin, Nate Ellef­son, Carol Hu, Stephen Kent, Will Sieruta, Olivia Blan­chard, Molly Hewitt, Lau­ren Tay­lor, Mar­cel Alcala, Dana Carter, Paula Wil­son, Jo Dery, Car­rie Vinarsky, Lori Felker, Jesse McLean, Andy Hall, Andy Yang, Mac Akin, Woo­bie Bogus, Susan­nah Dot­son, Crys­tal Hei­den, Jackie Fur­tado, Andy Jor­dan, Sara Green­berger Raf­ferty, Jon Bru­mit, Judith Roden­bach, Eric Fleis­chauer, Aline Cautis, Heather Mekkel­son, Chris Kerr, Cauleen Smth, Ali Chit­saz, Dan Con­way, Lind­say Cashews, David Tor­res, Ryan Shrum, Lau­rel Shear, Diana Lozano, David Alekhougie, Moe Beitiks, Rachel Ger­vais, Bran­don Mathis, Kim­ber Shaw, Paul Warfield, MC Richard­son, JR Magsaysay Stan­ley, Andy Roche, Jason Lazarus, Noah Singer, Richard Hull, Shan­non Strat­ton, Michael Milano, Etta Sandry, Tegan Brace, Jesse Malmed, Raven Mun­sell, Anthony Stepter, Julie Ault, Zach Cahill, Abby Satin­sky, Andrew Doty, Krzysztof Lower, Emma Pryde, John Elio Reit­man, Nick Grasso, Osiris Zuniga, Carly Conel­ley, Winslow Funaki, Annie Miller, Sofia McDou­gal, Howard Fonda, Claire Ash­ley, Erin Wash­ing­ton, Ben Fain, Car­rie Schnei­der, Jayne Glick, Nate Large, Alyx Harch, Anthony Renda, Dash Sheffield, Rebecca Parker, Chris Ren­ton, Aay Pre­ston– Myint, Alex Valen­tine, Dan Gunn, Karolina Gna­towski, Meg, Lupe Ros­ales, and finally to the love of my life, who put up with this for six sum­mers and will be by my side, finally, for the rest of the sum­mers of my life, Jes­sica Labatte.

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Piranha Club: Xaymaca/Queens

XQ0

Photo c/o Lyn­nette Miranda

Wow, where to begin? The NY debut of the Piranha Club was fit­tingly, the most intense din­ner we’ve ever done.

Our trip up the Hud­son to pro­cure beaver meat is most likely the best entry point into this story…

I’m a big fan of of Baron Ambrosia, the self-styled “Quaf­fer of Culi­nary Con­scious­ness” and “Culi­nary Ambas­sador to the Bronx”. I first stum­bled across the fine Baron in this 2012 Seri­ous Eats piece about his leg­endary Bronx Pipe Smok­ing Society’s Annual Small Game Din­ner for which (in its 2nd iter­a­tion of the annual event) he assem­bled a crack team of local chefs to tackle a range of wild game meats for an invite only secret society-like mas­quer­ade ball. I’ve fol­lowed his exploits ever since from his Cook­ing Chan­nel show, The Culi­nary Adven­tures of Baron Ambrosia, to his pro­duc­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tions with Hip-hop roy­alty like Grand­mas­ter Melle Melle and the Ultra­m­ag­netic MCs to his recent spot on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Bronx episode. Weird meats, rap lore, and neigh­bor­hood rep­ping– you can see how I find this guy to be a kin­dred spirit. So how excited was I when I received an e-mail from the man him­self after I tweeted to him about sourc­ing beaver meat in NY for our Queens/Xaymaca din­ner with Paul Anthony Smith~ I guess social media can actu­ally lead to mean­ing­ful IRL expe­ri­ences. And even bet­ter a per­sonal invi­ta­tion to his home to pick up our loins of largest-rodent-in-America…

My respect for this guy was val­i­dated emphat­i­cally when we vis­ited his home. While his schtick may seem pretty thick on cam­era, the line between his art and life is all but invis­i­ble. Intense and excited, but drip­ping with an almost for­mal social grace and gen­uine charm, the Baron was the finest of hosts, open­ing the doors of his world to us. His Vic­to­rian man­sion was stun­ning– gothic, sur­real, with New Orleans-y vibe– every sur­face treated with fan­ci­ful adorn­ment. He escorted us into the par­lor and on a table adja­cent to a crushed vel­vet couch, omi­nously sat three empty wine glasses. In our cor­re­spon­dence before the trip, I’d been aware of his exper­i­ments with beaver gland vodka and ner­vously antic­i­pated the fact that he might serve us one of his potions. As he pulled a spec­i­men jar from behind his bar, he pro­claimed that he’d start us off with the begin­ner stuff. I could see two omi­nous furry shapes rolling about in the jar filled up with about three inches of liq­uid. Bear paws. Baron ran to the kitchen to grab a turkey baster and his adorable ginger-haired daugh­ter in an entirely casual tone after peep­ing at the scary-to-us busi­ness pro­claimed “oh, its grown up stuff” and cheer­fully skipped away into another room with her stuffed bunny.

Paul, Jes­sica (thanks for being such a trooper, baby), and I were all game. The just slightly cloudy liq­uid, inspired by a tonic Baron had wit­nessed in Viet­nam, had an aroma and after­taste of nutty Jamón Ibérico, a lit­tle sweet up front and less musty than you might think. We sur­vived the first round. I knew what was com­ing next. The Baron pro­duced a bell jar with a snotty look­ing node bob­bling around. The beaver gland vodka. This one had a med­i­c­i­nal, though quite aro­matic, vibe. If you peruse the linked arti­cle above, you’ll learn that the extrac­tions from beaver cas­tor gland– used by the ani­mal to mark its turf– is FDA approved and has been used in arti­fi­cial fla­vor­ings and per­fumes for a real long time. I thought it had a menthol-y after­taste. So then we were ready to sam­ple the real “grown up stuff” but unfor­tu­nately I can­not recount the expe­ri­ence here, since this last tinc­ture fea­tures as the grand finalé of this year’s Small Game Din­ner to be held in a few weeks. Let’s just say, other than the Baron, none of us tried this one…

We then took care of busi­ness in Baron’s office, which was even denser full of visual eccen­tric­i­ties– equal parts the Wizard’s cham­ber, shrine to Kali, and film noir detective’s desk. We got to sam­ple deli­cious birch sap wine, made with noth­ing but the flo­ral, early spring nec­tar of the birch tree. I wasn’t shocked when the Baron spon­ta­neously pre­sented us with a frozen por­cu­pine. And by the time he fetched a cru­cible filled to the brim with beaver hams, the exotic meat looked down­right scrump­tious. Its impor­tant to note that Baron shared the story of how his prac­tice of cham­pi­oning wild meats came to be. He met a trap­per named Bill Guiles, a back-to-the-lander who traps ani­mals for pelts in the old school way in the deep woods of the Adiron­dacks. Baron met him at a party and invited him­self along for a hunt. He saw an oppor­tu­nity in the meat often-times dis­carded in the process of skin­ning these ani­mals. Baron reminded us that we also had Trap­per Bill to thank for our six beau­ti­ful crim­son beaver hams. Baron sent us off with a part­ing gift of a beaver’s tail and a pint of cas­toreum vodka for the party and we were on our way. The whole thing still feels like a dream.

I was respect­ful of the Baron not to shoot pic­tures of his home with my iPhone, but Jes­sica snuck in one of the beaver meat in his office:

XQ

And down to Queens:

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The Knock­down Cen­ter. This place is a for­mer dec­o­ra­tive glass, turned door fac­tory. 50,000 square feet in Maspeth, Queens, though basi­cally right across the street from rapidly-gentrifying Bush­wick, Brook­lyn . It was ren­o­vated and opened as a multi-purpose event space about two years ago. It is owned by a jovial, but no-bullshit, New York answer to “The Dude” and his fam­ily. And it is man­aged by my best bud from grad school, Tyler Myers. Tyler’s wife, Sta­cie John­son with Gabrielle Gar­land– who I should note have both worked with me at Roots & Cul­ture– invited me to be a part of their cura­to­r­ial project, Neg­a­tive Space, which explores art that ref­er­ences aspects of domes­tic­ity. I guess we can call my project domes­tic, since at least now we know that beaver is reg­u­larly on the menu at someone’s house.

Knock­down Cen­ter is badass, a gor­geous win­dowed post-industrial cathe­dral with sur­prises around every cor­ner, like a seri­ously well equipped kitchen with an adja­cent spa­cious, but cozy din­ing space. It had a nicely lived in vibe and quite reminded me of the Piranha Club’s home base at R&C.

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Paul and his flow

My part­ner in crime for this Piranha Club was Paul Anthony Smith, who I met at a bar in Kansas City in 2012 while I was down there for my Mid­west­ern BBQ Migra­tion project at Char­lotte St. Foun­da­tion. I’d already known about this guy, though, from mutual friends in both KC and Chicago. Our paths had not really crossed that often since. He’d done a killer show of paint­ings in Chicago called “Man­gos and Crabs”, but mostly we’ve com­mu­ni­cated from afar as mutual fans of each other’s food obsessed Insta­gram feeds. There’s that social media con­nect­ing peo­ple in real ways again.

You prob­a­bly know that I’m a Jamaica-phile, or per­haps a recov­er­ing one. The stony one-two of reg­gae music has long been at the heart of my record col­lec­tion and I have a deep rev­er­ence for its ances­try to my other favorite rhythm of hip hop. I also love the slow cooked, deeply spiced fla­vors of the English-colonized, African-cultured Caribbean. Chicago is not the spot for that food though. And I’ve never been to Jamaica. I have come to real­ize that the Amer­i­can roman­ti­ciza­tion of trop­i­cal par­adises in colo­nial places + the col­lege escapism of Bob Mar­ley “Leg­end” sing-a-longs and the real­ity of life on the island is not some­thing that I can reconcile.

XQ_

Paul was a great trav­el­ing com­pan­ion for West Indian Brook­lyn. He pointed out Jamaican ladies with their faces bleached. I knew about Man­nish waters but not much about ackee. Jamaicans cook with a lot of ketchup. We cured our hang­overs with sub­lime roti at Rama’s Roti House and I won­dered about their Hindu shrine. As we cruised up Flat­bush Ave. we watched the demo­graph­ics quickly go hip­ster. Brook­lyn is a lit­tle more inte­grated than Chicago at least.

Venison curry about to go in for a braise

Veni­son curry about to go in for a braise

The premise of the menu riffed on the ety­mol­ogy of the word Jamaica. To quote the press release “Just down Queens Blvd from the Knock­down Cen­ter (which at one point was actu­ally named “Jamaica Estates”), there hap­pens to be a neigh­bor­hood called Jamaica, which many Jamaican peo­ple call home. The name how­ever, is not derived from the native-to-Caribbean-Jamaica Arawak peo­ple, who named their land Xay­maca, “land of wood and water”, but from the native-to-Jamaica-Queens Lenape peo­ple who called their land Yameco, which trans­lates to “beaver”. Join us for a Caribbean– inflected feast fea­tur­ing Arawak and Lenape tech­niques and ingredients.”

For chicken foot soup

For chicken foot soup

Cassava (yucca). Paul drank the boiling water like tea

Cas­sava (yucca). Paul drank the boil­ing water like tea

Cook­ing with Paul was pro­found. Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a But­ter­fly” was our sound­track, which not only under­lined the urban real­i­ties that are in such sharp focus in gen­tri­fy­ing Brook­lyn, but brought up the idea of flow, which we deter­mined was a praxis of wis­dom and knowl­edge. Paul’s got flow in the kitchen. I hope maybe I do too. But its a grace of move­ments and an intu­ition of know­ing how to trans­form raw mate­r­ial into some­thing aes­thet­i­cally tran­scen­dent. That whole thing of curry pow­der? That much all­spice? Dude, Paul’s sauces were off the hook.

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The beaver hams after a pre­lim­i­nary browning

But of course the big deal was the crazy meat no one had eaten before. Some­times I do won­der why I choose to cook things I’ve never cooked let alone eaten for these rel­a­tively high pro­file pub­lic meals. Per­haps its a humil­ity, a need to feel as vul­ner­a­ble as the din­ers about to put some­thing in their mouths maybe they never even con­sid­ered could be food. The beaver meat was pretty easy going actu­ally. The fat had a waxy fla­vor to it, but the flesh was kinda beefy, kinda gamy (what­ever that means, can we really define the fla­vor of gamy? Iron-rich blood tast­ing like veni­son or duck? Musky like goat?). At any rate, it wasn’t chal­leng­ing by my stan­dards. It cooked really well, brais­ing in Paul’s “brown stew” style of gravy for about five hours. Even though we worked with 1″ cubed veni­son for the curry, that lean­est of meats actu­ally took a few more hours to become fork ten­der than the com­par­a­tively fatty beaver.

Venison patties (gotta say, that meat gets dry)

Veni­son pat­ties (gotta say, that meat gets dry)

Succotash, to pay homage to the "three sisters" of Native horticulture

Suc­co­tash, to pay homage to the “three sis­ters” of Native horticulture

Hot stuff- venison curry

Hot stuff– veni­son curry

The main event- brown stew beaver

The main event– brown stew beaver. Photo c/o Lyn­nette Miranda

The scene

The scene

Paul's coveted sweet potato pudding. Seriously dank, yo!

Paul cov­et­ing the sweet potato pud­ding. Seri­ously dank, yo!

#JODI showed up on the sprayer

#JODI showed up on the sprayer

The tail.

The tail.

Regard­less of the shock/ courage fac­tor of our ingre­di­ents, what this is about is dia­logue about food, around food, and a com­ing together of dif­fer­ent folks. Thanks to all the beau­ti­ful peo­ple that made this happen.

E&P

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The Piranha Club ~with Paul Anthony Smith~ presents: Xaymaca/ Queens

jamaicaweb

Sat­ur­day March 28th

At Knock­down Center
52–19 Flush­ing Ave, Queens, New York 11378

Tick­ets on sale Feb­ru­ary 28th. BUY TICKETS HERE

On March 28th, Chef Eric will team up with artist Paul Anthony Smith, who is a tremen­dous cook and intre­pid eater. The duo have been chal­leng­ing each other to a culi­nary throw down for quite some time, com­ment­ing back and forth on each other’s food porn on Insta­gram. Paul is of Jamaican decent and Eric is a bit of a Jamaica-phile, so obvi­ously the fla­vors of the Caribbean pro­vided a great start­ing point for their col­lab­o­ra­tion. Just down Queens Blvd from the Knock­down Cen­ter (which at one point was actu­ally named “Jamaica Estates”), there hap­pens to be a neigh­bor­hood called Jamaica, which many Jamaican peo­ple call home. The name how­ever, is not derived from the native-to-Caribbean-Jamaica Arawak peo­ple, who named their land Xay­maca, “land of wood and water”, but from the native-to-Jamaica-Queens Lenape peo­ple who called their land Yameco, which trans­lates to “beaver”. Join Eric & Paul on March 28th at Knock­down Cen­ter as part of the “Neg­a­tive Space” exhi­bi­tion for a Caribbean– inflected feast fea­tur­ing Arawak and Lenape tech­niques and ingredients.
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#ontheside: An Internet Essay on the Relocation of Honey 1 BBQ, Internet Food Culture, & The Fucked Up Stereotypes of Chicago’s Segregated Neighborhoods

HONEY1_1 HONEY1_2 HONEY1_3 HONEY1_4 HONEY1_5 HONEY1_6 HONEY1_7 HONEY1_8 HONEY1_9 HONEY1_10 HONEY1_12 HONEY1_13 HONEY1_14 HONEY1_15

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Top 10 2014

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

10. Ses­sion IPAs

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

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

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

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

8. Cortez Mullet

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

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

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

7. – Amer­i­can Cuisine

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

6. Beef Noo­dle Soup

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

5. Ana­logue

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

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

4. Virtue Cider

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

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

3. Asian Street Food Comes to Chicago

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

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

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

2. Mid­west Melt­ing Pot

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

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

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

1. I See You Chicago

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

These con­di­tions are abstract to most well off white folks.

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

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

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

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

Posted in Food Writing | 2 Comments

2014 in Food in Pictures

The right way to start a year

The only way to start a year

Jessica's ancestral ice cream spot in Ogden, UT

Jessica’s ances­tral ice cream spot in Ogden, UT

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

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

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

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

Indian potluck throwdown

Indian potluck throwdown

Florida flea market snaxx

Florida flea mar­ket snaxx

Stone crab claws, Cortez, FL

Stone crab claws, Cortez, FL

Mullett off the smoker, Cortez, FL Mullet Festival

Mul­let off the smoker, Cortez, FL Mul­let Festival

"Cortez Hotdog" Cortez, FL Mullet Festival

Cortez Hot­dog” Cortez, FL Mul­let Festival

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Baby’s first Mother-in-law

Baby's first Jim Shoe

Baby’s first Jim Shoe

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

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

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

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

OG Hot Brown, Brown Hotel, Louisville

OG Hot Brown, Brown Hotel, Louisville

LNS

l.n.s.

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

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

Uncle Joe's, Chatham

Uncle Joe’s, Chatham

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

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

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

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

Lothson's, Dekalb

Lothson’s, Dekalb

Louisa's Pizza, Crestwood

Louisa’s Pizza, Crestwood

Viet feast at New Asia Cuisine, Albany Park

Viet feast at New Asia Cui­sine, Albany Park

Yummy pig ear from Richwell Market food stall

Pig ear from Rich­well Mar­ket food stall

Lamb brain, thanks @nookleptia!

Lamb brain, thanks @nookleptia!

Drank a lot of these. #micheladas

Drank a lot of these. #micheladas

Eckhart Park

Eck­hart Park

Baby's first octopi

Baby’s first octopi

Sujuk, Upper East Side, NYC

Sujuk, Upper East Side, NYC

#ternerderber

Prep list #ternerderber

Many tape labels

Many tape labels

Placemat menu, Grand Haven, MI

Place­mat menu, Grand Haven, MI

My Cohcinita pibil, Ox-Bow #mexicannight

My Cohcinita pibil, Ox-Bow #mexicannight

Happy place, Virtue Cider

Happy place, Virtue Cider

Best helper in the world

Best helper in the world

Lol

Lol

Dick's hive

Dick’s hive

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John Rossi’s 20th Anniver­sary Party

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Introducing camp to Italian Beef, they were absolute savages

Intro­duc­ing camp to Ital­ian Beef, they were absolute savages

Kimchi deuce

Kim­chi deuce

Big ol' Coral tooth mushroom, Saugatuck State Park

Big ol’ Coral tooth mush­room, Saugatuck State Park

#mac

#mac

Brisket, upping my BBQ game

Brisket, upping my BBQ game

Samson loves Vienna Beef

Sam­son loves Vienna Beef

Kenosha, WI drive in

Kenosha, WI drive in

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

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

Tacos de pescadilla, Bien Trucha, Geneva, IL

Tacos de pescadilla, Bien Trucha, Geneva, IL

#caprese

#cap­rese

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

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

Bonkers advertising at Super Sub, Marquette Park

Bonkers adver­tis­ing at Super Sub, Mar­quette Park

Oh Matt, "Al Trunko" tour for Trunk Show

Oh Matt, “Al Trunko” tour for Trunk Show

Favorite queer Hawaiian joint in Milwaekee!

Favorite queer Hawai­ian joint in Milwaukee!

#rocklobster

#rock­lob­ster

Cilantro drying room @ Birrieria Zaragoza

Cilantro dry­ing room @ Bir­ri­eria Zaragoza

Spinzer Halal on Devon. Get the hunter beef sandwich!

Spinzer Halal on Devon. Get the Hunter beef sandwich!

The rigs at Jamaican Jerk, Indianapolis

The rigs at Jamaican Jerk, Indianapolis

Conch at Joong Boo

Conch at Joong Boo

Bulgogi cheesesteak, Café Orient 33, Albany Park

Bul­gogi cheeses­teak, Café Ori­ent 33, Albany Park

Happy 1st Birthday Birthday Nadia #haring

Happy 1st Birth­day Birth­day Nadia! #haring

Tarama, cod roe

Tarama, carp roe

Fish balls, Super H-Mart

Fish balls, Super H-Mart

#pulpo

#pulpo

La Quercia Acorn-fed Berkshire Prosciutto

La Quer­cia Acorn-fed Berk­shire Prosciutto

Missing Basque country, pinxtos at home

Miss­ing Basque coun­try, pinx­tos at home

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

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

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

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

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

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Eric & Mike’s Christmas Carp Migration

CCM0

There’s noth­ing more whole­some than a fish”

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

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

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

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

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

Handmade sauerkraut & mushroom pierogies

Hand­made sauer­kraut & mush­room pierogies

Taramasalata

Tara­masalata

Nevik- an Armenian Christmas dish of greens and garbanzo beans

Nevik– an Armen­ian Christ­mas dish of greens and gar­banzo beans

Our babies, about to go into the steamer

Our babies, about to go into the steamer

Jessica's festive-as-always table design

Jessica’s festive-as-always table design

The main event

The main event

Good looking plate

Good look­ing plate

Ger­many meets Iraq

Iraqi date syrup

Iraqi date syrup

Aftermath

After­math

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