As you’ve probably noticed by now (say, around the time that a post on burgers turned into a long piece on the Cold War and the Space Race), food can lead to some pretty highfalutin’ flights of literary fancy around here. But not every meal inspires my muse. This post will be a short roundup of some recent meals which might have some interest as possible places to try, but didn’t inspire me beyond that to write much about them. (It includes the 48th and 49th entries in my series of 50 places no one has written about on LTHForum. I promise I’ll find something more interesting for #50.)
Meal: Donde Zuly y Marta (#48)
Reason It Failed to Inspire: Puerto Rican Food
The great undiscovered continent in Chicago dining is Puerto Rican food. There’s lots of it to discover, but except maybe for rotisserie chicken, it’s just not the kind of thing that lends itself to rapturous posts and precise taxonomies of whose is best. It’s comfy, it’s easy to take, it satisfies, but the really memorable Puerto Rican dishes I’ve had make a very short list, the difference between the best and the worst is sort of from A to C, and the most interesting places usually take in some other adjacent cuisines which are more exciting, like Cuban. I’m never sorry I ate it, I just don’t have anything to say about it. Anyway, I popped into this new place last week thinking it was Mexican. But instead of tacos, I wound up with a plate of chicken and rice. It was fine. The people were friendly; I imagine that’s Zuly cooking and her daughter Marta serving. If you feel like something homey and plain some day, go check them out.
Donde Zuly y Marta
3638 W. Fullerton Ave.
Meal: Shawarma King (#49)
Reason It Failed To Inspire: Look, a Shawarma Cone Just Like At…
Two places with this name, possibly related, have popped up suddenly, one on Lincoln around 5500 north or so, one where Louie’s diner used to be just off Devon. It’s a middle eastern place exactly like every other middle eastern place. Baba ghanoush was nice and lemony, and I liked the thin pita with bits of char on it a lot. The shawarma sandwich was rolled up inside foil (like at Semiramis) and it was stuffed with a little too much lettuce, which deadened the flavor a little. The meat was perfectly all right, but failed to establish by what divine right it deserved the title of king. In short, if you were close to this, it would be a fine choice, but there’s nothing to set it apart from plenty of other places serving the exact same menu.
Meal: Joey’s Shrimp House
Reason It Failed to Inspire: It’s a Shrimp House and I’m From Kansas
There are some subjects I’ll dive into with passion and knowledge— barbecue, say. And then there are ones where I know I’m still a hick from the sticks. It isn’t a matter of knowledge so much as of just not having an intuitive feel for something because you didn’t grow up with it. Cocktails are one; what can I say, I grew up in the place and era when all anybody under 50 drank was beer, and the only cocktail anybody had even heard of was the one in “The Pina Colada Song.” You young’uns whose formative drinking was in the cocktail renaissance will never understand how deprived of our cocktail heritage we were in the 80s. We are the Lost Generation.
Anyway, seafood is another one. I’m pretty good on big fish in fancy restaurants, on sushi, but the place I still just have trouble is fish as a fast food, as blue collar joint food, as comfort food. There was no such thing as a shrimp house in Kansas when I was growing up, there wasn’t even the idea that there could be. (Heck, I used to see crawdads in the creek in front of my house, and that was well within city limits. But nobody had the idea of frying them.) Fish was synonymous with Mrs. Paul, even though I used to go fishing with my grandfather for perch and crappie and the like.
So I go and try a shrimp house every once in a while. And I just can’t get to the point where I think it’s a real meal, or can tell a good one from a bad one. This new one has been praised by Nagrant and others, the decor is fun, at least it’s clean (some shrimp places are kind of scary). But the shrimp were cooked pretty hard, the fries were limp, and the breading was just, well, breading. And really, it’s just some fried shrimp, and shrimp all taste the same (which is, like not much), unless you get some really fantastic ones. At least that’s how it seems to me, but what would I know— I’m from Kansas.
Joey’s Shrimp House
1432 N. Western