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>