Duck blood and other mystery meats. Despite the fact that I would like this to be the name of my future band. It is not. Rather it’s a descriptor of my first-generation Polish childhood, of the tripe-filled Sunday visits to see my babcia and dziadzia (grandma and grandpa).
Some believe that critics criticize because they can’t do. In my particular case, when I’ve been less than enthusiastic about certain restaurants, it’s been said I couldn’t cook my way out of a paper bag. I like to believe this isn’t true. I got into food writing through my love of cooking. I also spend a lot of time constructing restaurants in my head that I one day hope to launch. That’s why I find Amy Le—owner and chef of Spotted Monkey, a new Asian-Latin fusion restaurant in Chicago’s financial district—so inspiring.
Befitting its name, Dream Cafe is a reverie, or at least an oasis, of sorts in Englewood. The restaurant is surrounded by empty lots and boarded-up homes. Most of the restaurants within a mile radius are greasy spoons, hot dog and gyro shacks, or franchise fast food.
One of the great demands of reviewing restaurants is the overarching need to cover the new and the hip. In doing so, the places that have been executing something really good for so long often get overlooked. So for the next month or so, I’m dedicating myself to writing about good neighborhood places, the mom & pops and the small, authentic ethnic joints that get lost amid the pomp and circumstance of celebrity chefdom.
This year I broke down and finally asked what Jesus would do. It happened at the 3pm Christmas Eve mass in the back of Old St. Pat’s church in the West Loop. Somewhere during the Gospel pageant, when a tiny Mary wrested plastic baby Jesus from his makeshift manger and hoisted him by his head like Michael Jordan palming a basketball, my mind started to wander.