Thundersnow? How the hell did Chicagoans become afraid of a little thing called Thundersnow? Seeing the grocery stores descended upon by locusts, listening as not only yuppie places like Grahamwich but Manny’s— Manny’s!— called off business today (at least it will be today by the time you read this) because of snow, I thought, who the hell are we, people from Atlanta or Arizona or something? Thundersnow? Wake me when it’s frickin’ Killer Asian Carp Snow. Wimps.
I went out in the snow at 10:30 to walk my dog, and it was exhilarating. (I see that some LTHers reacted the same way, bless ’em.) I was laughing out loud as we tromped gamely through foot-high drifts, the dog and me. Myles once said admiringly of Buster, “He’s like having a baby brother who’s proud.” The dog, though he has made them more bawdy in their humor, has definitely been a good character influence, demonstrating values of strength, persistence, protectiveness and the importance of maintaining good relations with all family members. So come with me on our walk in the Thundersnow, and we’ll talk about things I haven’t gotten around to posting about.
One thing I noticed at all the stores I went to: the first thing that was out, that was always completely bought out and not to be found at any price, was El Milagro masa tortillas. From which I conclude two things: Mexicans must watch and believe all the disaster hype on TV even more than Anglos do (what are they doing on Spanish stations, positively screaming the ice-death of the world?) And they all have excellent taste in tortillas, because you could find other brands, and even El Milagro flour ones— but the corn ones, acclaimed as the best in town by everyone I know (like Mark Mendez, to name one), were gone. Always.
So for a week or so I thought I was ahead of the curve on this whole Grahamwich thing. I didn’t post a photo essay of a sandwich-free counter at 9 am, no sir; I said what I thought about the photos I saw, then I went and took my own. I liked the place overall. But then, suddenly Julia Kramer of Time Out and Mike Sula of the Reader both dogged the place, which left me wondering— was I too nice? Had I been sucked into Graham Elliot’s reality distortion field and drunk the Kool-aid (well, I did literally drink the orange soda), leaving myself desperately uncool when the media narrative changed from worshipful to scathing?
I scanned their reviews to see how they compared to what I said— Kramer apparently never even tried the shortrib sandwich I had liked, and her potato chips were stale, which was too bad because the ones I had, I loved. Sula did have the shortrib sandwich but by then he was probably already down on the place. So I feel okay about the fact that I liked what I had, within the realm of sandwiches anyway (I sort of think the best sandwich and the worst one are still both somewhere in the middle of cuisine, say ranking somewhere from 3 to 8 on a 10 point scale, in which case, the short rib Grahamwich is a solid 6.75; this is not to diss the genre, sandwiches at lunch have a perfectly respectable place in a balanced lifestyle of culinary peaks and plateaus). I don’t think I was a sellout. I don’t think.
Which, speaking of getting overly self-conscious about what you write and your image and all, brings up another thing that happened. A while back I was contacted by a major food media brand about writing for them. I sent samples and the plan was, I would be sent a test assignment. I waited and never got the test assignment, contract, etc. I inquired. Finally I got back word that it was decided I wasn’t the right fit for the gig— without ever doing the test assignment, or sending them anything else beyond what they’d seen when I did seem like the right fit. Now, I could be reading way too much into this— who knows what could have changed at their end— but I couldn’t help but wonder, did someone finally search their name here and find a few stray, possibly snarkily humorous comments about them? And does that mean if I want work, I should start really watching what I say about such potential employers here? (Should I even be nice to John Mariani, in case Esquire ever calls? Oh god!) Okay, this is the downside of this modern age of blogging, in which all this networking and being a wit happens in cold, subpoenable type instead of over vodka gimlets at 21, where a little clever cattiness came with deniability. But at the same time, this is why anybody calls me at all, because I do stuff here, parade the merchandise in public. Suppress my outspokenness, my real me too much and I won’t intrigue anybody enough to want to hire. So I guess this is the price one occasionally pays… if in fact that had anything to do with it at all, and not a million other possible things, of course.
I paid a second visit last week to Big & Little’s, the little shack in River North (if it’s still River North when you can stand and watch Cabrini Green being demolished a block or two away; what else might it be, Old Town? The Tenderloin, once upon a time?) Last time I had fish and chips, this time a burger and fries. Big & Little’s got some instant LTH love, and in other corners, for being a yellow-awning joint with higher standards; they do some fancy, Hot Doug-y things like serve fries with truffle salt or foie gras on them (literally, a lobe of foie melting into your fries like cheese fries), and generally avoid convenience shortcuts. It’s admirable, and the fries are first rate, but I have to admit, I’m not as blown away as some people are. It’s great that the burger was a handmade patty, but it wasn’t salted all that much (which I think is essential to bringing out a burger patty’s flavor), lettuce took away a lot of its flavor (my fault for assuming “everything” would be 30s style minimalist, not Greek diner style), it just wasn’t raised to a peak of perfection as, say, Edzo’s is. Likewise, fish and chips were good, but not awesomely so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s way above average for a lunch counter joint and well merits the lines that form every day at lunch, over less interesting competitors. But the hype has gotten a little overenthusiastic in my book (and no doubt will even moreso as the GNRs kick up again at LTHForum).
By the same token, I’ll tell you about a little place that also doesn’t rise to the level of an Edzo’s, but deserves more attention than it gets, which is basically zero so far (save the inevitable Yelpers). Slim’s, on Montrose just west of Damen. There’s been a hotdog place in that spot forever— I think when we briefly lived near there during our house renovation, I tried it once and was unimpressed; in those days the place to go was the late lamented Mimi’s— but some new guys took the spot over recently and are trying to offer a cut above the typical Vienna Beef-sign joint, claiming to offer fresh meat burgers, fresh-cut fries, etc. The fries were indeed quite good; I was not quite so sure about the patty being fresh, at least it seemed to be preformed, but on the plus side they really fried it to a nice outer char like a Schoop’s burger, which made it easily 2.8 times better than the typical hot dog joint burger in Chicago. As I say, not a go-wildly-out-of-your-way place, but good to know about for an area whose other choices aren’t especially thrilling.
We turned the corner onto Damen, the dog and me, and our way was blocked by drifts that had blown around the entrance to the bar at the end of the street. So we walked up Damen, car tracks in the snow recapitulating the old streetcar lines…
I thought the dog was wimping out before me, for once, but no, as soon as he got to where our trail had started, he fought being dragged back inside. Sorry, my friend. Time to say goodnight.
Thanks for coming along.