The 47th-a-Thon Report
(Forgive me, this has an insane number of photos-- 47, in fact. Go get a cup of coffee while it loads.)
Despite gloomy weather we had another great exploration of a great Chicago street, with as many as 14 LTHers present at the high point, including newcomers r2g and Berryberry, Cathy2 and mom Cathy1, and my son Liam, who made sure to get in a sugar rush from doughnuts right at the start.
As I started toward Lake Shore Drive for the 47th-a-Thon, I had to make my way through Cubs traffic-- an ironically fitting start for a journey through stretches of Sox Chicago. Although I had already seen many of the things Rene G mentioned above in my scouting trips, seeing them with the historical context he provided made the drive through Kenwood and Bronzeville poignant-- hard to imagine these struggling, underpopulated areas having once been a place where Louis Armstrong might have bumped into Malcolm X on a teeming, culturally yeasty street. Speaking of yeasty, here we are eating apple fritters from Abundance Bakery in the very shadow of the Rosenwald Apartments:
Less greasy and fluffier than the legendary apple fritters at Old-Fashioned Donuts, these are not quite as terrific, but also nowhere near as deadly as those gut bombs. We tried some other things, the chocolate long john was pretty good and the caramel cakes looked
damn good, but the fritter is king.
After Abundance we drove a few blocks to check out Char's Bar-B-Que. I warned folks that I hadn't tried it, that this was purely experimental, but there wasn't much else to try in the area, so why not. They were actually just opening up-- they'd been dishing up tips till 1:30 in the morning-- and when we asked if they had any barbecue, they said no (and with nothing in the smoker, we were a bit concerned by their claim that they'd have it in a half hour or so). We wound up ordering wings, but I went on to meet the other group already at Baltic Bakery, so I didn't try them. Reports were good, though. Here's a detail from the wall at Char's, apparently of a hamburger learning to surf:
105 E. 47th
325 W. 47th
2. Baltic Bakery
Our next meeting point was Baltic Bakery. Despite its recent health dept. woes, I have great affection for Baltic Bakery because it was one of the first discoveries I made in Chicago that told me I was not in Kansas any more. Specifically, the dark Russian rye, bitter as coffee grounds yet with a note of sweetness, which at the time could be easily found in stores like Jewel; and the far south side address, especially during the years when I didn't have a car and wasn't sure where (and how) I could safely go outside my north side bubble, spoke to me of lively ethnic enclaves where Lithuanian rather than English was spoken and the local culture was more Vilnius than America.
Of course, the reality is that Baltic is the only Lithuanian business left in the 47th street area (a little more survives on other streets like Archer, but mainly it's further southwest now), and after Baltic, virtually our entire day on 47th would be Mexican.
Besides the bread (I got a huge loaf of my beloved rye and after giving everyone some to taste, gave the rest of that half away so it wouldn't go stale in my breadbox), Baltic has several meat items apparently smoked in house. Everybody loved this smoked ham-like pork shoulder and a similar Polish-type sausage:
While Pickle Boy showed what he loved:
Bob S. wanted to make sure you saw how flakey the turnover was:
Here's the quintessential image of an LTH Thon: cameras out, analytical eye examining food being eaten off the trunk of a car.
4627 S. Hermitage Avenue
3. Mexican, From Ashland to Damen
As noted above, the half mile from Ashland to Damen is by far the most vibrant stretch of 47th, the commercial district of the venerable Back of the Yards neighborhood and, within its short span, one of the major Mexican commercial districts in the city along with Pilsen/18th street and La Villita/26th street. We tried virtually the same things at three different taquerias, and to be honest they were blurring together even while we still eating them, but I'll try to reconstruct them to some degree. First up was Taco Atotonilco, a restaurant connected to, fiscally if not physically, the Atotonilco tortilla factory a few doors west whose trucks can be spotted all over town. We ordered a few of almost everything-- carne asada (steak), pastor (pork), lengua (tongue), and so on:
Atotonilco was decent enough, but I don't think anyone was wowed and in retrospect I'd say it was the weakest of the bunch-- nothing bad, nothing great. [edited to correct Pastor mistake]
Much better than that was Birrieria Arrandas, which I would call the discovery of this part of the trip. I had first noticed it on one of my reconnaisance missions, because a woman was making tortillas from a big tub of masa in the front window. Since everyone was taking pictures of her at that job, I'll let someone else post a better one than any of mine, but I gotta show you this:
Just the other day I was saying I didn't remember what "suadero" was. Now I know: it's a whole pot of stuff, and whatever gets pulled out and chopped is what you get:
What kind of meat is this again, Seth?
Cheeks, heads, and even eyeballs-- yes, someone ordered the Gorilla Gourmet-infamous taco de ojo, and passed it around. Once again I passed, believe it or not.
No, those are just green onions. Relax. Arandas had real pastor, too:
One disappointment observed, I think, by SteveZ was that the heating element in the pastor thing wasn't on-- they just sliced off chunks and fried them up. Needless to say, they lacked the crispy edges that make pastor great, and probably had more than their share of gristle (which otherwise would render out to some degree).
The stars were the steamed meats like cabeza (head), and the suadero, all on freshly made masa tortillas, not the best I've ever had, a little lard would go a long way in increasing their flavor, but any fresh hot masa item is a friend on your plate. (Note: be sure to ask for the tortillas hecha a mano, made by hand.)
Down the street we faced two possibilities: carne en su jugo at one of the spots which had scored highly in Pigmon's epic account,
or tacos al carbon at a place Rene G thought was pretty decent, Don Cuco's? With a dozen folks, the answer was easy enough: both!
I went with the group that crossed the street to Don Cuco's, and ordered a couple of carne asada tacos, a couple of pescado (fish), a couple of pastor, and a barbacoa. Berryberry made the comment that this was the best-smelling place we visited, but it turned out to produce somewhat mixed results. The barbacoa was a total dud, flavorless and kind of gross. The fish taco was improved by a spicy mayo, and proved decent enough if hardly a rival to our memories of Tacos del Pacifico:
Steak was decent enough, but cooked over gas, not charcoal. The best of the bunch was the pastor-- we'd noticed that the flames in the gyro-rotisserie cooker were really cranked up, and this had lots of pineapple flavor and crispy bits.
Then we crossed the street to try the carne en su jugo, already in progress with others in our party. It really is a great soup, imagine a hearty beefy soup like Scotch broth or something, but spiced up Mexican-style with chilis and lime. I only had a couple of slurps but liked it a lot, and will have to try more of Pigmon's recommendations.
Incidentally, I wonder what the restaurant must have thought to see people just walk in, stroll right over to a table full of diners, and pick up a spoon and eat from their bowls without a word. While there G Wiv got to talking with a woman at another table who gave him a recommendation for what she said was a great pastor place on 63rd. Have to check it out....
Taqueria Atotonilco # 2
1659 W. 47th St
(773) 247 - 5870
Birrieria Arandas (sign also says Elvia's)
1738 W. 47th
Don Cuco's Tacos
1847 West 47th Street
note: another one about a mile west
Taqueria Los Altos
1848 W. 47th St.
4. A brief sojourn near Washtenaw
Kind of Mexicaned out, we drove past the shorter and more grocery-based Mexican strip at Western and headed for Johnny's G.A.R., but an imp of perversity struck first; Rene G's exhaustive notes on the street had called Piezano's a strong candidate for worst slice pizza in Chicago, so naturally some of us had to try it. Slice in hand, we assembled at Johnny's, one of the last places making that bizarre, ultra-cheap Chicago concoction remembered only by Rene G, the mother-in-law
-- a chili dog with a tamale in place of the dog.
Frankly, I didn't need any
food at this point, even if it had been something more inspiring than the city's worst slice and a cheap tamale on white bread, so my tastes of the mother-in-law, the pizza (which was shockingly less than terrible) and an Italian beef were sort of perfunctory. Maybe SteveZ, who was evaluating the beef for future Beefathon purposes, will have more to add.
5. Mr. Superfantastic's Phantasmawonderful Trip to the Psychedelic Candyland
Rather than Italian beef, what we needed was something light and desserty to pep us up, so we went slightly off 47th to find it. First stop: a branch of Dulce Landia, the Mexican candy chain famous for chicken lollipops, jalapeno suckers, and beer pops:
Oh man, Mexican Wrestler piñatas. Liam, I know what you're having at your next birthday party.
These macaroons were really good:
These salsas were, SteveZ and I agreed, vile. Smart Shopper's Tip: Do Not Buy Salsa At The Candy Store.
If you've never been to Dulce Landia, it's a trip well worth taking. (There's a couple of them around, including one on Fullerton near that cemitas place.) Plus they have the coolest shopping baskets in town:
Likewise psychedelically weird and delightful was Gelatina Cris, one of those Jell-O dessert places that's been mentioned here:
Flan, rice pudding, flan with Jell-O, cake, a variety of shakes (some allegedly healthy), and a small but robust assortment of hearty lunch items:
In an atmosphere which combines classic American soda fountain:
With an only-in-Mexico surreal religious tableau worthy of Kahlo or Rivera:
I wouldn't say any of the desserts would give Bombon any scares, but they hit the spot and it's a hypercolorful, fun place I can certainly see taking the kids to sometime.
4616 S. Kedzie Ave.
Gelatinas Cris #2
4725 South Cicero Avenue
6. Fish For Dinner
By this point our numbers were dwindling-- some off to another LTH event, the Jains dinner-- and so we decided to finish up at the fish place I'd tried the other day, Mariscos Luis. Dinner started with a complimentary Dixie cup of spicy shrimp soup containing, for most of us anyway, one good-sized camaron. Rene G has some interesting observations about why there are so many seafood/mariscos places on the south side, hopefully he'll share them.
Here's a curiosity I noted on the menu:
I cannot explain that.
Another point of interest: moments after we sat down, it turned out there was a floor show:
One good sign: an impressive assortment of salsas, including G Wiv's favorite Yucateco and the Huichol much beloved at, again, Tacos del Pacifico:
Basically, the things that sounded like they'd be good were, and the things that didn't, weren't. Ceviche tostada, good, just like it was the other day on my scouting trip:
Shrimp cocktail pretty good:
Stevez's crab tostada, which at $2.50 was sure to be Krab, was, and wasn't very good. Likewise, the shrimpburger, which some people at the table imagined would be like a crabcake sandwich by the seashore in Maryland, turned out to be shrimp trapped in gooey cheese on a white bread bun:
Ladies and gentleman, G Wiv, doing his impression of Spiderman. Stick to the genuine Mexican classics and Mariscos Luis is a good little place, and a worthy end to another great communal exploration of our great city.
4225 W 47th St