hot doug’s

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It saddens me to acknowledge that Hot Doug’s, a famous landmark of the Chicago food scene, will be closing for good this October.

It also inconveniences me, because now that time is short it takes A ZILLION YEARS TO GET A HOT DOG OR SIMILARLY PACKAGED MELANGE OF MEATS. On my first visit (which I admit was only about a month ago, even though I have lived in Chicago for almost 5 years), it took the 3 of us present a full 4 hours to get through the line. Granted, it was a Saturday, and it was 12:30 pm aka prime lunch time. They also wait for everyone to sit down and eat — it’s not a grab n’ go type operation — and the place isn’t big.

(Don’t go on a Saturday. It’s not worth it. The only reason to go on a Saturday is if you literally cannot go ANY other day or if you are dying to try the duck fat fries, which are only offered Friday and Saturday. They tasted no different to me from regular fries, but what on earth would I know about duck fat.)

About halfway through the line, we started to get a bit loopy; there was talk of leapfrogging. We also took 3 hours and 45 minutes to realize that it was cash-only but that none of us had any, providing further evidence that graduate students have the survival skills of, like, a toddler.

Anyway, once we finally got there, it was totally worth it. I call myself a Pescetarian, but I decided that I could be a Flexitarian on this day BECAUSE THESE:

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The one on the left, was a smoked crayfish and pork sausage with butter-and-herb sauce and blue cheese; the one on the right was escargot and guanciale with garlic butter and brie. When my sister came into town two weeks ago, I had one with roasted tomato, pesto aioli, and fresh mozzarella, as well as a veal sausage with fresh sage mustard, Jarlsberg cheese, and fried prosciutto. (It was also a Monday, so the wait was only 1 hour. SUCCESS.) They have all literally been the best hot dogs or sausages or any of the above that I have ever had.

If one of the specials appeals to you, GET IT. They are the most interesting and delicious things on the menu. Don’t bother with the regular dog or veggie dog; I hear they’re the only ones that are just bought, not made in house like the rest of the meats. There are also wackadoo things like rattlesnake sausage, smoked yak sausage, and alligator sausage, which can be fun if you like to eat adventurously. If you can get there, just go there. GO before it closes forever.

As an added bonus, Doug himself takes all the orders and is a delight.

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batter and berries

I don’t know anywhere else that you can get a FRENCH TOAST FLIGHT:

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Yeah, that’s right. Just feast your eyes on that glorious spread of brioche-y goodness. Strawberry, lemon poppy, caramel pecan, lemon blueberry, and watermelon. Watermelon french toast?! What?! Not my favorite (the lemon blueberry and caramel pecan win), but still interesting. The cooking is all southern-food inspired, so the menu is full of things like shrimp & grits, sweet & sour chicken and waffles, biscuits & gravy, etc.

Obviously we (4) got a flight for the table to share, in addition to our individual entrees, and demolished everything. Don’t judge us.

I got the special–a lobster omelet–for myself, and it was DELIGHTFUL. Inspired combination of flavors. I think it included fresh lobster, egg whites, sauteed baby tomatoes, chives, shredded gouda cheese, and a lemon-butter sauce. Swoon. I’m craving it again just looking at this thing.

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You’ll notice also that there happens to be fruit on the side, because I’m an incredibly high-maintenance restaurant patron and asked to substitute it for the hash browns that come as the default; they were really nice and did it for me. There are also sweet potato hash browns available, if you prefer, but I tasted some of my friend’s and wasn’t that impressed. All-around, though, really solid food.

Atmosphere’s fun and lively, including the servers, but get there early on weekends or you’ll wait forever to get a table (they also won’t seat you until literally everyone in your party is there).

rollapalooza

Let’s first reflect on the fact that the turtle roll is A TURTLE MADE OF MAKI ROLLS.

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You can’t deny that that little guy is pretty cute. My dining buddy and I named him Crush–after the turtle from Finding Nemo–before scarfing him. I am a spice wimp and avoid wasabi like the plague, so everything else got eaten but his head remained. In retrospect, that was creepy. Anyway, everything was really tasty, and prices were reasonable. They’re obviously big on the flowery presentation. We shared an order of seaweed salad, too, which was actually unusually sizable (most seaweed salad is $5 or $6 for, like, a half cup of the stuff). The interior is a little too glare-of-neon bright, in my opinion–probably because they market themselves as a “contemporary” sushi restaurant–but eh, not a dealbreaker. They deliver, too (online ordering available through grubhub), which is handy if you’re feeling lazy.

wine: bordeaux rosé, chateau pey la tour

Confession: I may or may not have bought this wine in large part because I think the bottle is INSANELY CUTE. It’s a rosé, so the wine itself is pink, and there is a LITTLE PINK ROOK on the label. Yes, that makes me every marketer’s dream, and I have accepted it about myself. Now we shall drink wine.

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I really prefer white wine to red, because I hate tannins with a fiery passion, but I can handle the occasional rosé. This one is a regional bordeaux made mostly with cabernet franc, some cabernet sauvignon, and a little merlot, so it’s basically a blanc de noirs. I don’t like it as much as my favorite whites, but I found it pretty nice anyway–not too sweet, a little higher on the acidity, and rather fruity. And now I have this bottle, which is the important thing. Obviously.

(credit for discovering this wine to Katie, my labmate and hostess extraordinaire.)

cafe du monde EXPRESS

BEST EVER SECRET THAT MIGHT NOT ACTUALLY QUALIFY AS A SECRET: New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde has an EXPRESS location at which you can get their famous beignets, and coffee, without waiting for hours on end at the real flagship location in the French Quarter. You may want the experience of the flagship location, of course, for ambiance’s sake or for authenticity’s sake or some such thing, but if you happen to be there for a conference (as we were) and have limited time (as we did) and refused to be denied fried dough swimming in a half pound of powdered sugar (as we were not), it makes for a quite satisfactory alternative.

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Go up to the 2nd level of the riverwalk mall, in the eatery-type thing there, and you’ll see the counter which resembles a Johnny Rockets interior and doles out these little pillows of joy for what I considered to be a reasonable price (sadly I forget what that actually was, but you can look it up). If you’re as cool as we are, you can then proceed to scarf them shamelessly in the middle of the conference center and draw looks of confusion, surprise, or (I like to think think) envy from passersby whom you vaguely hope cannot recognize you through the clouds of powdered sugar.

big star

I have been on a quest, for some time, to find forms of fish that I actually enjoy. It has been difficult, for reasons that I expect stem chiefly from a particularly formative childhood experience during which my well-meaning parents told me that salmon was in fact “pink chicken”– only to admit later that it was actually fish, at which point, even though I loved pink chicken, I decided I didn’t like salmon. Don’t ask me to explain myself.

I love sushi, but beyond that even the most elaborate and delectable-sounding recipes have not successfully turned any other kind of fish into something I consider edible. There was that time I accidentally ate a fish patty in my high school cafeteria, thinking it was a chicken patty, and thought it tasted odd yet ate it anyway–but we’ll disregard that for obvious reasons. People suggested tilapia, as a mild non-fishy fish, but even PESTO, which is universally acknowledged to have magical powers making everything delicious, failed to come through for me, and I was too discouraged to go on.

AND THEN I had my first experience at Big Star, and my faith was restored. Please go there, and get the pesco-something taco. It involves beer-battered tilapia, some kind of tasty shredded veggies that I can’t identify, cilantro, and this chipotle-mayo-or-something type sauce which was delightful.

Big star tilapia taco

I also had a veggie tostada, which was tasty but did approach the excellence of the taco,  and despite LOTS OF MOCKING FROM SOMEONE *COUGH* SASHA I ate it with a fork and knife because tostadas are on a crispy flat shell type thing rather than a soft one, thus you can’t roll them, and I had this feeling that if I were to lift and bite into it the entire thing would shatter and it would basically end in disaster. I was less impressed by the cocktails, but that’s probably because tequila and I are mortal enemies, and pretty much everything not based on bourbon involved tequila. I liked the classic margarita okay, though it was way too strong for my wimptastic palate, but the ramblin’ rose thing (which had strawberry and orange something or other too) was not great.

Also, it took forever to get a booth, because the place is chaos, but once we secured an actual waitress everything else came pretty quickly. It’s cash only, which I find annoying because I never have cash, but it’s easier that way for groups anyway. Not too expensive– $3 or so per taco, and most people get 3. By that I mean most people get 2, and then everyone hangs around long enough that they want more at some point. Understandably.

back door donuts

GOOD HEAVENS THIS IS SAD.

I’m not even going to look at the last post date because I know it will just shame me into oblivion. As Wendi (thankfully) reminded me earlier today, I have been slacking massively on the food ramblings front. Some introspection, partly in the service of procrastination, yielded the following insights:

1. If I require myself to look up details like addresses, phone numbers, etc. I’ll be too lazy to post

2. If I require myself to mess about with formatting said details in any way, I’ll be way too lazy to post

The takeaway here is that I am clearly too lazy to aspire beyond a food-themed stream of consciousness, so that is what this will henceforth become. Also, I decided that requiring you to look up details from names of places yourselves will add to the mystery and therefore the allure, compelling you to read everything I write FOREVER.

Anyway, the important thing here, especially because donuts were also discussed today, is that Back Door Donuts (Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard) remain the best donuts I have yet consumed, and I have consumed many a donut. The Tabard Inn brunch donut in DC may tie, but because they’re different types I’ll allow them to share the top spot in a tie such that they dominate their individual categories.

Obviously the line stretched to the end of the parking lot, so in order to justify the wait we (mom and I) got a sizable bag of them to last us some time. “Some time” entailed about a day, because 4 were gone at the end of the drive back. They’re warm and toasty and freshly fried, the ideal ratio of glaze to dough, the perfect mix of dense and light, and somehow magically not too dry. PERFECTION.

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My eternal ultimate favorite is still the honey dipped raised glazed (in the photo), and I don’t even want to think about how many I could demolish at once given the opportunity. The buttermilk glazed cake one is definitely my favorite cake donut. I still have yet to try an apple fritter, which is apparently their big thing, but I’ve never felt compelled because I’m blinded by the glory of the donuts. Someday.

Native Foods Cafe

Last weekend I went to Native Foods Cafe, on Belmont (just west of the El stop), and I had the Ensalata Azteka Salad, and it was very tasty. Now I’ll just add a link to their website because memory fail on all accounts means I took no photos:

http://nativefoods.com/menu/favorites.aspx

HA,  LOOK AT THAT. So much information that I just got out of having to explain myself! Bwahaha.

Anyway, you should go there. The whole restaurant is vegetarian, vegan, locally sourced, etc., and the people were also really friendly. This salad thing was basically a mix of quinoa and a bunch of veggies, supposedly with avocado (it took significant searching to find an actual piece of avocado, so I could’ve done a with a lot more, but technically it WAS THERE), and this ginger-lime dressing that was really good. It tasted almost identical to the dressing Japanese restaurants put on their side salads. I guess it was a bit expensive for what it was, but the bowl was huge, it was tasty, and I was full — without desire to snack — for eternity. For me, that means the next 6 or 7 hours.

My dining buddy had a “chicken” sandwich of some kind that she said was delicious. It came with sweet potato fries, some of which I obviously sampled in order to help her finish them. Nobility at its best, really. They were delicious and they came with this aioli-type dipping sauce stuff that I really enjoyed even though it was sort of spicy and I’m a spice wimp. OH ALSO they have these amazing freshly made drinks like lavender lemonade, which was really good, and something else watermelon-flavored. Now I am thirsty and must get something that sounds refreshing but actually isn’t, like iced coffee, because it is approximately 250 degrees outside in Chicago.

India House

So there are approx 15,382 posts of places I have eaten that have yet to be discussed (OH HEY, COMPS, WHAT UP). I’m going to start with the most recent because I remember it best, so it’s not chronological but y’all are just going to have to deal.

We ate at India House after a Michigan-Ave-Festival-of-Lights adventure, which involved us watching many a float (including a balloon of Rudolph from the classic claymation Christmas special, which basically made my week), window-shopping, admiring the WAY TOO EARLY Christmas decorations/lights, and general wandering about downtown. For me, this also highlighted my pathetic dependence on all of my friends who own SmartPhones. We were told we’d have to wait an hour (insert more wandering and popping into random places) but actually got a table for 6 in 45 minutes, which is pretty amazing for a Saturday night after a ginormous parade event floods most of the downtown area, and ordered quickly because we’d spent some of our waiting time perusing the menu. Aaaanndddd then we waited forever and a day for our food, but it was worth it because the food was TASTYFACE.

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We got a range of stuff including Palak Paneer (stew of spinach and cubed paneer cheese, which they were very accommodating and made mild for me because I have the spicy-food tolerance of a baby penguin), something else (Malik Paneer?) also involving cubed paneer cheese in a delicious creamy tomato sauce, a chickpea Masala of some kind, Lamb Korma, etc…

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…and it was all fabulous with generous servings. We also got rice and naan for the table, which albeit delicious turned out to be somewhat excessive because they charged us out the nose for basic white basmati rice and led us to believe Chai tea cost $1.50 when it in fact cost $3.50. All in all it ended up being rather pricey on our typical grad student budget scale, something like $25 a person including the tax and tip, but at least we ended up with leftovers. Beware also that they charge a dollar per person if you split across more than two credit cards.

Sadly our desire to document the before and after transition of our dining adventure backfired as I awkwardly took a photo of the empty table and unintentionally included our server’s hand as he scraped the tablecloth for crumbs or stray bits of rice or whatever:

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Unfortunately, our server apparently thought I was taking a picture OF HIM, after which he immediately transitioned immediately from pleasant to disgruntled and remained there the rest of the night.

All in all, though, great food and lovely atmosphere. Best Chicago Indian food I’ve tried thus far (in my limited experience).

India House

59 West Grand Avenue  Chicago, IL 60654

(312) 645-9500

Andy’s Frozen Custard

I should begin with a disclaimer that if you live in Evanston, you probably know the beauty of Andy’s Frozen Custard and frequent it far more than you should for the sake of your arteries, waistline, subsequent wardrobe function, and general life expectancy. There are probably more calories in a serving of Andy’s Frozen Custard than there are in several supersized McDonalds abominations-of-scary-meatlike-product, so it’s better to just pretend that you’re not eating it at all, or even that you’re in a dream and it’s purely a figment of your imagination.

Even so, this stuff is full-on WORTH IT. My favorite little-person-friend, the one and only Lucy Stein, visited for a weekend recently, and obviously one cannot pass through Evanston without trying Andy’s. I somehow have only had it once in the two years I’ve been here. Although it was good (plain custard with blackberries whipped in) and hit the spot for a summer night strolling about Evanston after a dinner out with fellow grad students (it’s open until at least 11pm, WIN), I had not yet tried the “Jackhammer.” This creation not only whips one topping into the custard itself, but also it fills the hole in the center (like a top-to-bottom eye of a custard hurricane in a cup) with a second topping. Obviously Lucy ordered it, because she’s an intelligent and sensible human being, and she chose the genius combination of brownie and oreo… brownie whipped in, oreo in the center. Fortunately for me, she decided to share.

DEAR GOD.  To quote a fellow food blogger, “I mean literally like the book of Revelation, eight flaming man-goats descended on fiery Segways and beat me in the face with their righteous swords of deliciousness.”  (courtesy of Wendi, faithful Cafoodle follower and Social Psychologist extraordinaire, “plagiarism be damned.”) Finally, an edible substance worth a descriptor containing flaming man-goats, which as Wendi correctly observed instantly classes up any blog. I’m not entirely sure how to describe frozen custard, because you really can’t understand the texture until you try it. It’s smoother and softer than ice cream, but thicker than frozen yogurt. It’s almost like intensified, condensed frozen yogurt, even creamier and denser. It doesn’t have that deliciously rich fresh cream flavor that ice cream does, but there’s something really comforting and homey about it that I can’t really put my finger on. When you add all the glorious toppings, that just makes it even better.

The photo does not do the Jackahmmer justice…

… so to give you a better idea of the full effect, you should see for yourself how happy it made Lucy.


You really can’t get any cuter than that; let’s be honest.

Enter an unsuspecting fellow pedestrian, who asked Lucy what she was eating as we waited at the stoplight to cross Orrington avenue. “OH MY GOD IT IS THE MOST DELICIOUS THING I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. YOU HAVE TO GET SOME. SERIOUSLY, IT IS SO AMAZING. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. JUST GO GET SOME RIGHT NOW. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.”

Little did Andy’s know that on that fateful day they gained a lifetime’s worth of free advertising. And here I remain, counting down the days until the return of my little person friend and the Andy’s excursion immediately upon arrival.

…ok, so I may have gone back ONE TIME since then, but I kept it to a small cup with one topping (heath bar). At least, I TRIED to get a small with one topping but technically had to order a kiddie-size sundae, because they said if you add a topping of any kind that automatically makes it a sundae. I’m not sure in what universe a topping with NO FUDGELIKE SUBSTANCE qualifies as a sundae, but the kind man at the register explained it to me: it’s because they add a cherry on top. Mkay. Fortunately for them, it was still delicious.

Andy’s Frozen Custard

719 Church St.

Evanston, IL 60201

Phone: 847.864.8009

http://www.eatandys.com/findandys.aspx