Thursday, November 8, 2012

Do-Rite Donuts/New Maxwell Street Market

A week ago Sunday morning, I met up with two hungry tourists visiting from Canada, Yulena and Scott, for a greeter tour. They were in town taking a training class for work and wanted to experience some of Chicago's more unique dining options while here, so I was happy to take them to a few places nearby the Loop. No weekend morning is complete without donuts and this seemed like a great opportunity for us to stop in at Do-Rite Donuts (50 W. Randolph), just a short walk down Randolph from the Cultural Center into the Theater District. Do-Rite is under the Lettuce Entertain You (LEYE) restaurant group and popped up in early 2012 when the gourmet donut craze was just starting to reach its peak in town. The executive chef and co-owner of the shop, Francis Brennan, has had an interesting couple of years - he was the #2 man in the kitchen at L20 when brilliant-but-mercurial wonder chef Laurent Gras departed in search of greater freedom, abruptly leaving M. Brennan in charge of a newly-christened 3-Michelin star restaurant. Obviously, maintaining that elite level of service is daunting for even seasoned chefs (let alone one in the captain's chair for the first time), and it wasn't too long before he transferred over to a lower-profile LEYE property, Petterino's, leaving the world of glamour cuisine behind. With extensive experience in breadmaking and an emerging market for top-shelf fried breakfast dough, one can easily imagine LEYE's founder Rich Melman sitting down with Chef Brennan to propose carving out a small corner of Petterino's lobby for a retail gourmet donut operation on Randolph (also maximizing use of the restaurant's kitchen during what would normally be downtime overnight and early morning). Having now been at the shop, I can say that a VERY small space was set aside - there's enough room for a walk-up counter and some display bins. If you want to sit while eating your donut, you'll have to do it outside, which is exactly what we did on this brisk morning at some patio tables set out on the sidewalk. Faced with a variety of choices, I went with the cashier's recommendation of the pistachio-Meyer lemon combo (I didn't get a picture, but Serious Eats Chicago has one here), which I found to be a sweet, tangy, crunchy delight (that is, after I inadvertently took a mouthful of Yulena's pumpkin donut first - sorry, Yulena). My guests also seemed to enjoy their selections of PB&J bullseye and (what remained of the) pumpkin donut.

Now fortified, we hopped on the Blue Line and headed a short ways south and west over to the new Maxwell Street flea market, held only on Sundays and a hotbed of outstanding Latino street food. Why is it called the "new" market? Well, the old one was an anchor of commerce for migrants newly arrived to Chicago from all over the country and the world throughout most of the 20th Century, giving them a venue to buy/sell goods on the cheap without the added expense of a middleman retail store (I recall my late grandmother telling me stories of trips to Maxwell Street as a girl with her dad to buy grapes for making wine). Sadly, Mayor Daley the 1st colluded with the University of Illinois-Chicago to procure a large chunk of Maxwell Street property for campus expansion in the 1960s and 1970s (the arrival of the Dan Ryan Expressway didn't help things, either), condemning the vibrant market to a slow death by strangulation, eventually vanishing completely in the 1990s. Since then, the 2nd Mayor Daley has attempted to resurrect the market on a stretch of Desplaines Street a few blocks north and east of the original. Although allegedly a shadow of its former self, I was surprised at the size of this new incarnation, with table upon table of tools, cell phone chargers, and toys available for your bargain buying pleasure. The food offerings were equally impressive - tacos, tamales, pupusas, shaved ice, roasted corn, menudo, and lots of other goodies rivaling those that I'd seen in Los Angeles just a few months back. After walking the length of the market and mulling over our booth choices, the 3 of us settled in to Green House of Steak's mobile operation (during the week, they serve up Mexican cuisine at 2700 S. Millard in the Little Village neighborhood) to get some tacos. I tried a lengue taco and was very glad I did - the meat was tender, flavorful, and crispy from the grill, with a wonderful homemade tortilla underneath and just the right amount of toppings (onion, cilantro, and salsa) for garnish, quite possibly the best lengue taco I've ever had (see photo above). Slightly less adventurous, but no less satisfied, were Yulena and Scott with their asada and al pastor tacos. I can see myself spending a long, happy couple of hours stuffing my face at this market on my next visit and couldn't wait to get home to start planning my return with Mrs. Hackknife some future Sunday morning...

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