Sky Full of Bacon

Belly Star, Christmas Foreigners & Pie Thanks

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

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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.

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