Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Swedish Bakery/Athenian Room
Another week, another greeter tour - this time, my task was to accompany a cadre of ladies visiting from Minnesota for a birthday weekend. After some back and forth communication, I decided to take them briefly through two of the more upscale North Side neighborhoods, namely Andersonville and Lincoln Park. I've previously written a bit about Andersonville when Mrs. Hackknife and I dined at Big Jones earlier this year - it's an area about 6 miles north of the Loop that was originally populated by Swedes, so there's a preponderance of Swedish restaurants and shops on Clark Street, the main drag through the neighborhood. Of course, this greeter visit gave me the perfect excuse to pop in at an establishment I'd noticed on my last trip here, that is, the famous Swedish Bakery (5348 N. Clark), a local institution since the late 1920's (either 1928 or 1929, no one is really certain). Given that it was a warm morning and we'd done some walking in the heat (i.e., sinking blood sugar levels), my guests were happy to oblige. Inside, the bakery's decor was surprisingly sterile (hospital ward white, in fact) and, besides an elderly matron working behind the counter, the employees appeared to be very non-Swedish despite the presence of many traditional (and non-traditional) Swedish goodies (designated as such by a blue and yellow Swedish flag on their respective nametags). I first inquired about getting a piece of a sinful-looking Swedish flop (a thin coffee cake with a cream cheese filling and topped with powdered sugar - oddly, this creation seems to be somewhat unique to the Chicago area from what I can gather) and was told that they'd only sell it to me by the half-sheet or full sheet). As much as I'm sure that I'd have no trouble polishing off a half-sheet coffee cake, modesty got the better of me and I opted instead for two Swedish cookies. The rum roll was a little log of marzipan covered in chocolate (and there CLEARLY was rum in it, as I'm sure 4 or 5 of these would have made me a bit tipsy), while something called a toska bitar (almond cake topped with sliced caramelized almonds) was equally dense and decadent. The range of desserts available at the bakery was almost mind-boggling, so repeat visits are definitely in order to sample other wares.
After hopping on the Clark bus to Webster Avenue and a leisurely stroll through Oz Park, the ladies and I stopped in at the Athenian Room (807 W. Webster) to grab a late lunch. The Athenian Room has been around since 1972 (exactly the same amount of time that I have) and has remained a steady, if unspectacular, presence in Lincoln Park for DePaul students seeking a good, value-priced Greek meal. Business picked up quite a bit in late 2010 when former Lincoln Park resident Tina Fey was quoted as saying that the Athenian Room's Grecian chicken with fries was her favorite meal when she was a fledgling writer and performer at Second City back in the day. Things were a little slower in the place on this early Friday afternoon, but, folks, I can attest that Ms. Fey has absolutely impeccable taste in chicken (as you can see below from the plate that was delivered to me).
The roast chicken arrived with a crackling skin (almost like bacon), mostly dark meat (my preference) doused in a combination of olive oil, lemon, garlic, and oregano. The meat was perfectly moist; however, the most impressive part of the dish was the fries, giant slabs of potato perfectly crisped on the outside with a fluffy interior, then placed under the chicken in a pool of the rich, fatty juices, which soak up into the potato. Sublime. I'll be dreaming about this combo for some time to come (and I don't say that about too many things I eat).