Sky Full of Bacon

50 New Restaurants/#4: Frank’s Karma Cafe, Wauconda

So I’ve sort of been out of the business of trying to discover and write about new finds on the restaurant scene. A few years ago, I had vast stretches of the north side to myself, it seemed. But as Time Out and the Reader and various other publications got more serious about covering The Lands Beyond Yuppieville— partly, I believe, because of the influence of LTHForum in making ethnic food the happening part of the restaurant scene— I got less interested in trying to beat them to the new spots in my hood.

Well, times change and now I’m sort of bored with the same dozen places I seem to go to over and over (either quick bites in my immediate neighborhood, or very tried and true LTHForum faves). So I’m on the hunt again, kicked off, I suppose, by the fun of discovering and writing about P&P BBQ Soul Food for the Reader. And as you may have noticed, assuming there is a you out there reading this, I’ve posted a couple of recent reviews on places that are either completely off the radar (Taqueria Toro Grill, Pita Grill) or at least, if reviewed by some parts of the press, were new to me (Bull-Eh-Dias!) and not widely discussed to date on LTHForum.

So here, at last, is a reason for the blog to exist beyond facilitating the video podcasts. I’m going to try and post about 50 places meeting the above criteria (either completely unknown, or at least not discussed beyond bare mentions on LTHForum or anywhere else). These will be 50 discoveries, turned up by me and available exclusively here. (To find them easily, click the Restaurant Reviews link at the right.) Those were the first three, now here’s number four.

* * *

Back to Bellefontaine, by Jim Flora

Wauconda is one of those places somewhere out in the northwest burbs which has gone almost uncharted on LTHForum— only about three vague mentions. [EDIT: Cathy2 points out this full review, of a place right by where I went, don’t know how I missed it.]  Well, there’s not a lot there— it mostly surrounds a lake, and there’s the bare minimum of dining places on the water, nothing too fancy (this is the more blue collar/ethnic part of Lake County). But given the ethnicity, there might be things there— maybe one of the pizza places named things like Vince’s or Giuseppe’s is really good, who knows? Or the Polish deli, or one of the Mexican places.

I took the kids up there for an exhibition of artwork by Jim Flora, who did cartoonishly surreal album covers back in the 50s, at the Lake County Discovery Center. The exhibit was okay— not that much original art seems to survive, so it was mostly prints (helpfully advertised as also being on sale in the gift shop, just like the Monets at the Art Institute)— but the museum offered enough of a grab bag to be mildly worth a trip, including a very nice exhibit on postcards (based on the collection of the Curt Teich company a few blocks from my house in Lakeview), and some nostalgic/historical stuff about Lake County back in the days of dances at Ray’s Diamond Palace dancehall on the Chain o’ Lakes and stuff like that, which had a certain charm but overall tended to reinforce the impression that people have always moved to Lake County in the expectation that nothing historic will ever happen there.

Anyway, we had to get lunch, and most of the places on the little Main Street looked pretty ordinary, but there was one called Frank’s Karma Cafe, the kind of name that’s either a sign of pretty good or godawful. I looked at the menu and it was a D.B. Kaplan-sized list of sandwiches, as well as soups and the like. I go inside and in addition to being the kind of place where the guy behind the counter (not Frank; neither of the owners is actually named Frank) seems to know everybody who comes in but us, he’s pushing homemade fruit drinks and a homemade “peach-nectarine-plum-synergy cobbler,” and even more impressively, warning regulars off the caramel cake which he isn’t all that happy with the results of.

I ask him what sandwich I should have that will blow me away, make me glad I drove from Chicago, and he recommends the Reuben, saying they make the corned beef themselves. You cure it yourself? I ask. No, we cook it ourselves, he says. It takes me a moment to realize that this is not as obvious as it sounds, there probably is microwavable precooked corned beef out there being used by 98% of sandwich shops, and for them to take the time to cook it themselves and slice it up is a cut above, no pun intended.

I tell him that I cure and cook my own corned beef and he says he wants to offer pastrami, can’t get it from his supplier, is thinking of making his own. I explain how easy it is and what the practical difference between corned beef and pastrami is, how I smoke it in my Weber Smokey Mountain. He seems intrigued, who knows if pastrami will ever make it onto the menu in Wauconda, but it might.

My Reuben was pretty darn good, nice black rye, good real corned beef, maybe a little gooey but certainly satisfying. The pickle that came with it was fresh and crunchy, the peach-nectarine-plum-synergy cobbler was really good. It’s a nice little place doing a lot of homemade things with a lot of heart. If you find yourself in Wauconda, now you have a recommendation.

Frank’s Karma Cafe
203 S Main St
Wauconda, IL 60084
(847) 487-2037

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