Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chicago Neighborhood Tour: East Lakeview

Today was pretty wet and dreary here in Chicago... quite the opposite from the gorgeous day we enjoyed yesterday! Nevertheless, I still hosted my culinary Neighborhood Tour for my group, What's Cookin Chicago. This month, I took friends to the East Lakeview neighborhood to get a taste of the various restaurants, cafes and shops that can be found there. If you're ever visiting Chicago and want to venture outside of the typical tourist traps, I encourage you to check out East Lakeview and the following establishments!

From our tour today, we all got a closer look at the specialty food shops and learned a lot about the various businesses. The common thread among them is the evident passion these business owners have about what they do. They all gave me a much greater appreciation for what they do... and it makes me want to support our small business owners even more. Here are the stops we made on our tour, along with some of the things we learned... (and big thanks to my friend Anna for the pictures she took during the tour!)


Stop #1: La Creperie for brunch
2845 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-9050

There were 10 of us that attended the tour on such a cold, wet day. We first met up at this historic restaurant known for their crepes. Most people who come here for the first time often expect to be served crepes that are soft and folded into triangles or even rolled. However, the crepes served here are flattened, crispy, perfectly golden browned rectangles filled with an assortment of sweet and savory ingredients. It's truly unlike any other crepe you may have enjoyed at typical breakfast joints. Some specific dishes that we enjoyed for brunch today include their "La Complete" crepe (filled with ham, eggs, & swiss cheese, served with Lyonnaise potatoes and bacon); Soup a ''oignon gratinee (traditional French onion soup topped with bread and melted emmenthal cheese); and any of the sweet filled crepes! Do check out their history, which you can read all about HERE.


Stop #2: Baladoche for Belgian Zucker waffles
2905 N. Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-5090

Baladoche doesn't have your typical waffles on their menu. What they do have are Zucker waffles (also known as Liege waffles in Belgium) which are prepared using a dough rather than a batter. The dough mixture is made with yeast, flour, egg, butter and a special type of sugar known as "pearl sugar." Once combined, the dough must proof before placing it on a waffle iron. As the dough bakes, the bits of pearl sugar melt and caramelizes, resulting in bits of golden caramel throughout. There aren't very many places that specializes in Liege waffles here in the United States so I feel lucky to have them near by whenever a craving hits! Aside from these delicious waffles, Baladoche offers a nice variety of homemade gelato, and Belgian chocolate.


Stop #3: New York Deli for NY style deli sandwiches
2921 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 549-3328

I can't tell you how inspiring it is for me to learn more about small business owners and how they built their business. David, owner of New York Deli, shared with us his story of how he came from New York to Chicago for college. Majoring in banking and finance, David decided to start his own business which lead him to the food industry and New York deli style sandwiches. His sandwiches are amazing... full of flavor and a nice balance of filling and bread. Speaking of fillings, David only uses the best deli meats, namely Thumann's brand. Another fun thing to note about David's New York Deli are the names he has for the sandwiches he offers on his menu. With sandwiches named "The Guilianni" (made with ham, salami, capicola, lettuce, tomato, pesto and mayo) and "The Trump"(made with corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss, lettuce, tomato and horseradish), you can't help but feel like you've stepped into a piece of New York... and are tasting it with every bite!


Stop #4: House of Fine Chocolates
3109 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525-5700
This is no ordinary chocolate boutique. This is a business than has been at the very same spot for the past 50+ years. The one who started it all was Willie Rahmig... and we had the pleasure of learning about the history of Chicago's House of Fine Chocolates from his granddaughter. She shared with us how the shop started only with chocolate... and eventually included celebration cakes and pastries. As a young child, she started helping out the family business by folding bakery boxes, moving her way into cookies and now running the store. It's a wonderful family business that has now provided for 3 generations. One of the most interesting things we also learned was that the entire family doesn't care for cakes! In fact, the granddaughter doesn't even like chocolate! That just means more chocolate and cakes for us to enjoy... and it's certainly a wonderful place to stop in to satisfy your sweet tooth!


Stop #5: Bobtail Ice Cream Company
2951 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-73372

When's the last time you had wine IN your ice cream? If you haven't had any lately, you might want to make a trip to Bobtail Ice Cream Company! Their most popular flavor is the "Signature Sunset" which is made with merlot ice cream and dark chocolate chips. It's an amazing flavor combo that it's no wonder why they always have it available. Bobtail makes all their ice cream and frozen yogurt on site and throughout the year, they offer seasonal flavors on their menu such as a Guinness ice cream, peppermint, and pumpkin. By offering roughly 12 different ice cream and frozen yogurts at a time, they focus on smaller batches to ensure the freshest quality. This is a happening place during the warmer months so if you can stop in when there's no line out the door, take advantage and give it a try!


Stop #6: Pastoral Artisnal Cheese, Bread & Wine
2945 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 472-4781

If you love cheese as much as I do, then you will appreciate the time and care Pastoral has for cheese. One of the owners, Ken Miller, spoke with us about his business and one of his associates took the time to teach us about proper cheese handling, storing and going over cheese ripening, wine pairing and some of the history of the store. Cheese requires a lot of care as it is essentially a living organism and cheese making is quite a craft that requires a lot of time and patience. Aside from offering some great quality cheeses, the folks at Pastoral host various classes dedicated to cheese. If you like cheese and want to learn more, do check out their website and perhaps sign up for one of their cheese courses which are offered throughout the year.


Stop #7: Looseleaf Lounge Teas & Cafe
2915 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 348-7881

The owner of Looseleaf Cafe, Lester Palmiano, is a personal friend of my husband's... and the last time I saw him prior to today was when he was still in the planning stages of his business. Lester shares with us that he had 5 years of research before opening up his doors. Everything from becoming a business owner to learning about the various teas, origins, preparation, etc were things he learned before Looseleaf Lounge was a reality. Initially he wanted a Koolaid type bar.... which then changed to a regular bar/club... and finally ended up as a tea house. Having been in busy now for 9 months or so, he's been doing great and the cafe has really taken off! Aside from offering some great teas, he has a nice menu of cafe favorites including sandwiches, salads, pastries and coffee. On some nights, you can even catch a poetry reading or a live band!


Stop #8: Booklegger's Used Bookstore
2907 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 404-8780

Although there is a Border's Bookstore a few doors down, Booklegger's offers a bit of charm that you won't find at any big box bookstore. Tucked away in the back corner are tall shelves full of various cookbooks... some recent, some vintage and everything in between. Some of the prices were pretty reasonable and it was nice to check out their cookbook collection for potential books I can add to my own personal shelves!

Well, after 8 stops we certainly had a full day and it was a real experience to talk and get to know the folks behind the local businesses. I left with a greater appreciation for what they do and how they contribute to Chicago's unique culinary culture... and I hope visit them again soon!