Friday, April 27, 2012

Very Personal Food Reviews

Haiku My Heart
April 27, 2012

I used the Haiku My Heart meme to post the food reviews from our latest trip to Chicago. The stories about the trip itself can be found in earlier posts Part 1 and Part 2. This post is all about the food, with a touch of Haiku. To see more fabulous Haiku My Heart posts, visit Rebecca's recuerda mi corazon blog.

This is an Italian Beef combo that I served at home, very much like  the kind I had at Portillo's on our recent trip to Chicago

Eating our way through
Hot Dogs Sausage Pizza Pie
Latkes Ruebens, yum
It wouldn’t be the right thing to do to just mention the names of the places where we received our sustenance without telling you about the ambience and the experience. After all, one of the reasons we traveled to Chicago besides seeing a Broadway show and a Major League ball game was to eat.

Diner nirvana
Gastrointestinal glee
It’s all about food

Interior design of the Ontario Street, Chicago Portillo's
Portillo’s is a large chain these days in the Chicagoland area. They might even have a couple of stores in other states. California I think has at least one. But I remember when it all started out of a small 8’ X 10’ cart that sat in the parking lot of a small suburban shopping center way back in the 1960’s. They sold hot dogs and built an empire from that.
A stock photo of Portillo's first hot dog stand in the 1960's
Let me backtrack just a bit. The Italian beef sandwich is to Chicago what the Philly beef is to Philadelphia or the Bratwurst is to Green Bay, Wisconsin. So is the Chicago style hot dog. Like Sabrett's in New York City. In Chicago, they call it a garden on a bun and has the following ingredients:
A 100% pure beef Vienna brand hot dog
A steamed white bread poppyseed laden bun
Neon green pickle relish
Yellow mustard
Tomato slices
Chopped onion
A Dill pickle spear
Celery Salt
If you care for a little heat, Sport Peppers
If any of these ingredients are missing, it is NOT a Chicago dog.
The rules say you must be under 12 to put ketchup on a Chicago style hot dog. There are many places that serve the Italian beef and hot dogs. Many will argue which none is the best. The latest poll says Al’s Italian beef is the best. There are a lot of votes for Gene and Jude’s out in the burbs.
But Portillo’s is steady, consistent and damn good in the Italian beef and Chicago Dog department. Each restaurant has a different theme and the decorating is like that of a hollywood movie production. I should know, I worked in motion picture production for many years. The photo above shows the interior of one Portillo's location that mimics a Chicago apartment building street scene.
On our visit to the Portillo’s store on West Ontario Street in Chicago, I had one Combo with sweet peppers. The combo is a char-broiled Italian sausage smothered with Italian beef and the flavorful au jus, topped with roasted mild green peppers. The beef is very thinly sliced and slow cooked in its own juice, seasoned with garlic, pepper and salt.
The bread is a Chicago style French bun that I can’t seem to find anywhere but Chicago. ( The water again?). My favorite brand in Chicagoland is made by Gonnella. The juice of this sandwich makes the bun swell and fall apart after a short while.
I mentioned the ingredients of the Chicago Dog earlier. Mrs. Spadoman had one of those. We both added a tamale to our order. The Chicago tamale is steamed and a little different than a home made Mexican tamale, but is basically a corn meal outer with a very finely ground spicy meat filling. Barb had some French fries with her meal and we both drank water to wash it all down.
Photo of a Portillo's tamale

Due’s Pizzeria
Pizzeria Due is housed in an old house that sits on the corner of Wabash and Ontario. You walk down a few steps to the semi-basement where you’ll find the bar and a few booths and tables strewn about. In Summer, the outside patio is flush with people eating the delicious Chicago style deep dish pan pizza and drinking beer.
A good beer seems to make this pizza even more delicious than it already is. I chose a Sam Adams, Barb stuck with water.
We ordered a small pan pizza with mushrooms, onions and Italian sausage. The mozzarella cheese is put directly onto the crust and the chunky tomato sauce is put on top of the cheese. This allows the crust to remain crunchy and firm, especially around the edges where the deep pan that it is baked in does it’s finest work.
These days, Due’s is part of the large Uno’s Chicago Grill with franchises all over the country. The original pizza pie shop was started by a guy named Ike Sewell. He opened the original place on Wabash and Ohio Street. It was the second store that he called Due’s on Wabash and Ontario, one block away.
But the story goes, and some maintain, that a fellow named Rudy Malnati actually invented the deep dish pizza and his son, another Chicago restauranteur, Loe Malnati, is still serving deep dish pizza in Chicago. No matter to me, either the original Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due is the best deep dish pie around.
Since it is a bar, or lounge if you care, they are open late. It was the perfect finish to a great evening after the theater to sit in a corner alone and away from the crowd of the streets of the city late at night. The long wait for the pizza allowed for a long satisfying conversation, something we don’t get at home with all the Grandkids around. Returning to places where we dated at one time so many years ago is a wonderful experience. We don’t remember the pizza tasting any different than it did 40 years ago.

Sorry, no photos of the pizza. It was too dark and too personal.

Glenn’s Diner

I was looking for a place to get some breakfast or an early lunch on Saturday as we were going to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play baseball and the game was to start earlier than usual at 12:05 PM. I did a search of restaurants in an area code or on a street name and this place Glenn’s Diner came up. They had an easily negotiated web site and I checked out the menu. It was close to the ball park and happened to be right around the corner from where Barb’s Paternal Grandma and Grandpa lived. She hadn’t been around this old neighborhood in many many years, but remembered the streets. It wasn’t too far away from where she lived as a child and Glenn’s Diner even shared the same numbers in the street address as she had way back when.
Glenn’s has a regular breakfast menu weekdays and a few added creations for weekend breakfast. The highlight was the all you can eat cereal. As the photo below will attest, the “Wall of Cereal” boasts over 30 different kinds. The first one costs, the second and third bowls are free with a small charge for extra milk. Some days, I just need a bowl or two or three of cereal. Cap’n Crunch anyone?
The wall of cereal. Glenn's boasts 33 different kinds on hand

I didn’t do the cereal this day, although I was tempted. I opted for the New Orleans Scramble. Louisiana Gulf Tiger Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, well done sautéed onions and green peppers served scrambled with some fine and fluffy scrambled eggs. A potato latke, (potato pancake), was served along with this platter. I chose two perfect sized pancakes instead of toast.
My New Orleans Scramble from Glenn's Diner

Mrs. Spadoman had a large platter of French Toast called Glenn’s Dad’s French Toast. She had them made with French bread. She claims it was very flavorful and full of maple and cinnamon. I didn’t have any room to even take a bite from her offering.
Mrs. Spadoman's French Toast

The coffee was superb for an eatery. It came from a roaster in Saugatuck, MI called Uncommon Grounds. Well worth it for a diner to have great coffee. This stuff did not disappoint.
Next time through Chicago, a stop at Glenn’s Diner for another breakfast will be in the mix as well as making a reservation for dinner which features many variations of different types of seafood along with pasta dishes and salads.
Here’s where you can get more information about Glenn’s Diner.

Eleven City Diner
Yours truly at the Eleven City Diner in Chicago
As we sat in the hotel room relaxing a bit between meals, Barb was looking through a hard covered book that was set out on the coffee table. A book full of colorful objects that we couldn’t think anyone would ever be in the market to buy filled most of the glossy pages. But one photo caught her eye. It was a Rueben sandwich and advertised a Diner Deli on the South end of Downtown.
I went to their website and read the menu out loud. We originally thought of making it to the Chicago Chop House or Ruth’s Chris Steak House for an aged steak and salad, but this Rueben called to her and off we went in search of Jewish nirvana.
She ordered the Rueben and it looked just like the one in the photo. She also ordered a cup of Matzoh ball soup. The waiter quickly interrupted her and said, “Soup only comes in bowls, no cups.” The Matzoh in this bowl of soup was as light as a feather. The chicken broth was perfect. Not to salty, but not bland either.
Along with the soup and sandwich, she ordered a chocolate malt that came in the old fashioned soda fountain glassware complete with whipped cream, cherry, sugar wafer and the tin it was made in.
My order was a pastrami sandwich on rye with an order of potato latkes that were served with sour cream and applesauce. The sandwich came with a garlic dill pickle spear and very good cole slaw. I added a chocolate malt to my order when I saw hers. She did offer to share, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with a ‘sip’.
The place was busy, but not crowded. Great jazz was playing on the other side of a small half wall that separated the deli seats from the restaurant proper. There was a deli counter with corned beef, roast beef and pastrami along with other salads and delectables for sale as take out. They also had a separate counter where they sold T-shirts and coffee mugs with their logo. Since the two Spado daughter’s have collections from years and years of my travels and visits to diners, we bought them each a mug.
This place will also be on the list of places to head to for lunch or a late night snack again. Good straight forward Jewish deli food. Very good.

Sorry, no photos here either, too busy stuffing our faces.
For more info, the menu and some great jazz, check this site out.

Lastly, Lou Mitchell’s
Lou Mitchell’s has been a mainstay for a long time. The place where it sits, on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, is within a couple of blocks of the beginning, (or the end depending on which way you travel), of the famous and now defunct Route 66. The first time I went into this place I must have been 15 years old and skipping school on a fine Spring day when staying in school would have been torture.
If I get to Chicago and I have a chance where I’ll need breakfast or lunch, this is the place I go. When we walked through the door carrying our travel luggage, a well dressed woman at the door told us to put our bags down and she’d watch them while a well dressed man was seating the people that walked in before us.
She handed us each a Halloween size box of Milk Duds and held out a wicker basket that was filled with freshly baked doughnut holes. We each grabbed one and headed to our booth. The seating is in booths or tables. The two tops, as tables that seat two people are called in the restaurant vernacular, were lined up edge to edge with chairs on either side, making a forty foot long table. You might be sitting across from the person you came with as well as be sitting next to a stranger. The conversation is lively.
A glass of icy Chicago water is placed at each of our places and a waitress came along and asked what we would like to drink. We ordered coffee and china cups on china saucers were placed before us and filled with black gold. Not as good as that gourmet coffee at Glenn’s, but freshly brewed and flavorful nonetheless. Brown bubbles still foamed at the top of the carafe that was emptied quickly while making it around that long aforementioned table. The half and half was in a shiny stainless steel carafe that sat neatly on the table.
Yet another of the waitstaff took our order and soon after, a small dish was placed before each of us that contained a chilled stewed prune and a large orange wedge. Soon after, our breakfast appeared.
Barb went with a typical bacon and egg dish served with home fried fresh potato slices and rye toast. I had the eggs with potatoes and ordered a marinated skirt steak done medium. I also had the rye toast.
My skirt steak and egg platter at Lou's

They offer two eggs done any style on the menu. Usually, they serve you three. My platter had four this day. A bonus in the egg department.
The skirt steak isn’t found everywhere. They are plentiful at the Greek run restaurants of Chicagoland. It is a cheap, and not usually tender, cut of beef, but being marinated, my skirt steak was tender and juicy.
The coffee cups and the water glasses were kept full. The bill arrived in a very timely fashion, as was the clearing of the plates, but not before we were finished eating. A small dish of vanilla ice cream cleansed our pallets after the meal.
Let’s see, Milk Duds, doughnut holes, stewed prune, orange slice, main course with coffee and water and a small ramekin of ice cream. I’d say that’s some value. This place is right across the street from Chicago’s Union Station. If you ever take the train and you have some time to kill, eat at Lou Mitchell’s.
Here’s the website for Lou Mitchell's

There you have it. I know this post is long, but I'm leaving town for another Road Trip and don't know when I'll be posting again. In the meantime, always feel free to e-mail if you have a question. I'll report now and then while on the road to Northern California
Peace to all


A Bit of the Blarney said...

Soooo,,,my stomach is growling and I'm craving a deep dish pizza. Hope your proud of yourself! Somehow my oatmeal for breakfast this morning will be terribly lacking!!! Wishing you the best of weekends!!! Cathy

Jeannie said...

Wow - sounds like great food - I couldn't have eaten all that!

Hot dogs/sausages we have all over town - we even have a local sausage - Oktoberfest which is now available everywhere thanks to our local German beerfest. No one makes a big deal out of them though. Canadians seem to lack that thing Americans have that makes them state unequivocally that they have the best of "whatever". Unfortunately, I think maybe because of said German population, we are severely lacking in a strong Jewish community and there are no delis that I know of.

There are a couple of family restaurants run by Greeks that are noteworthy. Another was even better but got sold and the quality just isn't there any more.

And there's a couple of steakhouses - one owned by a prominent family with numerous restaurants and another by another Greek.

We have some pretentious places (one refused to feed Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida and their kids. We ate there once but weren't really impressed so they didn't miss anything.)

And our Caribbean community have produced a few places to get jerk chicken and the like - homely places but the food is good.

somepinkflowers said...

{{ always
the best
is Love
Love of Food ...

for a longer taste
when i arrive home }}

rebecca said...

dear food gods,

your reviews of culturally tasty delights has me dizzy with a lifetime of memories. i was especially moved that the pizza shot was impossible "too dark and too personal".
you had me with that one HOT review!!!

Lindsay said...

Haiku's about food and review, how original! I've never saw this before, thanks for sharing. :)

gma said...

Delicious post....YUM is right.

Lenora said...

love that - dinner nirvana! lots of food photos today - making me hungry. sounds like a great adventure!

carol l mckenna said...

Now that I am satiated with delicious food and wonderful travel ~ have to say your haiku is fun~namaste, ^_^

Laura said...

this sure is all about the food...hope you are having a great time!

Libby said...

What a treat - in every sense of the word. My mom's from there. Sharing this post with her. :)

Fallingladies said...

Now that you've made us all hungry!..... Isn't it great how memories get all tied up with food and smells!..... And thanks for your wonderful comments on my mandala video!

SkippyMom said...

I don't know how you do Spado [well, actually I do ::wink:: after reading your email] but I would definitely be closer to my goal weight if I could eat all of that - everything except the pizza makes me droooooool. OMGoodness. One thing is better is than the next. It just sounds like so much fun to go back home and go to the places you remember plus get to go to landmarks that serve it up Chicago style.

I miss road tripping and diner food ::sniff, sniff:: We really have no good diners here in northern VA, but go south or north to PA and howdy doody! YUM.

I just love your Haikus. They are spot on for this post. Nicely done.

Safe travels my friend. Take care and best wishes.

peggy gatto said...

I am starving!!! Good thing it is 7 pm and I am going to have dinner!!!
Love the info in case we get there!
My husband loves dining!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

What is there about this post that makes me think you really enjoy food?

Sniffing Temptation

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Wow. This was a wonder of a dining trip with some other side activities tucked in. Thanks for the pictures, the haiku, and all your commentary. Now, if I ever get to Chicago---

Marit said...

I enjoyed reading your post - it was like going on a 'food trip' together with you guys. One thing was missing though - uhu: the food you describe! MAN, am I getting an appetite now! I better make me sandwich right now... Have a nice trip my friend: eat well, sleep well, live well and enjoy!

Lea said...

Holy Cow! You MUST be hearing my stomach a growling all the way through cyber space! This was fantastic! I will remember this particular post for if, I mean when, I get to Chicago! In the meantime I will pass this on to my other foodie friends so we can drool together! Loved the haiku to whet my appetite for what was coming. Thanks for the good wishes as well and the threads to find my way back home...

Mel said...

Awwwwwww.......that 1960's stand is just too cute!

As for the food......OMG.....I so want some. ANY some....NOW.

The rueben would do. But I could do the beef sammich! Or the pizza.....

I'm gonna go for Lou's and the Eleven City Diner. I checked out the websites and I'm ALL about the atmosphere and good times!
And ruebens....and a good breakfast at 11. LOL
I'd sell my hubsband for a pizza. ROFL
I think that might be true!

I'm hoping the journey has been a decent one for you so far.....and happily waiting for photos, showing off the wonders that you're getting to see along the way.

mig bardsley said...

Wow! what fabulous food!