Downtown Dogs

One of the first hot dogs that I ate in Chicago was at DownTown Dogs and I remember it well. It was freezing and just a couple of days after the snowpocalypse of 2011. I had found myself sheltering here after having bought myself a rent deposit cheque from the ‘cheques cashed’ shop on the corner (another first) where they ‘cut’ me a cheques in exchange for a big pile of greenbacks. On that first visit I had sampled the traditional Chicago Dog and on that first occasion it had seemed to be a strange affair, in many ways I still find that it is. I know that traditionally it is an all beef frankfurter typically a Vienna Dog topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, a slice of tomato, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. I don’t like mine like that and usually just have mustard and raw onion. I do love the sesame bun, and I think that the snap from the Vienna dog is hard to beat.

On this occasion I was treating a fellow expat friend from ‘out of town’ to his first Chicago Dog, well that was the plan anyhow.

DSC01723Char Dog at Downtown Dogs

In the end the suggestion of sport pickles and celery salt did not meet with his expectation so he ordered a Cheese Dog for around $3-4. This was declared a success even though the liquid cheese was not what he expected (I did warn him) it was more gooey nacho-like cheese or something that could live in a squeezy bottle. I went for my standard favourite here which is the Char Dog with Raw Onions and Mustard. It is not big or clever but it certainly hits the spot.

Downtown Dogs Dogscape

If you were in any doubt that DownTown Dogs was not just about the dogs in a bun, well just take a look around the room at the various dogscapes

DownTown Dogs Fire Hydrant

The collage of downtown ‘dogs’ past and present and the courtesy fire hydrant ‘just in case’.

Note that there is no rest room for us human types, no our nearest port of call is in the bar next door.

DownTown Dogs sign

DownTown Dogs is located handily close to the Chicago Red Line stop at 804 N Rush St, Chicago in Streeterville, and even more handily next door to Pippins Tavern (if you need a beer). It is not very big, but people don’t seem to hang around for too long so I have always found a bar stool to perch upon when chowing down on my chosed dog. Check them out on their website, Follow them on their Twitter feed and check them out on Facebook as well

Downtown Dogs on Urbanspoon

Salt n Pepper at NightSalt n Pepper in the day

The Salt and Pepper Diner in Wrigleyville is one of those places that you can pick up a decent bite any time of the day, Sandwiches, Burgers, Breakfasts, pretty much all of your regular diner food. It is the sort of place I hope to find for a late morning breakfast, a late lunch, or a bite to soak up the beer mid evening. On all accounts looking down the menu I was to find that the Salt and Pepper Diner was able to cater for all my needs and desires.

Inside the Salt n Pepper DinerSalt n Pepper Special

When I think of a Diner I am really thinking of eggs the sort that you get anyway you like, hopefully with a choice of sides such as some bacon and even better with some toast. At the Salt and Pepper Diner they have all that on offer – ‘Two Eggs prepared to your liking” for $3.95 and for not much more you can have an omelette perhaps a locally named “Clark Street Omelette” which is ‘diced ham, mushrooms, tomato with Swiss cheese’ or a more classic Denver Omelette ‘diced ham green pepper, onions with  American cheese’ both for $6.50 all come with toast and a side of choice.

Menu Options at the Salt n Pepper Diner

Tempting menu items include the “Buster Mambo Catch” which is a Grilled Sandwich filled with ‘beer battered and  golden fried cod fish served with Jamaican tartar sauce, avocado and shredded lettuce‘ or the “Pile High Club” stuffed with ‘layers of turkey, salami, cheddar and Swiss cheese with cucumber, avocado, lettuce and tomato served with a spicy ranch dressing on a ciabatta roll’ but to be honest that last option is already sounding overwhelming and I am thinking I will not be able to finish it.

Selected menu item

Even though I knew it would be no match to any Po’Boy in New Orleans, I was drawn into choosing the “Spicy Pork Po’Boy” for $8.50. I was willing to take a chance just because of the words ‘shredded braised pork shoulder’.

Spicy Pork Po BoyPo Boy sandwich

It was a pretty decent effort, NOLA has nothing to fear, but even so it was a good sandwich. There was a good spicy pile of shredded pork, plenty of melted cheese that had soaked into the crisp bread, and a fair amount of fries. On this occasion it worked for me and I would happily eat another one, although if I am honest I would probably have a Reuben or a Grilled Cheese next time. That is assuming I didn’t head down the egg and bacon route.

If you want a break from the Wrigleyville bar scene for just a moment then I think that you cant go too wrong with a brief sojourn at the Salt and Pepper Diner. It is only about 5 minutes walk away from the Addison Red Line CTA station and you can also get here on the Clark Street Bus as well pretty easily. It might be mobbed during the cubs games but other nights it is quite a relaxed place and affair. Try it out

Salt & Pepper on Urbanspoon

Genes Sausage Shop

Genes Sausage Shop is in the heart of Lincoln Square in easy walking distance of the Western El Stop on the Brown Line. When I first considered moving out of the burbs into the city I was told that Lincoln Square was a pretty good area to look for an apartment, so just after the snowpocalypse of 2011 I found myself riding up the brown line to the Western Stop to check the street out. It was a damn cold day and the snow drifts were blocking the crossings but as I walked through the square I saw for the first but not last time the cow above Genes Sausage Shop. I was in through the door and realised that this place had all my deli meat needs. It was probably that one moment of finding this place that brought me to live nearby for two years.

Genes Counter

Over at the deli counter, once you have maneuvered your way through the crowd to get a ticket, your eyes and senses are assaulted with a plethora of meats, cheeses, and assorted deli items. You need every ounce of resistance not to empty your wallet out onto the counter before opening your mouth like an expectant chick in the nest awaiting to be fed with morsels of sustenance. It does not help that most days there is a small selection of plates filled with little slices of sausage and meats to sample. Some days there are 4 or more choices and it is almost like deli tapas as you wait eagerly to be served.

Genes Sausage Shop MeatMeat at Genes

One of the best things about buying your deli meat at Genes is that you can see it all hanging behind the counter, links of smoked sauasages abound and there are huge slabs of cooked pork and the suchlike just sitting there waiting. Before I became accustomed to the joys of American slab bacon I used to buy Canadian Ham or bacon from the deli as a substitute for my missing English or Irish back bacon. After a while I learnt to love the US style and so turned my Gene’s attention onto their smoked sausages instead, but if I wanted the Candian style stuff well this was still the best place to come to.

They claim to sell over 40 varieties of sausage here at Genes and according to their website ‘three in-house European smokehouses burn a medley of natural woods to achieve color and flavor perfection for every variety.’ One of my favourites is the Alpine sausage which they often sell in cooked links with onions on the hot section of the deli. This variety is described as a ‘twist on a Polish kielbasa with a double dose of garlic and smoke time’.

Genes Pierogi

The deli counter at Genes and the coolers over in the produce section are filled with some of the best Pierogi I have found in the city. It is a quite dangerous situation, really you know that maybe 4 or 5 pieces are more than enough for one person, but somehow I always seemed to walk out with a couple of tubs that would last me a week (or rather should last me a week)

Genes Salads

I am not really a great one for buying lots of Salads, but I was often tempted by the bowls of pasta, rice, and potato salads that they sell at Genes. They are really fresh and I am sure that they are replaced pretty often mainly because they sell so fast that there is little time for them to sit there on the counter.

Genes Specials Pig

Apart from the great deli counter there are two other floors at Genes. The second floor houses a lot of speciality regional items and also a pretty decent selection of wines and international beers. If you take the elevator up to the roof during the warmer months you will find the rooftop garden café that is in a really nice open space. It only stays open when the weather is good so if it is raining don’t bother trying. They suggest that you should “Come together with your friends and family at our communal wooden tables or the skylight bar to enjoy the European atmosphere, cuisine, beers, and wines.” They have a good menu, highlights (for me) include the “Bratwurst Plate” which is a ‘Choice of two sides and choice of bratwurst: Gene’s homemade, traditional German, Chicago style, Sheboygan, mushroom Swiss, jalepeño, and apple’ and the “Pierogi ‘à la Carte’” a selection or choice of Pierogi stuffed withWild mushroom and sauerkraut, sweet cabbage, potato, sweet cheese, blueberry, and plum‘. They also have good sandwiches too filled with hams, cheeses and salads.

Yes looking back on that day I walked here in the snow I am kind of happy that I ventured out into the cold as since then this place has certainly warmed my heart and soul with good food.

This particular incarnation of Gene’s Sausage Shop is located at 4750 N. Lincoln Ave, walk up Lincoln Avenue North from the El Line and look out for the big cow attached to the front. There is another location at 5330 W. Belmont Ave, but I have not been to that one yet. You can follow Gene’s on Facebook and on Twitter.

Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen on Urbanspoon
Gene's Sausage Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon

Torta Sign

It is not always easy to find anything decent to eat at Chicago O’Hare airport, especially if you are flying from one of the smaller airlines on one of those tiny bare concourses that are bereft of any reasonable dining options. I was fearing the worst when I was flying back with British Airways and I found myself heading towards Terminal 5. This time though I was to be pleasantly surprised as they were renovating the terminal and one of the bright new features was a ‘Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless’ concession. I have had one of the Tortas at one of his other O Hare outlet before in Terminal 3 and it was one of the better offerings available, so I was really feeling quite hopeful.

Cazulas menu options

Just for once we found ourselves with a bit of time to kill so I was able to have a proper meal and not just a sandwich. I started to peruse the larger plate sections of the menu and my eyes alighted upon the Cazuelas described on the tagline as ‘slow-simmered Mexican casseroles served with grilled artisan bread’. Fair enough I am happy to give that a whirl.

Pork Tinga

I had the Chipotle Pork Tinga which was an inspired selection (even if I do say so myself). It was basically pork belly, chorizo and roasted potaoes in a thick smoky stew full of tomatoes and caramelized onions. It was quite a hearty meal and probably the best thing I have found at the airport for a while. It was topped with crumbled cheese and some neat slices of avocado. It also apparently had chipotle en adabo and some cilantro (coriander) too. It wasn’t that spicy, it was just about right for me, I wasn’t really looking for heartburn while sitting on the plane so I had kind of played it a little safe. I like the bread which was really needed to mop up the sauce. I could have probably done with a little more for my $12.39,  but I had no real complaints apart from more bread, and even that is just me being mildly gluttonous. I found a recipe for this dish by Rick Bayless in the Food and Wine magazine (Read more here) and it tickled my fancy so much that I might try and make this myself.

Green Chile Chicken

My companion had the Creamy Green Chile Chicken which was Roasted chicken, mixed with poblano rajas, roasted zucchini and spinach in a tomatillo sauce. I didn’t know what ‘poblano rajas’ was or were, but apparently this is Rick Bayless’s ‘combination of roasted poblano chile strips and sautéed onion flavored with garlic and herbs’. There is a recipe for them on his website in the Salsa and Condiments section (Check  it out here). The whole bowl was covered in a scattered pile of arugula (rocket) leaves. The server warned us in advance that the dish was quite spicy and it was, he was not exaggerating. To ease the dining experience he brought us extra sour cream which really did help. This was another good dish and was well worth the $11.99.

Tortas Sign

The good thing about finding Tortas Frontera in Terminal 5 by Gate M12 was that at least now I know there is something decent to look forwards to foodwise next time I choose to fly out from that terminal. This is one of three Tortas concessions at O’Hare International Airport, the others being located at Terminal : Gate B11, and Terminal : Gate K4.

Savory Spice Shop  Savoury Spice Shop Chalk Board

There are already a number of really good shops in Chicago on my list where you can go along in hunt of spice blends from all over the world so why not have another one? The recently opened  Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square is a very welcome addition. In the past I have often frequented the excellent Spice House in Old Town and Penzey’s Spice at Oak Park but they are both a bit of a trek on the train away from Ravenswood.  The Savory Spice shop is right in the midst of the shopping and eating strip of Lincoln Square on the other side of the road from Gene’s Sausage Shop.

BBQ section at Savory SpiceSavory Spice Shelf

On this trip I was in the hunt for Steak, and other BBQ rubs, as it happened I was to find myself in just the right place. The BBQ section of the shop was just inside the door and there was almost too large a selection to choose from. There is a sampler jar of each mix available so you can sniff, lick , and taste each combination before you buy. What I really needed was a handy grill and a slab of meat to test them out properly but I suppose that would really have been way too much to expect.

Red Rocks Hickory SmokeLongPeak RubRed Cloud Peak Seasoning

I walked away with a few jars of rubs which I figured I could use on a good variety of meats. As I said you could taste the rubs in the shop but after a while they all seemed to taste the same, so I just picked the ones that had really jumped out to me. First up was The Long Peak Pork Chop Spice blend was chosen to go on…well on a pork chop basically, on their website they describe it thus  “Long’s peak towers over the popular summer camping destination of Estes Park, where many a grilled or campfire cooked meal can be smelled from miles around.” Long Peak is one of the Twin Peaks and the description creates an evocative thought of barbequing in sight of two huge imposing Colorado mountains, fantastic stuff. But hey was the spice rub any good? The blend is crafted from “salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, shallot, ginger, hickory smoked salt, hickory smoked flavoring, regular mustard powder and crushed brown mustard seed.” It went pretty well on a pork chop, ended up being a little smoky treat that totally transformed a humble pork chop into something quite special.

Red Rock Spiced Rub

Next up was the Red Rocks Hickory Smoke Seasoning which I used liberally on a piece of rump steak that I just happened to have lying around the place. They tell us on the website that they “handcraft this blend from hickory smoke salt, Hungarian and California paprika, roasted garlic, toasted onion, black pepper, hickory smoke flavoring and Greek oregano.” Each bite of the grilled meat gave a real mouth watering experience, I found that adding a slab of butter onto the meat while grilling turned the level of luxury up a notch. It was a little bit spicy, but also tangy as well. I am a big fan of this spice rub.

The last rub which I bought has not been used in anger within the kitchen yet, this spice is the Red Cloud Peak Seasoning described as “one of our bolder blends that stands up to heavy flavored meats such as game. Try using it on venison, wild boar, ostrich, goose, duck or any dark red meats. We combine salt, hot chili powder, garlic, black pepper, Spanish and Hungarian paprika, onion, cayenne, Mexican oregano, Mediterranean Thyme and minced green onion to bring you this versatile blend.” I am looking forward to trying this one, I think I will have to pick up some venison to give it chance to shine on the grill top.

I only came here to find spice rubs, but they had a good selection of everything else you might need in their own words “our mission is to offer high-quality herbs, spices, and seasonings at a fair price in customer-friendly quantities” If you want to check it out for yourself it is pretty easy to get to on the Brown Line up to Western, then just walk across the car park to 4753 North Lincoln. Check them out on Facebook and Twitter as well as on the company website

Metropolis sign

The Metropolis Coffee Company café is located up in Edgewater close to the red line at the Granville Stop. I had two good reasons to visit them, firstly I had won some gift cards at the recent Chicago Blogger’s Meet-up at the Chopping Block, and secondly I had somehow failed to have alighted before at the Granville stop on a successful food hunting expedition. I suppose I should have said that I had come in search of a cup of coffee, but to be honest my coffee consumption only really extends to a milky latté, I am more of a tea man (well I am English!). To balance it all out those I brought a coffee loving companion with me to check it all out on the coffee front.

Metropolis Coffee

There was plenty of Coffee for sale, and I was almost drawn to buy a bag of the Redline Expresso purely due to the name and the picture of the El Train on the package.

It was described as being “a truly distinctive and rewarding blend. Its richness runs down the center like a racing stripe, leaving a trail of cocoa, honey, lavender, and a mild merlot-like fruit in the finish.”

As I said I am not a coffee expert or even a coffee amateur, but that does sound kind of good doesn’t it?

Coffee Urn latte at metropolis

Despite my leanings towards a cup of tea, I did feel that it would be rather inconsiderate if I didn’t partake of some of their coffee so I ordered myself a Latte. It had a pretty good taste, and even to my uneducated coffee palate I could surmise that it was made with some pretty decent coffee. If I am totally honest it was a bit strong for me, and I did sneak off part way through to add some more milk, sorry Metropolis guys, “It’s me! not you”. My companion enjoyed her coffee though and headed off to buy some to take home.

Breakfast Sandwich Options

I was very happy when we walked in to see that they had a few hot items on the menu and we had arrived early enough in the day to be able to select something off the Breakfast Chalkboard. This was a win win situation, new place to write about and breakfast as well, bonus.

English MuffinSliced English Muffin

I chose to have a griddled English muffin filled with scrambled eggs, southern ham, and cheddar cheese. It might sound quite simple but it was just what the doctor ordered for a late morning snack. For some reason it came with a green salad, and since it was just past 11am I considered that it was on the verge of brunchtime, so I did eat that as well. I didn’t think that it was bad value for $5, and for me a lot better than the sad breakfast sandwiches and muffins sold in many of the nations chain coffee houses.

The Metropolis Coffee Company Granville Avenue Café is located at 1039 West Granville Avenue just minutes away from the Granville Red Line CTA stop. You can follow them at Facebook and on Twitter or even read their blog page to keep up to date with all of their activities. It is a really nice café with free wifi, lots of freshly ground coffee, and even as I noted some tasty English Muffins with which to treat yourselves.

Metropolis Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Southport Cafe Southport Cafe outside

The Southport Grocery and Café is unsurprisingly on Southport Avenue and is about 10 minutes walk away from the Southport Brown line El Stop. It always seems to be very popular on the weekend, with the breakfast and brunch crowd. I have walked past many a time and not been able to spot a free table, but this time we were in luck so we jumped right in with eager anticipation.

trademark menu

This does not seem to be the sort of café where you are going to be getting egg and bacon with toast, the ‘Trademark’ menu options are a little more advanced and a bit fancier. You could have had egg and bacon if you ordered them as two side dishes, but I was going to play the game and pick one of the combinations suggested by the Southport Café team.

Brisket and Eggs

I ordered the Brisket & Gravy  which was a plate of ‘house-smoked brisket gravy on a homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with two fried eggs‘ for $11. It was a very runny gravy, which might sound to be a strange comment, but you know more often than not the gravy is kind of gooey and it sticks to everything include the inside of your stomach. This brisket gravy was more of a soup and I really would have been better off with a spoon. It did have a really good creamy texture and the chunks of smokey brisket floating about in the gravy were really good, to be honest I would have liked bigger pieces of brisket and less gravy. Somewhere inside there was the buttermilk biscuit, it just soaked up the sauce and was a bit soggy. The two eggs on top were sunny side up and were just about cooked, they were still quite soft. This was a really tasty dish though, and it would be perfect for some old granny who had lost her teeth as there is nothing to chew. I am glad that I tried this, but I wouldn’t have it again as it is, I think I would need a side of homestyle potatoes or toast to add some texture to the bite.

Hash at Southport Cafe

In hindsight and having seen my companions dish I wish I also had chosen to have the Hash for $9 with bacon for an extra $3. This was a great big bowl of ‘shredded potatoes, red onion, mushroom, peppers, white cheddar topped with scrambled eggs & chive-sour cream‘. It was more of my sort of dish, packed with lots of different textures, a whole lot of flavor, sweet pepper, salty bacon, creamy eggs, tart from the sour cream and lots and lots of perfect potato. On this day the best thing about this bowlful for me was its size, it was so big that my companion could not finish it all so I got to finish off the last few spoonfuls. This worked out perfectly as I dropped it onto the remnants of the gravy on my plate and (as suggested) this mopped up the rest of the gravy quite perfectly.

I am really glad that I got to try the Southport Grocery and Café,  If what you want is just the simple breakfast plate, then I think that it is not really the breakfast joint for you. If however you are looking for a slightly fancier brunch then this is going to be the place to go.

As well as the food, you can buy all sorts of jars, pastes, breads and pastries from the small grocery section alongside the counter. I bought a jar of bacon jam which is an excellent condiment for putting on the top of your burger or inside a sandwich. The Southport Grocery & Café is well worth paying a visit to, be warned it is very popular so be prepared to wait for a table or just get there early to stake your claim.

Southport Grocery & Cafe on Urbanspoon