Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chicago Eats - Summer 2016

Even though we're in the process of packing up to leave Florida for good, the family has still managed to find time to travel a little this summer (I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention that these trips had been scheduled quite some time prior to our decision to relocate). Trip #1 (a 10-day junket to Chicago for my nephew's first birthday party) just concluded this week and included some of my favorite tastes in Chicagoland, as well as a few new ones worth mentioning. Exhibit A is hereby submitted for your perusal:

Deep Dish Pizza, Gino's East, various locations

We missed this on our last trip to town in December, an oversight that shall not be committed twice. Having recently shacked up in the old Mill Rose Brewery complex in South Barrington, the pies here are a wee bit less good than the ones churned out downtown on Superior Street (maybe the pans aren't as well-seasoned), but nonetheless satisfied my craving. If you order sausage, get the patty covering the whole pizza or don't bother :).

Dim Sum, Triple Crown, 2217 S. Wentworth

A hearty shout-out goes to Chicago Food Planet and our guide, Philip, for putting together a stellar tour of tasty dining spots in the city's modest Chinatown.  The origin point for the tour was the raucous Triple Crown, serving what I found to be among the better dim sum offerings I've had.  This photo includes from left to right a steamed bbq pork bun, a pork and shrimp siu mai (dumpling), and a deep fried taro puff (my personal favorite), along with a trio of dipping sauces - sriracha, hoisin, and a spicy shrimp paste that seared my fillings oh-so-good.

Spicy Chili Eggplant and Dry Chili Chicken, Lao Sze Chuan, 2172 S. Archer

Local Chinese food impresario Tony Hu may be headed upriver soon for tax evasion, but his restaurant empire lives on. As long as his crew can continue to churn out his famous dry chili chicken, spicy cabbage, and spicy chili eggplant, everything will be just fine until his parole.

Smoked Tea Duck, Lao Beijing, 2138 S. Archer

Chef Tony's place a few doors down the shopping complex from LSC tilts less towards spice and more towards the heartier cuisine found in the cooler environs of China, such as this luscious tea-smoked duck, carved with the crispy skin on and served family-style with a pile of shredded scallions/cucumbers and wraps so you can create your own duck burrito.

Macanese Egg Custard Tart, Saint Anna Bakery, 2158 S. Archer

No food tour would be complete without dessert and the above is an exemplary example of Eurasian fusion, a sweet egg custard tart from the Chinese island of Macau, which was administered by the Portuguese for 450-odd years.  I'll definitely be on the lookout for these rich (and messy) treats among the Portuguese bakeries scattered throughout New York and Connecticut.

Dusek's Restaurant, 1227 W. 18th Street

Before Pilsen became a haven for immigrants from Latin America, the neighborhood was predominantly Czech and Bohemian. Back in 1892, local businessman John Dusek constructed the striking Thalia Hall at the corner of 18th and Allport as a community center of sorts for Central European expats. This complex was recently renovated and reopened as a restaurant (Dusek's), tavern (Punch House), and concert venue honoring the center's history. Our good foodie friends Phil and Karen recommended Dusek's and were kind enough to join Mrs. Hackknife and me for dinner there during our trip. Chef Jared Wentworth (who also spearheaded the terrific Longman & Eagle, owned by the same dining group) has succeeded again in creating a casual-yet-elevated menu of dishes that just work in almost every instance, including an unusual duck-based choucroute (pork is usually featured) and a mind-blowing multi-component version of a Lebanese sweet cheese roll.

Wood-Roasted, Cheese-Stuffed Pretzel with Beer Mustard

"Beet-Stained Burrata" - Chevre, Marscapone, Pickled Beets, Arugula, Black Walnut Pesto

"Choucroute" - Aged Seared Duck Breast, Duck Sausage, Confit Duck Leg, 18-Hour Sauerkraut, Caraway Pickled Apples, Confit Potatoes, Duck Jus

"Halawat El Jibn" - Cardamom Ice Cream, Blood Orange Curd, Honey Gel, Golden Raisin Puree, Honey Bubbles, Olive Oil/Honey Toffee Powder

Craft Beers, Hailstorm Brewing Company, 8060 186th St., Tinley Park

Just a mile or two from the old Commissary sits Hailstorm Brewing, a newer craft brewing operation tucked away in an otherwise nondescript industrial park north of I-80.  Mrs. H, my brother-in-law Dan, and I popped in for a couple of samples in celebration of his recent milestone birthday.  In addition to some really intriguing beer creations (including a German sour with prickly pear and an Imperial stout made from 11 different malts/6 different hops), my personal favorite was the Shenanigans with Shillelaghs, a dry Irish stout with a smoother finish than Guinness.  If we still lived in the neighborhood, I reckon I'd be a regular visitor here (with a lighter wallet and a swollen liver).

Allgauer Schnitzel, Chef Klaus Bier Stube, 20827 S. Lagrange Rd., Frankfort

Mere hours later, the wife's family held my brother-in-law's actual birthday event at another old 'hood institution, Chef Klaus' Bier Stube, a celebration of all things German.  Sure, old Chef K is no longer with us and his breakfast restaurant on 191st serves better grub for the most part, but there's something vaguely comforting about a gigantic plate of veggie and Jarlsberg-covered schnitzel (straight from the world-famous schnitzel bank, according to the menu, which left me puzzled - is there a vault full of pounded pork in the back?), washed down with a Hofbrau maibock and a side of uptempo accordion music.

Wrigley Field Hot Dogs, 1060 W. Addison St.

These are happy times to be a Cubs fan, not just because the team is actually fun to watch now (something I couldn't say for the majority of my 12 years as a season ticket holder), but you no longer have to fight the crowds in the main concourse downstairs to get the best ballpark dogs in America.  Simply pop your head out onto the upper deck patio behind home plate to find a Vienna Beef stand selling charred dogs with grilled onions (believe me when I tell you that the onions are key).  This particular dog bit the dust almost immediately after I took this photo (it landed on the ground, not in my stomach); fortunately, the vendor took pity on me and gave me a replacement without having to get back in line.

What you see here are among the more difficult ballpark dogs to secure in all of baseball.  Our now-retired friend Doug Sohn (of Hot Doug's fame) caused a foodie frenzy in Chicago when he announced in 2015 that he was opening a stand in the Wrigley Field bleachers to serve a rotating selection of his coveted sausage creations.  The catch is you need a bleacher ticker in order to access this stand - no exceptions.  My feeble attempts at sweet-talking an usher to let me past the checkpoint failed miserably; however, Mrs. Hackknife's good friend Melanie (who is a bleacher fixture at Cubs games) was kind enough to bring us over a couple of Hot Doug dogs, namely a Carmen Fanzone (a spicy Vienna Beef polish sausage with incendiary brown mustard and caramelized onions) and a Turk Wendell (gyro sausage with feta cheese, chopped tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce).  I must admit they were well worth the added hassle (thanks again, Melanie!).

Original Superdawg, Superdawg Drive-In, 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

Staying on the theme of encased meats, this one needs no further explanation.  Superdawg remains the all-time hot dog champion in my book, down to the crinkle-cut fries and green tomato wedge.  If you visit the satellite location in Wheeling, you can actually clearly review the other menu offerings (such as the Whoopercheese and Superfish), most of which I'm told are quite good, not that I'd know (future blog post idea - consume and write about all non-hot dog Superdawg menu items).

Smoked Pork Mollette, Tortas Frontera, O'Hare Airport

Celebrated Mexican chef Rick Bayless continues to expand his restaurant kingdom (Lena Brava just opened in the crazy-crowded Randolph Street corridor to rave reviews recently); however, his fast casual sandwich bar at O'Hare is still the best airport food by a country mile. I suspect this smoked pork mollette (open-faced sandwich of smoked pork loin, red onion, Jack cheese, chipotle-fig spread, Cotija cheese, and cilantro) had been sitting around in the warming oven for a little while; no matter - it made a fine lunch nonetheless...