Dippin’ in the L20

Pour my beer in a Solo cup and give me a spit-roasted pork taco and I’m a happy man. It’s not that I don’t appreciate luxury dining, but the balance between food and other details at the high end has increasingly tipped toward silly. Given the current climate, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone offers high colonics in lieu of a post-meal digestif. Advertisements



Angela Hepler-Lee is like the new Jerry Kleiner. Years after the Marche and Red Light impresario staked his claim to Randolph Street, Hepler-Lee, who opened Sushi Wabi, De Cero and now a new mod small-plates Indian spot, Veerasway, is taking it back piece-by-upscale-ethnic-piece.

In the Know: Louisa Chu

Culinary journalist Louisa Chu’s training and education are like the equivalent of a CNN war correspondent who graduated from West Point, fought in Desert Storm and served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  She’s cooked at El Bulli in Spain and Alain Ducasse in Paris, and staged at Moto and Alinea in Chicago.  With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Le Grand Diplome from Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, she’s the perfect culinary correspondent, a studied interloper and curious participant. These rare chops have earned her a spot as field producer for the Paris episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show “No Reservations,” as a correspondent for Gourmet’s “Diary of a Foodie” on PBS and most recently as a judge on “Iron Chef America.”  We recently caught up with the intrepid Chu, who splits her time between Chicago and Paris. Q. What’s the best Chicago-related advice you’ve ever given or received? A. Given:  Go beyond downtown and Lincoln Park.  Get out to Hot Doug’s [3324 N. California], Johnnie’s Beef [7500 W. North, Elmwood Park] and Burt’s Pizza [8541 N. Ferris, Morton Grove]. Bonus points if they make it to Jimmy’s [4000 W. Grand], my Proustian dog. Received:  Get out on the…

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Partners In Crime

Most people are familiar with the Taylor Street Twosome, but how many know about the Beverly-Bi? The Taylor Street Twosome is the tradition of sucking down a nutmeg-spiced Italian beef, with your knuckles slathered in gravy and flecked with stray giardiniera, at the original Al’s, followed by a saunter across the street for an icy sweet-plastic-spoon dip into a wax-lined paper cup of Mario’s Italian Lemonade. The Beverly-Bi isn’t quite so easy, as you need a bit of willpower and have to walk about seven blocks to complete it, but it’s no less venerable than the Taylor Street Twosome. But, unless you come from a long line of far Southwest Siders, it’s probably not as well known.

The Improbable Tomato

Eating or cooking with tomatoes in May is almost always an exercise in culinary imprudence, that is, until you’ve tried the hydroponic heirloom tomatoes of McWethy Farms.

The improbable tomato – Michigan farmer lets flavor of off-season bounty speak for itself

Eating or cooking with tomatoes in May is almost always an exercise in culinary imprudence, that is, until you’ve tried the hydroponic heirloom tomatoes of McWethy Farms. McWethy Farms is just across the lake from Chicago, in Three Oaks, Mich., past a meandering white picket fence and a wavy expanse of prairie grasses. The entire farm is encapsulated in a quarter-acre of polycarbonate and white- painted cement, a greenhouse with an interior that looks like someone dropped the hanging gardens of Babylon on top of a set from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Owner and farmer Todd McWethy is just as iconoclastic as his farm.  No mud-spattered overalls or corn silk toothpick here.  He favors North Face wind pants, and he has bachelor’s degrees in biology and horticulture. One of his formative moments as a farmer came from fraternity brothers who had their own vegetable garden and grew hops to brew their own beer. “Quite honestly, they grew other things too,” McWethy says.  “That’s what drew me into it, but then I realized it’s really cool to grow anything.” The air in McWethy’s greenhouse is thick with humidity.  Verdant tangles of thick vines punctuated by fat clusters of pink Brandywines and…

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Tapped Out?

Saying that the 77-year-old red-sauce joint Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap has seen a lot is like saying Magellan took a short boat trip. When the tap opened in 1931, Halsted was paved with brick and Taylor Street was the port of entry for Italian immigrants. Italian beef may have been drenched in gravy and sandwiched between two pieces of Gonnella bread, but only in those immigrants’ kitchens, as Al’s Italian Beef didn’t open until 1938.

Tipping and the Back of the House

Chris Borrelli had a good article in the Chicago Tribune last week about tips and how they get disbursed. I think the article made some great points, especially about what I consider an exploitative behavior of some restaurants which charge a percentage of the waiter’s tip to cover credit card processing fees, as if it’s the waiter’s fault the restaurant accepts plastic. Assuming the restaurant doesn’t pay a flat processing fee to the credit card company, I might buy into the idea of sharing a percentage of the cost of a tip on an exceedingly large gratuity, since the restaurant would have to pay a greater processing fee without receiving any portion of the tip. Of course, I’d more likely accept that premise if restaurants started treating their waiters as real business partners and paid them full minimum wage. One aspect that wasn’t covered in the article which I think bears some attention is the long simmering tension between the front of the house (i.e. the service staff) and the back of the house (the cooks and dishwashers etc), particularly in high end restaurants, which is often exacerbated by the tip system.

The Tale of the Taco: Seven Great Tacos

A David and Goliath story worth its salsa, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of a ragtag army over French troops in the Battle of Puebla. There’s no particular Mexican fare associated with this glorious event, but we found seven great tacos that make a celebration seem in order. (This article first appeared in Chicago magazine in a different form.)