Hometown Eats Part 3: A Chicago Culinary Tour
Always hungry for more in the Windy City, rachaelray.com contributing writer Andrew Kaplan made a quick trip to Chicago from New York.
There’s never enough time to eat in Chicago, especially when you have family dinners and birthday parties planned in advance. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good home-cooked meal and family is my number one priority, but I always try and find time for at least one or two bites out to eat.
I arrived in Chicago by train and my brother picked me up at the station. As he zig-zagged his way through the Chicago city streets, passing by each and every restaurant I guessed that we were going to stop at, he decided he would surprise me. A few zigs and zags later, we pulled into a little strip mall (a rarity in Chicago) and walked into Isla Pilipina. Isla Pilipina is a Filipino restaurant owned by a young couple. I’m a fan of Filipino food; a good friend of mine in culinary school was from Manila and she taught me the ins and outs of some of their staple dishes.
To start, we ordered the Lumpia Shanghai, mini egg rolls filled with pork and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. For our entrées, we ordered one of the most popular dishes from the Philippines, Adobo. Our adobo was the Mixed Adobo and was served with pork and chicken. Adobo is a stewed dish, meaning the meats are cooked for a long time until they are nice and tender. Other ingredients in the dish include soy sauce, white vinegar, black peppercorn and bay leaf. These are flavors I could not imagine going well together, but this dish was fantastic. We also ordered the Crispy Chicken. This was their version of fried chicken, but when they say crispy, they mean crispy. It was seasoned to perfection and cut into small pieces, left on the bone and fried to a golden brown and crunchy goodness. The crunch lasted the entire car ride home and, believe it or not, even the leftovers in the fridge held their crunch the next day. As a little side, we ordered the Shanghai Fried Rice, which was served with bits of shrimp, pork and eggs – your basic fried rice, seasoned up a bit.
Whenever I ever have the opportunity to introduce new food to people, I take that opportunity. At Isla Pilipina, my brother and I enjoyed eating one of the most underrated cuisines, and I was able to share that experience with him and introduce him to the flavors of the Philippines. Now that’s what I call a delicious surprise!
(Isla Pilipina, 2501 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, IL, 773-271-2988, www.islapilipina.com)
A couple days later, I found time to go back to a hot dog stand that I had visited last time around. To clarify, you may call them “restaurants,” but in Chicago we call our casual hot dog places “stands.” My first time at the new Wolfy’s location I got through a good portion of the menu. I was dying to write about it, but I didn’t because I knew I would be back for more. The original Wolfy’s is located on Peterson Avenue and, as you may recall, I visited there on a past trip to Chicago. I was happy to learn that the owner of the original Wolfy’s and a new partner got together to open what I think is one of the best hot dog stands in the suburbs of Chicago, and it’s been getting a lot of buzz lately. It’s located in Northbrook, about 20 minutes north of the city, and is worth the trek.
You’ll find Wolfy’s in a strip mall. It’s an unpretentious and casual place, but the experience is special. The gentlemen behind the counter are friendly and will remember your name. The menu is basic, but has a few standout items. Of course they carry the classics like a Chicago-style Vienna hot dog, as well as Polish sausages, but their Polish sausage is unique. It’s cooked in the same way that the original Wolfy’s has been cooking their sausages for over 30 years. They place it on a flat grill and then char it to perfection to give it a nice crispness. They also have burgers. Their burgers are no ordinary burgers, though. They’re made from brisket and freshly ground chuck from the local butcher – fresh, never frozen – and melt in your mouth. To top it all off, they have a Midwest favorite, Merkt’s cheese spread to slather on top. Now, I could also go on and on about their Gyro Sandwich or the Homemade Italian Beef, but I’ll just stop at their Grilled Salami Sandwich. This sandwich is made with two quarter-inch slabs of salami cooked on a char grill, then placed on freshly baked French-style bread with your choice of mustard or barbecue sauce and grilled onions. I’ll tell you this, while I’m no salami fan, this sandwich turned me into one. The crisp, golden brown fries dipped in Merkt’s cheese spread and their tasty onion rings aren’t too shabby either.
All of the reviews truly live up to the hype. They’re doing something right over there. It must be something in the milkshake. I mean…the water.
(Wolfy’s, 873 Sanders Road, Northbrook, IL, 847-272-1177)