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 Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour

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  • Total Posts: 643
  • Joined: 12/22/2007
  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour Mon, 04/27/09 12:26 AM (permalink)

Hi Roadfooders!
Inspired by last weekend's Spring Fling in Chicago, I decided to take a couple of hours this Saturday (April 25) to check out a few places. I was in town for a conference and had obligations during the morning and evening, so the best I could do was a four-hour mini-tour during the afternoon.
My starting point was Ba Le (5018 N. Broadway), which I had been to only once before (Spring 2008):

The place is a feast for the eyes, and I'm kicking myself for not going back sooner:




There's just so much to choose from, but I couldn't resist ordering the Ba Le "Original" Banh Mi (with pork roll, ham, head cheese, pate, mayo, carrot, relish, jalapeno, and cilantro). Truly delicious!  The more banh mi I have, the more I love them. Who needs a Subway when you can have a banh mi vendor around?

Before I left I ordered a Banh Bao, to heat up and eat later on:

It contains (well, contained) pork, Chinese sausage, and a quail egg, and it made a great lunch today back here in Milwaukee:

After a brief bus ride down Broadway to Diversey, my next task was a visit to Red Hen Bread (500 W. Diversey) to see what was going on. I was happy to see that they had Kalamata Olive Bread, so I bought a loaf:

I enjoyed some of it this evening with some Spanish wine. The bread is very tasty, but the crust is a bit too soft and the internal texture is too smooth; I favor ridiculously crusty bread that has lots of textured, multi-grain roughage inside. But all that aside, this loaf will serve well for dipping, spreads, and sandwiches.
Next on the agenda was a stop at The Wiener's Circle (2622 N. Clark), which I''d never been to, yet heard so much about.  I'm sure many of you are familiar with the menu:

This was a delicious dog with a nice snap, and I enjoyed the pickles, sport peppers and other fixins.
My next stop, Lito's Empanadas (2566 N. Clark), was a just a couple of blocks away. The rain delayed me a bit, but I eventually made my way over:

This is a small place with limited seating (a few stools by the front window), but it's tidy and has friendly service. Here's Carlos:

Many different kinds of empanadas are featured, and they cost only a couple of dollars each:

I opted for a beef empanada, filled with a classic picadillo (ground beef, olives, raisins, potato, tomato, and onion):


Yes, I only had one empanada.... I'm a wimp. Next time I go, I'll try the chicken empanada and one of the more exotic empanadas (such as nutella and banana). The beef empanada I had was delicious--crunchy on the outside, flavorful and hot on the inside. This empanada held its own against the empanadas I've had in Latin America.
The next stop was a suggestion from a friend of mine at the conference: Molly's Cupcakes on 2536 N. Clark.  I generally don't care much for cupcakes, and I'm not usually the sort of person to part with nearly $4 for one, but the display and selection here convinced me that I should give it a try:



Molly's has some standard-issue cupcakes (vanilla, chocolate, etc.) for a couple of dollars, but the specialty cupcakes (Bavarian creme, mixed berry, tiramisu, etc.) are the main draw. I decided to try a tiramisu cupcake:


After a bite, I was convinced: this wasn't a pedestrian chemical-sugar-flour bomb; it was a flavorful admixture of basic cupcake with mascarpone, espresso, and other tiramisu ingredients. I still prefer real tiramisu, but I'm glad I tried this.
My next stop was in the River North neighborhood, at Cafe Iberico (737 N. LaSalle), a Spanish restaurant and tapas bar.

The real destination was the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen, where there's a small but respectable Spanish deli.  I wound up getting a few things to take back to Milwaukee, including some morcilla (blood sausage) and spicy chorizo.

Both ingredients will soon go into a Fabada Asturiana, one of my favorite Spanish dishes.
It was around 4:00 pm when I left the restaurant, and I had to get ready for a 5:30 reception at the conference site, so I closed my little adventure with a Honker's Ale at a bar near the hotel:

Made by Goose Island, Honker's Ale is similar to an English bitter ale. Quite tasty and very refreshing after a small food tour. Later in the evening, at the reception, I returned to the world of corporate-produced rubber chicken.
<message edited by quijote on Mon, 04/27/09 12:58 AM>

    • Total Posts: 2330
    • Joined: 3/10/2004
    • Location: the 262
    Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 12:36 AM (permalink)

      • Total Posts: 643
      • Joined: 12/22/2007
      • Location: Milwaukee, WI
      Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 1:03 AM (permalink)


      It looks like I've managed to post something after all, but yikes, the images are HUUUUGE.  Jeez, sorry about that!  I'll look at tinypic to see if that's a better option than Photobucket.


        • Total Posts: 3090
        • Joined: 3/31/2001
        • Location: Milwaukee, WI
        Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 6:54 AM (permalink)
        Four hours?
        “Dream the Impossible Dream!
        Fight the Unbeatable Foe!
        Bear the Unbearable Sorrow!
        Go where the Brave Dare Not Go!”

          • Total Posts: 3778
          • Joined: 6/17/2004
          • Location: Columbia, SC
          Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 7:49 AM (permalink)
          I have to say, that's a terribly impressive four hours.  A Banh Bao appears to be a Vietnamese Scotch Egg, basically.  :)

            Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 7:57 AM (permalink)
            Great urban tour.  The photos look the right size to me, although some were a little dark.  I like your food choices!

              Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 10:56 AM (permalink)
              What a great way to spend an afternoon!

                • Total Posts: 4712
                • Joined: 11/5/2004
                • Location: Stoughton, WI
                Re:Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour Mon, 04/27/09 11:45 AM (permalink)

                Inspired by last weekend's Spring Fling in Chicago, I decided to take a couple of hours this Saturday (April 25) to check out a few places. I was in town for a conference and had obligations during the morning and evening, so the best I could do was a four-hour mini-tour during the afternoon. 

                At any time did you actually stop moving or did you walk and eat?  Looks like you got quite a bit done in those 4 hours!

                  • Total Posts: 2330
                  • Joined: 3/10/2004
                  • Location: the 262
                  Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 11:49 AM (permalink)
                  You're the man!!!! 4 hours! I'm so impressed w/you right now.  We will never again speak of the child sized sundae @ Gertie's!!!

                  Which was better--Molly's cupcake or Brown Sugar Bakery's brownie?


                    • Total Posts: 4074
                    • Joined: 12/10/2004
                    • Location: Des Plaines, IL
                    Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 12:55 PM (permalink)

                    I'm not sure if I'm more impressed by the fact that you did this as a solo undertaking or by the amount of food you must have consumed in that short amount of time.  Sorry we couldn't join you on this one, but it looks like you did just fine on your own.

                    The Wiener's Circle certainly isn't bashful about their prices these days.  $3.10 for a Hot Dog?  And I assume that's without fries.  Of course, going during the day you missed the late night floor show when the drunken yuppies make their way home from the Wrigleyville bars, stopping off to abuse and be abused by the ladies behind the counter.  Probably to your benefit.

                    I was particularly interested in the empanada place.  I love empanadas and am particularly fond of the ones found at Mekato's Columbian Bakery with locations in both Chicago and Milwaukee.  Their green salsa (not really a chimmichuri according to the owners) is unlike any salsa I've ever tasted and an excellent accompaniement to their empanadas.

                    Overall, a very nice report, great pix, and an outstanding mix of genres and ethnicities.  You are certainly a welcome and valued addition to the Milwaukee/Chicago Contingent!  And now that we know you can cook too, we'll expect you to bring something wonderful to JRPfeff's Smoke Day on May 23rd!

                    <message edited by BuddyRoadhouse on Mon, 04/27/09 12:57 PM>

                      • Total Posts: 643
                      • Joined: 12/22/2007
                      • Location: Milwaukee, WI
                      Re:Post Postponed! Mon, 04/27/09 7:02 PM (permalink)

                      Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Fortunately, the bakery, the empanaderia, and the hot dog place are all pretty close to each other, so that helped time-wise. It was especially tough pulling myself away from Lito's, and I regret not having a chicken empanada in addition to the beef. Buddy, Lito's empanadas are much crispier than Mekato's, but yes, I do love Mekato's.  I haven't been in a few weeks, so I may have to get over there this weekend.

                      The only semi-disappointment was the olive bread, but I've just discovered that it's really good toasted with a schmear of eggplant spread. Stricken, I must say that the brownie from Brown Sugar was really good; even the yummy tiramisu cupcake at Molly's couldn't quite nudge it out of my memory.

                      I am indeed glad I've found this site, and props to MFL for leading me here. In some ways, this posting was an experiment, so I could learn how to do pix, etc. for my upcoming trip to Iowa (mid-May). I'm looking forward to Breaded Pork Tenderloins, though I'm sure my doctor would prefer that I order grilled tofu instead..... And yes! I have Jeff's extravaganza penciled in--I hope to bring something tasty that won't ruin our appetites for that delicious BBQ.  Man, I'm still thinkin' about last year's feast!

                      <message edited by quijote on Mon, 04/27/09 7:03 PM>
                        Buffalo Tarheel

                        Re:Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour Mon, 04/27/09 7:13 PM (permalink)
                        Very nice report and a great example of using your time wisely when on travel.  I don't think I could keep going the way you did, but hooray for your stamina.

                        I think you can count on breaded pork tenderloins being better than tofu (even a breaded tofu tenderloin).

                        Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

                          • Total Posts: 937
                          • Joined: 3/7/2008
                          • Location: Milwaukee, WI (Ex-NOLA)
                          Re:Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour Tue, 04/28/09 6:28 PM (permalink)
                          Awesome report, Q!

                          And you've refreshed my longing for Bahn Mi at Ba Le....


                            • Total Posts: 1559
                            • Joined: 2/4/2004
                            • Location: scotch plains, NJ
                            Re:Personalized, Four-hour Chicago Mini-tour Thu, 04/30/09 8:52 AM (permalink)
                            If, heaven forbid, I am somehow told I have only 4 hours to live, and I happen to be in Chicago at the time, I will use your report as a roadmap.

                            Great report! And welcome to Roadfood!
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