Hot Plates: My top ten tastes of summer

Michael Nagrant / 05.24.10

1) Taylor Twosome: There’s nothing like a slushy cup of Mario’s watermelon- or cantaloupe-chunk-studded Italian Lemonade and a nutmeg-spiced combo Italian Beef from Al’s. Despite plenty of comers, they’re still both unparalleled originals. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say visiting these institutions wasn’t an excuse to chill on a nearby Taylor Street stoop and watch the inevitable black-socked sandal-wearing old Italian dudes hunkered down in aluminum folding lawn chairs snoring under their rattan-weave porkpie hats. If those guys have turned in early, there’s always a beer-soaked 16” softball game down at Sheridan Park worth catching. Al’s  #1 Italian Beef, 1079 West Taylor; Mario’s Italian Lemonade, 1068 West Taylor

2) Beverly Bi: A freshly ground and griddled buttery patty sandwiched between a fresh pillowy bun from the Soulian family’s Top Notch Beefburger in Beverly just ain’t complete without a five-colored scoop of orange sherbet, pistachio, strawberry, chocolate and Palmer House (Venetian Vanilla with cherries and walnuts) ice creams at the orange adobe palace of The Original Rainbow Cone. Top Notch Beefburger, 2116 West 95th; The Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 South Western

3) Hot links—Uncle John’s BBQ: Mack Sevier makes a mean rib tip, and you’d be remiss not to get a mess of them slathered with his hot bbq sauce. But a summer stop at the corner of 69th and Calumet isn’t complete without a fat hunk of Sevier’s red chili and garlic-slathered crispy skinned hot links. Uncle John’s BBQ, 337 East 69th

4) Smoked shrimp—Calumet Fisheries: Watching barges ford the Calumet River and coils of smoke rising from the carbonized smokehouse behind this South Side gem while popping smoked shrimp like Skittles from a brown paper bag should be part of any induction ceremony for official Chicago citizenship. Calumet Fisheries, 3259 East 95th

5) Big Star: Though the cinder block-chic Paul Kahan-Donnie Madia-Terry Alexander-Justin Large helmed taco stand hasn’t been open for a single summer, stopping at the take-out window to watch the “tortilla ladies” hand-patting masa or sidling into the yellow metal patio chairs over a pile of tacos de panza (aka pork belly tacos) is sure to be a rite of passage for every human within a mile of Wicker Park/Bucktown for years to come. Big Star, 1531 North Damen

6) Cemita Atomica—Cemitas Puebla: You can get a Cemita Atomica featuring pork three ways, oozy queso oaxaco, avocado and chipotle salsa anytime of year, but the sandwich is best in June, when the spicy herbaceous papalo leaf from owner Tony Anteliz’s parents garden is available for garnish. Cemitas Puebla, 3619 West North

7) The Chadwick—Nacional 27: For summer in a glass, look no further than a sip of local mixology legend Adam Seger’s pomegranate-ginger-and-habanero-infused mojito served with a sweet sugar-cane swizzle stick. Nacional 27, 325 West Huron

8) Cappuccino Gelato—Spacca Napoli: These days it seems you can get wood-fired pizzas anywhere, but Spacca Napoli’s cappuccino gelato is a singular scoop. Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, 1769 West Sunnyside

9) Gazpacho—Jerry’s Sandwiches: A true seasonal delight, this vinegary cool tomato soup shows up whenever owner Mark Bires feels like cooking it in the late spring or early summer. Whether it’s the standard or the tangy green tomatillo version, make sure you order it when it makes an appearance. Jerry’s Sandwiches, 1938 West Division, 1045 West Madison

10) Mother-In-Law—Fat Johnnie’s: Normally a poppy-seed hotdog bun stuffed with a tamale slathered in chili, cheese, onions and sport peppers is winter hibernation food, but since this ramshackle South Side shack is carry-out only, the best place to eat one of these monsters is on the sidewalk in the noon day sun of a lazy summer day. Fat Johnnie’s, 7242 South Western

This article first appeared in Newcity