Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hema's Kitchen

I had heard much about the ethnic mecca of Devon. A trip was in order. I should've researched exactly where on Devon all the Indian restaurants were though because I ended up walking a long way from the nearest Red Line stop (Granville). But, that is neither here nor there.

I chose Hema's at random simply because it seemed authentic and on a gut level, it reminded me of other Indian restaurants I had enjoyed. That was it. The fact that it was empty at 1:30pm didn't keep me away nor did the bird who pooped on my ear before entering.

The menu listed typical Indian dishes with an interesting Light Fare category and I settled on two things: vegetable samosas ($3) and haryali chicken ($12).

The steaming hot samosas - flaky homemade pastries stuffed with potatoes, green peas, and coriander - were perfectly flaky and crisp and nicely browned. Their insides were well spiced and they matched up in very interesting ways with the two accompanying sauces. The green chili sauce had a medium spiciness and a bitter aftertaste while the melted-cherry-slurpee colored sweet sauce had an awesome tamarind-based flavor. I wouldn't recommend combining the sauces on a single bite of samosa and I found that switching back and forth between them struck the ideal balance.

When the giant portion of glistening naan got dropped off at my table with the haryali chicken, I couldn't've been happier. I had the choice of naan or rice when I ordered the chicken dish and I was so glad I went with the naan. It was delicate, a bit crisp, and warm and buttery - it practically melted in your mouth. And the chicken, which was cooked in ground cilantro, green pepper, yogurt, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, and coconut, showcased rich and complex flavors with small tender chunks of chicken. I appreciated the cilantro on top and how it brought out some of the more subtle spice notes. The gentle heat also proved complimentary; it heightened the flavor without overpowering it.

Hema's Kitchen is a touch expensive and a touch slow, yet still a great place to enjoy Indian food in a big and simple dining room with a very friendly atmosphere.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Hema's Kitchen - West Rogers Park - (773)338-1627 - 2439 W. Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 - Public transportation: bus 49B or 84.

Vegetable samosas - $3 for 2
Haryali chicken - $12 (comes with free side of naan or rice)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nick's Pit Stop

A busy interior was all it took to lure me into Nick's Pit Stop. I was walking north on Damen from Armitage toward Luscious Layers when I realized I should probably eat something more substantial than just cupcakes for lunch.

The back wall contained the menu, which seemed simple and clearly organized. I went with the chicken pita sandwich for $5 and a regular side of corn for $1.83, though in retrospect, I should've chosen something else. In my defense, corn was among the more healthy side options.

I watched the food line behind the counter as I waited for my order to come up and it was pretty impressive that there was only one guy prepping and assembling the food. When the sandwich and side were ready, I asked about my sauce options. There was BBQ sauce, red hot sauce, and green hot sauce. I opted for the BBQ sauce, which proved an excellent choice.

Food came on a flimsy combination plate with a mediocre side of corn. It did kind of taste like corn, which is a plus, but it was so plain and boring and bland. I would not recommend ordering it as a side. The chicken pita, on the other hand, was very tasty.

The BBQ sauce, Open Pit, which is the exact same one my pops uses at home, added a nice sweet and tangy flavor to the sandwich. It wasn't needed, but it greatly benefitted the chicken pita quasi-wrap. The diced white chicken was legit, the tomatoes were juicy and fresh, and the mayo played the perfect supporting role. There wasn't too much of it and due to its presence, the sandwich was never too dry. It did get sloppy at times, but that was only because Nick's was generous with its ingredients, leading to an overloaded pita sandwich.

I find it easy to recommend Nick's Pit Stop simply because it's a solid deal and a great place for grilled chicken in Bucktown. You would be a fool not to choose a sauce to accompany your chicken though - in whatever form it comes in - and you would also be a fool to choose the corn side. It was terrible (my hand-written notes include an expletive related to its blandness).

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Nick's Pit Stop - Bucktown - (773) 342-9736 - 2011 N. Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 73 or the Western stop of the Blue Line.

Chicken pita sandwich - $4.94
Regular side (of corn) - $1.83

Luscious Layers

Luscious Layers lives just north of the 90/95 on Damen Ave. It's a lonely stretch of Bucktown that you would probably have no cause to visit except that it's the only place in Chicago where you'll find moist, unique cupcakes for $1.

It's a minimalistic place with decadent creations that looks like it were designed by a graphic pop artist. Currently, they're only selling cupcakes on site, which is why only about 1/3 of their display case is full, but they will expand in the coming months.

I couldn't make a decision. All the flavors - the red velvet, malted milk ball, hibiscus raspberry, chai, and white with mojito mousse - looked cool. I mean, this place was really switching it up if red velvet was its most basic offering.

Luckily, there was a platter of minis (see above photo) of each cupcake on display to try free of charge! What a great idea. In the genial employee's words, "it was just like going out for ice cream where you can get that sample spoon of any flavor". So true, so true! Why had no cupcake shop done this before?!

I sampled the white with mojito mousse and it was exactly like a delicious non-alcoholic cupcake mojito: a refreshing mint aftertaste, but creamy and super moist. It was kind of amazing - they really found the distinct flavors in a mojito and translated them into the cupcake language.

In the end, I decided to choose one that I could compare to others - the red velvet - and one that I had never heard of - the malted milk ball. That was my thought process. And when I heard the total for these two cupcakes, I was shocked. I wanted to make sure that he rang in both cupcakes. He told me that there was no mistake, the total really was just over $2. Incredible.

The red velvet was among the best I've had - a moist red/mahogany cake base with a thick and sweet buttercream frosting. A hint of cocoa lingered on my tongue after the first bite, yet the luscious cream washed over it by the finish.

The malted milk ball wasn't as successful of a creation, simply because it did not taste at all like a malted milk ball cupcake. It tasted exactly like a good chocolate/chocolate cupcake. It was just as moist as I would've wanted it and had a good creaminess. For me though, it was too one dimensional - the chocolate flavor completely overpowered the smattering of malted milk ball pieces on top. Even with an exquisitely calibrated palate, you'd be hardpressed to find the malted milk ball taste.

But, for a buck a piece, these cupcakes are a steal. Get them while you can and look forward to their expanding on-site offerings. If the cupcakes are any indication, the baked goods on the way will be yumderful.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Luscious Layers - Bucktown - (773)663-1335 - 2315 N. Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 74.

Red velvet cupcake - $1
Malted milk ball cupcake - $1
White with mojito mousse - FREE!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lito's Empanadas

Craving empanadas and nothing else? Lito's is your answer. Right now, it's the only just-empanadas spot in Chicago.

Their empanada style is popular Colombian*, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your personal preference. The fried, Colombian method of creation leaves you with a less dry - and crisper - filled bread pocket, but the baked, Argentine method* is healthier and fluffier and softer.

*Colombian emps can be baked just as Argentine emps can be fried, but generally, Colombian emps are fried and Argentine emps are baked.

I ordered four empanadas to start (I'm a hungry boy): Beef, BBQ Chicken, Champiñon Chicken, and Vegetarian. I grabbed one of the few stools in the place and waited. I guess Lito's relies more heavily upon its takeout business, but still, it would be nice if the inside seating were made a bit more plentiful. Lito's does possess a very bare - and slightly homey - aesthetic; there are some colorful Diego Rivera-esque paintings on the walls and a number of Colombian artifcats on shelves behind the front counter.

The woman at the front informed me that my emps were ready and I eagerly took the basket from her. They were golden-tan-beige and I had no idea which one was which. In Argentina, the empanadas are often differentiated by their shells (distinct folds or ridges or shapes), but at Lito's, it's impossible to tell. This could prove a problem for a carnivore and a vegetarian ordering takeout...

The empanadas got to me straight out of the oven, so remember to be careful when you get yours. My four were delicious, steaming, savory pockets. The Veggie emp had good veggie stew flavor with subtle heat (due to the chipotle pepper), but was too potato heavy. The BBQ Chicken emp had very tender shredded chicken and sweet bbq sauce. I should've finished with it though, it could've been dessert!

The Beef emp had many ingredients listed, but it mostly consisted of beef and potatoes. Because of this, it was a bit dry and would've been better with more olive, tomato, and raisin. The Champiñon Chicken was by far my favorite, but the emp was only half full. What the farquad? It could've been the oven's fault and the filling was so balanced and tasty, that I can easy overlook that flaw. I will say though that all of the emps, except for the bbq chicken, benefitted from the in-house salsa (25¢), which was described to me as a chimichurri with a lime vinegar base. It was more or less aji, a cilantro-heavy green salsa condiment commonly used with emps in Colombia.

After the four emps, I still had some space. They were somewhat filling, but they won't fill you up, if that makes any sense. Anywho, I decided to order a Choco-Banana emp for dessert and I'm glad that I did.

The banana slices tasted fresh, the Nutella was plentiful and it had the ideal gooeyness. Somehow, it wasn't too sweet, perhaps due to having the same shell that envelops the salty emps, and it wasn't too mushy either. Maybe some powdered sugar on the shell would be a nice touch to set it apart aesthetically from the non-dessert emps? Who knows, I'm just an annoying food blogger.

After my visit, these are the thoughts that I had: the emps could be less airy, the interior could be livened up a bit, and they could subtract some potatoes from their fillings. But, other than that, I really enjoyed Lito's Empanadas. They make a solid product that won't snake your wallet's contents.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Lito's Empanadas - Lincoln Park - (773)857-1337 - 2556 N. Clark Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 - Public transportation: the Diversey stop of the Brown and Purple Lines or bus 22.

Beef empanada - $2.29
BBQ Chicken empanada - $2.29
Champiñon Chicken empanada - $2.49
Vegetarian empanada - $2.09
Choco-Banana empanada - $2.29
Aji -

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Southport Grocery's Bakery

Yes, I too buy into the cupcake craze. So, after I finished my meal at Southport Grocery, I decided to purchase a vanilla/vanilla from the bakery for $2.25. There were chocolate ones too (and a gluten free option if I recall correctly), but I'm a vanilla/vanilla guy first and foremost.

I took it outside, found a place to sit on the curb, and tried to eat it in as many bites as possible to make it last longer. Unfortunately, I finished the cupcake rather quickly, but there's no doubt that it will make a reappearance in my life. It was that good.

The ratio of cake to buttercream was perfect and each element was excellent. The cake was moist and the buttercream frosting was well balanced, if not a touch too sweet. Aesthetically, it's cool to have the frosting spread all the way to the end of the wrapper, but when you peel the wrapper away, it steals some of your precious frosting! What the farquad.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Southport Grocery - Lakeview - (773)665-0100 - 3552 N. Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 - Public transportation: the Southport stop of the Brown Line or bus 152.

Vanilla cupcake - $2.25

Monday, September 21, 2009

90 Miles

In terms of first impressions, 90 Miles couldn't be better. The atmosphere emanates good vibes as soulful sounds and savory smells fill the air. The back patio is charming and casual with lamps and heat lamps that make it perfect for a summer evening or relaxed lunch. Large colorful murals circle the building, both inside and out, and the place just simply feels cool.

I had some trouble deciding what to order off the menu. The Guajirito - a modification of the jibarito - seemed most interesting, so I went with that. I also tried ordering a platano shake, but they didn't have it. Then I tried ordering the mamey shake, but they didn't have that either. I settled on the mango shake, which had a light mango flavor, lots of dairy, and was surprisingly refreshing. It wasn't thick; on the contrary, it was quite light and almost whipped. I would assume that it was made with much more milk than ice cream.

If you comb through the reviews of 90 Miles, you'll find that more than a few people find the Guajirito greasy. I cannot say I disagree. I will only take it a bit further and say that mine was swimming in grease. Literally, look at the picture below, that is the grease pool that was left in my basket after eating just one half of the sandwich. The pool doubled by the time the second half was done.

The Guajirito fell short. It was bland, super greasy, dripping oil throughout, and could've used more chimichurri. The steak was well done without being chewy, the sauteed onions were excellent, the green plantains made a nice bread replacement, and the minced garlic on top was wonderful. I didn't mind that the sandwich was a bit messy, but I did mind the lack of flavor. More garlic, more chimichurri, and less oil would've significantly improved the sandwich. I appreciate their attempt to avoid a dry sandwich, but this was just taking the moisture angle way too far. Oh, and one more thing, the side of plantain chips that accompanied the sandwich was a bit redundant. A different side would've been favored.

To be honest, 90 Miles has lots to offer outside of their Guajirito. I've had their empanadas, their Cubano, their Media Noche, and their Ropa Vieja - all were delicious. The Guajirito just needs work; it's no reason to avoid their alluring establishment.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

90 Miles - Logan Square - (773)227-2822 - 2540 W. Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: the Western stop of the Blue Line or bus 73. (the original location is @ 3101 N. Clybourn Ave, 60618)

Mango shake - $3.50
Guajirito - $6.50

Friday, September 18, 2009

Southport Grocery's Café

Southport Grocery's simple storefront sits on a quaint stretch of Southport Ave. When you enter and walk past the "please seat yourself" sign, you'll notice that the interior is divided in three parts. There's seating throughout, but the bakery counter is on the left, the middle contains some shelved artisanal groceries, and tucked away against the right wall are a row of tables and seats that make up the bulk of the café seating. Quick recap that is more or less accurate: left - bakery, center - groceries, and right - café.

I sat on the right side ready to eat and the first thing I read on the menu, "We support sustainable farming practices & use local ingredients wherever we can." All right, all right. Starting things off right.

Moments later, I noticed something else on the menu that grabbed my attention: there were wine and beer pairings for all of the salads and sandwiches! Very interesting idea, unfortunately, it was midday and I wasn't in the mood to imbibe anything...

As I sat trying to decide what to order, I heard Queen's "Killer Queen" on the SG speakers. Awesome song, but it set up an atmosphere that clashed a bit with the relative peacefulness of the inside space.

I started with a "tasting" (small portion) of the apple manchego salad for $5 and I was not impressed. The juxtaposition of ingredients was creative yet lacking in substantial flavor. The cider vinaigrette was too light - almost undetectable. I really had to concentrate to taste it.

The components were fresh, but there were too many field greens. I would've liked more crispy prosciutto (and spread out instead of one single big piece in the center) and I would've liked more tartness. Perhaps the dried cranberries could've been replaced with tart cherries? Or maybe the julienned pink ladies could've been julienned granny smiths?

I found that adding the table side Black Lava Salt (Hawaiian sea salt + purified volcanic charcoal) helped the salad just a touch. The whole thing was meant to be sweet and refreshing and the salt overpowered those things, but added a new dimension of its own.

My main course was the $9 BLT, which was an inspired take on the classic sandwich. It was a delicious combination of applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, pureéd avocado, apricot compote, mayo, and it wasn't stacked too high. It was the perfect height, if one exists. Oh, and the challah bread - yumderful. The perfect cushion compliment for the flavors - a great toasted texture and a gentle touch of sweetness.

I do have one major gripe though. The broccoli-peanut-sunflower seed salad was, quite frankly, pretty gross. There was so much mayo and it made the side salad way too heavy! The broccoli, peanuts, and sunflower seeds were probably fine on their own, but the mayo glued them together in the most unappealing of ways. For instance, the broccoli heads soaked up so much mayo so that when you put one of them into your mouth, you barely tasted the broccoli. Please SG, use less mayo or axe the side salad altogether.

SG's Café provides interesting salads and sandwiches, and though each item will not blow you away, the quality of food is easily above average.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Southport Grocery - Lakeview - (773)665-0100 - 3552 N. Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 - Public transportation: the Southport stop of the Brown Line or bus 152.

apple manchego "tasting" - $5
our blt - $9

Thursday, September 17, 2009


This is a tricky review to write. I had read lots of great things about Bari and my expectations were about as high as they could be. I hadn't had a solid Italian sub in Chicago yet and I was looking forward to finally eating one.

I walked into this small convenience store and found the deli at the back with a line about five people deep. I liked the setup. There were deli meats hanging from the ceiling and it looked very authentic, very simple. Definitely no-frills.

Here's where I have an issue. When it was my turn to order, I asked for the 12-inch Italian sub with everything on it. The guy who I ordered from asked "mild or hot peppers?" I said mild. That was it. Now, if you look at the picture above, you'd assume that "everything" would include "lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard, mayo, oil, and seasonings" PLUS the "provolone and Bari hot or mild giardiniera" under the Italian description. But alas, you would be mistaken.

Mine came without mustard, without mayo, without pickle, and without onion. Some people think that the mustard and mayo shouldn't come standard on an Italian anyway and I may agree depending on my mood, but that's not really the point. I asked for everything and got some. A bit strange - an Italian without pickles and onions isn't really an Italian to me and the fact that no Italian subs in Chicago come with vinegar is a separate gripe altogether.

The sandwich, sans pickle/onion/mayo/mustard, was bland for an Italian, but the meats were high-quality and the giardiniera were excellent. I treated them as both a pickle and vinegar substitute. The flaky bread was a bit on the cut-up-the-roof-of-your-mouth side, but nice nonetheless. As a whole, for $5.75, the Italian was uninteresting, but a good value. Personally, I don't think it was good enough to merit the low level of kindness and poor customer treatment.

Back or Forth? I will be going back, but only to order the sub properly and then judge it. Consider this "back" conditional until further notice.

Bari Foods - West Loop - (312)666-0730 - 1120 W. Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 - Public transportation: the Chicago stop of the Blue Line or bus 65 or 66.

12-inch Italian - $5.75

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

D'amato's Bakery

Holy cannoli - D'amato's makes one awesome cannolo. Apparently, cannoli is the plural term and cannolo (Italian for "little tube") is the singular term. You learn something new every day, right? But, I bet it's one of those things where if you corrected someone, he or she wouldn't believe you and it would just lead to an unnecessary argument...

Anywho, I walked into the bakery without even knowing what I wanted. I'm not the biggest fan of Italian pastries, but I think that just comes from my lack of Italian pastry knowledge and experience. I questioned the cheery girl behind the counter and she did not hesitate in recommending the cannoli. I could either go for one of the chocolate dipped or the traditional, she said. I opted for the traditional, figuring it would make more sense to start with the basics.

After paying $1.50 for my refrigerated cannolo, I left the store and found a nearby spot to enjoy my treat. Once outside of the paper bag, I noticed its beautiful appearance.

After the first bite, all I could do was say "wow" aloud, even though I was by myself. The flaky fried shell with the powdered sugar on top + the smooth cream with chocolate chips + the chopped pistachios ='ed a sweet epiphany. The cream was rich without being too heavy, the shell was crispy without being greasy, and the cool temperature added to the freshness. It was, in a strange way, refreshing. Imagine that.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

D'amato's Bakery - West Loop - (312)733-5456 - 1124 W. Grand AVe, Chicago, IL 60622 - Public transportation: the Chicago stop of the Blue Line or bus 65 or 66.

Cannolo - $1.50

Arturo's Tacos

I cannot tell you how happy I am to have Arturo's just a few blocks away from my apartment. It's a great value, it's quick, it's tasty, and it's open 24/7.

Enter Arturo's (on the corner of Western and Armitage) and you'll notice that everything is cooked to order in the open kitchen that sizzles directly behind the counter. They have nothing to hide. Their ingredients are fresh and they provide an excellent eating experience, sans the kitschy atmosphere.

I ordered a torta al pastor (Mexican sandwich with marinated spit-roasted pork) from the giddy clerk and then seated myself at a booth by a window. You can order takeout as well, though by doing that you'd be forfeiting the free - and dangerously addictive - chips and salsa.

The chips themselves are passable - a bit stale, a bit tasteless, but not too greasy and sufficiently crunchy. You still get a nice, good snap with each bite. Plus, the pico de gallo that comes on the side is solid, if not too spicy; trading a few jalapeños for tomatoes would most definitely improve the mix. As for the green tomatillo salsa, I found it kind of bland. There was a vague heat, but that was all that hit my palate.

When my torta came, I was excited by its colorful fillings and its big size. The greasy orange pork pieces really popped too. They were tender and juicy and smoky and tangy and could've only benefitted from being chopped more finely (the pork strips would've been better as pork cubes).

The chewy bread beautifully soaked up the pork's red al pastor oil and the guacamole that was closer to avocado paste worked well as a nice acid-neutralizer along with the sour cream. The chopped onions and beans kind of got lost in the torta hodgepodge and to be honest, I didn't even know that they were part of the sandwich until talking to one of the workers afterward.

For $5, my meal was a steal. The torta portion is substantial and if you snack on the chips and salsa, you will leave with a full stomach. Arturo's makes greasy, mouthwatering Mexican food in a very clean and straightforward, albeit tawdry, environment. Go during the late-night hours of the weekend if you want to see it transformed into a hectic haven for drunk Yupsters and Hispanics alike.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Arturo's Tacos - Logan Square / Bucktown - (773)772-4944 - 2001 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 - Public transportation: bus 73 or the Western stop of the Blue Line.

Torta al pastor - $4.95

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hot Doug's

Hot damn Hot Doug's; you provided me with a transcendent eating experience.

Tucked away on an unassuming corner in Avondale sat Hot Doug's, the self-proclaimed "encased meats emporium and sausage superstore". I walked in at 3pm, smiled at the lack of a big line, and salivated in anticipation of what I'd be eating momentarily.

Doug himself helped the people ahead of me, offering thorough answers to their many questions, seeming totally in his element. He is a man that cares deeply about his product. To get some kind of idea about Doug's dedication and mentality, I suggest you read this interview he had with Zagat surrounding his "controversial" use of foie gras.

After I made my way to the front of the line, I did what some LTH'ers suggested: I asked Doug what I needed to get. He asked whether I wanted a special or something off the regular menu because the prices of the specials were significantly higher. I said I wanted the absolute best thing that he had. He emphatically answered, "the foie gras dog".

At $9, it has to be considered a pricey hot dog, but still, look at its ingredients. To me, the cost was understandable even before taking a bite. I had no idea what to expect in terms of presentation or flavor, I just knew that it sounded wild. And, looking back, in light of all the foie gras issues that have plagued Doug, I'm surprised that it was even on the menu. I guess that's a testament to his resilience...

There are no words to describe the super-rich flavor explosion that happened within my mouth. In fact, during the first bite, I realized just how much of an amateur I am. I didn't know where to begin - my thoughts were all over the place. The dog wasn't big in size, but it was huge in flavor. It quickly made me realize how tough it would be to become a vegetarian.

The foie gras on top was smooth and clean, its taste sharpened by the sel gris (gray sea salt) sprinkled on top. And then, paired with the actual sweet, pink-in-the-middle duck sausage and the buttery bun with the tuffle aioli - wow. It all worked - it had so much going on and yet it was completely balanced.

Though trying to cherish each and every last morsel, I took down the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage quite quickly and walked back up to the counter (no line, yes!). This time, Doug told me that I should try the Marty Allen, the Thuringer. And once again, I listened, letting him dress it however he would have it dressed if he were eating it.

The Marty Allen is hello der beef, pork, and garlic. Mine was topped with a pickle, sport peppers, caramelized onions, and brown mustard. I hurriedly took a picture so that I could take a bite. I still had a major appetite - the calories from the first dog hadn't hit me yet.

The first bite left so many smoky, zesty, and tasty flavors swimming around on my tongue, it was hard at first to distinguish the various components. The toppings were not overpowering, though they may have looked overwhelming, the meat was delish, its garlic smokiness aided by the considerable heat from the sport peppers, and the bun was not as buttery as the first one, but soft, browned, and sound.

Hot Doug's should be visited for its specialty dogs because Doug Sohn knows what he's doing. The regular dogs are great, but the specialty dogs are beautiful. They are culinary works of art. You can tell he's been in this game for a long time. Your arteries might be mad at you, but please, for the sake of your happiness, eat his food. He is a creative master. And even though the location is a bit obscure, it's a perfect place to enjoy hot dogs, just ask any of the gazillion people that frequent his spot on a daily basis.

Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Hot Doug's - Avondale - (773)279-9550 - 3324 N. California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 - Public transportation: bus 52 or the Belmont stop of the Blue Line, though that leaves you with a 20-min walk.

Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage - $9
The Marty Allen (Thuringer) - $3.25

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Meatloaf Bakery

Meatloaves served up like cupcakes? Crazy cool concept, The Meatloaf Bakery. I'll bite.

I walked into the shop and was immediately drawn to the aesthetic. A rainbow sherbet color scheme controlled the space and it could not have felt more appropriate, a bright concept paired with a bright palette. The display case worked well too, prominently displaying the variegated meatloaf creations exactly as if they were items in a traditional bakery.

I ordered El Loafo del Fuego, the spicy meatloaf, in "cupcake" size for $8.95. I would've tried various "loafies", the smallest size loaves, to test out the flavor range, but there was only one type in stock and they were expensive @ 2 bucks a pop. Apparently, they had a busy Labor Day weekend. Anywho, the employee behind the counter gave me two options for heating the meatloaf cupcake. I could either have him microwave it or put it in the oven. The oven, he told me, was the recommended option if I had the time to wait. I did.

About twenty minutes or so later, El Loafo del Fuego was placed in front of me with its side of "sherry-mushroom sauce". The jalapeño on top of the garlic-mashed potatoes looked limp and sad, but the presentation was still excellent. Undoubtedly, appearance is The Meatloaf Bakery's strong suit.

Due to my sky-high expectations, thanks to the crazy concept and savory setting, my first bite left me underwhelmed. I expected a dazzling flavor explosion, but what I got instead was something rather bland. The meatloaf was a tad dry and its spiciness killed the other flavors. The potatoes on top weren’t much different from instant potatoes and if it weren’t for the rich (though watery) side of gravy, this meatloaf cupcake would have been even more forgettable.

Without ever having seen meatloaf cupcakes before, I can still say that for ~$9 each, they were too pricey, especially considering their compact size. A single meatloaf cupcake was not filling enough to merit the ~$9 charge. Even one of their big cookies, dubbed "The Best Cookie Ever", was $4! That's crazy talk. Four bucks for a cookie? I don't care how big it was, unless it came with a side of cookie or some gold flakes, it just could not have been worth it.

I will say though, that the two staff members I interacted with were excellent. The gentleman behind the counter was kind and attentive and the owner was very accommodating, approachable, and super passionate about The Meatloaf Bakery in an endearing way. She took the time to explain the concepts and processes and even delivered a Netflix envelope for me! No joke, I had one on top of my table next to my bike helmet and she offered to take it on her way out.

At the end of the day, The Meatloaf Bakery provides original food - albeit a bit gimmicky - and excellent service with prices that are too high for the amount that you get. I am anxious to try the other flavors, but there are too many other things out there that are a better value and better tasting.

Back or Forth? I will be going forth.

The Meatloaf Bakery - Lincoln Park - (773)698-6667 - 2464 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 - Public transportation: bus 22 or the Fullerton stop on the Brown and Red Lines.

El Loafo del Fuego - $8.95