Guess I'll put down my thoughts while they're still fresh in my noggin.
We started at Simply Slices
, a neat and tidy little outpost on a long commercial strip. In fact, it is so neat and tidy, most Roadfooders would dismiss it as part of a chain operation and not bother to stop. As it is, I'm glad nocarolina picked this as our first stop.
From the looks of it, shiny, white, and corporate, you're half expecting them to be serving frozen pizzas from the grocery store. This is certainly not the case. We were met initially by the lovely fragrance of fresh pizzas baking in the kitchen; a very promising start. We ordered a single pie for the seven of us to split, half sausage, half "supreme".
I gotta tell you, the pizza was pretty darned good, with some caveats. The crust was definitely NOT
pre-made/frozen. In fact you could see the dough roller in plain sight of the ordering counter and we watched as they rolled and stretched our personal crust right before our eyes. The crust was actually the guiding force behind this pie. It was crisp, firm but not tough, and flavorful.
In my best judgment the topping ingredients were all fresh, although not present in the abundance that I am used to when eating a deep dish or stuffed pie (my preferred pizza styles). There was an excellent ratio between cheese and sauce and the cheese didn't render a lot of oil, something that makes most thin pizzas distasteful to me.
I don't know that I'd go all the way back down to the far south side just for one of these pizzas (if there was one closer I'd be a regular), but it was way better than I expected a thin pizza could be. If I did go back I would take a more purist approach. Don't mess around with the scarce toppings, stick with the comforting simplicity of a cheese or sausage pizza and you'll have a real winner.
The ribs at Nick's Barbecue
were the one (not too) low point of the day, but even they weren't bad; just misrepresented. I knew walking into the joint that I wasn't going to get real 'Que, so I set my sights lower and was ready to judge based on the flavor and quality of the ribs as opposed to the cooking method. I don't think they were boiled at any point because the pork flavor was fully represented. Usually, if you boil dem ribs you lose the intensity of the pork. They were definitely baked though, low and slow to yield a very tender, fall off the bone rib, still retaining enough chew to let you know you're eating meat and not tapioca pudding. I give them kudos for a very lean rib with a good amount of meat and just enough fat to give it flavor.
Sides of beans and mac & cheese were okay, not great. The potato wedges though, were excellent. A crisp, crunchy battered crust, not overly seasoned, yielded to a light, fluffy, almost creamy interior. Some of the best I've had with this style of preparation.
ChiTownDiner ordered a pulled pork sandwich that was served in remarkable abundance, enough for all seven of us to get a good wedge and still have some left over. The pork was probably done in a crock pot or some other slow cooking device. Once again, not too bad, but not real 'Que either. Also, they serve the sandwich drenched in an overly sweet sauce that detracted from the pork flavor. Maybe that was their plan all along.
Like I said the biggest problem here was misrepresentation. I recognize that there is more than one acceptable way to cook a rib or a pork shoulder (although boiling isn't one of them). I have baked a slab or two in my time during the dead of winter when it was just too cold to go outside and tend to the smoker. I got no problem with baking ribs as long as you tell me that's what I'm getting. Don't call it Barbecue if it ain't.
After this minor disappointment it was all high flying for the rest of the day. Our next stop, Country House
served up the best burger I've had since our meeting last week at Fred's. That's right all my cheesehead pals, I'm comparing Country House to Fred's. This was excellent quality beef cooked beautifully to order, medium rare, juicy, flavorful, and great texture too. Served on black bread with grilled onions (as recommended by nocarolina and CTD, thank you boys) and a slice of cheddar, you'd be hard pressed to say which was better, Country House or Fred's. The one distinguishing factor between them would be Fred's signature seasoning. Country House's version relies on the beefy essence of the meat to come through without too much seasoning and it works. Very well.
Also on the plate was some top notch creamy style cole slaw and a split order of fries and onion rings, both of which were institutional varieties, but cooked just right to maximize flavor and texture. Country House is definitely a place I would return to, despite the distance.
Next up was Popolano's
for fried chicken. This was an interesting choice from nocarolina as the menu skews more toward Italian fare, with the chicken more of an accommodation rather than a featured item. That said, what we were served was very good, not quite in the same class as Stroud's in Kansas City or Belgrade Gardens in Barberton, Ohio, but there's damn few places that compare to those institutions.
We were started off with a huge basket of fresh baked ( I mean steaming, right from the oven, can barely pick 'em up with your bare fingers), hot rolls, each one almost as big as a softball. They were absolutely delicious. An aromatic, yeasty overtone coupled with a slight sweetness made these melt in your mouth rolls a true joy. We passed around a cup of the excellent cream of chicken dumpling soup to accompany the rolls and it made for the perfect starter.
We ordered two 1/2 chicken dinners, mixed white and dark meat, to split between us. stricken_detective, unbeknownst to the rest of the group also ordered a sampler platter (referred to on the menu as an "Italian Bus Tour") of chicken Parmesan, meat cannelloni, and eggplant strata (I think).
While we waited for the food, our very helpful waiter informed us that the kitchen had run out of dark meat (?!?), and would it be alright if they brought out all white. What choice did we have really? I generally prefer dark to white, but if you ain't got it, you ain't got it. Each dinner came with two large breast portions and three wings. The crust was paper thin, crisp and tasty with no oily excess, really top notch. The meat was just a tiny bit dry, making me wish even more for the missing dark meat. Nevertheless, it was tender with excellent flavor.
The sides were almost worth the price of admission all on their own. "Herb Muddled" mashed potatoes were clearly fresh, house made with plenty of red skin mixed in with the slightly chunky, coarsely mashed spuds. A scoop of taters was served in a small dish swimming in a tasteful pool of butter with the fresh, chopped "Muddling" herbs sprinkled artfully on top. Strong hints of basil and other aromatics made up the bouquet.
Next up was some rich, creamy mac & cheese with bits of tomato and bacon tossed in for good measure. An unusual but whimsical pasta choice, spiraled tubes, made up the base. These were coated in a rich cheese sauce with the small chunks of tomato mixed in, all of which was covered by a light dusting of bread crumbs and bits of nicely done bacon adding a satisfying smoky edge to the dish. stricken and I were interested in the risotto and got one order. It was good, not great, a little less creamy than it should have been, but at that point we had so much other stuff in front of us it just didn't matter.
All the items on stricken_detective's Italian Bus Tour platter were fantastic! I mean if nocarolina had brought us here for the Italian instead of the chicken (which as I said was still pretty darned good), we would have carried him out of the place on our shoulders. By the time I got around to trying the sampler we were stuffed to bursting (we gotta start limiting these tours to 3-4 places max, oy), so specific memories of the sampler item are a little fuzzy. All I can tell you is, after pizza, ribs, burgers, fried chicken, and all the sides that went with them, when I tasted the sampler items my taste buds reawakened and said, "Thank you sir, may I have another!"
Our meal was capped off with a huge complimentary chunk of bread pudding smothered in rum butter sauce. It was a struggle, but between the six of us we managed to polish it off, groaning happily all the while. Cunis Candies
was our last stop. Wonderfully comforting old time ambiance; classic, original soda fountain with vintage soda dispensers, shake mixers, glassware and freezers in a long, narrow space; Formica counter with stools on the right, shiny red upholstered booths on the left. The front end is dominated by display cases showing hand made chocolates and other candies. As you walk back you see the soda fountain area and step back in time.
The sign in the window proudly declared that fresh peach ice cream was back in season, leaving me with no choice but to get a single generous scoop in a sugar cone. What struck me first was the color. A deep, intense reddish orange that drew you into the ice cream so you could almost taste it before you put it in your mouth. Once it finally did hit my tongue it didn't disappoint. It fairly screamed "PEACH" at you. The flavor was absolutely spot on, obviously made with fresh peaches, no artificial enhancers, just pure sweet fruit, a little sugar, eggs and cream. Perfect. I would put Cunis' peach ice cream up against Homer's (a famous ice cream joint in Wilmette, Illinois, renowned for their peach ice cream, in case you weren't familiar) much vaunted version any day of the week. I even picked up a couple pints of their strawberry and peach ices to take home. Sampled both late last night and was very happy with my purchase.
This tour, with the possible exception of Nick's "BBQ" (and even that wasn't so bad) was a classic example of "Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover". Except for Country House, none these places look
like what we think of as Roadfood. But, with that one previously mentioned exception, every one of them exceeded expectations on some level.
Thank you nocarolina for sharing the treasures of your South Side stomping grounds with us. It was a grand day shared with good friends over so much good Roadfood. You're working on a Northwest Indiana tour next, right? No rush. I may need until next summer to recover from yeterday's extravaganza.
<message edited by BuddyRoadhouse on Sun, 08/23/09 4:46 PM>