I’m definitely in a southern state of mind this week. In Chicago, finding some of those familiar flavors, such as pimento cheese, fried chicken livers or shrimp & grits, isn’t as easy as, say, a great som tum. I’m a fan of the Carriage House, where Mark Steuer recreates the familiar flavors from his native South Carolina on Division Street – but Joel Nickson has been carrying the torch for his beloved southern fare for many years, despite the fact he still deals with winter. Rooted in memories of eating Low Country food from the Carolinas, Nickson – who has to be one of the most mellow chefs I’ve ever met – gets downright animated when asked about his favorite ingredients from his childhood.
While I’ll always love a pure-bred banh mi from the likes of Nhu Lan or Ba Le, I’ve been dipping my toe into the sea of Asian fusion sandwiches lately, and I’m liking what I see (and taste). A few years ago I ventured out west to Elmhurst, where I had a remarkable sandwich at Zenwich, featuring Thai pork moo ping and a host of homemade condiments. More recently, I headed up to Evanston, on Northwestern’s campus, to Soulwich, where they promote all things Asian (condiments, marinades, seasonings) and focus a bit more on Indonesia and Vietnam, creating a hybrid banh mi in a Labriola loaf.
When I first stumbled upon The Dairy Star, after a long jag down Devon Avenue, gobbling up boti kebabs and tearing into a round of crispy dosas, it looked like just another little ice cream stand. What I didn’t realize is that this little icon has been a beacon of sweet, creamy soft serve for kids of all ages for nearly 30 years. It reminded me right away of the famous Dairy Ripple near Lake Geneva. While the kids might go right for the chocolate cones (dipped, of course), I prefer the Buddy Bar, which looks an awful lot like a Buster Bar from DQ, just not as elegant; that’s perfectly fine with me. The fact that it’s a tad misshapen and a little crooked proves that they’re made by hand. Arriving in either chocolate or vanilla flavors, they’re all stuffed with Spanish peanuts and a ribbon or two of fudge, before being coated in an icy, chocolate shell. It can be enjoyed in one’s car, or on the small patio out front.
No matter what “Food Wars” says on the Travel Channel, this Chicagoan still says the best beef is at Johnnie’s in Elmwood Park. Paired with their signature lemon ice (“Italian lemonade”) it ranks among the all-time greatest combos of Mantle & Maris, Batman & Robin, even Ben & Jerry. I say this after having eaten beefs at Jay’s, Pop’s, Chickie’s, Al’s, Bob-O’s and Mr. Beef all multiple times.
Greg Hall hasn’t really taken that much of a break since leaving Goose Island as its Brewmaster. The Chicago native is keeping things close to home, with his new company, Virtue Brands, having built an impressive headquarters just around the bend, in SW Michigan. He’s now got three ciders out on the market: Lapinette, a French-stye cider; a winter cider called The Mitten, and my favorite – RedStreak – a proper English-style draft cider. There are several places around town where you can find it; I highly recommend you seek a pint out (or two).
Ever since my first trip to New Orleans, I’ve been in love with po’boys. One of the reasons is due to the magical, only-in-New Orleans bread (usually from Leidenheimer). Choices typically range from roast beef to fried shrimp or oysters. On a parallel track, regular readers here know I have a thing for all things Korean – especially fiery, funky kimchi. So when Giuseppe Tentori put a fried oyster po’boy slider with kimchi on his menu at GT Fish & Oyster, I was more than curious. I think calling it a po’boy is a stretch, mainly since the bread is more Hawaiian than French loaf, but this great little slider ($4) is one you really should try, even if you’re just planning on sitting at the bar to sip and slurp.