I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We're Just Ordinary People: Part 7, Shack, Rattle, and Roll

Stumbling through Chicago's culinary jungle can be daunting. So much finery, so much posturing, so much short rib. Sometimes we bushwhackers of the gastro-underbrush just want to put down our machete-like cutlery and unwind with a six pack, some kimchi, and a few trusty comrades.

It is in this spirit that we discuss Belly Shack. This second creation from Billy Kim is similar to its older brother Urban Belly in that it's BYOB and focuses on Asian (mostly Korean) inspired dishes in a casual setting. The setting is more fast food than communal dining. More industrial than cozy and warm. You can order every item on the menu and pay with a c-note and some coins (you should tip though, so maybe a Hamilton or two should be tossed in). There's little pageantry and most of the emphasis is placed in the taste rather than the presentation. Dig in!


–Korean Dog–
The hot dog itself is straight Chicago-street-food. My best guess is Vienna Beef or their rival Red Hot Chicago are the makers of the sausage. The ramen noodles are crunchy and provide the textural contrast that I'm always hunting for. Like any good Korean dish there was kimchi and it was good and spicy and sweet. If you crave more flavor then its only a dip away thanks to the spicy asian mustard that's served on the side. 

–Korean BBQ Beef–
If there was a disappointment in the meal it was this dish. The parts– wildly gamey beef, tangy kimchi, fluffy and agrarian pita bread– were wonderful but when put together worked about as well as Zeus worked with the other gods on Mount Olympus (if you thought I was above classical mythology similes then you were wrong). In this case the beef is Zeus, as usual.

–Asian Pork Meatball Sandwich–
I tried and tried to take a pretty picture of this sandwich because it tasted pretty. But I failed miserably. It's ugly. It looks like someone pulled a sea monster out of the depths, cut its head off and served it to you as a sandwich. Glad I got that out of the way. The bread was beautifully crafted and served as a great vehicle for the slightly sweet meatballs and the surprisingly cold but awesome somen noodles and mint. So don't let your deep set visual prejudices get the better of you and try this sandwich.

–Brussels Sprouts and Chrorizo–
If I made a list of the best things I ate this year this would be on there. This is a one stop shop for your daily dose of brussels sprouts and Chorizo. A beautiful mess is the best way to sum up this winner of a side. Eating this harmonic cacophony of spice, meaty robustness and stout vegetal notes made me angry that Bill Kim hasn't won a James Beard award yet.

–Quinoa Ssam Salad–
The girl behind the counter told us these were a version of lettuce wrap where, I'm guessing, quinoa and portobello take the place of whatever mystery-meat filling is usually used for lettuce wraps. Job well done. Flavors included tang (from the kimchi), smoky sweetness (from the portobello) and hearty grain notes (from the quinoa, and maybe the beer that we were drinking).

Brass Tacks
"Talk about bang for your buck" or "Who knew that fast food could be so gourmet?!" That's what they want me to write. You know it. I know it. Well fuck them, I write from my heart and shoot from my hip here. The food was first rate and the atmosphere, though at times cold and industrial, was made pleasant by all the esprit de corps that filled the kimchi-scented air. The next time you're on the blueline headed to O'Hare and you get a bit famished, take a pit stop at Western and say hi to Belly Shack.

Belly Shack on Urbanspoon
Belly Shack

We're Just Ordinary People: Part 6, I Be-dee I Be-dee I Be-dee...Brunch

Brunch is a spellbinding attraction for many. That lazy-ass meal idly wavering between breakfast and lunch that only comes out to play on the weekends. Now-a-days Brunch has become so ubiquitous that restaurants have to separate themselves from the rest of the french toast and omlette crowd somehow...someway.

At Old Town Social the effort comes in the form of a southern twist. The brunch menu is peppered with southern specialties like biscuits, grits, and greens we don't usually eat up here in yankee country. Was this enough to get me out of bed? Maybe. Was it close enough to my house to overcome my day-off-lazyness? Yes!

–shrimp & grits–
Misconceptions abound about shrimp and grits but I'm not familiar with them so we'll move on. Essentially this classic southern combination is a culinary enigma that is both hard to mess up and difficult to get just right. David Garbuz, the man responsible for ordering this, went against one of my cardinal rules and modified this dish by adding bacon to it. Despite my initial fury this turned out to be a stroke of genius (who knew adding another pork product to a gravy that already included Tasso ham would be appropriate). The best and most concise description of this plate is that it's the best hangover food I've ever come across.

–BLT Eggs Benedict–
My counterpart who ordered this and was way too enthusiastic about the blog wanted me to write that it was a hearty and wonderful departure from the traditional bullshit that they call benedict. So I did. Just now. A seductive and refreshingly tempered roasted tomato hollandaise sauce was the highlight of the dish for me. 

–grilled sausage and waffles–
At ten in the morning on a saturday food like this makes my knees quake. There's house-smoked sausage on top of the waffle. There's bacon inside the waffle. I'll repeat. There's bacon inside the waffle. I didn't touch the syrup that came with the dish. I completely forgot about it. So there you go.

–charcuterie board a.k.a. A Plate of Meat–
One of the most interesting aspects of Old Town Social is that they cure their meat in house. To leave without trying some of them would have been an injustice. So here's to the meat:
Rillette- The richness of this dish was understated and the coupling with giardiniera was very nice.
Pastrami- I like pastrami in the same way most people like sunshine. It brightens my day. Too much of it can hurt me, but in general it's a good thing. OTS' pastrami was delicate and mild and tasty...and good. I like pastrami.
Pepperone- Not to be confused with its cousin Pepperoni, or is it? It's earthy, unhinged flavor was highlighted by a pop of paprika right in the middle. 
Chorizo- A misunderstood meat, Chorizo is often eaten in the cheapest and most over-spiced iterations available. This version downplayed the heat and emphasized the dried chili peppers and slightly herbal flavors that usually get drowned out. 
Summer Sausage- When in Rome do as the Romans do. When in summer, eat summer sausage. And we did. It was garlicky, aromatic and tender in a way that other sausages would be jealous of. 

There are no drink specials at OTS but the fact that they offer a sazerac as one their three cocktail options is special.
Mimosa- Pulpy and fresh this largely simple drink didn't wow me but when was the last time a mimosa wowed you?
Bloody Mary- The ridiculous garnish of cured meat, cheese and okra was the highlight of this drink. It lacked the heat one usually associates with the Bloody Mary.
Sazerac- This is not a morning cocktail in the way that the above drinks are. It's a complex cocktail that intertwines the flavors absinthe, Peychaud's bitters, and, most importantly, Rye whiskey. It's very good.

Brass Tacks
Brunch is rarely spectacular and Old Town Social doesn't do much to change that. It was fun and the food was good. I would be lying if I said that me and my comrades weren't fighting off the demons we called up the night before. So, then, we were blessed (rather than cursed) with a bevy of salt, meat and a touch more alcohol. This is brunch's primary function: to bring together people to reminisce, heal and eat unhealthy food slowly. In this capacity Old Town Social was a great host.

Old Town Social on Urbanspoon
Old Town Social