A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago

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quijote
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2010/05/04 01:00:49 (permalink)

A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago

This past weekend I had the good fortune of spending a couple of days in Chicago: not particularly exotic, perhaps, but a nice break from my Milwaukee routine nonetheless. Most of my Friday was spent in meetings, but I managed to slip away during part of the lunch break in order to visit a couple of River North institutions. Sorry: No photos!
 
My first stop was Mr. Beef (666 N. Orleans St.), one of the legendary purveyors of Italian Beef sandwiches. I ordered a “Wet Hot”—an Italian Beef sandwich dipped in garlicky gravy with hot giardiniera on top. The beef was tasty and thinly shaved, and I enjoyed the chewy, sturdy, and gravy-friendly roll, but I wasn’t knocked over by the sandwich as a whole. I found the gravy to be watery and bland (the garlic was barely noticeable), and the giardiniera was disappointing: not very spicy, a very small portion, and pretty much just celery with an occasional carrot fleck. Perhaps my expectations were too high; I’ll have to try Johnny’s in Elmwood Park (recommended by several posters here) and Al’s on Taylor in order to see if this kind of sandwich can have more life in it.
 
My second lunch stop was Portillo’s (100 W. Ontario). When I got there, the line was pretty darned long, but another register opened up and sped things up a bit. The place was packed with out-of-towners—lots of high school athletes yelling over at each other, quite a few couples and families on weekend trips…. But when I got my Chicago Dog, I went to the upstairs dining area and enjoyed a peaceful meal. The hot dog was excellent: a poppy seed bun, a “snappy” frankfurter, neon relish, chopped onion, sport peppers, celery salt, tomato, a pickle wedge—truly delightful. The crinkle-cut fries were tasty, and yes, I put catsup on them.
 
I made my way back to my colleagues near the meeting site, had some coffee, and continued on with the day. Dinner was with colleagues at Bistro 110 (110 E. Pearson St.) near the Water Tower. My meal was just okay, nothing special: overcooked and overpriced oven-roasted chicken.
 
On Saturday morning I headed to Tempo Café (6 E. Chestnut St.) in the River North neighborhood for breakfast. I had seen this place many times before, but never got around to trying it out. After reading various reports about it here on Roadfood, however, I felt I needed to see what the place is about. When I arrived, there was a rather long line for tables, but I got a counter seat (one of three) right away. The various skillet breakfasts looked really good, but I opted for the classic ham and three (!) eggs:
 

 
The runny yolks from the poached eggs went perfectly with the ham’s robust and slightly salty flavor. The potatoes under the ham were fine, but I would have preferred crispy hash browns. The toast (thick-slice white with sesame seeds on crust) was okay, but significantly improved with the addition of Tempo’s made-from-scratch orange marmalade:
 

 

 
After some book shopping in the neighborhood, I hopped a bus and began my journey to Smoque (3800 N. Pulaski Rd.), a BBQ restaurant in the Irving Park neighborhood that has received quite a bit of praise here on the board:
 

 
There was a fairly long line when I entered, so I had some time to read the menu and figure out what I wanted:
 

 
I was tempted to get a full entrée with sides, but decided to get a half brisket sandwich with slaw and peach cobbler:
 

 

 

 
Everything I ordered was thoroughly enjoyable. The brisket had a lot of flavor—good quality meat gently infused with hardwood smoke. The vinegary-tomatoey barbeque sauce also stood out—a nice balance of tang, sweet, and heat. The vinegary slaw provided a refreshing counterpoint to meat and sauce, and the cobbler—when I at long last got to it—was “peachy”: not too sweet, not too doughy, and slightly caramelized on top and along the sides. A very dynamic flavor and texture sensation that I rarely get from desserts.
 
Once I finished, I asked one of the workers if all of the smoking was done on-site. She directed me to Chris, one of the owners, who enthusiastically gave me a tour of the kitchen. All of the smoking is indeed done on-site, and here are some tasty works to behold:
 

 

 
This restaurant is a real gem, and I hope to go back soon and try the pulled pork, the ribs, and other items.
 
I walked down Pulaski a bit, then caught a couple of buses to the Bucktown neighborhood. My destination was Margie’s Candie’s (1960 N. Western Ave.):
 

 

 
I had gone by this place several times over the past few years, but never quite got around to stopping. But I’m glad I finally did. The candies looked tasty, but I was swayed by the ice cream. I wasn’t quite up for a full-blast sundae or a similarly sized dish, so I got a modest scoop of delicious coconut ice cream:
 

 
According to one of the servers, the ice cream is made fresh by a local creamery specifically for Margie’s. And seriously, the ice cream tasted ultra-fresh: it was rather milky and not too sweet, and it was packed with fresh coconut shreds. Some people might prefer something more sugary or more loaded with butterfat, but this version was perfect for me.
 
I ended my trip with a walk down Milwaukee Avenue, a stop at Myopic Books (a great used bookstore near W. North Ave), a bus ride to Union Station, and then a train ride back to Wisconsin.
#1

29 Replies Related Threads

    BuddyRoadhouse
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 01:44:50 (permalink)
    quijote,

    You're independent nature and sure footed navigation of our town and its public transportation have always impressed me.  Heck, you use the CTA with more knowledge than most of the people who live in this city!

    I told ya about Mr. Beef.  Make Johnny's your priority next time you're down our way.  Also, Portillo's isn't a bad choice, but if I'd known you were after a Hot Dog, I could've steered you to some even better options.  In fact, with the success of Hot Doug's there are several new places, all further downtown and closer maybe to where you were working, that are emulating his "gourmet dog" concept.

    The folks at Smoque are darned proud of the product they turn out and they're always happy to show it off.

    Nice reports, and good pix.

    Buddy
    post edited by BuddyRoadhouse - 2010/05/04 01:49:18
    #2
    X1
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 07:10:09 (permalink)
    Once again, a very nice trip report.
    #3
    MiamiDon
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 07:38:29 (permalink)
    Nice trip report!  The ham and brisket look very appealing, as does the peach cobbler.
    #4
    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 08:32:58 (permalink)
    quijote

    On Saturday morning I headed to Tempo Café (6 E. Chestnut St.) in the River North neighborhood for breakfast. I had seen this place many times before, but never got around to trying it out. After reading various reports about it here on Roadfood, however, I felt I needed to see what the place is about. When I arrived, there was a rather long line for tables, but I got a counter seat (one of three) right away. The various skillet breakfasts looked really good, but I opted for the classic ham and three (!) eggs:



    The runny yolks from the poached eggs went perfectly with the ham’s robust and slightly salty flavor.

    Was this country ham?  Your description has me wondering.
     
    Brad
    #5
    agnesrob
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 08:37:35 (permalink)
    Delicious Report!
    #6
    buffetbuster
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 08:52:00 (permalink)
    quijote-
    Wow, you certainly took advantage of your time while in town.  Thanks for the really nice report and photos.  I just hit Margie's Candies for the first time a few weeks ago and also came away impressed.
    #7
    rumaki
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 08:58:34 (permalink)
    Coconut ice cream is my favorite.  I'll have to go to Margie's the next time I'm in Chicago.
     
    Great report!
    #8
    MiamiDon
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 09:00:31 (permalink)
    BuddyRoadhouse

    quijote,


    I told ya about Mr. Beef.  Make Johnny's your priority next time you're down our way.  Also, Portillo's isn't a bad choice, but if I'd known you were after a Hot Dog, I could've steered you to some even better options.  In fact, with the success of Hot Doug's there are several new places, all further downtown and closer maybe to where you were working, that are emulating his "gourmet dog" concept.


     
    Too funny!  Today's "Restaurant of the Day" is Mr. Beef, and the giardinera looks like it's all celery.

    #9
    cjucoder
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 10:33:53 (permalink)
    Wow. Fabulous pictures. I loved this report. Yeah, I've read so much about Smoque here I really want to get down there and try it. Thanks!!
    #10
    LeadBelly
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 20:53:09 (permalink)
    Nice report. Really liked the look of the breakfast, especially the poached eggs, they looked perfect. I've gotten a lot of soggy homefries so many places recently that I've made it a point to tell them that I want them crispy and that usually works out pretty well. 
    #11
    quijote
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/04 21:31:54 (permalink)
    Thanks, everyone, for the positive feedback (pardon the pun?)-- I usually procrastinate on doing these reports (I still plan to post photos of last summer in Paris....), so I'm actually amazed I mustered the energy to put this together.

    Buddy, I'd love to get some good recs on encased meat vendors in or around downtown Chicago. My stop at Portillo's was one of things that I "had" to do, though--I'd been by that place countless times and never bothered to stop in. But if there's a good place where I can get a Chicago Dog as well as something more exotic, that would take care of my taste buds really well.

    Brad, I don't know if that's country ham, but it sure had a nice, marbled quality to it and a "steak-like" heft. I'm not generally a big fan of ham, but this helped win me over.

    LeadBelly, the poached eggs were indeed perfect, except for one that broke slightly and started to drain into the cup. I managed to scoop it out, though, and save most of the yolk.
    #12
    Louis
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 00:38:41 (permalink)
    Carolina Bob took me to Al's #1 Italian Beef on (I think) Taylor Street, and I was just blown away by the flavor--and I'm one of these guys that's pretty hard to please.  But I'd go to Chicago again just to have another one of their sandwiches.

    #13
    Nancypalooza
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 16:30:23 (permalink)
    Hey quijote, great pictures!  I like the looks of that breakfast too, and those eggs look devine!
    #14
    BuddyRoadhouse
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 16:58:15 (permalink)
    quijote,

    Did my research and came up with these gourmet dog options (other than Hot Doug's and fRedhots, of course). 

    Check out Franks n' Dawgs, Chicago Dog House, and for a supposedly true Detroit Coney Island, without going all the way to Detroit, Leo's Coney Island.

    Oh, and how about alerting some of your Chicago Contingent friends the next time you'll be lurking on our fair city.  We might want a Hot Dog too, ya know.

    Buddy
    #15
    quijote
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 21:36:09 (permalink)

    Buddy, thanks for the recs. Franks 'n' Dawgs looks particularly good, so I'll put that on the docket for an upcoming visit. I would've been happy to meet up with RFers during the weekend, but wasn't quite sure when and for how long I could get away. By the way, in a post in another thread, you mentioned that Irving Park Rd. (from the lake and toward Smoque) has a variety of restaurants--a bus I took went down Irving park, and I saw several places that need to be checked out: diners, ethnic eateries, etc. Possibly an upcoming itinerary for a Chicago tour. And BTW, someone had talked about another Chicago tour (including La Palapa) for when the weather gets better....
    #16
    mayor al
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 22:58:25 (permalink)

     About the Ham, based on the texture (chewy) and the salty flavor mentioned It sure soulds like "Country Ham". It looks like it too (grainy appearance). Most 'City Ham', especially that used for breakfasts in many places tends to look "manufactured" even rectangular slices and a smooth, almost lunch-meat texture and appearance. Few places take the time and expense to use the 'Honey-baked' style Sugar-cured whole hams for breakfast slices.
      My vote would be for a slice of Country Ham...and that one looks great !
    #17
    BuddyRoadhouse
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/05 23:46:57 (permalink)
    quijote
    ...And BTW, someone had talked about another Chicago tour (including La Palapa) for when the weather gets better....


    That would have been me.  That tour is on the back burner at the moment.  With a BBQ Sauce touring schedule, a wedding, and all the other usual summer activities, I haven't been able to focus on a new tour.  June and July schedules are lighter than May or August, so maybe then.  Or...if the weather stays consistent through September (and it usually does), we might be able to pull it off then.  Of course, there's always Carolina Bob's NW Indiana Tour on July 31st.  Maybe September, post Labor Day, is the way to go so we don't have too many tours in too short a time.

    The original plan was to do all outdoor eateries, including banh mi, smoked fish, Sonoran Hot Dogs, Puerto Rican street foods in Humboldt park, and culminating in a group dinner at La Palapa.  Since that idea, a new concept came to me in which we would choose highlighted blocks along Lawrence Avenue, roughly from I-94 to the Lake and wander, not unlike our recent Madison Tour of State Street.  The only drawback to Lawrence is that it is quite a bit longer than Madison's State Street and would involve a lot of parking, walking, getting back in the car, driving, more parking, walking, etc.

    Still, if everyone is game, there are some great choices along Lawrence with quite a wide range of diversity.  Could be lots of fun.

    Buddy
    post edited by BuddyRoadhouse - 2010/05/06 19:24:16
    #18
    Jim2903
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/06 10:54:30 (permalink)
    Nice report on Smoque -- I was just there for lunch last Friday. I had previously enjoyed the brisket, pulled pork and sausage, and finally got to try the St. Louis ribs -- fantastic. Next time, be sure to get the beans, which are sensational.

    As a lifelong native of the Chicago area, I feel like a traitor to say that I, too, was not impressed by Mr. Beef when I finally made it there for the first time several weeks ago. The sandwich was OK, but the mostly-celery "hot" giardiniera was not at all hot -- very weak. The beefs at Portillo's are better, and I've recently become a fan of Johnny's at their 2nd location in Arlington Heights, which is closer to my home.

    FWIW, I didn't care much for Al's beef either, the couple of times I've had it at their suburban locations (they've evolved into a mini-chain, not quite to the extent of Portillo's). Again, the heavy-celery giardiniera was very disappointing. I'm also one of those rare beef aficionados who doesn't like his sandwich dipped; I'd like it not to disintigrate before I'm done eating. But perhaps I'm not that odd; the day I was at Mr. Beef, almost everyone in line was ordering their sandwiches dry or even extra dry.
    #19
    quijote
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/06 11:25:47 (permalink)
    Buddy, either of those ideas sounds fun. I like the idea of a Lawrence Ave. tour. And are you familiar with the Johnnie's in Arlington Heights that Jim has mentioned? I know I should go to the original location, but the idea of combining a Johnnie's Italian Beef run with a trip to Mitsuwa is very appealing.
    #20
    BuddyRoadhouse
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/06 13:29:54 (permalink)
    While I have never been to Johnny's Arlington Heights location, I do know it exists.  I believe abe_froeman has been to the AH location.

    As for a mixed cultural excursion to Mitsuwa and Johnny's, well, why not?  Japanese and (American)Italian should prove to be an interesting combination.

    Buddy
    #21
    Jim2903
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/06 17:25:51 (permalink)
    Johnny's Beef is at 1935 South Arlington Heights Road in AH ...
    #22
    stricken_detective
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/07 00:37:35 (permalink)
    Q


    Was the peach cobbler better than the one @ Brown Sugar Bakery over by Lem's?
    #23
    SassyGritsAL
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/07 10:35:58 (permalink)
    That brisket, slaw and peach cobbler looked delicious which I sure it was. Great pics and great food.
    #24
    twodales
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/08 19:41:31 (permalink)
    Hey now, aren't you glad I suggested going to Smoque (as well as some other folks)? The sliced brisket is my favorite.  I prefer the platter because I don't like bread that much.
     
    Have also had the St. Louis and Baby Backs but prefer the St. Louis style ribs.  You might want to try the smoked sausage from Austin as a side.  I'm not huge on sausage (very picky regarding sausage) but I find this one very good.  (I like Johnnie's grilled Italian sausage as well, but that's another story!).  Do try the Mac n Cheese at Smoque rich, tangy cheesy flavor.
     
    As for Al's and such...Taylor Street is very good but I have always enjoyed the Ontario location too.  The last few years they have franchised some suburban stores and they just aren't as good.  If I want Al's I go to either one of the downtown locations. 
     
     Note to Al's:They used to wrap their fries in paper and they were much better that way...those cardboard cartons may provide portion control but they just don't do it for me!
     
    Johnnie's at either location is good but I just like the original in Elmwood Park...tradition, I guess.  Do get a lemon ice because it is the best!
     
    Thanks for the report and all of the great photos. 
     
    P.S. I predict a fierce Smoque Brisket craving over the next few weeks.  Once you try it you are hooked!
    #25
    Julia I
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/09 22:28:29 (permalink)
    I didn't try the St Louis ribs until my 4th visit to Smoque, but I am so hooked! The vinegary BBQ sauce that comes with them is very good, but I found that I kept forgetting to use it because the dry rub on the ribs just made them taste so good that the sauce almost seems superfluous. (Don't forget to try the fries, which are great, or the chili using leftover brisket. It is sometimes available as a special side dish.)
    #26
    rosejm
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/10 01:14:03 (permalink)
    Whew!  I'm glad someone FINALLY mentioned Smoque's brisket chili.
    I've been known to stop on the way TO O'Hare for a bowl, and AGAIN on the way home for 2 quarts to go.

    I'm sure that some will be horrified, but it does have a few kidney beans in the mix.  It's also not overly spicy, so if you're into the heat bring some hot sauce or my personal favorite: green chilis (yes I've spent time in New Mexico)
    #27
    jeepguy
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/10 03:02:12 (permalink)
    Jim2903

    Johnny's Beef is at 1935 South Arlington Heights Road in AH ...

     On the same block as Mitsuwa.
    #28
    mr chips
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/10 07:49:42 (permalink)
    Nice report.
    #29
    quijote
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    Re:A Very Brief Whirl through Chicago 2010/05/12 19:14:31 (permalink)

    twodales, yes I am glad you suggested it. I originally figured I wouldn't have enough time, but fortunately my schedule opened up! It seems that there are several other bbq places I need to try in Chicago, though; the only other bbq place I've been to there is Lem's.

    Speaking of Lem's....stricken, the peach cobbler at the place near Lem's was much fruitier than Smoque's, but I think I prefer Smoque's version--the caramelized dimension really pushed it over the edge for me.


    #30
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