I’ve seen it spelled a number of different ways: baba gannoush/ganoush/ganouj, etc., but no matter how you spell it, the dish is pretty much always the same – roasted, chopped eggplant, combined with garlic, tahini and spices, whipped or finely-chopped into a spread that is ripe for wedges of warm pita bread. ‚ The reason we’re homing in on Taboun today, is because, quite simply, they make the best baba-g in town. I know those are fightin’ words for fans of Semiramis and Al-Khaymeih, but once you try it, you’ll be a convert as well. ‚ There’s a secret ingredient involved (mayo, I believe) that gives it a smooth, creamy flavor, but it also has a nice smokiness and a perfect, slighty chunky consistency that goes so well with the warm pita from North Shore Bakery. ‚ Dressed with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with a jolt of paprika, I can make a meal of it solo.
The bonus: Taboun is a kosher meat restaurant, so you can munch on their excellent kebabs and shawarma while you nibble on the baba gannoush, but be warned – the restaurant closes during the Sabbath (sundown Friday until sundown Saturday) so you’ll have to plan accordingly. ‚ There are two locations, one in West Rogers Park, the other in Skokie.
Everyone has been talking about the Korean-style tacos served up at Del Seoul in Lincoln Park. I do happen to love the well-marinated kalbi that’s finely chopped, buried beneath a mound of Napa cabbage and Asian greens dressed with gojujang (Korean red chili paste) and topped with sesame seeds; not as much of a fan of the store-bought tortillas, but you can’t win them all. One thing I wasn’t expecting to like was the hearty shrimp banh mi. This Vietnamese-style sandwich is typically the province of well-regarded bakery/cafes such as Nhu Lan in Lincoln Square or Ba Lein Uptown. But for some reason, the combo of grease-free fried shrimp with the spicy mayo makes this sandwich really sing.
Consider the hot dog. While most of us are weaned on the iconic Vienna Beef here, very few (if any) chefs would dare attempt to make their own. But Jared Van Camp decided he would not only take a stab at it, he would do so in a research-and-development mode only a cooking drone for “America’s Test Kitchen” could appreciate. Van Camp has been working with ratios of fat to beef, emulsifying times and smoking technique, to produce his own batch of homemade hot dogs at Old Town Social, which he not only dresses up “Chicago style” (mustard, neon green relish, onions, tomatoes, sport peppers, celery salt and a pickle), but also in a chili dog with mustard and even a corn dog. With baseball season officially here, it’s a great time to take one of America’s favorite snacks, and turn it up-market with a bit of culinary ingenuity. If you’re interested in how he produced his own hot dog, check out this blog post from last year, in which he goes into great detail.
Evidently, my post last Thursday, (the Top 5 overrated Italian joints in Chicago), revealed there is clearly a passionate base out there, willing to defend loyalties. I promised that this Thursday, I would reveal what, I feel, are the top 5 best places to get Italian, but before I do, I wanted to share with you one of the places that I think falls in between the two. Franco’s doesn’t really make that many “best of” lists in Chicago, but if you ask anyone who grew up in Bridgeport where they go for pasta, fried calamari and veal saltimbocca, chances are they’ll tell you they head to Franco’s.
It’s by no means one of the best five in the city, but it’s certainly a joint that’s worth a trip, like La Luce on the Near West Side or Ignotz in the Heart of Italy ‘hood. The Daley clan certainly has fond memories here, so much so that our outgoing mayor made it point to have a recent birthday celebration here. I didn’t love everything on the menu – they don’t make everything from scratch – but they sure do put the effort into their gnocchi, which was as light and toothsome as any I’ve had in town. If you’re going to see a Sox game, or find yourself heading down the Dan Ryan, near the 31st St. exit, pull over and get an order; you can thank me later.
Pork, eggs, cheese and bread. These seemingly humble ingredients have become the Four Horsemen of nearly every breakfast nook in Chicago. Naturally, the pork isn’t simply bacon, it’s shoulder that’s been brined and/or smoked, sometimes braised in its own juices; the eggs should be organic, and if not, then at the very least, free-range and all-natural; the cheese has to be artisanal, preferably from a farm nearby and by a producer whose name graces the menu; finally, the bread: produced that morning by either Labriola, Red Hen or Pamela Fitzpatrick (Fox & Obel).
Since it opened in Ukrainian Village, Jam has been a gem of a breakfast and lunch option in the neighborhood, and they’re planning a second location in Logan Square in a few months. Their egg sandwich contains all of the above, and may sound simple on the surface, but when you see how it’s constructed, you’ll gain a fuller appreciation. Good luck trying to finish one by yourself.