So next week I will again be subbing on Grub Street Chicago, so watch for me there. In the meantime, though, I am finally back at my desk after various midwestern journeys, here to report on things strange and marvelous:
The very last thing I shot for my barbecue video was the standup with Peter Engler in front of the original Leon’s Bar-B-Q location on 79th. Afterwards I asked him to suggest somewhere to eat in the area and he smiled mischievously and said, you may not want this after talking barbecue, but… how about vegan soul food? I know there has been a little discussion of such places on LTHForum but I must admit I hadn’t really paid much attention to the vegan scene on the other side of town, unaccountably…
Would it be too much to say that I’m itching for an excuse to get back? No, it would not, and this was even with Peter apologizing that it wasn’t nearly as good as the first time he went (the proprietress Yah herself was absent that day, and anyway, it’s probably all fresher and hotter on weekends). Even so, I loved the nutty corn cakes, the greens with a surprising depth of pot likker for being untouched by pork, the fresh watermelon-ade. Seriously, a contender for my top ten list this year even on an off day, and that much more of a reproach to the wan home-cooked vegan plates of blah mostly served on the north side. There’s meatless magic happening here.
2347 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60649
Village Inn, Middlebury IN
No, not that Village Inn, but an unrelated actual small town restaurant. Heading to a film festival in Ohio, I finally had a chance to use a book I got last Christmas called Cafe Indiana. The woman who wrote it, Joanne Raetz Stuttgen, has two of them, one for Indiana and one for Wisconsin, both identifying small town cafes and diners where the food is made the old way and the people are especially nice. I mapped out several spots along 80/90 and lunchtime struck near Middlebury, not too far from the Ohio border.
Lunch was freshly made, no industrial shortcuts, but it was pleasant, not dazzlingly good. But then we ordered pie…
I ordered blueberry sour cream, my friend Irv ordered rhubarb cream. They were wonderful. The crust wasn’t as perfectly flaky as Hoosier Mama’s, say, but the combination of bright in-season fruit and a slight tartness in both cases was homey, yet with a touch of sophistication, an almost musical counterpoint. One of the best ten-mile detours I’ve ever taken, and while there I learned about something else I’d never heard of— Bob Andy Pie. I asked what it was, and neither of the waitresses seemed to know— they said it was kind of like pumpkin pie. I wondered, persimmon? Paw paw?
Of course, the internet knew— Bob Andy is a simple custard pie with cinnamon that rises to the top making an attractive layered look, common in the Amish country of Indiana (which is exactly where we were). Like Hoosier Mama’s sugar cream pie, it’s a “desperation pie,” one you make when you’re out of fruit or anything else that might make a better pie.
Guess what I’m about to make.
107 S Main St
Middlebury, IN 46540
Further Adventures in Massillon and Wooster, OH
For some unknown reason, there are two different old movie festivals in Ohio, and I’ve been to both some years. The one in Columbus has always also been an interesting food trip, the one in Massillon, on the outskirts of Akron, has been more an exercise in defensive eating, Massillon home mainly to fairly generic burger-and-salad-bar family restaurants. But slowly I’ve found things in Massillon worth eating, like the Swenson’s Galley Boy, an old-school double-decker drive-in burger native to the Akron area with mayo and bbq sauce on it— but more than the sum of its parts. I also found an Akron BBQ chain that has opened just down the street, Old Carolina Barbecue, and if not the greatest barbecue I ever had, is certainly real enough to be satisfying, its Southern Pride smoker (the same used at places like Smoque) visible from the dining room.
But the most interesting find was one some friends of mine, who seem to have been bitten by the food bug after being exposed to me (and Swenson’s) last year, turned up. Taggart’s Ice Cream wasn’t a secret to me, since it’s one of the few places in the Massillon area (actually Canton) listed at Road Food. The ice cream is all well and good, but my friends discovered the real gem on the menu, the total retro surprise tucked away in the sandwiches column: a genuine “ladies who lunch”-style cream cheese-olive-walnut spread sandwich on rye bread:
I had a grandmother— not this one, the other one— who used to make cream cheese and black olive spread. I kind of loved it but it was also one-dimensional, tasting as much of building materials or adhesives as food. With more pungent green olives in this one, and who knows what other culinary tricks, this brought one of grandma’s Depression-era staples to life. It couldn’t have fit the old movies we were seeing better. Another olive spread sandwich, Countess?
Other friends turned up another culinary attraction nearby— the university town of Wooster about 20 minutes to the west. It’s funny, I had gotten so used to Massillon being stuck culinarily in the 70s that it almost bothered me to see the world I normally live in, the foodie world, encroaching on my annual escape from obsessive foodieism. But Spoon Market was a very nice deli that would do any neighborhood in Chicago proud, full of things like La Quercia prosciutto and Jeni’s ice cream and serving fried kale chips alongside deli sandwiches.
But the real must-stop in Wooster is Tulipan, a Hungarian cafe and pastry shop. Reports on the goulash and paprikash for lunch were good, but the thing to go out of your way for— besides the note-perfect mittel-European setting, again, most appropriate for all these old movies made, so often, by refugees from central Europe— was the pastries, like this classic, and really splendid, walnut torte, not too sweet or gooey, a reproach to all the overdone yuppie cakes and cupcake trucks of our time:
Oh, to have a shop around the corner like this one… One of the mysteries of Chicago is why there isn’t much Hungarian food here; but it’s all over the area near Cleveland, and in my experience, always worth checking out, for dessert if nothing else.
Taggarts Ice Cream Parlor
1401 Fulton Rd NW
Canton, OH 44703
147 South Market Street
Wooster, OH 44691
122 South Market Street
Wooster, OH 44691-4839
* * *
And on to the best things I ate in the last quarter (for previous lists, click the category “Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately” at right). As always, Key Ingredient dishes are not included because they’re one-offs and you can’t go eat them; and I probably could include a couple of things from the Green City Market BBQ or the LTHForum picnic, but those too are kind of one-shots and anyway, I was concentrating on enjoying myself, not memorizing the profile of everything I tasted. Hey, it happens.
• Corn cakes and greens at Yah’s Cuisine (see above)
• Corn cakes of a different sort at bacon dinner at L’Etoile, Madison WI (report to come)
• Olive nut sandwich, Taggart’s Ice Cream Parlor, Canton OH
• Sour cream blueberry pie, Village Inn, Middlebury IN
• Octopus salad and grilled mackerel at Izakaya Yume
• Cold soba noodles, Ruxbin
• Grilled quail stuffed with garlic sausage, Nostrano, Madison WI
• My homemade strawberry-mint-basil jam (inspired by a Dale DeGroff cocktail)
• Burger and fries at Walt’s in Wichita
• Ham spread and cracker at Brobeck’s, Kansas City area (I forget which burb)
• Baozi buns at ING
• Short ribs and other stuff at Perennial Virant
• $6 chorizo tamale, Green City Market
• $1.50 tamale, Garibay Tamales
• World’s simplest lobster roll, New England Seafood Market
• Biryani-like something or other at Chaihanna, Buffalo Grove
• Sausages from Bavarian Sausage, Fitchburg, WI, as cooked by me in speedy choucroute garnie