Monday, December 17, 2012

Italian Superior Bakery/Frietkoten

As we approach the finish of another calendar year, I recently read about another longtime Chicago food establishment planning to close when 2012 is over (you may recall that Ramova Grill, dishing out chili and diner fare since 1929, scraped grease off its flattop for the last time this past spring). Italian Superior Bakery (931 S. Western) has been churning out pizzas, traditional Italian breads, and (up until a few years ago) pastries at the western end of the Little Italy neighborhood since 1933. At the outset, the bakery business in the tight-knit Italian community boomed, forcing the founder to move up the block to a larger location at the corner of Western Ave. and Taylor St. in 1940 (where the bakery still sits today). However, as the demographics of the area shifted over time from Italian to Eastern European/Hispanic, the demand for artisanal baked goods slowly declined from its peak around 1960 to the point where production had to be scaled back to part-time in 2005. Finally, as of a few months ago, the family of the original owners made what had to be the painful and difficult decision to close the bakery at year's end. Always a sucker for nostalgia (and a good slice of pizza from the Motherland), I decided then and there to ensure I stopped in for a visit on one of my frequent trips into the city before the ovens went cold for good.

I arrived at the bakery on a cool-yet-sunny Thursday morning around 10 (I didn't want to get there too late lest they be sold out of some product). The storefront is pretty unassuming (see photo above), while inside, the decor was sparse and cases/shelves mostly bare, making for a pretty somber atmosphere. The lady behind the counter quietly explained the details of the bakery's imminent closure and it was clear that they were already preparing for this eventuality (I felt like some dark dirge should have been playing in the background). Luckily for me, there were still goodies to be had - I selected three different kinds of ready-to-eat pizzas (onion, sausage, and a ricotta-vegetable combo), cut up in large slices (approximately 6" by 4" each) and wrapped in white butcher paper, a steal at around $3 apiece (and I suspect the counter lady even gave me extra pieces for no charge). I also picked out an oblong loaf of fresh Italian bread and had it sliced for sandwiches. All in all, my $15 bought a lot of food and I was anxious to try some, so anxious that I gobbled up a whole slice of room-temperature ricotta pizza while I sat in the car, the garlic and olive oil doing wonders to help clear out my sinuses. Later on, the whole family got to sample the remaining slices, with Mrs. Hackknife and I favoring the sausage, while the kids favored, well, none of them. The sliced Italian bread had wider appeal, making great toast and sandwiches for a few days after the fact.

After my bakery visit, I conducted some other business downtown before realizing that I needed a snack before heading home - fortunately, the French Market in the Ogilvie Transportation Center was nearby. With my stellar visit to Fumare for pastrami fresh in mind, I made my way to another stand I saw there called Frietkoten. The folks at Frietkoten primarily serve Belgian-style fries along with custom dipping sauces, all to be washed down by Belgian beers, a little bit of Brussels in Chicago. The fries come in giant paper cones (see photo below) and are all fresh-cut/double-fried to maximize flavor and texture.

I opted for a harissa mayo (harissa is a bold spice mixture frequently used in Middle Eastern cuisine) to dip my fries and a Blanche de Bruxelles (a Belgian wheat beer from Brasserie Lefebvre) for liquid refreshment. The fries were definitely well-prepared, with a fluffy interior and a crisp outside. I was a little disappointed with the flavor, though, finding them to be a bit bland - I'll allow the possibility that my zinc lozenge (I'd had one a little earlier to help ease my cold) was responsible for slightly muting my taste buds. I'll be happy to give the fry guys in the Market another chance when my head is clear and sense of taste is unadulterated...

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