Going South, Cafe Trinidad

Cafe  Trinidad

With the constant drop in temperatures and snow piling up outside, I have been good about not rattling off the statement, “I will be glad when summer arrives.” Honestly, summer in Chicago on Lake Michigan is like having a gigantic magnifying glass over the city and all pedestrians are like ants. The temperatures go from one extreme to the next. And people in Chicago are resilient. Unless there is a certain threat of bad weather shutting the city down, life goes on. Well, let’s be real. When was the last time your appetite said, “I think I shall wait until you finish your brooding about cold temperatures and not having anything to eat”? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my appetite has a life of its own and I obey when it starts whining.

Homemade Ginger Beer

Homemade Ginger Beer

To force myself into a mindset of being in a place where there is warmth, I was on the hunt for some Caribbean food. Much to my surprise, I found a Trini restaurant on Chicago’s South Side. After moving from the South Side to flee painful memories, I had not made trips back except for church — and I drive like a bat out of hell to get back to the North Side immediately afterwards — and to Hyde Park. But I gave Cafe Trinidad at 700 E. 47th Street in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighbourhood some precedence. So, I grabbed my camera for some action journaling and still shots, and it was off to the subway to connect to an “L” so that I could continue south of 35th Street.

Curry Chicken, Rice and Beans, Plantains, Cabbage

Curry Chicken, Rice and Beans, Plantains, Cabbage

With an interior that looks much like a lot of catfish shacks and chicken shanties on the South Side and West Side, you get that look at Cafe Trinidad. There are a few tables and for those who are big on decor, the bright colours adds warmth during days like what we were having — with 3 to 5 inches of snow accumulating outside. What Cafe Trinidad has in spades is GOOD FOOD. I ordered a plate of curry chicken, rice and beans, cabbage, and plantains. The chicken was not only spicy but it was also flavourful and tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. Yes, you heard me correctly. At some Caribbean restaurants that I have not bothered to put on Chicago Alphabet Soup, the plantains were fried to a horrible crisp or boiled to a questionable texture. The plantains I had at Cafe Trinidad were sweet without sweetener enhancers and just right. And to top it all off, I had some homemade ginger beer. The last time I had homemade ginger beer that was worth writing home about was when I had gone to a Ghanaian restaurant in Washington, DC.

Although you can have a seat at Cafe Trinidad, there is no server to come to your table and take your order and run it to the kitchen. You review the menu at the table or at the till where you place your order. Being able to see the kitchen was a plus for me because I knew there was some serious authenticity to the food. Certainly when my food came to the table with some kick to it, I knew that there was someone from Trinidad in the kitchen working magic. Having only tried the curry chicken dish, I noted that there are wraps and other dishes on the menu. I guess I will have to brave the snow a few more times so that I can indulge some more Trini delights. Seriously, my stomach is already telling me to set aside some dates in the upcoming months. There is some roti on the menu that needs to know that I appreciate it.

Cafe Trinidad on Urbanspoon

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