Sun Wah’s Secret Menu

Michael Nagrant / 07.16.09

Whatever your take on social networking, the Internet, and all manner of digital time-stealing inventions, one thing you can’t deny is the awesome power of these media to expose some serious eats.

I’d been going to Sun Wah Bar-B-Que on Argyle Street for more than three years, now eating my way through every Chinese barbecue item on the menu and ordering all the goodies written in black Sharpie on styrofoam plates nailed to the wall on the annex menu.

I’ve almost always ordered co-owner Kelly Cheng‘s recommended vegetable of the day–because when you get sweet stuffed honey-glazed eggplants or killer bitter greens dripping in garlic and lemon, who can say no?

But apparently, during all those forays, there lurked an untapped secret menu at Sun Wah. While I’m not quite the regular at Sun Wah that many in the Chicago food community are, I felt like I deserved the intel.

Instead I had to find out about it on the Sun Wah Facebook page.

I mean, it wasn’t like some dude tweeted me and told me he was sleeping with my wife, but it was still a surprise.

So, secret menu in hand (it’s not really a menu, more like a handful of items), I stopped in a few weeks ago to check out the action. Lots of good stuff, but the highlights: Mike’s Chicken (so named after Kelly’s brother Mike), which features a roast chicken that’s deep-fried post-roasting to create a crisp crust for those juicy insides. At first bite, you’re kind of like, Hmm, that’s good, I’ve had crisp-skinned chicken before. On second bite, the juices of the flesh blow up in your mouth like a Chinese soup dumpling and you eat the whole plate in seconds flat.

The second awesome dish on the secret menu is the duck egg foo yung. Egg foo yung is one of those American-Cantonese hybrids that are the result of Tiki-culture ingenuity that capitalized on our taste for super sweet and salty things. I have no idea what the first ones tasted like, such that the dish has survived since the 1930s, but as of late, my experience with the dish has been one of gelatinous overcooked gravy-slathered mounds that jiggled like Pamela Anderson on a trampoline.

The Sun Wah version, however, was firm, the eggs custardlike. The gravy was thick and beefy but not remotely gloppy. The shreds of rich duck were also a nice alternative to salty ham bits I’ve found in other lesser versions. With my belly full, my tiny disgruntlement at not knowing about the secret menu subsided. All I ask is that in the future, maybe the Cheng family can send me a tweet (@michaelnagrant) when they unveil their newest creations.

Sun Wah Bar-B-Que

1134 West Argyle Street, Chicago IL 60640 (b/n N Broadway and N Winthrop; map)