Mad Boiler, Mad Delicious

Mad Boiler

Earlier this month, while in West Loop for a concert at a nearby venue, I walked by a Cajun seafood boil boutique. Having experienced the delight at a few other seafood boil boutiques and restaurants, I was anxious to return the West Loop location at 1045 W. Madison Street, by the name of a Mad Boiler.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

For an early Sunday afternoon, the restaurant was empty. Given the city was being blanketed with snow, many who would have been out and about perhaps stayed inside. Unlike them, snow and frosty temperatures don’t deter me.

Cajun Fries

Cajun Fries

I started with a cup of clam chowder. Having had cups and bowls of watery clam chowder, I was well past elated when the chowder at Mad Boiler arrived with a truly creamy base. Even with there being some bell peepers in the recipe,  it was still the best.

For my main feast, I ordered a pound of shrimp and a pound of crawfish in a combination sauce of Louisiana Cajun rub and garlic butter. Served in a bag, the shellfish was also accompanied with corn on the cob and andouille sausage. As if that was not enough, I had Cajun fries and a small loaf of bread, the latter for sopping.

I fell in love with the seafood boil concept here in Chicago in early spring, so I was thoroughly excited when everything I had at Mad Boiler was a winner. The shrimps were plump, the crawfish were fresh, the corn was sweet, the sausage was tasty, and the sauce was out of this world.

Crawfish, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

Crawfish, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

Mad Boiler gets plenty business through the week and I’m certain it draws a crowd on the weekends during the evenings. The service is absolutely top. The prices per quantity ratio is reasonable, especially if you have an extreme appetite and order a lot. There are other soups, sandwiches, and seafood offerings for your delight. I recommend going, donning the bib and gloves, and being quite okay devouring seafood from a bag. You will eat enough that it may drive you mad.

Mad Boiler Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saigon Bistro, The Blog Post from Heaven

One of the great things about social media is that you interact with a lot of people whom you would probably never cross paths with. Since I have been posting photos to Instagram, I have gained quite a few followers and many who I follow in return. Recently I started seeing photos of crawfish piled high with corn on the cob. One of the main Instagram posters is Saigon Bistro and when I say that the photos had this hypnotic effect that kept begging me to go to the restaurant, I caved in. Off to 6242 N. California Avenue in West Ridge I went.

Saigon Bistro

My belly was empty, so I had a ravenous appetite. And because I met with a friend, there were no qualms about ordering plenty of food. We started with an appetizer combo platter. The coconut butterfly shrimp were huge, plump, juicy, and burst with each bite. The coco chicken was the same. There were miniature bacon wrapped scallops and miniature egg rolls. What was the absolute best on the platter were the crab rangoons. There was real crab in the rangoons. It was evident in the flavour. These rangoons were not merely oozing with cream cheese but attacking the taste buds with the outstanding taste of actual crab. This was a first that I’ve had at any restaurant in America.

Appetizer Combo

Appetizer Combo

The first big plate of food was king crab. We called this an item from their underground menu because it was not on the main menu. But because we asked kindly if they had any, the chef accommodated our request. And we showed our appreciation by working the cracker on the shells, plucking out tender morsels of crab, and devouring it. Topped with peppers and seasoned with only salt and pepper, I may be going out on a limb when I say this, but of all the seafood restaurants I’ve been to in Chicago, these were the best crab legs I have had.

King Crab

King Crab

Now, having seen so many photos of crawfish and lobster on Instagram, I showed the server a photo of a dish of crawfish and told her, “That’s what we want.” There was no looking at the menu, trying to decide what else, or indecisiveness. We ordered two pounds of crawfish spicy that came with corn on the cob and andouille sausage. Last time I had crawfish this appetizing was when I was in New Orleans. The chefs and cooks in New Orleans have competition from the Vietnamese chef at Saigon Bistro. Those who love shellfish will immediately become addicts for the crawfish with corn.

Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil

Given we had worked ourselves into a snail’s pace, we sat for a while to let our stomachs settle and to fight sleep. After some time had passed, we ordered a platter of tamarind shrimp. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and fleshy like prawns. They popped as we sank our teeth in them. The tamarind sauce was a perfect complement to the shrimp without being overpowering or sweet. After two filling pieces of shrimp apiece, we got the rest for takeaway.

Tamarind Shrimp

Tamarind Shrimp

Saigon Bistro is tucked away on California Avenue between Peterson Avenue and Devon Street. Although it is not in an area with lots of foot traffic, its presence is known by many. Service is superb. One thing that was obvious was that the server was patient with explaining options and offering suggestions. For all of the food that we had, I was surprised that the price was not exorbitant. The freshness of the ingredients and especially the crawfish boil transporting me to New Orleans mentally, I am a fan, for true.

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New Orleans Comes to Chicago

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop

One thing I have discovered about Facebook is that it can be a dangerous tool, especially to those of us who have constant appetites. For example, I was reading some comments on a friend’s wall and I saw a photo of a huge pot of what looked like gumbo. Well, I clicked on the photo and – lo and behold – when it opened to a larger photo, it was indeed a pot of gumbo. Needless to say, my food alarm went off and I was in a bit of a frenzy. Mind you, it was only a few hours past lunch and the photo had thrown me in a fit of hunger. This is what a food addiction has come to for me: anticipating 5:00 PM so that I can address my hankering.

With my thoughts fixated on gumbo and me having a lengthy weak moment, I knew where I could go to satisfy my craving. It was not necessarily ethnic food from the standpoint of ethnically non-American. I could make an exception for some New Orleans Cajun cooking. Hey, if I’m going to indulge some good American ethnic food, it will be worthy of the trip to get to a restaurant or cafe that represents the best Southern style cooking to be found. So, at 5:00 PM, I was off to Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop at 825 Church Street in Evanston, Illinois.

Johnny Cakes

Johnny Cakes

I got a seat outside so that I could enjoy the nice weather and listen to a band that was playing a few blocks away at an outside plaza. Having been to the Chicago Hyde Park location before it had closed, I had an idea of what I wanted. The server had a look of awe as I rattled off what I wanted. I started with complimentary Johnny cakes. Think small pancakes without syrup. There was a dollop of honey butter that came with the cakes and that was all I needed to be transported back South.

Then I had fried green tomatoes that came with shredded lettuce and chives. As a child, my grandmother used to fry green tomatoes. We would dash some hot sauce on those bad boys, sit back, and have a real go of. I did the same with the fried green tomatoes from Dixie Kitchen. I will admit that adding the “salad” to the fried green tomatoes struck me as a bit of a “trying to be exotic” addition because fried green tomatoes can hold their own without extra accessories. I ate it all to completion anyway.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

The second course was a plate of crawfish and corn fritters prepared hush-puppy style, and served with a jalapeño jelly. The fritters looked like beignets and I bet that is what they were – filled with crawfish and corn. That was fine, though, as I found them to be well worth the sampling. The fritters are not stuffed to capacity with crawfish and corn, so be forewarned. There is a fair amount of each ingredient in each fritter but you do not get a well-formed ball of crawfish and corn and a coating of crust that holds it all in place. Served with the jelly, it made for a combination that I think comes across as a perfect snack.

Crawfish and Corn Fritters

Crawfish and Corn Fritters

And then came the reason that I had made Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop my after-work destination. I had a cup of their gumbo. May we have a moment of silence? (Pause) I never know what to do with myself when I get a spoonful of Dixie Kitchen gumbo into my tummy. The gumbo at Dixie Kitchen is not prepared with a roux base the way it is in New Orleans, but it is prepared with a gravy base. The gravy may have its origins in a roux base so I shall concede a little. That’s fine because it tastes delicious just the same. The cup of gumbo burst with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage over rice. Although I had long since taken pork out of my diet, there are some concessions that I will make all in the name of enjoying good food. I did not request to have the gumbo without the sausage. I wanted the full experience, as I have always enjoyed. I was satisfied.

Cup of Gumbo

Cup of Gumbo

But I still had a little more room for something else. I had resigned myself to the notion that I was not going to indulge any dessert, so I ordered some étouffée. Unlike the appetizer size portions for the previously mentioned items, the étouffée was a full entrée That meant I had decided to eat an appetizer amount and get the rest for take-away. Again, there wasn’t the full New Orleans experience, but I am in Chicago. There are allowances. The étouffée was prepared with a roux base and full of crawfish, shrimp, onions, celery, and peppers. The flavour was there, not the spicy kick, though. It wasn’t until I stirred up the rice and the gravy more that there was a bit more seasoning to the dish than initially. Needless to say, I enjoyed the dining experience on location and had enough to take home for later food bliss.

Crawfish Etouffee

Crawfish Etouffee

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop has that shack-on-the-bayou look about it. The Evanston location doesn’t present that look and feel as much as the location that used to reside in Chicago’s Hyde Park use to display. There may be some New Orleans traditional jazz or Zydeco music playing in the background. There are always filled bellies and chomping jaws on site. It may be that you’ll get fired if you have a nasty attitude because the service is always great. As far back as 1995, the quality of food, serve, and price has been consistently good. The food may not be exactly what you get when you go to New Orleans, but for a location so far removed from the South, it still keeps those like me who have been to New Orleans coming back. Comparing any other food to New Orleans cuisine is unfair because food in Southern Louisiana really explodes with a bloom that no one outside of New Orleans and the backwater sections of Louisiana can reproduce. In the meantime, I have made a mental note to myself to not click on any more thumbnail photos that look anything like it could be gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, or any other kind of New Orleans cuisine. Food addictions consume your thoughts so full and complete.

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop on UrbanspoonDixie Kitchen & Bait Shop on Foodio54