Anytime Mrs. H. and I want Macanese food, we know we can find it just around the corner from our Xmas holiday rental condo in Chicago at Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Avenue). This year we stopped in for brunch and also checked out a few goodies (such as the Portuguese egg custard tart and the savory Macau rice crisp with nori, sesame, fish sauce caramel, and pig floss) at their new bakery next door.
Curry vegetable samosas with tamarind mustard seed chutney
Boiled pork and ginger dumplings
Minchi (meat and potato hash) croquettes
Bone-in pork chop sandwich with spicy mustard and crab chips
Founded in 1922, Dinkel's Bakery in Chicago (3329 Lincoln Ave.) is one of the last old-school German bakeries in the city and, as luck would have it, was located just down the block from where we were meeting some friends for dinner. Their most famous product is their stollen; however, Dinkel's donuts also periodically appear on local and national best-of lists, so we popped in to pick up a frosted maple cake donut to share for breakfast the next day. The thick frosting was a little on the indulgent side for 8 am, but was a fine accompaniment to Oatmeal Squares, nonetheless.
Mrs. Hackknife and I have been fans of the Korean-American cooking of Johnny Clark and Top Chef-alumnae Beverly Kim ever since their very brief residency at the now-shuttered Bonsoiree a few years back. The duo has since opened Parachute (3500 N. Elston Ave., Chicago), what they dubbed as their "last shot" restaurant at the time and which has garnered great acclaim among the food cognoscenti in Chicago (Michelin even awarded them a star in 2015). Since it's located only a 5-minute drive from the condo we usually rent for the holidays in Logan Square, we decided we should snag a reservation on our latest trip to Chicago. Although the space is small, noisy, and a bit on the trendy side, we brought the progeny with us because the chef-owners have a reputation for being very accommodating to smaller guests (indeed - each kid received a bento box-style metal tray filled with a delicious 4-course meal that would be the envy of school cafeterias everywhere).
A "collage" of vintage speakers along the side wall
The house specialty baked potato bing bread (contains scallions, cheddar cheese, and bacon) served with a slab of sour cream
Housemade kimchi, pickled spaghetti squash, and tofu with bonito flakes
Pork belly and mung bean pancake with fried egg
Dolsot bi bim bop with beef, maitake mushrooms, and smoked onions (crispy rice on the bottom)
This was our second ever visit to the Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle (2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago) and our first time for brunch. Even though it was technically a workday Monday, most places in and around Logan Square were closed since Christmas was on the Sunday immediately before. The missus and I were eternally grateful that L&E chose to open their doors to hungry diners that day (especially to those of us seeking an indulgent breakfast).
Fried chicken and waffles, sweet potato/pork belly hash, maple syrup
With the family gone for the weekend, I took it upon myself to cross some food venues off my lengthy to-do list. First up, I traveled to the far reaches of Brooklyn to get some of New York City's legendary pizza at Di Fara (1424 Avenue J).
Di Fara opened in 1965 and founder Dom Di Fara has been there since the beginning, making pies one at a time. Now in his 80s, he's a little slower, but no less masterful with his craft. Waits can extend past 90 minutes if you happen to arrive at peak times, which is why my friend/local fixer Adam and I came out 30 minutes before the doors opened at noon. We were fortunate to be among the first patrons of the day and received our pizza slices in only about 5 minutes.
(that's Dom Di Fara doing his thing)
My understanding was that the house thin crust and the Sicilian (which is a little thicker) are both Platonic ideals of pizza, so, of course, I had to try each of them. The Sicilian is on the left above, studded with fresh basil leaves, and the regular thin crust sported a handful of tomato chunks and a drizzle of chili oil that I added from an unmarked jar sitting at the counter. After one bite, I now get the appeal - Dom Di Fara belongs in the Smithsonian as a national treasure (if not a concessionaire).
Next up was a subway ride back across the East River and over to Washington Square Park, home to the city's famous dosa man and his trusty food cart.
Thiru Kumar is a native of Sri Lanka who came to America in 1995 and worked several odd jobs before starting his food cart in 2001. It took a little while for his rendition of South Indian cuisine (which includes samosas, crepe-like dosas, and pancake-like uthappams) to catch on, but now he's one of the most popular food cart vendors in NYC, especially with vegans and vegetarians.
Customers get a small cup of spicy lentil soup (good for clearing your sinuses) with their purchase, which in my case was the hearty and delicious uthappam filled with veggies like carrot/eggplant and an interesting-looking can of lychee-flavored soda (I don't need to have another one of these for a while).
There was one final stop for the day after our park visit. Adam has been wanting to try out a very hip Bolivian food stand that opened earlier this year in the TurnStyle (a shopping center in the subway tunnels underneath Columbus Circle, between 57th and 58th Street along 8th Avenue) called Bolivian Llama Party, so we popped in on our way to his condo for a snack. The snack item in question here is something known in Bolivia as a saltena, similar to an empanada (just don't call it that unless you want to start a border war with the staff) in that it's a thick, braided pastry filled with a combination of meats, vegetables, and spices. There's also a slab of gelatin that gets included during prep, which melts into a gravy during baking (not unlike Chinese soup dumplings).
For those of you keeping track at home, this is my 3rd straight posting featuring hot dogs, so I can't tell if I should be congratulated or accused of being in a rut. Anyway, my discovery of this particular dog came around in a roundabout way. While on our way to Ohio recently to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, we took a detour into the Catskills to visit a potential sleepaway camp for Hackknife Jr. and Hackknifette to attend next summer. Our route back towards I-80 took us through rural northeastern Pennsylvania and down into the Wyoming Valley, home to Scranton and, as luck would have it, the top hamburger in Pennsylvania according to burger expert George Motz (it was a lucky coincidence that I had noticed this article published by the website First We Feast just days prior to our trip) at a place called Coney Island Lunch. Waving off the pleas of my progeny to find a pizza place for our midday meal, I directed the GPS into downtown Scranton in search of said burger.
Upon arriving and exiting the car, we walked up Lackawanna Avenue to find two very similar-sounding restaurants located mere steps from each other: Coney Island Texas Lunch (100 Cedar Ave., pictured above) and Coney Island Lunch (515 Lackawanna Avenue). Huh? What gives? Well, after further investigation, I learned that CITL is operating a newly-owned diner business in the original restaurant location (open since 1923), while CIL features descendants of the original family operating in a new location (open since 1988) down the block. Confused? I'll try to explain.
Greek immigrant Steve Karampilas was the founder of Scranton's first CITL. For many Greek immigrants of that era, opening a diner serving (among other items) chili dogs seemed like a good way to get established in the new country. In fact, if I go back and review the histories of other chili dog palaces I've visited, nearly all of them have the same backstory - this includes Coney Island Sandwich Shop in St. Pete (open since 1926), Nu-Way Weiners in Macon, GA (open since 1916), American Coney Island in Detroit (open since 1917), and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit (open since 1917). I can even throw in nearby Hubba's in Port Chester, NY (formerly known as Texas Quick Lunch and open since 1920) - I'm sure there are many others waiting to be sampled (and sample them I shall). This digression, however, tells you little about the issue at hand. Let's return to our story.
Apparently, the original CITL was quite popular, sharing the virtues of chili dogs and chili burgers with multiple generations of Scrantonites. After Steve passed on in 1972, his sons Ted and Jack took over and all was well until around 1987 when, in a dispute regarding the future direction of the business (Ted wanted to keep renting space in the old building, while Jack preferred ownership in a new location), the brothers went their separate ways and Jack opened a rival CIL (which is now run by his son, Pete). Ted cashed out to his partner in 2004, who kept the CITL name on the building and in promotions (as did another set of owners in 2014). This is a source of much consternation to the folks at CIL, who insist (rather defensively, I might add) on their website that they are the original family (which is true), use the original recipes, and even maintain remnants of the original business's phone number (showing a picture of the 1940 Scranton City Directory to support their case), so all parties everywhere should consider CIL to be the true CITL, not those poseurs down the street who used to pump gas for a living (I'm paraphrasing the website here, but you get the idea).
Of course, none of this was known to me at the exact moment I stood on the chilly corner of Cedar and Lackawanna in downtown Scranton, trying to make sense of the two unexpected options present in my field of vision while two hangry kids and an unsympathetic wife implored me to make a snap decision about lunch, so I chose CITL, which was, after all, closer to us and sported the sign out front that said "Since 1923" (not to mention that it just looked more legit to me than the other one).
CITL's interior was surprisingly up-to-date and spiffy for a place that had been in operation since the 1920s (as it turns out, extensive renovations were required after a fire gutted the space in 2008). The kitchen is little more than a galley space, which means that the menu is pretty much limited to hot dogs, burgers, fries, soup, and a couple of desserts. The wooden booths, wainscotting, coat racks, and tile floor are all faithful reproductions of the originals that were destroyed in the fire.
So what is it about these burgers that would make Mr. Motz take notice? According to him, they're "deep fried, refrigerated, then marinated in a sauce, and reheated on the flattop", served with mustard, onions, and an ample ladling of chili. The sauce used for the marinade is a "special chili sauce" (presumably a Karampilas family creation) and the beef is lean ground round from Schiff's, a local butcher. I, of course, had to try both a "Texas Weiner" (featuring a hot dog from another nearby meat purveyor, Gutheinz, served with similar toppings) and a "Texas Cheeseburger", which look almost identical on the plate (see below), along with a pile of fries dusted in Old Bay seasoning and a bottle of Cherikee Red soda (first developed by a small bottler in Cleveland and now part of the Dr. Pepper brands, although mostly just seen in Ohio and Pennsylvania).
I found the Texas Wiener to be good (it's on the left), but the Texas cheeseburger was excellent, a sloppy, wonderful mess of a sandwich that, were we not going to be overindulging on turkey and fixings in less than 24 hours, I would have considered eating another. If you do get fries, I'd recommend ordering them with gravy instead of Old Bay (Mrs. Hackknife was kind enough to share hers with me) and skip the Cherikee Red in favor of a different soda or, better yet, try some of the house specialty pie or rice pudding for dessert.
So after all of this reading about the schism between brothers and rival chili dog factions, I didn't realize until I sat down to write this posting that the burger listed in George Motz's article as being the best in Pennsylvania was actually from CIL, not CITL (oops)! For now, I have to assume that the recipes at both joints are nearly identical, but I won't be able to share a truly informed opinion about one versus the other until I'm back in Scranton someday...
Here in Mamaroneck, we have our very own world-famous hot dog stand in the form of Walter's, housed in a Chinese pagoda on Palmer Avenue since 1928. Founders Walter and Rose Warrington first began hawking their proprietary blend of beef-pork-veal sausages around town in 1919, settling on the now-iconic design of their new home a few years later in the hopes of attracting curious Westchester County drivers out for a spin in the horseless carriage. Descendants of the family still own and operate the stand today.
The menu is sparse (mostly just hot dogs) and all seating is in the outdoor picnic area next to the structure. I've passed by several times now since we arrived here and there almost always appears to be a line of patrons waiting to satisfy their fix.
Locals rave about the Walter's dog, which is split down the middle (something I've encountered more than once out East), grilled on the flattop in a secret butter-based sauce until browned, then topped with their own brown mustard (a mix of relish, Dijon, and unnamed spices, a bottle of which you can purchase for $4) and served on a toasted bun. The now-defunct Gourmet Magazine went so far as to name Walter's as the top dog in the country back in 2001 and it still appears on many national best-of lists. My opinion? I'll take a fully-dressed, all-beef Chicago dog over this one any day, however, I can certainly see the appeal (especially with the mustard, which I'd like to have around the Chuckwagon for general use).
Other menu items range from tasty (funnel cake fries and potato puffs, which are like croquettes) to average (fries and curly fries). Roadfood.com makes mention of the vintage chocolate malt powder dispenser for preparing milkshakes - I tried one last time out and was a bit disappointed that the old equipment didn't seem (to me, at least) to turn out a better malt. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the warmer months again when the wife, kids, and I can head over to Walter's some summer evening and chow down on a grilled dog and milkshake in the picnic area...