A Pulaski Day Profession of Chicago Love

Casimir Pulaski, the Polish fellow being honored today, died in the Revolutionary War’s Siege of Savannah in 1779.

Plaque in Pulaski Square, Savannah

Three years ago I packed up and moved to Savannah, seeking respite from the Chicago winters I complained so much about and hoping to start a new life amongst the genteel and seersucker clad. I rented a room from two fun gay dudes on the top floor of a fancy pantsy mansion right next to Forsyth Park.

House on Hall Street

Forsyth Park

I made the most of the city’s open container laws and unwritten karaoke-seven-nights-a-week laws, but in the end it was a lonely and failed three-month experiment. I missed everything about Chicago. Yes, even the weather.

Twentysomething me wanted to live anywhere but the Midwest, spouting standard lines about how much cooler it would be to live in Europe/the Pacific Northwest/ on an island off the coast of Honduras. It took ten years for that to work its way out of my system, but at 34 I can now say I’m here because I wanna be here.

So tonight I will eat a Polish-Chicagoan-Low Country meal of pierogi and cheesy grits to commemorate General Pulaski’s untimely demise in Georgia and to reconfirm my gushy love for this city. Plus, today is the 176th birthday of the City of Chicago, so maybe I’ll stick a candle or two in there somewhere.

Kasia’s + Cheese Grits = Pulaski Day


Ethiopian Food as Sports Nutrition

Hoofing it up 94 flights of stairs requires a well-fueled body. Yesterday afternoon I did the Hustle Up the Hancock for the fifth time in my tenure here in Chicago and to prepare, I carbed up on injera at Ras Dashen in Edgewater on Saturday night.

Ras Dashen

I’m not sure gorging oneself on spicy food at an Ethiopian restaurant the evening before a rigorous athletic event is especially well advised, but the stomach wants what the stomach wants. My dining pal and I forewent any appetizers and dove face first into our giant sourdough pancake the second it hit the table. Toppings of choice were a poofy fresh cheese called ib, stewed green beans and carrots, lentils and okra in red sauce, and spicy juicy lamb. My grandma was from Oklahoma, so I have a hereditary longing for okra even though it looks like an alien life form. Everything tasted like it was slow-cooked with TLC and I managed to not make a huge mess of myself while eating with my hands (which is only worth noting because a no-fork meal at Hyderabad House once left me in a crumpled pile of dirty napkins, covered head to toe in goat paste).

This feast did, in fact, make me as strong as the Ethiopian mountain the restaurant is named for and left me wanting to come back another night with a bigger group to try even more toppings on that heavenly injera bread.

So until next time, I leave you with “Before” and “After” pics from the Hustle. It’s no marathon, but I’ll take bragging rights where I can get them!

Permission to Board the Ramen Bandwagon

Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed.

Some say Wasabi, it the place to go for the best ramen in the city.

As a lifelong eater of Top Ramen packets and future hypertension sufferer, I thought all ramen was the same. It wasn’t until I started hearing murmurings of Santouka, Slurping Turtle, Urban Belly,  etc. that I came to know good ramen is a thing people chase down. Or blog about. Or make movies about.

So I found myself at Wasabi this weekend, sidled up to the counter waiting for a bowl of their raved-about spicy roasted garlic miso ramen. I’d been here a few times before for sushi, completely skipping over the noodle portion of the menu, but that was before the ramen evangelists spread their good word unto me. I know nothing about wine pairings, so I brought a bottle of Gazela vinho verde because it is light, effervescent, and rings up as $6.66 at the liquor store down the street.

When the bowl came out, I saw that the hype was warranted. If this bowl were a contestant on The Bachelorette, I would give it a rose. It was huge, so big points for volume, and you couldn’t even see the noodles under the layer of fixin’s––cut up scallions, two medallions of Berkshire pork cheek, bamboo shoots, and a glorious half of a soft-boiled egg. I didn’t even try to take a photo because I don’t have the camera-phone skills to do it justice. So I took a picture of the pig statue that was mooning me all through dinner instead.

Working with chopsticks and a spoon that looked like a clamshell tied to a stick, I ate the toppings and excavated the noodles from down below. They were full of a color, flavor, and texture that Top Ramen can only dream of. The broth was opaque and super rich, almost like a thin gravy. It took a while, but I made it to the bottom of the bowl and earned myself a completely sated, second trimester-esque ramen belly.

I normally try to play it cool and feign annoyance at food fads (I’m look at you, bacon and cupcakes), but this ramen thing fills a wavy noodle-shaped void in my very being. I will not chase it with the ardor of the diehards, but I may become a regular at the Wasabi counter. You can find me slurping away next to the pig butt.

Pig statue tush #wasabi #ramenfeast

German Biers in Ravenswood

Laschet’s is the after-rehearsal hang of the Ravenswood Community Orchestra, so I’ve found myself here on many a Monday night. This is a real deal German bar, as proven by the number of times I have witnessed patrons burst into German song. And the number of times I have been moved to burst into German song. There are deer heads on the walls, as well as flyers advertising a venison dinner dance in March. This literature begs two pressing questions:

  1. Who will be my date to the venison dinner dance?
  2. What does one wear to a venison dinner dance? (Safety orange? Antlers? A salt tiara?)

Burnt wood art = always classy


In Search of Swedes: An Afternoon in Andersonville

I have never been to Sweden and I would very much like to go. When I was travelling through Poland, I met a very ill-behaved Swede in my hostel whose main mission was to visit a brothel and drink as much cheap vodka as humanly possible. He achieved both of those goals, as well as some public urination in my presence, but I have not let that sully my impression of this land of smiling blondes and chunky knits.

In lieu of an SAS ticket to go meet some Swedish folk on their native soil, I went to Tre Kronor for brunch and checked out the Swedish American Museum.

Dala horses at Tre Kronor

Here’s what you need to know about my brunch: I ate a bacon sausage. Is your mind blown? Two independently wonderful things smashed together. Like cake pie or Cheetos Pringles. Somehow they stuffed ground bacon into a sausage casing and fried it up to perfection. It was completely delicious and worth an afternoon worth of Baco~Os burps. I also had a lovely slice of salmon quiche.

The Swedish American Museum is small and charming (so fairly worth the wee $4 admission fee). There was an exhibit of folk art on the first floor and a permanent exhibit on Swedish immigration on the second floor. The second-floor collection is kind of like a grandma’s attic with cool old photos and knick-knacks. And dead-eyed paper mache zombie people.

Coming to America

On my way out, I quizzed the nice Swedish lady at the front desk about her favorite place to eat in the city. She gave Tre Kronor a resounding recommendation and waxed poetic about their waffles and fish. My wafting bacon sausage burps probably reminded her of breakfasts around the wood stove back home. You’re welcome, nice lady. It was my pleasure.

Ingen orsak!

(Wings) Around-the-World Trip: Flight Cancelled

I had grand plans of spending Sunday afternoon with the United Nations of chicken wings in my mouth. But, to my dismay, there was a neon sign from the city slapped on the front door of Wings Around the World. It would seem that, as of a few days ago, they were evicted from their 75th Street storefront. Noooooo! The whole drive down there, I was fantasizing about styrofoam boxes loaded with Jamaican jerk sauces, Indian curries, and Asian BBQ glazes. Hopefully this closure isn’t permanent, but I can’t find any deets online. Fill me in if you know anything about this travesty!

So I headed to Jake Melnick’s as a less worldly Plan B. I’ve been there before for burgers, but I haven’t fully explored their wing selection– specifically their XXX hot wings.

A relevant side note about me is that there was once a period in my life when I made my mom buy Pace Extra Mild salsa. The jar had a blue lid, I think to represent its anti-hot flavor profile, and the “salsa” was essentially ketchup with chunks in it. A cold, bland, red stew. As a Minnesotan raised on cream of mushroom soup-based casseroles, mustard was my gateway drug to hotter condiments and I have since worked my way up to an acceptable level of spice.

The sauce on Jake’s XXX wings is made from the ghost pepper, one of the hottest peppers in the world. In addition to our piles of buffalo wings, BBQ wings, and garlic wings, my friend and I each ordered a solitary XXX’er. These little hotties arrived on their own plates and we entered the firestorm together. There were tears, free-flowing rivers of snot, and stained fingers. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a whole order of them, even though that achievement earns you a handsome red plastic fireman’s hat, but I can say I successfully ate one. It should probably also be noted that that ghost pepper haunted my G.I. tract for the next few hours. But such is the willing price we pay for endorphin-laced foods and foods served in baskets.

Have you eaten a ghost pepper and lived to tell about it?

Japanese Ear Food, Stomach Food

Up until about 10 minutes ago, I thought I held an awesome piece of trivia regarding New Year’s, the Japanese, and how the standard length of the compact disc was set. Part of it is definitely true: People in Japan love playing/singing/listening to Beethoven’s 9th for New Year’s. “Ode to Joy” is their jam, and choirs of thousands gather to belt out the uplifting German lyrics of fire-drunken brotherhood. I was told many years ago that when CDs where first being invented, they were made to accommodate the slowest popular recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. It made me feel super smart that I knew that, so I don’t care what Snopes says.

With this spirit of universal of brotherhood coursing through my veins, I went up to Ravenswood for a recital put on by two Japanese musicians. It was a husband-wife duo–– him on the cello and her on the koto and shamisen. A cello is a giant violin that you straddle, a koto is described by the program as a “Japanese zither,” and a shamisen is described by me as a three-stringed Japanese banjo played with an ice scraper. The music was all beautiful and the koto surprised me with the huge range of sounds it could make. Finger-picky guitar sounds, harp-like glissandos (glissandi?), and knocking percussive sounds. While Yoko was strumming away with her right hand, she was also using her left hand to press the tops of the strings for a pitch-bendy effect as well as scoot around the instrument’s little wishbone-shaped bridges. And in one piece she also sang. At which point my head exploded.

All this music appreciation left me with a rumbly tumbly, so I took a field trip to Arlington Heights for some Japanese grocery shopping and ramen noodles at Mitsuwa Marketplace. It was my first visit to this suburban specialty emporium and, oh man, I went wild. There is a whole giant seafood area with sushi-ready fish and then aisles and aisles of assorted sundries. I loaded up on noodles, rice, bottled sauces, and treats. Studying the packaging is half the fun here.

One of these things is meaner than the others…

Salt ramen with pork from Santouka

At the recommendation of Yelp and the internet in general, I got a bowl of ramen from Santouka in the store’s food court. It’s dine in only (and cash only), so my bag of groceries sat on the chair next to me and watched me slurp away.

When I got home I was ready to try out some of the treats I’d bought (see requisite gif here). Though I was a little scared of them at first, and they tasted a little like fish food when they first hit your tongue, I did eat all the little dried crabs in a matter of days. They had some kind of candy and sesame coating that was alarmingly addicting. <insert pediculosis joke here>

Tamagogani = all gone. Because I ate them all.

Polish Drinkin’ Food in Wicker Park

Since Chicago was once the most Poletastic city outside of Warsaw (dang you, NYC!) and I am a hungry quarter-Pole myself, I thought it would be best to start this in-town travelogue with a trip to Podhalanka in Wicker Park.

I was on my way to a Christmas party and needed to lay down a solid foundation of starch in my stomach. After sidling past the clubby people in front of Evil Olive, my friend and I walked into the time capsule that is Podhalanka and took a seat at the counter. From this vantage point, you can soak in the Polish tchotchkes lining the walls– 10 points for every item of JPII memorabilia you and your companions can spot. For some international flair, there is a framed photo of Princess Di on the opposite wall.

We started with bowls of split pea soup and cabbage soup mopped up with rye bread. These were not little fun-sized cups of soup. So we were still spooning away when the potato pancakes arrived. These were accompanied by an “Eat! They will get cold!” from the server. Next came a platter of sauerkraut pierogi––doughy and so very, very delicious. I believe sauerkraut to be the supreme pierogi filling, with mushroom coming in a close second. I’ve tried sweet strawberry ones in the past and they just didn’t float my boat. My mouth couldn’t compute the combo of fruit and noodle.

Needless to say, we were totally stuffed by the end of the meal. I even had to abandon one poor potato pancake. The hearty starches did their trick, though, and I was able to booze it up at the Christmas party. The Polish know their drinkin’ food. Na zdrowie!