Gino and the Chocolate Factory, Katherine Anne Confections

Katherine Anne's ConfectionsWhen I moved to Chicago, Logan Square was not viewed as a favourable neighbourhood. With Wicker Park and Bucktown to the southeast becoming congested, Logan Square became the next sought after neighbourhood in Chicago’s Near Northwest area. Restaurants, boutiques, cafes, coffeehouses, and lounges are filling in the landscape. During my six years of living in Logan Square, it is undergoing a slow and seemingly well-planned renaissance. There are plenty options to partake of for those who have made Logan Square their home. Not far from my favourite Italian restaurant is an option that I have enjoyed by the name of Katherine Anne Confections at 2745 W. Armitage Avenue.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Turkey Bleu

For my first sit-down visit, I wanted to try something from the sandwich menu so that I had more than just the hot chocolate I had planned to order. Now, I am not a fan of sandwiches at coffee shops and sandwiches on the menu at chocolate shops are unheard of. The turkey bleu at Katherine Anne Confections changed my mind — at least for this shop. The bread was fresh and the ingredients were not simply heaped on. I was won over. And I was completely wowed with the Mexican hot chocolate. This was not Nestlé’s and by the nth sip, it was clear that it wasn’t Hershey’s either. There was not even a hint of a milk chocolate taste and the spice added to it made it evident that they must use dark chocolate instead.

Hazelnut Hot Chocolate with Chocolate Truffles Flight of Chocolate Truffles

My second visit was more in passing. I’d had a heavy lunch but wanted a little something extra before going home. So, I stopped in for a cup of hot chocolate and relaxation. Because the Mexican hot chocolate was a winner, I chose a cup of hazelnut chocolate with vanilla pepper marshmallows. Accented with chopped hazelnuts, having this option on the menu can result in long lines hanging outside of the shop during the chilly months. It is hard for me to say whether I loved the Mexican hot chocolate or the hazelnut hot chocolate more. And then there were four truffles for take-away. I told the cashier to pick four. I know one was hazelnut, one was raspberry, and one was a fire chocolate. As to the fourth, it was divine, if I can call that a flavour.

Those who work at Katherine Ann Confections are not only charming, but they are also outstanding with their delivery of service. If you are indecisive, they never rush you. If you appear to want recommendations, they offer them without being pushy. I have had coffee for take-away and each cup has been great. The sit-down experiences have been fantastic. For a neighbourhood haunt, this is a splendid chocolatier and you may feel like Charlie at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory once you sink your teeth into some of the delectable chocolate truffles or get a chocolate from any of the swell cups of hot chocolate. Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

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Cafe Versailles, Feeling Rather French

Cafe Versailles

One of my favourite restaurants in Chicago — Zebda — is owned and operated by some Algerians. Located in the Irving Park neighbourhood just off one of the many bizarre three-way intersections on the North Side, the restaurant teems with Algerians and North Africans. There is a constant feeling of being in someone’s home and the food is definitely a draw that keeps me returning. What I have also noticed in that Pulaski-Montrose-Elston area are several other cafes and restaurants that are owned and operated by Algerians. One of those cafes is Cafe Versailles at 4102 N. Pulaski Road, which is a few blocks south of the Pulaski-Montrose-Elston triangle.

Cafe Latte

Cafe Latte

While passing by it on my way from the Far North Side, I decided to stop in for a quick sampling. I had already had a nice lunch and only wanted a finale. I figured that a cup of coffee would suffice and with Cafe Versailles being a French cafe, I was certain that there would be crepes on the menu. Upon entering and a brief scan of the menu, there was serendipity. There were crepes for the craving. For a sit-down, I had a cup of cafe latte and a crepe filled with apples and drizzled with caramel. Noting the Bristot brand of coffee, it became evident why the flavour of my cafe latte was so robust and still required no sweetener. The apples were fresh, sliced, and not drowning in a sugary glaze, unlike what you get at many creperies that fill their dessert crepes with apples. The natural sweetness of the apples and the light drizzle of caramel did the trick.

Apple Caramel Crepe

Apple Caramel Crepe

Cafe Versailles has an atmosphere akin to what coffeehouses were before they were taken over by students and single mothers with children who would rather be at home playing rather than watching their mothers engaging girlfriend banter. Everyone is relaxed and the owners tend to be rather conversational. And nothing screams “truly authentic” like being able to watch the owners make the crepes within eyeshot. With the closing of Icosium Kafe, that did a fantastic job preparing savoury and sweet crepes, it is nice to find one that is closer to home for me. The menu has a nice selection of crepes that I think I shall sample over time, as well as salads and sandwiches made to order. A flight to Paris takes seven hours. A trip to Cafe Versailles takes probably fifteen minutes, at most. Guess which location I will visit this week.

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Snacking on Saturday

Finally a Saturday that was not botched due to rain and thunderstorms. Granted it was piping hot outside, the last thing I wanted to do was turn on my stove for any unnecessary reason. So I decided that I would enjoy outdoors via a bike ride. And then a brilliant idea came to mind — Snacking on Saturday. It was off to some restaurant or a series of restaurants for some street food. A whole day of food discovery without being fancy in attire for a formal sit-down meal would work perfectly for my chronic appetite.

Plain Hummus

I rode to the subway station and carried my bicycle on the train with me for the first pass. I wanted to return to Oak Park, Illinois, for a quick breakfast. Instead of waffles, scrambled eggs, grits — which I would take being set on fire before eating, bacon, and all the traditional American fare, I arrived at Oak Park and biked to Jerusalem Cafe, located at 1010 Lake Street. I had been to Jerusalem Cafe for lunch and for dinner, so there was a comfort stepping outside of my breakfast comfort and going with something as zany — to most — as some hummus. Plain and served with pita, this was just the pick-me-up that I needed to get started for the day. Usually hummus is doctored up to the point where the spices can be rather overpowering rather than complementary. Hummus all by itself is a splendid kick to the taste buds. With it being hot, I opted to have iced tea prepared Mediterranean style — with a hint of cardamom. Satisfaction, I say.

Tandoori Chicken Sandwich

I biked back to the train and caught it back into Chicago proper. Back at my Logan Square stop, I biked north into the Irving Park neighbourhood. In keeping with something from the Mediterranean/North African part of the world, Zebda was my next destination. I had made the trek up to 4344 N. Elston Avenue several months ago and was satisfied thoroughly. I had even ordered delivery since because they never fail to prepare something that has my appetite screaming, Yes! Yes! Yes! Instead of having a large lunch, I ordered a tandoori chicken sandwich. Succulent chicken, salad, all topped with a mint yogurt sauce made for a tasty treat of delightfulness. I sat at one of the two tables and engaged the cafe staff and a few passing Algerians about other Algerian eateries in Chicago — and outside of Chicago for those who have familiars in other parts of the world.

Red Velvet Whoopee Pie

Nothing came to mind for my next stop, so I had a leisure bike ride with no destination in mind. With the heat bearing down on me, I did have a notion to get some water to hydrate myself. I stopped at a non-descriptive coffee house and had two bottles of water and a red velvet cake whoopee pie. Since red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes are all the rage, there was no way that I was going to pass up on sampling the dessert that needed to be snatched from the dessert case and handled with care. I savoured that little bit of love and sat for a nice spell reading a novel on my Kindle while letting the water settle so that it would not feel like my belly had the ocean sloshing around in it.

Samosa with Spicy Chutney

By the time I had finished at the coffee house it was still relatively early. On my way home, I passed down a street with some Caribbean men and women working an inviting grill. True to my Caribbean roots, I pulled up and asked what they had. One item that was a winner was doubles — a sandwich of flatbread with curried chickpeas and topped with a tamarind chutney. As soon as the woman had said that they had doubles, I knew they were from Trinidad and Tobago. Common sense should have told me to go straight home without entertaining any more food, but they had doubles and I was doubled over on my bicycle for the rest of the ride home. I was a happy man, but filled to capacity.

Coconut Shrimp  with Spicy Plum Sauce

I spent a few hours at home relaxing as the temperatures seemed to drop slightly enough to eliminate the feeling of baking. Dinner was on my mind, but I wanted to keep in line with having street food versus the ubiquitous table meal. Two spots came to mind. One was a certain hole-in-the-wall called Rajun cajun. I had been there numerous times. 1459 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park was a regular spot for me and the first leg of my eating pleasure this evening. Instead of biking, I rode the subway into the city and then transferred to the express bus to go into Hyde Park. At Rajun Cajun I ordered a half dozen samosas with spicy chutney. There was no need for me to stuff myself senselessly, so I had one samosa while catching up with the owner, his wife, and his brother in-law.

Thai Custard

Not to borrow trouble, I settled on one final restaurant for snacks after I left Rajun Cajun. Thai 55 at 1607 E. 57th Street was it. One of my great friends is the owner and we had not had the opportunity, as of late, to catch up and discuss culture, politics, religion, and path forwards. Considering he is the only person I can discuss the first three topics without arguments or debates, it was a must that I pay him a visit. Much to my surprise, his brother and his sister in-law were there instead, having come from Barberry Thai on the North Side. I had coconut shrimp with a spicy plum sauce and Thai custard. Love. Love. Love. I shall have to catch up with my friend before he returns to Thailand permanently. Then again, I am one to board a plane to any international destination with appeal.

Overall, my little excursion in having snack food only was rather fun and exciting. I need to figure out where I should set the threshold to tell myself stop because having a food addiction seems to override common sense and then I experience misery from over-indulgence. The pain is only temporary and I relish in it after all is said and done. And because I had so much enjoyment on this pass, I shall have to plan another Saturday of snacking. But I think I shall have to take the bus to a neighbourhood and go about a scavenger hunt for edible street food. I simply cannot entertain Biking-for-Bites every Saturday. Haha.

Thai 55th  Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Algerian, Zebda

Zebda

It was a Saturday afternoon in Chicago and the temperatures had warmed up enough that going outside was mandatory — for the following day would come and the temperature would be frosty or the weather would be bleak and rainy. With such great weather to enjoy, what better way to round out a fantastic afternoon than to add a little spice. A little North African spice was perfect. After a break from going to various ethnic eateries in Chicago due to being abroad on personal holiday, I was looking forward to putting my feet under some table and getting fed. Destination: Zebda.

Harrira

Harrira

Located at 4344 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighbourhood, Zebda looks like a minimalist deli that has nothing to offer except for an empty store-front. But looks can be surprising, as cliché as that sounds. I had ordered from Zebda before on GrubHub.com, so I knew that what was on the menu was a very small sample of what was on the entire bill of fare. The owner, who was a jolly yet reserved guy, greeted me a bit stiffly until I let some French slip during my greeting — proper French, not cuss words — and then it was on.

Zebda is primarily in the business for take-away orders and for delivery. There are only two tables in the deli, but that was okay. There was a true hole-in-the-wall feel to the place as a result of the limited seating. So it was off to one of the tables for business. I had ordered a harrira, which is a traditional soup that Moroccans and those influenced by Moroccan cuisine partake. The first time I ever had harrira was courtesy a friend’s sister when I was in Morocco many years ago. I had fallen in love with the soup then and, of course, have tasted a fair share of attempts from restaurants at it. Then I have some at Zebda and I am addicted fully. I was absolutely pleased after the first sip when it was apparent that the cook had not held back on the spices. I loved it, absolutely loved it.

Couscous Crusted Salmon

Couscous Crusted Salmon

Instead of rushing my main dish out after seeing that I had only finished half of the bowl of soup, the owner had conversation with me instead. He told me about how the deli has been in business for a few years and how they are accommodating the palates of those from Morocco, Algeria, the whole of the Mediterranean, and North Africans who have lived in France. Noticing the passing faces and the languages spoken in the area where the restaurant is, it was clear to see that there is a heavy concentration of North Africans in the Old Irving Park area, not along Broadway where there is a solid concentration of Western and Eastern Africans. The owner went on to give me the meaning behind the word zebda and how it is used among Algerians in France as a term of endearment. Sweet, I thought to myself, nothing like going into an establishment to spend your money and you get treatment like you are family. I loved it and coupled with the fact that the soup was a bowl of heaven, the ease of interaction with which the owner had with me made my decision to return that much easier for me.

But the catalyst that sealed my decision to go back to Zebda was the entrée that I had ordered. As I had mentioned earlier, I had ordered from Zebda on GrubHub.com, which meant I had an awareness that I was going to have something way past delicious delivered to my table. I was not prepared to be wowed the way that I was. Couscous crusted salmon served over julienne carrots and zucchini. After the first bite, I could have taken off running down the street with a stupid smile on my face for no reason other than I had tasted something so addictive that I can now put a physical description on the word addictive. There are restaurants that under-cook salmon until it is practically sushi with a quick flame set to it and there are some restaurants that cook salmon until you know it is indeed dead. Then you have Zebda who cooks the salmon enough that it has a crust but it is still tender, flaky, and juicy. Add to that julienne carrots and zucchini that have been flavoured just right and not such that you will need blood pressure medicine or an up in your current blood pressure medication. When the owner asked me if the food was okay, he had this smirk on his face as though he knew he had me by the nose after the second bite. I smiled and nodded my head to acknowledge my satisfaction. The owner responded with a wider smile and, ‘Thank you.”

After Meal Tea

After Meal Tea

When I finished the entree and sat for a while, the owner approached and offered me tea — on the house. More and more I am finding that it is not just me clicking away with any one of my high-end cameras that gets me something extra or an item coming up missing on my final tab. It has to be me engaging the owners and/or staff in conversation as well as enjoying the food and their service. A limitless palate and an open mind are necessary ingredients for a recipe in top customer satisfaction. But back to the tea. The tea was peppermint tea served with the mint leaves in it. And having a familiarity with North African culture, mint tea is not just merely for drinking, but it is a symbol of hospitality and tradition. Small things like the offering of tea makes my visits to restaurants and eateries like Zebda worth the trips. Even my British sentiments, that which loves tea, enjoyed every sip.

Zebda has a fantastic menu and for those whose palates delight in tastes from North Africa and the Mediterranean, you will find great pleasure in partaking in the wonders of Zebda’s kitchen. The brick and mortar establishment is small and it really does have only two tables — three chairs — so going with a large party is not an option. The service was top, the price was a sure invitation back, and the food was super. For those of you who are vegetarian, North African food will hit the spot. Let Zebda take care of that for you.

9 April 2011

Zebda on Urbanspoon

Icosium Kafe, All About Algeria

Icosium Kafe

Sweet Potato Puree

Sweet Potato Puree

When I was in undergraduate school and in graduate school, I always hung out with the foreigners, much to the chagrin of many in my class. I got invitations to dinner and believe me when I say that my classmates knew how to get down with the get-down in the kitchen. I got to travel to the Caribbean, to Africa, to India, and to the Middle East when they went home, many thanks to their invitations. I should clarify that being of Caribbean and African stock, my fellow Caribbean and African classmates were not foreign to me the way the Indians, Arabs, Iranians, Iraqis, and other Middle Eastern were. And while I did my share of travelling to Africa with my fellow classmates, I never got a chance to go to Algeria. Well, I got a chance to compensate for that loss with a wonderful visit to an Algerian restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Jamming with Jam

Jamming with Jam

For some Algerian delicacies, we went to Icosium Kafe at 5200 N. Clark Street in the midst of usual Friday evening chaos on the block where everything is constantly in motion and parking is at a premium. Tucked away in what looks like a little corner, Icosium Kafe is a small restaurant and coffee-house that specializes in crepes. Oh happy day. Seven of us met to partake of the menu of crepes, to interject our usual brand of humour, and to see if it was possible to walk a straight line after so much belly stuffing. And par for the course, we accomplished to do all that. As mentioned, Icosium Kafe is small and intimate, but it is also loaded with atmosphere. We seven — ranging from Jewish, to Mennonite, to Serbian, to Colombian, to Polish, to Caribbean — felt right at home squeezed into our little spot and up to our usual antics.

Crepe Aziz

Crepe Aziz

To get things started, we began with a round of rooibus tea, which is a red tea based out of South Africa around Western Cape. Goes to show that there is apparently a lot of love in Africa such that Northern Africans can appreciate the sweet, nutty taste of rooibus tea that they would include it on their menus. It was a nice touch, if I may say so. We also had cups of sweet potato purée soup. If I had disposable income, I’d be on an airplane to Algeria, typing this journal up from an altitude of 35,000 feet, so that I could indulge in eating that soup. If I had a few slices of pumpkin bread to go along with it, I would have been in heaven. It was the kind of soup that was so delicious that if someone were to serve it up to you, you’d probably make all sorts of promises that you’d eventually break without compunction. Wait a minute. I don’t have to go to Algeria for more of the soup. I can simply go back to Icosium Kafe. Cue sad trombone.

When it came down to the main meal, we placed our fair share orders of savoury crepes that we could all share family style. There was no need in being individualistic with such good food and because we operate in the mode of being a community, sharing is what it’s all about. We ended up feasting on the following:

  • Cheka Chouka Crepe — crepe filled with goat cheese, arugula, caramelized onions, fresh Roma tomatoes, pine nuts, roasted garlic, and baby spinach
  • Crepe De Roma — crepe filled with capers, baby mozzarella cheese, fresh roma tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, fresh basil, baby spinach, and lamb sausage
  • Crepe De Paris — crepe filled with green applies, escargot, roasted garlic, and brie
  • Chicago Crepe — crepe filled with avocados, Muenster cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, fresh cilantro, scallions, organic mixed greens, and chicken
  • Carthage Crepe — crepe filled with scallions, feta cheese, fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, and organic mixed greens
  • Greek Crepe — crepe filled with cured olives, feta cheese, fresh Roma tomatoes, toasted almonds, fresh cilantro, roasted garlic, baby spinach, and salmon
Chicago Crepe

Chicago Crepe

If I had to give a definition of satisfaction, getting our fill of the crepes would be it. Some may differ, but I would have to recommend that they go to Icosium Kafe and discover the true meaning of the word. After a moment of letting the food go down, cracking up on work, trying to get one of the foodies to become a stand-up comedian, and breaking down the real meaning of enjoying ice cream, we were ready for dessert.

The desserts were, of course, stuffed crepes with all sorts of yummy goodies for the tummies. And because you’re hankering to know what all we had, I shall indulge you with a description of the greatness that we ate with all the rapture of individuals taking full advantage of life.

  • Bananas and Nutella — crepe filled with bananas and melted nutella, which is a hazelnut paste
  • Crepe Aziz — crepe filled with fresh strawberries, kiwi, and nutella
  • Crepe D’Amour — crepe stuffed full of fresh raspberries with dark chocolate
  • Crepe Buena — crepe with fresh mango, ginger chutney, sunflower seeds, and raisins
  • Crepe De Limone — crepe with fresh lemon juice, white sugar, and lemon zest
  • Jamming with Jam Crepes — crepe filled with fresh raspberry, apricot, strawberry, orange marmalade, and lingonberry
Crepe D'Amour

Crepe D’Amour

Along with the dessert crepes, we had ice cream. Hmmmm. Naughty-naughty. Our crepes came with a dollop of chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, green tea sherbet, strawberry, and rainbow. Well, I can say that I appreciate ice cream, especially after having it served up with such appetizing crepes. And we had this production line activity going, taking a bite of a crepe and passing the plate clockwise to the next person. All while we were doing this, we kept singing

Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side
Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side
It a gonna burn, give me music make me jump and prance
It a go done, give me the music make me rock in the dance

You know the food has to be good when you’re singing at the dining table.

Bananas and Nutella

Bananas and Nutella

And so our success continues. Icosium Kafe was definitely a gem of a restaurant and the food was absolutely outstanding. If I had to change anything, it would be into a pair of pants with an elastic waistband. The food isn’t necessarily pricey, but if you eat the way we foodies eat, it may bring about a wince when the bill comes. Yet again, this is one of those restaurants where you go with a group of friends for the real experience. While it may be small and intimate, it’s still not intimate where you can sit in the corner licking your date’s fingers. If you find yourself doing that, may I recommend ice cream until you get home?

Icosium Kafé on Urbanspoon

 Icosium Kafe LTD on Foodio54