Lula Cafe, Been So Long

Lula Cafe

When family visits, I avoid downtown tourist traps. Coming from cultural hubs like New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and London, nothing can kill an enjoyable stay in Chicago like going to some establishment and faking a smile throughout the experience. And when Caribbeans start sucking their teeth, you have to redeem yourself quickly. Well, during my sister’s visit, I took her to several ethnic restaurants where I have gone already and to a few restaurants where I have not been. Lula Cafe at 2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard in Logan Square is one cafe that I bypassed for years because of arriving late and having to wait for almost an hour for a seat.

La Piña Coronado

La Piña Coronado

Penicillin

Penicillin

With fantastic temperatures finally gracing Chicago, we had waited for an outdoor seat so that we could soak up some sun, feel the breeze, and enjoy some brunch. Since no brunch is complete without a cocktail, we had one apiece for starters. My sister had a la piña coronado, which definitely screamed Caribbean. The recipe of agricole, amaretto, pineapple, coconut made for quite a refreshing cocktail. I am a fan of scotch, so I had the penicillin. The combination of scotch and ginger was a winner, for true.

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Having eaten something only a few hours before arriving at Lula Cafe, my sister ordered pancakes and scrambled eggs. To hear her describe them, they were tasty pillows accented with confectioners sugar. One highlight that certainly cannot be missed was the apple chicken sausage. Either the sausage was grilled or there was some liquid smoke used in the recipe, for it tasted like it had been smoked at a backyard barbecue. For me, I had scrambled eggs with cream cheese. And for the main brunch item, I ordered brioche French toast that was crusted with pistachios and topped with raspberries. The French toast was so good that it didn’t require any syrup. This French toast may be one of the main reasons why there is a constant crowd at the cafe.

French Toast with Berries

French Toast with Berries

Lula Cafe is a small cafe with limited seating inside and some patio seating outside. It seems as though there is a constant tide of customers and I imagine the ebb is during closing only. Even then, the service is fantastic. The output from the kitchen reminds me of home cooking, not restaurant cooking, and this may also be something what customers find so inviting. I had been tempted to take my sister into downtown to one of the numerous breakfast spots, but I am glad that I decided to go to a place closer to my apartment. I only have to remember to arrive as soon as the doors open when I go again.

Click to add a blog post for Lula Cafe on Zomato

Original Pancake House, Not the Original One, Though

Original Pancake House

Imagine a Saturday morning in April with birds chirping, blue skies, a gentle breeze, and temperatures hovering in the 70’s. It sounds almost like a scene you would project during meditation. For those of us in Chicago, we view it more as a tease because we are almost certain that the temperatures will drop by 11:00 AM and it will start to feel again like the beginning of winter or the last vestiges of winter. Of course, we cannot be bothered with Mother Nature tempting us with pleasant weather this early in the spring, so we continue with things like running errands, jogging, staying in bed late, and even avoiding chores around the house. And then there are those of us who rush to some breakfast spot. It goes without saying that eating is priority in my life and starting off with a divine breakfast is top priority — when I can actually get out of bed on Saturday mornings with any kind of inertia.

Orange Juice

Orange Juice

It was off to Original Pancake House at 7255 W. Madison Street in Forest Park. Having passed the restaurant several times, I knew how quickly it packed with patrons. So, it was necessary to arrive as soon as the doors opened because with the weather being so nice, I knew that people would be there like it was Black Friday. Wouldn’t you believe that I got there before the rush? Menu in hand and appetite alarm driving me insane, I ordered orange juice, a mushroom and cheddar omelette, and a Belgian waffle. Oh happy day!

Mushroom and Cheddar Omelette

Mushroom and Cheddar Omelette

The omelette was not some concoction from the kitchen, much like what I have had at countless breakfast restaurants made from fringe eggs. Granted it was not all cute and rectangular. That didn’t matter. It filled my plate before I started gobbling it and filling my belly. Then there was the Belgian waffle. Once you have a waffle from Original Pancake House, you will boycott Eggo. “Leggo me Eggo.” Please, you can have it because I’m going back to Original Pancake House. Now, one may think that the breakfast here may be much like what you get anywhere. No, no, no. The eggs and omelette are fluffy. The pancakes and waffles aren’t weighty, but are instead light and airy. I was happy when I finished dabbing at the corners of my mouth.

Belgian Waffle

Belgian Waffle

One thing to note about Forest Park is that there is a very strong atmosphere of family. You will find most establishments filled with families and close friends. Also, it appears that customers return to restaurants constantly to the point where the staff knows them well and interacts with the customers accordingly. The same can be said of this Original Pancake House location. The drive out to Forest Park was not all that bad as a result of a really good breakfast, which I knew I was going to enjoy, and pleasant service that was conversational. I have always been a huge fan of European breakfast options, but when I want a proper American breakfast, I will find myself at some Original Pancake House that isn’t bursting at the seams with diners. The location in Forest Park may not be the original one, but that’s okay. It’s good enough for me. (Isn’t that “It’s good enough for me” a part of some commercial jingle?)

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon The Original Pancake House on Foodio54

Top 10 Jaunts for 2013

December has arrived and it is during this time that I always ponder whether there was something I had intended to do between January and the end of November, but somehow never got around to doing. I swear time went slower when I was a kid. The summers dragged on forever — and I didn’t complain. Christmas break felt like a whole month. School was the equivalent of endless punishment. Fast forward to age 45 and each year feels compressed from a full twelve months to about seven. However, I still get to partake of my favourite hobby second to photography: eating. And for the end of 2013, I decided that I would do something different — a list of Top 10 Jaunts for 2013. So, this post will be dedicated to the restaurant discoveries that tempted my palate. Since I have already written extensive blog postings for each, I will only present highlights.

10. Pasteur
I had spent a lot of time in the Edgewater neighbourhood during the summer. My favourite Indian restaurant is there. One day while walking down Broadway, I happened to see a building full of Chicago architecture with a menu in the window. Having passed the building many times, it looked too fancy to register as a restaurant, but I was glad to have been in a casual mood the one Saturday I stopped and took notice of it. The food was outstanding and the service was top. From the interior, one can easily get the sensation of being in Europe, but it’s the Vietnamese influence in the food that pops. With the menu items supposedly having a French and Vietnamese fusion, I didn’t detect a heavier French accent. It was the Vietnamese flavours that stood out more. In the future I shall return for more good food and great service, and hopefully see if there is more balance to the menu.

Pasteur, Collage
9. Freddy’s Pizzeria and Grocery
A great friend had sent a text message to me to prompt me about Freddy’s while I was at an Italian restaurant on the Far North Side. She had already enlightened me to a few cafes and restaurants in Berwyn, so I trusted her recommendation. She gave me the formal introduction to Freddy’s Pizzeria and Grocery. This is a small grocery store with an annex built on to the side of the market for those who wish to sit and eat without having to rush home to devour the food. There is authenticity to every dish that puts a lot of big box Italian restaurants to shame. It’s evident when you enter the door and see the long line that stretches from the door, to the back of the grocery store, all along the counter, and up to the cash register. I think the trip out to Cicero is worth it, but I advise you to be prepared because staring at the selection of delicious food behind the counter may throw you into a food frenzy.

Freddy's Pizza and Grocery

8. Silom 12
Grub Hub is a beautiful thing and a glorious thing during the winter when delivery is a viable option. I had tried Silom 12 numerous times as a take-away choice when I was too lazy to operate my own stove. Not once was I dissatisfied with what I had ordered. Well, while I was having my hallway bathroom remodelled this summer, I needed a moment to escape from the sound of drills, saws, and banging. Where should I find myself but at Silom 12 for a proper sit-down. And oh was I pleased beyond words. Logan Square is one of America’s hottest neighbourhoods and with the addition of restaurants like Silom 12, it’s easy to understand why. One would think that the price per dish may make the cha-ching sound. No, the price, service, and food make a harmonious sigh of satisfaction. Well, let me take that back and make it personal. I made a harmonious sigh of satisfaction with each bite of food I took and believe me when I say that I ate a lot.

Silom 12

7. Masouleh
When I first moved to Chicago, I spent a little over a year in Northbrook. There was only so much that I could take of the sound of crickets. New York City had spoiled me. So I moved into Chicago proper and my first Chicago apartment was in Rogers Park. At that time Rogers Park had a heavy Mexican influence. Fast forward to 2013 and there seems to be more diversity gracing the Rogers Park landscape. One addition to the neighbourhood is Masouleh. I had met up with some friends after work one Friday evening and had fallen in love with the place after only having some herbs, cheese, and radish put on the table. It was authentic and when I say authentic I mean the flavours popped the way I remember Iranian food tasting. I don’t mean plain hummus and pita bread either. I had to return for my very own adventure and by the time I had finished a parfait glass of Persian ice cream, I was typing my initial blog post from the moon.

Masouleh

6. Kabul House
The first restaurant I went to when I started Chicago Alphabet Soup was Kabul House. It was at a different address. Months had passed and then a few years went by. When I had made plans to return, it was closed. Then there was a cloud of sadness because I remembered the food being so delicious. My friend and I were at the restaurant for hours, slowly taking care of the fine dining that came from the kitchen. Well, I was informed that Kabul House had opened at a new location. I had added it to my list and during Memorial Day, I was so glad that I went. Let’s just say that I rolled my eyes and I don’t mean as in disgust or to be cheeky. Oh, off with the person’s head who said that it’s never as good as the first time. It was better the second time around.

Kabul House

5. Pannenkoeken Cafe
If anyone ever starts rattling off the old adage that the best meal of the day is breakfast, tell them to put a footnote on that and immediately rush to Pannenkoeken Cafe. I am not one for eating lunch or dinner delights from Germany because they are heavy on the stomach. Not quite as sleep-inducing as Eastern European food, but you will drag afterwards. A German breakfast, on the other hand, causes the angels to sing. Pannenkoeken Cafe is a small cafe, so getting there early is advisable. Now, although the breakfast isn’t heavy on the belly, it is filling. So, you have to go on several visits. You have to. You must! Don’t even think about The Original Pancake House. Make your own pancakes at home, but go to Pannenkoeken Cafe for a proper breakfast that will give you a perpetual smile.

Pannenkoeken

4. Den Den Eritrean Restaurant
Rogers Park has developed a bit of magnetism to it thanks to the addition of a few ethnic eateries. There are several Ethiopian restaurants in Edgewater. While going to Masouleh one evening, my great friend who had recommended Freddy’s to me pointed Den Den Eritrean Restaurant out to me. I don’t think I had taken a few steps before I retrieved my smart phone and blocked some time for a visit. I had never thought of any Eritrean representation in Chicago’s culinary landscape. Everything about Den Den was top-notch. While I can’t say that Eritrean and Ethiopian are the same, the food preparation, serving, and method of eating the food are the same. However, Den Den takes the top spot among the Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to in Chicago. And I’ve been to all — except one that I zipped pass while speeding up Ashland Avenue.

Den Den

3. De-Jred Fine Jamaican Cuisine
Skokie has a small section in a business district that isn’t on a busy street. Had I not gone to Kabul House to renew my food vows, I never would have stumbled across a restaurant that has some cultural significance to me. When I saw the word “Jamaican” flash in front of my eyes, the return to the small stretch of Oakton Avenue was mandatory. The saltfish and ackee, callalou, rice and beans, beef patty, and june plum juice reminded me so much of my paternal grandmother’s kitchen that I spent almost every Saturday at De-Jred Fine Jamaican Cuisine. And when I didn’t get back during a Saturday visit, there were occasional trips for take-away throughout the week. Certainly when you find something with a cultural attachment, it’s hard to detach.

De-Jred Fine Jamaican

2. Roka Akor
Earlier in the year, I wanted to try something new in the downtown vicinity. Most restaurants in downtown fall into the tourist trap or “big box” categories. You go and then tell your friends that you had gone to such-and-such restaurant because that’s where all of the Joneses had gone before you. But Roka Akor is where you go when you want to keep up with the Williamses. I was blown away on the first visit with the good fortune of having a server who had hit the mark on every menu choice offered as an option. There wasn’t one dish to be placed in front of me that I wasn’t raving about by the second bite. Getting to sit at the robata grill was a splendid option because I got to chat with the sous chef and the sashimi chef. You can’t do that at just any restaurant, and certainly not at a tourist trap or “big box” eatery.

Roka Akor

1. Basil Leaf Cafe (Tie)
Coming up with the number one spot was hard — and I’m not saying that just to have something to say. I started the year off with Basil Leaf Cafe being the first ethnic restaurant I was sampling. This was also the first time that I had decided to have a degustation without ordering from the menu. I trusted my server to make all recommendations and bring to the table a soup, a salad, two entrées, and a dessert. Basil Leaf Cafe had raised the bar up through the clouds and even on return visits, I was always in awe of how I could simply state that I liked seafood and vegetarian dishes, hand the menu back to the server, and let him or her bring to the table culinary choices that had indicated that they apparently listen to their dining patrons.

Basil Leaf Cafe

1. Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill (Tie)
I don’t know where to begin with Yuzu. This was another hard decision because I wanted there to be ten restaurants on my Top 10 list. It turned out to be eleven because Basil Leaf Cafe and Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill were deserving of the top position. My first visit to Yuzu had moved the expectation bar way up. No one disappears behind a door and comes back with a delectable dish. The sushi station and the robata grill are on full display, so you know exactly what you are getting. I was curious as to how a sushi bar could have a constant flow of patrons early in the day on a summer Saturday. It was after the first bite of some grilled eggplant from the robata grill that I understood why. Based on all of the robata grill items and sushi that my server had brought to the table, I honestly believe I could have won the lottery if I had asked her for the winning numbers. Everything was delicious.

Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill

I am hoping that 2014 will not be as busy and fast as 2013 has been. Yes, there is the saying that you should take time to smell the roses. But when there is the aroma of some inviting food wafting from the kitchen, put those roses in a vase and go see what the source of the aroma is. I know that I shall do just that in the New Year. I have to come up with ten more new restaurants for 2014. That means weight gain. Oh wait, no, that means I had better get started coming up with a list of eateries to sample throughout 2014.

And at this time, I would like to thank all who have been following Chicago Alphabet Soup and who have been giving me encouragement. Enjoy the holiday and may the New Year bring you joy and continued peace. And if none of that, then may some server bring you a dish that makes you sing a happy song.

Swedish Foodtography and Cinnamon Rolls

Ann Sather

Years ago when it was my turn at work to bring in doughnuts, bagels, or something sweet for breakfast, I always went by Ann Sather for my purchase. In the suburbs where I was working at the time, there were the various bakeries that sold the usual doughnuts, ala Dunkin Donuts. Unlike when Dunkin Donuts had first opened its doors to business, it has since become a bake shop and the concept of the baking the doughnuts on the premises had come to a disappointing halt. Needless to say, I chose to buy some fresh cinnamon rolls to take to work when it was my turn rather than torture my co-workers with stale Dunkin Donuts purchased at sunrise. People at work would mumble, Oooh and Aahhh. They envied our city fare when it came to tasty food.

Swedish Waffles

Swedish Waffles

My discovery of Ann Sather also meant that I had at least one ethnic restaurant to blog for Chicago Alphabet Soup. My first visit to Ann Sather for the purpose of blogging the restaurant was at the Southport Corridor location. I was stuffed to capacity, happy as a lark, and had a nice write-up for the reading audience. Later, the restaurant closed its doors to business. The Southport Corridor had lost a great establishment and I had a write-up to a location that was no longer open for patronage. Of course, there were other locations of Ann Sather in the city and I made it a point to eventually get around to returning for an update to my original blog entry. That day came and it was the Edgewater location at 1147 Granville Avenue where I had a window seat and an appetite for something from the menu.

Eggs Scrambled with Mascarpone Cheese

Eggs Scrambled with Mascarpone Cheese

Filled with the usual North Side cast of characters, I eyed the bill of fare for the breakfast options and was ready to stop my belly from rumbling. I ordered the Swedish waffles and eggs scrambled well with mascarpone cheese. The waffles were thin, but not crepe thin, and fluffy. They certainly were not of the Eggo quality either, as I could taste the buttery flavour in the recipe. The two of them, that I drizzled rather than drowned with syrup, were just what I needed to silence the monster. The first time I had gone to Ann Sather for breakfast, I was introduced to having cream cheese in my scrambled eggs. This time there was no cream cheese, but there was mascarpone cheese and I indulged it all the same. The two guys sitting next to me when I had ordered the eggs looked at me as though I was an exotic not from America. Well, I am from London, albeit I grew up in America, but that is besides the point. When the eggs had arrived, they watched me with curiosity. I think some people love looking at exotics. And for a nice wrap-up, I had coffee and a cinnamon roll. You have not had a good cinnamon roll until you have had a warm, soft cinnamon roll from Ann Sather. I know there are some individuals debating my observation, someone whose point of reference for a good cinnamon roll is a concoction not too different from a Pillsbury cinnamon roll from the can. I pity said individuals.

Cinnamon Roll and Coffee

Cinnamon Roll and Coffee

It goes without saying that Chicago has countless restaurants that come and go. Ann Sather is a Chicago chain and one that people appreciate greatly. All you have to do is walk by any one of the locations and see the place teeming with patrons. The breakfasts simply cannot be denied as some of the best you will get in Chicago. Walker Brother, Original Pancake House, IHOP, and the various breakfast houses that those of the suburban ilk love more than their weekend trip to Wal-Mart are worthy of their praise. Then there is Ann Sather where not only do you get stupendous breakfast, outstanding service, and food at a price that doesn’t make you sigh, but you can also get a cinnamon roll that will shoot you straight to the moon. Hmm. Houston, we have a problem. We’re out of cinnamon rolls.

Ann Sather Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I Am 45

The Williams Smile

The Williams Smile

On 5 April 2013, at 1:15 PM, I officially turned 45. As a mathematician I tend to be more exact with things than necessary. When I turned 30, I was too busy planning the celebratory birthday party to realize that I had reached a third decade in my life. By the time I turned 40, family had a huge birthday party for me and it was just another day. Now that I am 45, it occurred to me that the next big birthday for me will be 46, not 50 as some would say. Truth be told, I look forward to each year with more excitement than the previous years.

As I get older I am aware of more things that are pertinent in my Disney.

  • There are things I am not supposed to have. And I’m okay with that.
  • There are places I am not supposed to go. And I’m okay with that.
  • There are people I am not supposed to have messing up my happiness. I am ecstatic over that.
  • Time goes by faster now than it did when I was a kid. Summer break used to last forever.
  • I am with the person who makes me happy. Note the strikethrough. That alone shaves 20 years off my face.
  • Smiling removes wrinkles naturally. To think that people pay for Botox injections and nip-tucks.
  • I am aware of the passage of time, as there isn’t enough time to eat all that I’d like to eat.
  • Food is my lover and anyone who thinks otherwise should be fitted for a straight jacket. (Being careful so my high school crush doesn’t read this statement.)

Instead of a huge party with dozens of people milling around and me not getting a chance to sit and talk with any of them at great length, I opted for more personal celebratory gatherings with friends, family, and my high school crush who kept teasing me with the promise of baking me an Italian cream cake. I started the morning meeting some friends for breakfast. With it being my birthday, they wanted me to be “in the moment,” which meant we were not doing anything with an ethnic leaning to have me switch into blogger mode. That didn’t mean I should leave my camera at home. So, into the bag went the camera and out the door I dashed to Marmalade at 1969 W. Montrose Avenue in the Ravenswood neighbourhood of Chicago. I was in blogger mode and that was inevitable. Super service, contrary to some disturbing reviews I’ve come across, and I will chalk that up to us getting to the restaurant at 7:00 in the morning when everything was new and patrons with bitterness, indecisiveness, and wants for vicious reviews had not poured in.

Cafe au lait. Eggs scrambled well with cream cheese. Cubano French toast.

Cafe Au Lait

Cafe Au Lait

The cafe au lait was not bitter, not in the least. I drank it without any sugar and said silently, “Intelligentia, you have competition.” By the second cup, I was saying, “Intelligentia what?” Nothing spectacular about cream cheese in my eggs, as that is a staple for my desired preparation of eggs. Where I wanted to stand up and sing “Gino Marmalade,” was with the Cubano French toast. I would gladly have enjoyed a petite mort after the first bite of the French toast in guava marmalade with a cream anglaise, topped with strawberries, guava, and granola. The lyrics would have been something like:

Gitchi, gitchi, ya ya da da da
Gitchi, gitchi, ya ya here
Mocha chocolata ya ya
Hungry Gino Marmalade

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

The prices for the menu items are reasonable. The service was outstanding. The food was so yum-inspiring that I could have sung an aria. Whatever gripes reviewers on Yelp have with Marmalade, I will return and I will have to make it a point to fight the urge to stand up and launch into the following lyrics:

Voulez-vous manger avec moi ce jour?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?
Voulez-vouz manger avec moi cest jour?
Voulez-vous manger avec moi?

Cubano French Toast

Cubano French Toast

For lunch, I met with two friends I had worked with when I was driving off the map to the wonderful West Suburbs. We met at Wok’n Fire at 1576 W. Lake Street in Addison, Illinois. It’s the usual big-box atmosphere like what you get at Pei Wei Asian Diner and at PF Chang. But the aromas made the restaurant smell less of a buffet cafeteria and more like some good food was being prepared in the kitchen. After laughter about how the company had become a revolving door and joking about how some people manage to get promotions although they take vacation time in impromptu, unscheduled fashion, it was time for food. Per recommendation from one of my friends, I ordered Schezuan tilapia. Served with brown rice, spinach, and in a Schezuan sauce with red peppers, onions, broccoli, and mushrooms, lunch had a wow factor that left me weak in the knees. I had to drive back into the city and doing it behind the wheel of a manual shift after such a fantastic lunch, I was glad to get home and take a nap in advance of dinner. But before my siesta, I had a long chat with Ma Williams who boasted about how proud she was of me and how she’s glad I have been taking care of myself and some other mushy stuff that indicates I was never a disappointment. Not many mothers can say that and we Williams offsprings became high-end. And then she asked me if I had made use of the cake pans she sent to me for my birthday gift. Ma Williams always gets me the birthday gifts that make me smile.

Schezuan Tilapia

Schezuan Tilapia

Now, let me just say that I slept so good during the afternoon that I had thought I slept a bit too long. There was no way that I wanted to miss my birthday dinner. Sure, I can go to Marion Street Cheese Market at 100 S. Marion Street in Oak Park, Illinois, at any time. But for a proper celebration, and I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, it was necessary for me to get up and be ready to head out for a worthwhile meal.

Flight of cheeses — Dante, l’amuse gouda, and sharp cheddar. Sunchoke arancini. Quiche. Salad. Flight of wine. Pot de creme.

Quiche and Salad

Quiche and Salad

Sunchoke Arancini

Sunchoke Arancini

The flight of cheeses came with candied walnuts, toasted almonds, a flavourful jam, wafers, and bread. So perfect and we worked our teeth on the items that begged for us to continue. Yep, we even paused conversation so we could concentrate. The sunchoke arancini was several stops past the last exit to wonderful. Ingredients of hazelnut chimichurri, sunchoke puree, sunflower sprouts, and lemon made for a vegetarian’s plate of happiness. We smiled through each bite. The quiche was of the kind that the meekest person would clobber a corn-fed Indiana football player senselessly if the football player were to mess with the mild person’s quiche. We’re talking about a quiche with Sarvecchio parmesan, caramelized onions, and parsnip puree served with braised spinach. You simply will not stop making comment about how delicious it is after each bite. Oh, and let me not forget to add that we each had flights of wine. Liquid bliss! For me, I told the server to bring a flight, any flight. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. It was my birthday and he did not disappoint — three reds, two from France and one from Chile. The flight paired well with everything. The dessert was a pot de creme — chocolate hazelnut pudding topped with a baked meringue. There is a special corner in hell for me after working that pot de creme with exaggerated facial expressions, the homemade butter cookies, and a cup of coffee that was made from a fine bean. As we teetered out of the restaurant, it was rather apparent why we all return there so much. And people who don’t like that assessment are sitting back saying, “I know better places.” I can only shake my head and say, “Umpf, umpf, umpf. Tell me anything.”

Pot de Creme and Butter Cookies

Pot de Creme and Butter Cookies

As a kid, I used to think that people in their 40’s were old. I am quite amazed at how my perspective has changed since, rather considerable if I may add. When I look in the mirror and the only things that can possibly give my age away are my balding head and the grey in my beard, I realize that I can shave and those indicators go away as well. When I think about how I had furrows in my brow and pessimism in my eyes during my twenties, none to be seen in my physical appearance now, it feels nice announcing my age. Because then I can watch the show when people start to actively debate me and call me a liar who wants to be older than he really is. And I smile, yet again removing any potential wrinkles.

Hello, my name is Gino Williams and I am 45 years old. Oh, and I am a food addict.

Marmalade on Urbanspoon Wok'n Fire on Urbanspoon

Ride of the Foodies, Scandinavian Style

Svea Restaurant

With the weather warming up a bit, albeit a tease, getting out of bed earlier on the weekends has become easier. That means I have been able to start indulging the most important meal of the day — breakfast. It often starts off with a slice of cake and a tall glass of milk. If not cake, then there is some kind of croissant filled with apples, cream cheese, or chocolate, and milk to wash it all down. I guess I should provide a little more context and state that I have those lovely treats for my weekday breakfast delights while packed on the subway heading into downtown for work. But Saturdays come and I get to enjoy breakfast the right way — at some restaurant with my feet planted under a table, a plate of happiness in front of me, and a book in the hand that is not wielding a fork or spoon.

Coffee

Coffee

For a few weeks, I had been to Pannenkoeken Cafe for some of the best German breakfasts I have had on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Today I wanted to expand my European repertoire. While browsing the web, I had found a Scandinavian restaurant in the Andersonville neighbourhood of Chicago. I was aware of a small Swedish concentration in the area and a little west of Andersonville, but to find something Scandinavian-specific was a bonus. Queue soundbite of “Ride of the Valkyries,” and me driving down Clark Street in my Volkswagen Jetta, windows down, sun roof back, slow motion, wind blowing through my hair. Now queue sound of needle being taken off the record a bit too hastily. It’s too cold to have windows down in the car and I have not even a bit of fuzz on my head, as I shaved it all off. However, I did drive to 5236 N. Clark Street to Svea Restaurant for some proper food action.

Eggs, Hashbrows, Sausage

Eggs, Hashbrows, Sausage

Because really good ethnic restaurants and cafes fill with patrons quickly, I was at the restaurant as soon as the doors opened at 7:00 AM. With a warm welcome from the waitress/cashier and from the cook, I got a seat at the window and checked the options. A cup of hot coffee warmed up the body a little, not that I was completely frozen, since I had parked across the street. After some discussion about the way the weather and temperatures had been waffling, I ordered a Viking breakfast. On one plate came scrambled eggs that I got with cream cheese, Swedish hashbrowns, rye toast, and sausage. At the table was a happy me. I could have had a plate of the scrambled eggs with cream cheese alone. There may have been some salt in it, but not of the dosage my tongue detects at places like International House of Pancakes, Golden Nugget, or Original Pancake House. The hashbrowns were not the crunchy, shredded horror bites that many breakfast shops serve. These seasoned potato cubes screamed, “Keep eating me.” I keep forgetting that Europeans are not big on frying everything imaginable, so I snapped back to reality when I noticed the sausages were boiled. They reminded me of large Vienna sausages — without salt and the aftertaste. Then there were thin Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam. These were not the substantial American style pancakes that put you to sleep after devouring half of the stack. Think of crepes that had been cooked on a griddle. I worked my knife and fork on the two pancakes to completion and did not experience food comatose immediately afterwards. And truth be told, the lingonberry jam was perfect to the point where there really was no need for syrup. After I was done, I commented to the waitress that all I needed was a red beard, for I had gobbled all of that food like a true Viking warrior. She responded that I had indeed enjoyed my little feast like a Viking that was celebrating from having performed well in battle.

Swedish Pancakes

Swedish Pancakes

Truly Svea Restaurant is an outstanding cafe for some authentic Scandinavian and Swedish food. I noted that there were lunch items and dinner items. Being only able to speak to the breakfast options, I would recommend it highly, especially for those who like hearty breakfasts during Chicago’s cold months. Svea Restaurant has a cash-only policy, so go to the ATM in advance, get some cash, and drive over to 5236 N. Clark Street for a brekkie fit for a Viking. If you have a CD player or even an MP3 player, be sure to queue “Ride of the Valkyries” while on your way to the restaurant. Trust me, you will understand.

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Forget Crepes, All About Pannenkoeken

Pannenkoeken

While perusing some photos of food on Foodspotting, I had come across a composition of a pancake that screamed for me to come and get it. I had made a note of the name of the restaurant where the photo was taken and had entered a reminder into my cell phone for a visit. Chicago winters make it impossible to extract yourself from your warm bed on Saturday mornings. And I have fleece sheets on my bed. For every Saturday in February my alarm went off, I hit the off button, and then promptly went back to bed. With a little bit of warming in the temperatures and going to bed early on a Friday evening, I finally got up and went to Pannenkoeken, the restaurant where the photo I saw on Foodspotting was captured. At 4757 N. Western Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, is one of the quaintest German cafes in the city. When I say quaint, it is very small, in the vein of cafes and eateries in Europe, where you indeed sit close to neighbouring patrons. It was just my style.

Eggs Scrambled Well with Mascarpone

Because I needed to wake up completely, not just merely functionally, I had a cup of coffee to start. The only sweetener I had in the coffee was whatever there was from the sweetness of the cream. I made a mental note that whatever roast they were using was not bad. Perusing the menu, I was quite happy to see that there was a retention of authenticity in the servings. Pannenkoeken evidently does not feel a need to accommodate breakfast cuisine not of the German kind. Yes, there were Belgian waffles on the menu, but Belgium is not far from the borders of Germany and I am sure Germany is not without having been influenced accordingly. There was French toast on the menu, yes. But there were options for pannenkoeken that really stood out most. Not an exhaustive menu, like you find at something as pedestrian as an Original Pancake House, but the flavourful options seemed daunting because after looking at the servings, temptation wants you to try everything. I was content with sampling at most three menu choices on this first visit.

French Toast with Mascarpone and Blueberry Compote

Switching into my vegetarian mode for breakfast, I started with a plate of eggs scrambled well with mascarpone cheese. I have such a great love for cream cheese in my scrambled eggs, but trying mascarpone cheese in my eggs really hit a resounding note with me. Now when I go to restaurants for breakfast or brunch, Italian restaurants for sure, I will request mascarpone cheese to be added to my scramble. Then there was the plate of French toast with mascarpone cheese and home-made blueberry compote. After eating the blueberry compote, the blueberries exploding with flavour that the tongue relished, I do not want any more of that syrupy brew that comes from the can. I could quickly devolve into a brat in a high chair throwing his plate against the wall if I get anything claiming to be home-made compote yet nothing more than fruit drowned in molasses. There was so much flavour in the compote at Pannenkoeken and the French toast not reminding me of cinnamon on an Eggo waffle. And then an apple ginger pannenkoeken arrived at the table. By the time I came up for air, and I mean every word of that, there had been a change of faces at several tables. Again, the apples were not from some can, apparent because they were not dripping with syrup. And the ginger in the pannenkoeken. You could taste the ginger in the pannenkoeken. The thin pancake looked as though it would be a feat to undertake, but I smiled as I worked my fork, knife, and teeth on it. I was satisfied thoroughly — and again, I mean every word of it.

Apple Ginger Pannenkoenen

One thing I should mention is that Pannenkoeken has a cash-only policy. It can become quite easy to find yourself delighting the taste buds without a care in the world and then extract a credit card from the wallet once the bill arrives. You will have to pay cash. That is a small inconvenience — and you cannot even call it that. After all that I had eaten, the bottomless cup of coffee while at the cafe, and the coffee that I bought to go, the tab was considerably lower than what I would have had to pay at any of the brand name big box restaurants. As I mentioned earlier, the cafe is very small and intimate, so I highly recommend that you arrive as soon as the doors open. I am not joking. Trust me. When you get there, you will understand. Hmmm. You may even find yourself saying, “Lecker,” and not even know where your impromptu use of German came from.

Pannenkoeken Cafe on Urbanspoon