People often focus on the downside of drinking, like how it makes some people crash their cars into buildings, or how you feel a kinship with death during the morning hangover. However, inebriation also has its delights. There’s the giddiness and belief in all possibility that grips your brain somewhere after the third libation. Drink is also responsible for the glory of the early morning fourth meal, which, as long as there is any decent measure of grease, sugar, and salt involved, tastes like the greatest thing you have ever eaten. There are whole institutions, the $2 slice joint, dirty water hot dogs, and here in Chicago, Flash Taco, that would not exist without liquor-induced palate goggles.
Toons Bar & Grill owner Danny Beck has always been a huge fan of New Orleans. He launched his cooking career at the New Orleans’ House of Blues location as training for joining the opening crew for the Chicago location’s restaurant. He’s made many subsequent pilgrimages to New Orleans over the years and regularly transformed Toons into a ragin’ Cajun fest for the bar’s semi-annual crawfish boils. Beck wanted to celebrate his love for New Orleans, as well as the southern cooking inspiration of his grandmother, Pearl, so he partnered with one of his Toons managers, Rich Hagerty, to open Pearl’s Southern Comfort in Edgewater. I stopped in recently to see if Pearl’s was the place to, as they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (let the good times roll).
You may stumble upon a decent version of gumbo at stalwart Heaven on Seven or some neo-Cajun spot downtown, but they’re no match for the bowl at Three Chefs ($5.99 for a small bowl, $9.99 for a large bowl). All the components that make this gumbo great—the dark and brackish roux (a cooked mix of fat and flour that thickens gumbo), chubby curls of pink shrimp, oval slivers of garlicky caramelized chicken sausage, sweet pepper and cayenne—combine to warm your body and soul.
As a regular visitor to Louisiana and a stalwart aficionado of all things Cajun and Creole, it is difficult for me not to compare Blue Island’s Maple Tree Inn, which bills itself as a “Louisiana Brasserie,” to the restaurants of New Orleans. Against that standard, the Maple Tree Inn doesn’t always stack up. That doesn’t really matter, for the Maple Tree Inn is its own very beautiful, unique thing.
Ever wonder how Utah, that bastion of alcohol-eschewing, modesty-pursuing, piety-peddling Mormons ended up naming their basketball team after the devil’s music, Jazz? Well, to quote Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei’s character in “My Cousin Vinny”) when questioned about the correct ignition timing on a 1955 Chevy Bel Air with a 327-cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor: That’s a bullshit question.