Shanghai Lumpia from Uni-Mart
For the last three years, I’ve woken up on an October Sunday to constant wailing, throbbing drumbeats and clanging cowbells. Somehow my realtor forgot to mention that my condo was located right off the Chicago Marathon course.
I suppose it could be worse. I could live in one of those Wicker Park apartments that shake every five minutes from the rumbling of the blue line, or have one of those scummy developers who leave town after the drywall starts crumbling and the plumbing explodes.
Still watching 40,000 runners coated in Vaseline, soaking in Gatorade, and shooting a cloud of breath from labored lungs every October gets to you. A sort of couch-potato survivor’s guilt takes over, and I take stock of my personal flab. Then I start getting delusional. 2007 baby! I can do this. No pizza for a year.
After all, I was once on the school track team. Then I remember the real reason I joined: the 1990 Malow Junior High girl’s team was super hot. After a last-place finish in the 400 meters in my first meet, I quit.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good marathon… just one that involves a car and lots of good food. This year, instead of wallowing in my sloth, I decided to take action with a personal food marathon. In a city of 12,000 or more restaurants with places closing and opening every day, I get foodie guilt, which is too say, I’ve got a long mental list of “must try” places that I need to get to. The only way to whittle down the list, I figured, was to go at it in bulk. So I loaded up my Ford Escape with wet naps, a bundle of napkins and an industrial sized bottle of Tums and hit the road.
I’ve seen foodies wolf down twenty-course meals and then head for a nightcap of ribs and Mario’s Italian lemonade. I’m convinced those folks have a tapeworm. I am not one of those people, so instead of carbo-loading, as some food marathoners might, I skipped breakfast this morning. As I head up Clark in the Edgewater neighborhood, I blow a stop sign. Note to self: hypoglycemia is much like drunk driving.
First stop is the Filipino grocery store, Uni-mart (5845 N. Clark) which is filled with glistening deep-fried whole pig (lechon), adobo marinated bbq chicken and crunchy Lumpia Shanghai. When the lumpia, deep-fried golden Philly-blunt-sized pork egg rolls are fresh, you’d be hard pressed to find a better egg roll in Chinatown. I eye the crispy skinned lechon, but there’s a long way to go, no need to run a five-minute mile yet.
Next I head over to Broadway, flip on the flashers and illegally park in front of Ba Le (5018 N. Broadway), follow the yeasty smell of fresh baguettes, and score a Banh mi sandwich. The bread is suitably crusty, and the pickled salad is a nice counterpoint to the rich chicken and pate. To save myself, I eat only part of the sandwich and cast the crumpled wax-paper package onto my passenger seat like an half-drunk waxy cup of mid-race Gatorade.
It’s all about pace, and so I’ve elected for a long drive down Archer to Don Jose Taqueria and Tamaleria (2000 W. 34th), a hut-like oasis in McKinley Park. I order up Queso con Rajas tamales. For those used to Bucktown late-night gutbombs served from igloo coolers, this is a light fluffy corn-masa-perfumed purse filled with fiery jalapeno and melted cheese.
As I continue down Archer, I notice Bobak’s (5275 S. Archer) the Polish grocery, restaurant and sausage store. All of a sudden I’m wolfing down a cheese-and-potato pierogie as if it’s a peanut butter Powerbar. This is unexpected, and I’m starting to get a little full, but I figure it could be worse: my nipples could be chafing from windburn.
“Eye of the Tiger” and the “Rocky” theme are now playing simultaneously in my head, and I’ve got a second wind. Soon I’m at Rosario’s (8611 S. Pulaski), where I’m chomping on homemade charred Italian sausage studded with fennel seeds and red pepper rolled up into a chewy Italian roll with zingy red sauce and sweet peppers.
Now, I’m in the homestretch and only dessert will do. Since I’m this far south, there’s only one choice: Old Fashioned Donut (11248 S. Michigan). As discussed in Newcity’s Best of Chicago 2006 issue, their apple fritter is about the size of A.J. Pierzynski’s catcher’s mitt. After a couple of bites of the deep-fried and icing-slathered goodness, I’ve hit the wall. There’s no way I can finish. I hang my head and head towards home. While on the Dan Ryan, the smell from the donut is wafting from the paper bag, and I can’t help myself. This is donut crack. I rip it open. Finish line.
This article first appeared in Newcity Chicago.