On a recent trip to Australia, I developed a bit of cafe envy. Of all my travels across the globe, I have not been to a city where there were miles and miles of cafes. To make the cafe culture even more inviting, you are not rushed in and out like a herd of animals with huge appetites. You order your food. You sit and enjoy company or your very own version of a constitution. You relax. You understand the concept of community. Having experienced that kind of atmosphere abroad, I decided that I would seek out cafes in the Chicago and surrounding suburbs that has something of that same feel. The first cafe on my quest was Crisp, a Korean cafe located in Chicago’s Lakeview at 2940 N. Broadway Avenue.
Because Crisp is the kind of place where you place your order at the till and pay upon completion. Whatever it is your heart or stomach desires is then cooked. Nothing is basking under a heat lamp. Nothing is yanked from a microwave and warmed up to some frenzied version of perfection. Food comes hot from the stovetop or oven, fresh for your fancy, and tasty beyond what you may expect. The inside has three long picnic tables that you will find filled with hungry patrons snacking, smacking their lips, and wearing stupid smiles of rapture. And, yes, I was one of those with a wide smile. There are also barstools against a long mirror so that you can watch how much gravy you end up having on your upper lip, chin, cheeks, temples, or in your hair. Another set of barstools like the front window so that you can watch action-packed Lakeview go by outside. Needless to say, it is not a vast room filled with ambient decor and people looking like video vixens and oompa-loopa coloured gym boys.
For my order, I had two things that are not a part of my diet: sesame barbecue chicken wings and French fries. Well, Gino, that is nothing spectacular and it is not even Korean. Ha! Bit your tongue — but not like it is a well-prepared delicacy. The chicken wings were fried lightly and then basted with a mildly spicy barbecue sauce and then dipped in sesame seeds. That is very much a Korean style for serving up chicken. Many restaurants, eateries, and corner stores tout selling the best wings the side of the Mississippi River where the food shop is. Then you come to find out that they drown the wings in their special sauce and you are practically up to your wrists in sauce trying to fetch a wing to gobble. I will not get into having sauce splash down the front of your shirt after biting into the chicken wing and the chicken wings sometimes being so drenched that they slip out of your fingers onto the table or the floor. But Crisp got it right. Those five whole wings, two batches of fries, and acai berry water left me all but wanting to break out into song and dance.
Now, for those of you who are old enough to remember when McDonald’s French fries were all the rage, let me introduce you to a batch of those darlings courtesy Crisp. Fried just right, not oozing grease or flopping around like cooked noodles, and salted enough that someone with high blood pressure will not spike during a blood pressure check, these French fries are scrumptuous. The combination of the barbecue wings and the fries was nothing short of heaven. Considering I ordered another batch, I stand by the fact that they are now the best French fries this side of the Mississippi River.
Crisp certainly falls into the cafe category. When I had gone several times before my personal holiday in Australia, I thought of it as more fast-food than anything else. The atmosphere. The food. Being known by name — it is possible to become a regular at multiple restaurants in one of the largest cities in the world. The whole package. I may be well on my way to finding the cafe culture that Chicago has to offer. And I dreamed of going back ordering something else. Ah, dreams do come true.
07 October 2010
While wrapping up some loose ends at work, my Yahoo! instant messenger sounded off, prompting me that someone was sending me a message. It was one of my good friends letting me know that he was going to Crisp. My hunger said, “It is not like you have something more important going on, Gino, that you cannot make your way up to Lakeview and eat what you can eat — I mean see what you can see.” So I responded that I was finishing up an email note, grabbing my coat, scarf, and glove, and heading downstairs to catch the bus.
On this trip, I decided that I would be adventurous. All during Thanksgiving, I did incredibly well to fend off the want for meat. As much as people wanted to prepare my plates for me as though I was a little kid, I held my hand up to back them away, and I scooped vegetables galore on my plate. But tonight I wanted to step outside of my vegetarian comfort. I ordered the Seoul bowl — a rice bowl with seasoned steak and scallions.
My eyes rolled in the back of my head with each scoop. This was a rather large bowl of unfair happiness. Unfair? How? Well, it was unfair in that something so tasty has not known such love from a food addict as myself until I worked my chopsticks in wonder, sating my appetite and showing my full appreciation for something done to satisfaction. When all was said and done, I walked away with a colossal grin on my face and a destination thereafter: Paciugo for gelato. Where do I put it all? And I guess I should ask, “Where does it go before I burn it off running three miles every morning?” The yum factor from eating that bowl of goodness had my oink factor tilting.
28 December 2010