Archive for May, 2010

Highlights from the 8th Annual Art Futura Awards for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago


I recently got the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and attended an art show. While Chicago has a burgeoning art district in Pilsen and the MCA is home of the famed First Fridays, I hadn’t been to an art show in ages and didn’t use my free pass to Artropolis earlier this month. When Johnny Todd, community manager of Yelp gave me free entry to the 8th Annual Art Futura Awards for the Rehabilitation Institute, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Not knowing anyone going to the show, I took it upon myself to really take time and take in as much of the art as possible. Pieces were on sale from $500 on up and I wouldn’t be ashamed to put most of this art inside my house. It was a bit intimidating running around the art gallery with all of these philanthropists in their black ties and cocktail dresses, so I made it a point to surgically bob in and out of the room taking pictures everywhere I went. Waiters served up great hor d’oeuvres and beer and wine flowed freely, but the magnetic nature of the art took my attention.

#36 – Eat at Smoque, Fat Willy’s Rib Shack, Smoke Daddy


Welcome to one of Chicago’s favorite barbecue restaurants, outside the door you’ll find long lines of people waiting to sink their teeth into slow-cooked and smoked slabs of ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and beans. On a Tuesday afternoon, Smoque is still booming and bustling with people from all around the city filling up every seat, but at least the line won’t be going out the door. Prominently displayed on the wall is a cutout of Guy Fieri and his books are for sale on the front counter. Friend after friend filled their order quickly and I was next in the firing squad. With so much to choose from, I wanted a taste of everything and called for a half chicken with macaroni and fries as my side and then topped it off with $3 sides of brisket and pulled pork. The total damage was under $20, quite affordable for quality slow-cooked and smoked goods with no extra fees for table service or white tablecloths. The boss made sure everyone had a table and people were seated in an organized fashion unlike the disorganized chaos in some of Chicago’s other popular restaurants.

Using the my black plastic knife and fork, I carved into the half chicken and it tasted like it came right off the grill and onto my platter. Smoked and tender, every bite into the pink meat was satisfying and the crispy skin made it even better than fresh-off-the-grill barbecued chicken. My friends were slicing through their rib platters and were cleaning off the bones while I was still meticulously cutting small pieces of chicken to eat. After awhile, I gave in and submitted to my more primal urges and started ripping into the chicken with my bare hands! The barbecue sauce was tangy with high viscosity and provided a sharp accent to my chicken, but the smokey flavor of the meat didn’t need to be doused in any sauces.

Macaroni and cheese is always a guilty pleasure and work of art. While most people may be content with a Kraft macaroni and cheese or even a Velveeta for extra fanciness, Smoque’s macaroni and cheese was no ordinary fare. The crust on the macaroni and cheese was creative and the side was rich. Other restaurants might try to overload with too many cheeses or extra herbs and spices, but I thought Smoque’s macaroni held just the right degree of richness without making me pull out the stop sign. I’d recommend the mac n cheese as Smoque’s most underestimated dish.

Two sides for $3 apiece was an economical deal and I recognized that this would be the best way to get a little bit of everything. If you’re a fan of tender meat, there’s no way you can escape the giant pieces of brisket. Each piece of brisket smokes for over 15 hours, providing for an all-encompassing injection of smoke flavor with spices rubbed in. While the brisket came with a bit of sauce on top, I hold firm in my belief that this brisket could stand alone and be consumed without extra condiments. The fries were crisp and well-seasoned but with the half chicken consumed, I couldn’t take more than a bite out of the brisket, pulled pork, or fries.

I don’t know what Smoque would be like on the weekends but I remember a long line waiting outside who didn’t phone in ahead before the Super Bowl and thinking how good the food must have been for people to be standing outside for so long. My first trip into Smoque was a success and I now have a great BBQ spot right within walking distance!

#25 Eat Smoked Fish at Calumet Fisheries


Calumet Fisheries

Thirty miles, that’s what separates me from some of the best seafood in the city. Located at 3259 E. 95th Street, you’ll find this fish shop sitting on top of a hill overlooking the manmade canal sitting adjacent to a suspension bridge and across the Calumet Yacht Yard. Cars line up on the near the bridge despite the no parking sign with people coming in from all corners of the city and suburbs. Beside the fishery, you’ll find a little smokehouse where they do their magic with hickory woodchips infusing the signature smokey flavor into salmon, trout, chub, and shrimp.

Calumet Fisheries Counter

Celebrating its 62nd year as a family owned and operating business and being named an American Classics restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, you’ll find Anthony Bourdain’s signature on the wall and signs that have probably been mounted on the wall for decades. I saw the diversity of Chicago waiting in line including two Korean women who spoke broken English as well as a mid-40’s biker who ordered $60 of assorted seafood and had never been there before. Calumet Fisheries is one-part Hot Doug’s, one-part Kuma’s and a south side institution.

Calumet Fisheries Line

Pictured clockwise from top-left: garlic pepper smoked salmon, smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked shrimp

While the line for Calumet Fisheries is nowhere as long or deep as Hot Doug’s or Kuma’s primarily due to its deep south location, it’s easy to move in and out of line to take a gander at all of the wares of the house. Garlic peppered smoked salmon caught my eye at $15.59 a pound and I wondered what in the world smoked shrimp would taste like. The possibilities of oyster, frog legs, fried shrimp, or scallops led to sensory overload and I hadn’t even had a bite to eat yet! It very quickly became of question of how much was I willing to spend?

Fried Clam Strips

Since some of my friends were running about an hour late, the friends that I arrived with debated eating now or waiting for everyone. We decided on a compromise: we would start off with a snack to hold our appetite steady until the late stragglers. My friends ordered some fried oyster while I decided clam strips would be what I wanted. The man behind the counter joked that they didn’t serve Cubs fans but let me pay for less than $4 for my order. I didn’t know if I wanted a whole pound of smoked shrimp for $20.99 a pound, so I decided to buy just two pieces of shrimp that came out to $2.63. The food came out quickly so we all sped outside to examine our food and get to work!

You won’t any seating inside Calumet Fisheries, creativity and improvisation is a necessity to dine by Calumet Fisheries. While we waited outside for our friends before we ordered, we saw three older men march down the hill down by the riverside to sit on a slab of concrete. For our purposes, we took the easy way out and sat on the guard rail next to all of the cars parked in front of the suspension bridge. The clam crunched in my mouth and the mild sauce put a smile in my face and a perpetual nod to my head movements. I traded some clam for an oyster and we all ate and knew we were eating some of Chicago’s finest seafood. There was a fork for my food, but I found it just as convenient to eat with my bare hands and we were lucky it wasn’t raining or blowing incredible amounts of wind.
Smoked shrimp

After I polished off my clam, I pulled my smoked shrimp out of the bag and dipped it into the sauce. Smoked shrimp was next on the agenda, but first I had to pop off the shell. The jumbo shrimp was worth paying over $1 a shrimp since they were massive and each bite of the cold shrimp tasted like it was cooked on a barbecue grill with that classic smokey taste. It was a pleasant snack to polish off our appetizers and just as quick as the food came out, we did away with all remnants and threw all evidence into the steel drum garbage can sitting outside.

After my friends showed up an hour late, we stepped back up to the counter and made my orders. Indecision started making me uncomfortable, but I got put in front of the line and got a fried shrimp dinner and order of oysters. I waited in another line for my food and couldn’t resist: peppered garlic smoke salmon and smoked shrimp was now coming my way! The guy behind the counter told me Cubs fans can’t order twice and we both laughed about it. $40 later, I had a giant bag of goodies and now we had to figure out where to eat.
Calumet Park Lakefront

We decided on a short drive as far east as we could go on 95th street and ended up in Calumet Park. The fields were massive and cleanly manicured and reminded me of a golf course. We parked and marched with our food down near the water and sat on a ledge while the seagulls edged closer like hungry wolves screeching at us. We could see the Gary steel mills pumping out their pollution in the backdrop, and looked at the gambling riverboat across the lake.
Deep fried shrimp dinner

Opening one of my bags of food, I found deep fried shrimp and chomped down on the shrimp. Super fresh shrimp tastes like the sea and it became apparent to me that Calumet Fisheries delivered the goods! I could taste the freshness even after they battered and deep fried the shrimp. The fries got soggy on the way over so I didn’t spend too much time with them. I didn’t eat all of the shrimp since I knew there was way more food I had to eat.
Peppered garlic salmon
Salmon on a cracker
For $15.59 a pound, I wondered if the salmon would live up to its reputation. My first dilemma was how to actually eat the salmon, I didn’t have a knife! A friend told me to grab the fork and put some salmon on the crackers that came with the food. Someone handed me a cracker and it was spectacular. Fresh salmon with hickory chip taste, they left the fish hanging in the smokehouse for a day or two before it was ready. This fish was ready and I was happy eating it. My friends enjoyed trout, fried fish, fried shrimp, fried smelt, fried oyster and everything under the sea.

Lunch began winding down and we were full from our feast of seafood. We fought off the seagulls who swooped down for some discarded shrimp shells. It didn’t rain on us and the seagulls didn’t have their way with out food or our clothes. Days like this make working on the Chicago Bucket List worth it and I can’t wait for my next thirty mile trek to finish off the rest of Calumet Fisheries’ menu.

#1 – Eat at Wings Around the World, Crisp, and Great Seas Chinese Restaurant


And thus the Holy Trinity of chicken wings was complete. What happens when you turn the two parts of the wing into one giant meaty lollipop and double fry it for extra crispiness and dip it into General Tso’s Chicken sauce?

After dodging growling panhandlers on the deep south side at Wings Around the World and watching ice cream workers get hazed post-wings after Crisp it was time to make my inaugural appearance at Great Seas Chinese Restaurant. Great Seas is in the heart of Albany Park off the end of the Kimball Brown Line CTA (yes, I am the mayor!). My foodies friends have always recommended Great Seas, but sometimes you just can’t go by yourself. That’s what friends are for and I had eleven fellow guinea pigs to come along for the wild adventure!

Trying to be a conscientious host, I called a week in advance to make reservations for ten. The manager told me that they don’t normally take reservations for the weekend, but made an exception and took down my info. Showing up on time for a big lunch usually means that people will have to wait, so I made sure to get to the Great Seas twenty minutes early and came just in time to see a party of ten clear out. After this, the servers came in like NASCAR disposing of the evidence and setting up anew and I sat myself down once they were done.

In came the Yelpers and the party was ready to begin. My first instinct was to go try to house 2 orders of wings on my own but discretion proved the better part of honor as our resident Yelp CM took over ordering responsibilities and picked 4 chicken wing orders, 1 order of spicy cuttle fish, 2 orders of crab rangoon, 1 black noodle, and one giant order of egg drop soup to get the party started!

The servers summoned tea, dropped down a pitcher of water and the lazy susan was spinning round and round like a carousel in no time. There was room and I didn’t hit elbows with anyone or struggle for room. I even had enough room to keep my backpack under the table. There were families and people on dates and one old lady with a fuzzy hat chowing down. Finally our food ARRIVED!

****Spicy Cuttlefish****
Hoooo eeeeeeeeeee! This thing was laced with fireballs and plenty of specks of pepper galore marked its path. To play with this cuttlefish was to dance a dance of death as taste buds died from the oppressive heat of the cuttlefish. Mixed with rice, the spiciness subsided and made for good eating as the texture of the cuttlefish was delightful to the tongue and there were plenty of veggies for the health nuts in the party.

****Egg Drop Soup****
While others in the group commented that it wasn’t too salty, I prefer my soups very salty and very hot! The soup was warm but I ended up eating the heck out of my soup quickly since it wasn’t hot and piping when it arrived. Good texture of egg and the soup was very yellow. I prefer the whites a little more hardened in my egg drop but the soup was good enough to feed the dozen of us at the table!

****Crab Rangoon****
Underwhelming, I’d have to say. While high on the crisp factor (just the way I like it), the stuffing was a bit too dense and not spread out enough. Also the stuffing had only the oil flavor and lacked any special oomph that I have marked in other crab rangoon. Still decent, but lacks the great nomnomnom factor that leaves you grabbing the next piece without fear of engulfing the whole thing.

****Black Noodle****
I had heard from many that this was a go-to sort of dish. Down came black noodle and it looked like a giant pile of goo. Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when Lieutenant Yar get pwned by the black tar goo? That’s completely what this black noodle looked like! The server let us know that we had to mash it up before it all stuck together which threw me off, but once she mixed it up for us, the black noodle looked like chow mein noodles with the black sauce which was absorbed rendering the noodle brown. Delicious with smooth texture it was a comfy snack to have on our way to the main event.

****Hot n’ Spicy Chicken Wings****
Like Michael’s Jackson’s last stand: This is IT!
Welcome to Great Seas Chinese Restaurant 101, these are the bestest chicken wings on all of the north side. Challenge and appeal all you’d like but all applications would be red stamped DENIED in the face of these beasts.

I was not only owned, but I was pwned! It was hot out the kitchen, it was c-r-i-s-p and begging to be eaten again and again and again. There’s nothing like watching four plates of chicken wings vanish into nothingness and having to call in reinforcements. I don’t know how they manufacture this special lollipopped chicken wing, but they had ALL of the meat all on one piece of bone! Imagine a perfect world: chicken wing meat on the bone without having to bite and chew around crazed edges and ripping off pieces to get more meat. What you saw was what you got and all of the wing was there.

In the end it cost of all of $12 apiece between 12 people! GO NOW!

Becky’s Bucket List Suggestions


Crown Fountain

Becky currently lives in Chicago and threw her hat into the ring. Here are her ideas, practical for all seasons!

1) Spend an entire day at the beach picnic-ing, reading books, and buying silly tropical drinks at Castaways
2) Go to the Lincoln Park Zoo AND buy some popcorn and soda from the vendor carts
3) A round of mini-golf at Grant Park
4) Attend an Adults Only night at the Planetarium (third Thursday of every month)
5) Visit the Farmer’s Markets and make dinner from the produce I buy
6) Geocaching around the city
7) Indian Food on Devon
8) Ghost Tour
9) Ride every color of train from beginning to end
10) Get sprayed by the Crown Fountain!
11) Participate in the No Pants day (by Improv Everywhere)
12) MP3 Flash Mob at Navy Pier
13) Get dressed up for the Lyric Opera
14) See one of the Chicago specific fashion shows

Things to do during the colder months:
15) Ice skating at Millennium Park
16) Ride the Holiday Train
17) Tree Lighting
18) Thanksgiving Parade