Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Big Star/Black Dog Gelato

Mrs. Hackknife and I are both trivia junkies (one of several reasons why I married her, not to mention our insatiable appetites for all things culinary, of course). When she received an invitation recently from a colleague at work to attend a trivia night as part of a fundraiser for a local charter school, we jumped at the chance. Now, I can't draw, can't play or read music, am a horrible athlete, and would charitably consider myself to be a mediocre parent/husband/cook at best, but I like to think that I can more than hold my own in most competitions involving useless arcana, so I was looking forward to flexing and flaunting my grey matter in front of strangers. The fundraiser was taking place in a gallery on Division St. in Bucktown, a neighborhood in the city that we don't get to very often; as a result, the area is ripe with restaurants on our hit list.

In my world, tacos and beer are as good as anything when it comes to brain food, thus, I suggested to Mrs. Hackknife that we swing by Big Star for a quick dinner. Big Star is another venture for local restaurateur Paul Kahan, who's already flush with success on the heels of his other properties in town, namely Avec, Blackbird, and Publican (written about on this very blog). This particular place looks like it was built into an old gas station (which may very well be the case) and oozes hipster vibe out of every pore, with fashionable twenty-somethings perched on every available space and loud music blasting through the open-air bar (obviously, we were too old to be there). On this Friday night, the hostess told us that the wait for a table was over 90 minutes (happy hour, you know), but we were welcome to order food/non-alcoholic drinks from the walk-up take-out window (we gladly opted to do this). Even there, we ended up waiting almost 15 minutes for our order to come up, sharing spots at a communal picnic table when the time finally came to eat. It was pretty much worth the delay - Mrs. Hackknife and I split an order of chips with guacamole (which came in a tub larger than it really needed to be) and each had an ejote (braised long beans, snappy chile arbol, red onion, mint, and queso fresco) taco and a panza (crispy pork belly, tomato guajillo sauce, onion, cilantro, and queso fresco) taco, both with great flavors and textures. My only regret is that we couldn't order the pork belly tacos by the 6-pack (well, I suppose we could have, but we would have suffered the wrath of anxious hipsters waiting too long for their fix). With drinks (horchata and real, imported Mexican Fresca), the total tab came to about $25, a little steep in my opinion for what was essentially street food.

Bellies full and minds primed for action, we headed over to our trivia night fundraiser, which quickly degenerated into a drunkfest for most of the twenty-somethings there (seeing it was open bar, I probably should have anticipated this outcome) well before the first answers about the Milky Way, the Beatles, and Citizen Kane were hurled about in gladiatorial splendor (in fact, we needed to depart before the trivia even began - unlike most of the attendees, our babysitter was waiting). We were able to overcome our complete disgust enough, however, to make one more stop before leaving the city limits: Black Dog Gelato, a relatively new, oft-talked about dessert joint was beckoning us, just a few blocks south of the gallery on Damen. There was a good-sized crowd in attendance there on this warm night, all of whom marveled at the amazing gelato flavors offered within, such as blood orange (which I'd only seen in Paris up to this point), salted peanut, and Mexican hot chocolate, along with a gelato made from Three Floyd's Milk Stout (sadly, earlier hordes had consumed their entire supply). I opted for a small cup of sesame fig chocolate chip and Mrs. Hackknife tried a combination of goat cheese-cashew caramel with a little strawberry balsamic. Both were heavenly - creamy, refreshing, and bold in taste, easily the best gelato we've had in town (and probably most everywhere else to boot). It took all of my persuasive powers to keep Mrs. Hackknife from jumping back in line a second time to get more, all the while fighting my own urges. If gelato addiction is wrong, I don't want to be right....

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