Sky Full of Bacon

I seem to go back and forth on what kind of thing makes my top 10 (restricted to things I had for the first time during this year); some years I’m down on fine dining and all my pleasures were down-homey, other years I have good luck and encounter some great chefs working in ways I really like. This year tended toward the latter; I really, really like what Allie Levitt of Mado called “The Green Market bunch,” chefs who are interested in finding the best ingredients at local markets or from regional producers and bringing out their flavors to the fullest. Nearly all of my best fine dining experiences— and even some a few rungs down from that— fell into that category, the master manipulators and molecular gastroenterologists did not do nearly as much for me this year (not that they got as many chances, since I tended to go to the locavorish places in the first place).

As for down-home dining, it wasn’t a year of many great new discoveries, though old favorites continued to please (and Sun Wah in particular has really blossomed in so many ways this year).  But as I went through the year, I found more than I expected.  So here’s a top ten:

10. Grilled sable liver at Taxim, with a nod to its melitzanosalata, duck gyros, some dish or other with lentils and Greek yogurt, etc. I’ve always liked the comfiness of Turkish food, which is really a closer description for what this Greek restaurant serves than anything that suggests the party food of Greektown. Others have my same level of enthusiasm (e.g., Mike Sula) while many, including a lot of LTHers, seemed underwhelmed by the relatively restrained approach of Chef David Schneider. I might agree that Taxim still lands slightly more on the potential than the achievement side as yet, but still, I liked the best of what I ate there an awful lot.

9. Cucumber cocktail at Graham Elliot. Though I had some very good dishes on two visits to Graham Elliot, the best thing I had there was a terrific summer cocktail from mixologist Lynn House, using her housemade cucumber soda, vodka and a little egg froth on top. It’s called Almost Paradise, and it’s too modestly titled.

8. Fried bologna at Taste of Melrose Park. Okay, this one was a total package deal from a pretty magical night, but really, it’s surprising how good that fried bologna was. With a nod to Pierogi Fest in Whiting, for also helping redeem my faith in street fests.

7. Steak tacos at Las Asadas and Tacos el Jaliciense, and pastor at Tierra y Caliente: Two of these are sort of ringers, since I ate at the old Las Asadas on Western and elsewhere before they opened a new one on Western, and Tierra y Caliente is the former, and widely praised, Carniceria Leon on Ashland north of Division.  So I’d been to both in previous incarnations, but both hit new peaks— I ate at both the old and the new Las Asadas within a short time, and the latter blew the former away for sheer juicy beeferifficness.  And maybe I just timed Tierra y Caliente perfectly one Saturday afternoon, but it was pretty much the pastor poster child that day, crispy and tart.  As for Jaliciense, that’s a nice little stand on a triangle of land near Grand and California that also can turn out a heck of a nice steak taco.  I have more Mexican delights coming in a longterm project I’ve been working on, but those should do for now.

6. Edzo’s. Oh yeah, baby:

5. Black-eyed pea cassoulet at Chaise Lounge. Cary Taylor and this glitzy-rowdy Wicker Park spot were in my sustainable fish video, and seafood is the focus there, but I have to say, as terrific as some other things were— lobster pot pie, scallops in beet schmear, an unexpectedly good almond cake at dessert— it was this amazing blend of Franco-Southern comfort food that I could just curl up with right now. If there’s a relatively undiscovered front-rank chef in town, Cary has quickly become it.

4. Hoosier Mama. Too many contenders for the best thing I had from there— could it be the savory pork, apple and sage pie, the best bang for your pork buck in town at $4 a slice? The Southern-sweet simplicity of discoveries like Hoosier Sugar Cream pie or oatmeal pie? Apple quince, cranberry chess (okay, not as wild about that one, but it looks nice below), maple pecan? Luckily, one doesn’t have to choose— even if Hoosier Mama is pricier than supermarket pie, it’s still luxury on a budget compared to ordering dessert out, and a much surer bet.

3. Mado. What do I look back and think of first from several meals at Mado?  Rabbit agnolotti, I guess— because they’ve completely turned me around on their spare approach to pasta (partly, I hasten to add, because they’re better at it now).  But austerity has rarely had so much flavor as when Mado tosses housemade pasta with the bare minimum of stuff.  Unless, of course, it’s when Mado simply dresses a few vegetables, or simply roasts a fish in their woodburning oven, or simply does any number of things so perfectly.

2. My country ham, tied with green label organic prosciutto and speck from La Quercia. Read all about the former here; as for the latter, I’ve never even gotten to try the creme de la ham at La Quercia, the acorn-fed Berkshire, but noshing on a variety of hams at the Eckhouse’s home during the shoot for Sky Full of Bacon #10, the green label organic clearly seemed a level or two above their already excellent product, and as good as anything I ate in Spain (not that it’s the same style, exactly, but close enough). Meanwhile, the hint of smoke applied to the speck, light as it is, lifts this German style into its own special dimension.

1. Vie. As I wrote then: “As much as I admire what’s happening at the very high end, my soul likes a little funk in the mix, and I find the precious arrangement of things into little cubes to get sterile sometimes, however exquisite it may be. For me, then, in my experience there’s no Chicago restaurant at work right now better than the meal I had last Saturday night, for its dedication to getting the best, richest, most purely satisfying flavor out of the best ingredients. And if you can think of other things a restaurant should be doing first, well, we just have different priorities, I guess.”

Since everybody’s writing insanely long lists these days, here are some more from the short list I kept through the year: the sublimely weird, weirdly sublime pad thai using jellyfish for noodles at Schwa; Thai beef jerky at Spoon Thai; pork shu mai at Shui Wah; chicken soup at Belly Shack, and my own hummus soup for Soup and Bread at the Hideout; classic American breakfast at Nancy’s in Columbus OH, which is no more, and a best-in-ten-years Denver omelet at the unjustly underappreciated Palace Grill; pork shoulder at Avec, Paul Kahan’s blood sausage corn dog at the Green City Market BBQ, and pork belly tacos, if nothing else yet, at Big Star; more pork belly, with quince, at Boka; consomme chivo at the Los Potrillos grocery on Belmont, and shrimp ceviche at El Abuelo y Yo; duck egg in an orange-scented pesto at The Bristol; the velvety pasta at Fianco, and the pork orrechiete, which is NOT the one from John Coletta’s book, at Quartino; my own strawberry mint sorbet; Lithuanian bread from Ideal Pastry on Milwaukee Avenue; juicy grilled kebaps from Coach’s Corner in Whiting or Hammond, I forget which; brats and other sausages from Ream’s Market in Elburn, Ilinois; bacon-gorgonzola-venison sausage at Brand BBQ; cured, lox-like trout at Browntrout; Saxon Creamery’s Green Field cheese; Elizabeth Dahl’s concord grape sorbet at Landmark; raccoon; and our honey.

And as always, I end the year grateful for you, dear reader-viewer, whoever you are who finds charm in these random dispatches and, hopefully, something a little closer to art in the videos by which I chronicle my love for those who make beautiful food.  Happy New Year!

Ten best for: 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003

So the entry deadline for the James Beard Foundation awards is coming up in January, and I’ll likely enter three of this year’s video podcasts.  (It seems like three is the usual number, though it’s not specified in the rules or anything.)  And I’m curious what my regular readers/viewers, if any, think ought to be the three I enter.  (The three best, or the three that go together best, you tell me.)  I know which ones I think are stronger but I think my view is colored by things like how hard each was to make, so I’m really curious what you folks who follow along as they appear erratically found most memorable over the course of the year.  The eligible choices are (here’s a great chance to catch up if there’s any you haven’t seen):

Sky Full of Bacon 07: Eat This City from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 09: Raccoon Stories from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 10: Prosciutto di Iowa from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 11: A Better Fish from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 12: In the Land of Whitefish from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Edzo’s Burger Shop from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Sky Full of Bacon 13: Pie As a Lifestyle from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Post a comment, or email mike at michaelgebert dot com. Thanks.

It’s ironic, after all the years I spent working in Chicago’s downtown, that it’s now the one place in Chicago I’m afraid to go. I’ll brave bad neighborhoods or farflung suburbs heedlessly, but… $20 parking? Tourist hordes? Hard Rock and Rainforest? Now that’s scary. So it took me some months to finally try Rick Bayless’ new sandwich/soup spot, Xoco, but when my wife made me an ophthalmologist appointment, I knew it was my chance to lead the family down there for that and another putative delight I’d heard about.

We arrived at Xoco at 11:15 and a line was already forming; because we were a party of four, we were put into a holding pattern before being given our number for seating.  (Though mildly irritating, the degree of organization is pretty impressive and obviously necessary— Hot Doug can manage his whole floor by sight but the seating here snakes around the tiny space, making it impossible to survey from the kitchen.)

Also mildly irritating is the fact that the soup menu is not served until 3:00, meaning that the whole menu here is about ten sandwiches.  (One soup was available in a small size, so we ordered it.)  Of the sandwiches, we got cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), a chicken one and a beef shortrib one; there was really nothing to appeal to an 8-year-old, so he got churros and chips and salsa to eat, which automatically made him the one most likely to love his lunch.

Basically: loved the crusty toasted bread, baked specially for Xoco by Labriola, which puts these sandwiches instantly in a category far above most of the sandwiches in town.  Loved the soup, hearty and with deep flavor.  Churros were pretty much the best ever.  But… we felt the sandwiches were a very mixed bag.  Easily the best, and not coincidentally also the simplest and most traditional, was the cochinita pibil, with its standard accompaniments of pickled onions and habanero sauce.  The other two both seemed overcomplicated, too many flavors (hot sauce, beans, avocado) and textures undercutting the natural good flavors of the very nice, name-brand natural meats Bayless is buying.  It didn’t help that the woodsmoked chicken was just above cold, and far too drowned in red chile sauce to taste of woodsmoke, or that the short ribs, conversely, seemed bland and gummy.

As many have noted, this is an expensive lunch— we spent just shy of $50 for four.  Now, compared not to other Mexican torta joints but to other downtown options, it’s not out of line; I doubt you’d get out of a plastic meal at the likes of Buca di Beppo for less.  What was disappointing wasn’t paying so much for things that didn’t work, but just that they didn’t work, dammit.  Xoco has so much obvious potential, and much of it is good enough to make the parts that aren’t seem that much more inexplicable.  Me, the next time I go back, it’ll either be for breakfast before 11, or for soup after 3.

Next we trudged up north for something I’d heard about— that Nomi was making and selling exquisitely beautiful authentic French macarons.  What I read conjured up the image of a cute little shop popping up for Christmas, with a perky young woman who looked like Martha Quinn in a demure yet fetching elf costume* selling colorful cookies to people who gratefully popped them into their mouths on the spot and lit up with delight.  It was a lovely Christmas shopping fantasy, holiday commercialism on the Mag Mile at its most charming.

Unfortunately, it proved to exist only in my head.  The reality was that we entered the forbiddingly quiet Park Hyatt and looked around for macarons; not seeing any, we asked for Nomi, and rode the elevator to the 7th floor, where Nomi at lunchtime was as lively as a law library.  Once there, we asked for the macaron shop, and it was explained to us that there was no shop, but they sold them at the desk in the lobby.  We were, kindly, escorted back down and shown the very pretty display of macarons above, and we saw the price, which was, a dozen for $36.  A quick calculation ran through my head:

• These could be the best macarons in the world
• On the other hand, the best macarons in the world are probably in Paris
• And I’m sure not getting back to Paris any sooner by spending $36 for twelve cookies right now

Besides the price, there was just something dead about buying a dozen macarons from the hushed marble lobby of the Park Hyatt, like it was the Tomb of the Unknown Macaron, that seemed the ultimate buzzkill to my charming Christmas fantasy.  So we thanked them, and took a pass, and went on our way.

Maybe I’ll learn to make macarons sometime.

* If you don’t think Martha Quinn was by far the hotter of the two original female MTV veejays, I have nothing to say to you.

So I decided to sample the saucisson sec at long last.  I selected one that looked and felt done— and by the way, one can’t help marveling that one’s own handiwork has produced something that looks so textbook-perfect, sausage like it looks hanging at a meat market, created by your own hands and a fair quantity of nature’s activity and time.

I cut myself a slice and ate it.  Then I waited about 36 hours for the symptoms of botulism to appear.  As you may have guessed from the fact that the headline is not “Notice To Readers of The Late Mr. Gebert’s Blog,” nothing bad resulted.

So how was it?  How is it?  It’s delightful!  Full of fresh garlic and spice flavors, yet also a clean porky flavor that bespeaks the excellent pork I started with.  I went to a party on Sunday where there were all kinds of different sausages to try— everything from Polish grocery sausages to sopressata from Riviera to something or other from Armandino Batali’s Salumi in Seattle— and it absolutely would have belonged right alongside them, better than a few, as good as many, no disgrace to any.

I still have to test some of the others which didn’t dry as picture-perfectly— I have no idea, for instance, if the one that’s sort of J-shaped will be any good in that curved part, or any part; and then there’s the one that grew a little turquoise-colored mold, carefully marked on the skin.  If that one has to go goodbye, then it does, c’est la salami. Plus, after about 60 days (somewhere around January 7th) the test sausage of the other style I made, sopressata, will be ready as well, so I can see how that compares. But for now— sausage, it worked! It’s good!

Here’s a complete set of links to past chapters in my sausagemaking saga:
Misadventures in Sausage-Making
Feeling Better About My Sausage
More About My Meat
How My Meat’s Hangin’
Meat on the Move

I hadn’t been to Green City since the summer market closed, but figured I could stand to stock up on some things before making Christmas dinner. Or for the long winter. This was a true winter market, the ends of things, the makings of spare winter meals, but there were still enough things to be had to keep you connected to the growing season behind us and ahead.

We picked up some Honeycrisp apples outside, and some freshly roasted chestnuts, which my older son and I munched on as we looked over things, enjoying their hot, meaty texture.

I saw Oriana, of Asian pear and Sky Full of Bacon #8 fame. She only had some small and rather misshapen pears (not that that is bad for flavor). As you might have guessed from the cold, wet summer and fall we had, it was not a great year for her; she said only about 60% of her trees produced decent fruit, and the basket I got had about a dozen of the brown-skinned pears and precisely one yellow one. At first I thought she had something new wrapped up in a napkin– lychee nuts? But it turned out to be the apple cider donuts from the people a stall or two over. She gave one to each of my sons. Now she’s not only handing out too many samples of her own stuff, but of other peoples’, too.

I hadn’t planned to pick up a jar of Traderspoint Creamery’s herbed creme fraiche, but in the process of spreading samples onto crackers for my kids, I sort of smeared a sign on their table, so I pretty much had to. When I got home, it made a nice filling for an omelet with some excellent eggs from Mint Creek (I think). I did plan to get Nordic Creamery butter, which has been raved about at LTHForum. I’m not as wowed by their cheeses as some people, but I picked up one aged cheddar anyway.

Nichols has various heritage apple varieties— some red and bumpy, others brilliant yellow. None perfect enough for supermarkets— these are the apples you see in old still lifes, next to pheasants and violins. We noshed on a couple of things— a Hoosier Mama assortment, a crepe, some elk salami from the elk guy— and then I saw a name that I hadn’t expected to see ever again: Snookelfritz. About five years ago, a lady sold handmade ice cream under that name, and I thought I put a ginger ice cream she made on my ten best list at LTHForum or even Chowhound (apparently not, I can’t find it) but then she moved to California, or so I heard. Well, she’s back, she was flattered to be remembered from way back when, and though she can’t sell the ginger under Green City Market’s more stringent rules about ingredients being produced locally, she had some very nice flavors including an excellent pear ice cream I liked a lot… just a few minutes ago, in fact. So look for her in future markets, an old friend returned. A few more months and many old friends will return.

Lots of people I know have been active lately, so this is a bonus-length holiday edition full of either stuff from people I know, or at least, suggestions for stuff for people you know. Like this first one:
1. Economist/Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle has an economist-thorough guide to good gifts for cooks at (naturally) various economic levels…
2. …which goes especially well with this Serious Eats thread about worst foodie gifts ever.
3. Of course, one foodie gift no Chicago foodie should be without is the charmingly retro Soup and Bread Cookbook, offshoot of Martha Bayne’s soup nights at The Hideout, including the hummus soup contributed by none other than me (which came in for praise here). Hugh Amano has a post inspired by it as well here.
4. And working our way through old blog-friends at the holidays, Art and Chel Jackson (I’m guessing the former since it’s meat-based) posted a terrific long post on beef, what the different kinds (grain-fed, grass-fed, etc.) are, what the practices of more conscientious producers are, etc. Really a great in-depth look that could easily have been a magazine piece, and yet, thanks to the internet, you can read it for free. (Um, like a magazine piece.)
5. Helen Rosner contributes to this roundup, not of the year’s best cookbooks, but of the decade’s, which strikes me as more interesting in a longer-view kind of way. (Though I think the list is too heavily weighted toward big chef cookbooks— I mean, tell me there aren’t 100 times as many people getting use out of, say, Bakewise or The Perfect Scoop as Alinea or The Fat Duck Cookbook. Still, that’s where the fun comes in, fixing someone else’s list with your own choices….)
6. Need a new Christmas cookie recipe? Here are 25 pretty-looking possibilities, from Recipe Girl. Diet pills to get you wired up enough to bake 25 different kinds of cookies not included.
7. It must be pie week, because The Reader has a cover story on mincemeat pie, its controversial history (involves liquor and prohibition, not to mention murder and nightmares) and why we don’t make it any more (no mystery to me; people don’t have the parts laying around like they used to).  Also in the Reader, Mike Sula has been writing about mangalitsa pork of late; here’s an account by Signature Room chef Pat Sheerin about watching the slaughter (note mention of Sky Full of Bacon video that his brother Mike Sheerin was in partway through).
8. Though if you are the sort to make old school Christmas desserts involving things like suet, you’ve probably already knocked off a few Christmas puddings. So raise the stakes a little with the Imperial War Museum’s recipe for wartime-deprived Christmas pudding.
9. Do we owe it all to shellfish?
10. This has some laughs:

Big Star, Belly Shack. Gotta get that right. Anyway, so there are three things I had against Belly Shack, the new place from Urban Belly founders Bill and Yvonne Cadiz-Kim, not that it’s especially clear to me why they opened a second one barely half a mile from their first place, with a menu that’s certainly in the same ballpark, if slightly more 21st century fast foodish. One, I nearly broke a tooth at the Green City Market BBQ on Kim’s iron-plated masa. Two, they apparently turned the lovely sunny Vella Cafe space into some sort of urban skater nightmare. Three, their stuff is always insanely expensive.

But curiosity before the year is out got to me, so I went, and am happy to report 1) no teeth broken, 2) the space is much more tolerable than reported, at least on a gloriously sunny day as Tuesday was, and 3) okay, it ain’t cheap, but I’ve certainly done worse for $14 at lunch. The kogi beef with pita-like bread was easy to like, maybe a little too easy, it’s sweet and not a lot of complexity to it, if California Pizza Kitchen ever makes a kogi pizza, it will taste like this. But as I say, easy to like. It came with a side of kimchi, I might be a little chapped if I paid $4 for this, it seemed like pretty straightforward kimchi to me, not sure what’s supposed to make it premium seasonal artisanal heritage free-range kimchi like some claim.

The best thing, though— and if you could only eat this for lunch (not enough for a lunch for me), not only would Belly Shack not be crazy expensive, it’d be downright cheap— was a bowl of soup. I forget what exactly it was supposed to be, but like some of the soups I’ve had at Urban Belly, it was basically chicken with some Asian flavors (lemongrass etc.) and some gooey-toothsome hunks of hominy. The best thing I ever had at Urban Belly was an Asian soup with hominy in it and the same is now true of Belly Shack as well; the best soups I’ve had in any restaurant lately are pretty much those two, too. As I say, the differences between the two are not that vast, but Belly Shack feels like a tightened-up version of the Urban Belly concept, closer to fast food in a good way, unpretentious but with some surprising notes. I found Urban Belly interesting, but despite living a short distance away, have managed not to go back in at least six months. I’m pretty sure Belly Shack will draw me back sooner.

1912 North Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647-4332
(773) 252-1414

* * *

Some bits and dribbles:

Check out my piecelet in the Christmas/New Year’s issue of Time Out on six restaurants serving ethnic traditions for Christmas. (Page 43 of the magazine, or here.) I asked food & drink editor David Tamarkin if he’d ever done anything on the Julbord (Christmas smorgasbord) at Tre Kronor, and his response was… “How about six restaurants with ethnic food offerings for the holidays, can you have it by Monday?” It was a fun challenge to try to figure out where, in all this city, there would be six different ethnic holiday offerings… without spending an entire week of frantically calling, driving around, etc. Thanks to three folks who let me pick their brains in ways that helped me zero in pretty efficiently on my final choices: LTHers Cathy Lambrecht and JeffB (who incidentally suggests checking out South American grocery stores around this time of year as well, says they have lots of imported holiday baked goods), and Alexa Ganakos.

And thanks for links to the new podcast, to Serious Eats and Gapers Block, and everybody who retweeted it on Twitter.

I first became aware of Chaise Lounge when Carl Galvan suggested including it in my sustainable fish podcast, as he had recently helped chef Cary Taylor move to almost all sustainable fish.  If I’d heard of it at that point I’d filed it in my head as a Wicker Park bar/nightclub, not the kind of place I especially care about unless something extraordinary is happening there, as at The Violet Hour, say.

I met Cary as well as owner Jim Lasky, and interviewed Cary for about an hour.  He seemed a nice, eager young chef; he’d worked at Blackbird and Avenues, and seemed to be taking an intelligently realistic approach to upgrading the food at a place with enough glitz and swanky pseudo-Miami atmosphere that it could just get by on drinks and vaguely island-y, mediocre supper club food.  Recognizing that his place wasn’t exactly a chef-driven restaurant, he was still trying to find ways to use the kinds of natural suppliers that his neighbors like Mado and The Bristol use and turn out food that could hold its head up in their company.

I admired this, and thought it was both to his and to Lasky’s credit that they were trying to offer first-class food in a place where they really didn’t have to… but I have to admit it didn’t quite nudge Chaise Lounge to the top of my fine-dining must-try list until some rave posts at LTHForum by Kennyz, who said “Chaise Lounge does a better job with fish than any place I can think of at a similar price point in Chicago.”  Intrigued by this— since it was swimming against the current of Chicago’s, and my own, rampant porkophilia at the moment— I picked it for my birthday dinner last Friday.

I loved the pork dish.

I don’t mean that to slight the fish dishes at all.  We didn’t try as extensively of the fish dishes as I expected, but the things we did have were generally very good.  Scallops are the new salmon, in terms of being ubiquitous and a bit boring, but these had more flavor than most, were cooked flawlessly, and the stuff they swam in— mainly a schmear of sweet beet puree— was bright and imaginative; in every way it was a cut above most of the scallop dishes I’ve had lately.  A smoked trout brandade was comfy enough to crawl into and pull the crock’s lid behind you; while a special of lobster pot pie showed that Taylor can do comfy and complex and cooked to perfection all at once, big hunks of lobster in a warm and savory gravy of root vegetables like sunchokes.  (Though he talked with us beforehand about the one conceptual/logistical problem with a lobster pot pie– how to do an upper crust without cooking the lobster to rubber.  The solution— a thick disc of pastry baked separately and plopped on at the end— is inelegant but, it seems, a small price to pay for the lobster being cooked superbly.)

Oh, but the black-eyed pea cassoulet, with housemade garlic sausage and duck… that’s what I spent the next day dreaming about.  You know how on the last season of Top Chef, the Voltaggio brothers would impress you with highly imaginative, conceptual platings, and then Kevin would win because his just tasted so damn good?  This was a Kevin dish, reflective of Taylor’s Southern background but with complexity that comes from classic French cookery.  (Even though it’s somewhat hidden on the menu, Taylor takes his Southern heritage seriously, and we got into a discussion of the classic Junior League cookbook Charleston Receipts at one point; a relative of his was one of the authors.)

I didn’t have a lot of expectations for dessert, since he told us beforehand that he is his own pastry chef and he kind of lets his staff play around and come up with ideas for that part of the menu.  But if the process he described sounded a bit lackadaisical, you’d never have thought that from the desserts themselves, which (like the scallop, actually) rose above the good enough with intelligent choices of accent flavors on the plate which suggested greater sophistication, like little bits of bourbon gelee around an apple crisp.  An almond cake (not one of my favorite flavors) was one of the best parts of the meal, beautifully balanced for a flavor that can be cloying.

Chaise Lounge, and the fact that it has a first-rate chef, are not unknown; Phil Vettel recently gave it three stars in the Tribune, in fact he reviewed it before he ever got to Mado, which perhaps says something about his being drawn to what he reviews by the scene more than the cuisine.  But it may still be a bit underappreciated, not least by the raucous crowds attracted by its lively nightclub atmosphere, and it belongs on the foodie radar like any other place run by a Blackbird alum with a keen sense of how to get deep flavor out of top quality ingredients in a simple, unfussy way.  In other words, don’t hate Chaise Lounge because it’s beautiful; inside this raucously lively nightclub, there’s a serious restaurant getting down.

Chaise Lounge
1840 W. North Ave.

Pie is more than just dessert— it conjures up a whole range of emotions and imagery. In this podcast, I explore the iconic American food with a popular Chicago piemaker, Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama.

Sky Full of Bacon 13: Pie As a Lifestyle from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Chicagoans flock to Paula Haney’s pie shop Hoosier Mama for great pies made the old-fashioned way, with natural and local ingredients and by hand. She’s also helped call attention to the midwest’s heritage with this icon dessert, by reviving 19th and early 20th century pie recipes like Hoosier Sugar Cream pie and using regional specialties such as persimmons. See how the pies get made in a tiny storefront, find out why there’s an entire category of historic pie called “desperation pie,” and pick up some pointers for your own piemaking from the pros in her shop in this Sky Full of Bacon podcast, which runs about 16 minutes.

Here’s Hoosier Mama’s site.

Paula talked more about midwestern pie traditions at a Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance program (where I also spoke).

Here’s Nancie McDermott’s site.


About Sky Full of Bacon

Sky Full of Bacon Short: Edzo’s Burger Shop
Sky Full of Bacon #12: In the Land of Whitefish
Sky Full of Bacon #11: A Better Fish
Sky Full of Bacon #10: Prosciutto di Iowa
Sky Full of Bacon #9: Raccoon Stories
Sky Full of Bacon #8: Pear-Shaped World
Sky Full of Bacon #7: Eat This City
Sky Full of Bacon #6: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2)
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

Please feel free to comment here or to email me here.

For a place that ought to be beloved by all for its mission of bringing custardy smiles to kids and everyone in Roscoe Village and west Lakeview, Scooter’s sure seems to encounter a lot of resistance.  First it was the controversy over chairs on the sidewalk outside Scooter’s, which led to various forms of aldermanic activity (no, the flavor of the day was not foie gras).  But what nobody has known till now is that when Scooter’s closed for the winter last Friday, it came very close to not reopening next year in its same Belmont and Paulina location— or at all.

According to Sky Full of Bacon’s sources, in part because of the controversy over sidewalk seating, the developer of the building initially decided not to renew Scooter’s lease.  (Because what this neighborhood needs is another Cricket store, no doubt.)  But the Scooter’s folks wanted to stay, feeling a bond with the neighborhood that, say, the Walgreen’s across the street or the Quizno’s that closed on Lincoln never had.  Negotiations grew tense.

Actually, what happened at that point is that some workmen working on the upper floors filled the parking lot in back, where the owners pay for a space, with their trucks, and when one of Scooter’s owners wanted to get her car out, they refused.  She started taking pictures of license plates— and then one of the workmen smacked her in the face.

To his credit, the supervisor on the job immediately recognized that with that act, his side had just lost The Great Roscoe Village Custard War of 2009, and called a truce.  Trucks were moved and the assaulting workman went off with the police.  Shortly thereafter, realizing that you don’t pick fights with someone who buys hot fudge by the barrel, and make an enemy of every five-year-old and his mom in the neighborhood, the developer reached an agreement with Scooter’s, and they will indeed reopen next March.

But eternal vigilance is the price of turtle sundaes, I guess— especially when it comes to NIMBY neighbors who think the brightest spot of joy in a neighborhood is detracting from, rather than immeasurably adding to, their quality of life and the value of their property.