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"The Best Hash Browns in Town?" Well...

"The Best Hash Browns in Town?" Well...
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  • "The Best Hash Browns in Town?" Well...

    Post #1 - April 15th, 2005, 9:52 am
    Post #1 - April 15th, 2005, 9:52 am Post #1 - April 15th, 2005, 9:52 am
    When you see a sign that announces "the best X in town" (or "the world"), do you tend to think that's a pretty good indication that they're at least decent-- or do you tend to think that if they were any good they wouldn't need to brag so hard?

    I've found evidence for both points of view over the years, but lean, I suppose, toward taking that kind of advertised pride as a sign that the owners of a place at least care a little more than the average place.

    When the item in question is Hash Browns, however, the matter becomes infinitely more serious. Many of you are familiar with my work with the Hash Brown Institute in attempting to take back the name "Hash Browns" from pretenders like the potato chunks you see at many Chicago spots, or worse yet the ovoid potato-based discs sold by major fast food chains. Only potatoes which have been shredded into little hash sticks ("Hashified™") and then fried to a crispy exterior (or "permacrust") as a solid patty earn the HBI's seal of approval, and we will shortly (as soon as some pesky court challenges are disposed of, as we fully expect them to be) launch a nationwide, multimillion dollar ad campaign touting only true Hash Browns as "Hash Browns," and suggesting that the chunks should be known as "Breakfast Tuber Lumps" and the ovoid discs as "Saddam Fries."

    Anyway, some time back another LTH poster pointed me to the fact that a restaurant called Clara & James, at the corner of Belmont, California and Elston, advertised "The Best Hash Browns in Town." At long last, this morning I went to judge their claim-- in a purely unofficial capacity, I should add.

    Clara & James is a classic working class joint offering dirt-cheap breakfast specials, a long counter dotted with ashtrays, an assortment of food-stained copies of this morning's Sun-Times, and equally food-stained grandmotherly waitresses in their 50s and 60s who are nevertheless liberally tattooed and foulmouthed. All that seemed promising, certainly, as did a large handwritten sign promising biscuits and gravy. I ordered that plus a side of Hash Browns.

    Image

    The B&G, visible (barely) at right, were okay. Biscuits were a bit on the styrofoamy side, somewhere between a biscuit and a buff pad; the gravy had a good peppery flavor but little sign of sausage or sausage grease flavor. (I expect at a price point like this for it to be low on actual chunks of sausage, but there should be a little more sausage flavor.) Given the lack of not only great B&G in this town, but even pretty good B&G, these were about what I expected, and tolerable enough.

    But the Hash Browns, man! Tell us about the Hash Browns! They were freshly cut, the right texture, and they had a nice golden permacrust, I personally like them a little more well-done but this was an entirely respectable product from that point of view. However, they were about four times greasier than they ought to be, with a slightly winey flavor that suggested the grease was not, perhaps, the freshest it could have been, either. Fried at a hot enough temperature, Hash Browns shouldn't come off as very greasy at all, but these left a yellow stain as I scooted them around on their plate.

    So, I give Clara and James (who appear to be Japanese-American, by the way, though their grandmas-with-sailor-mouths waitstaff is pure red-state American) credit for following the form advocated by the HBI, and if you're looking for a plate full of dirtcheap breakfast carbs, this is not at all a bad place. But "Best Hash Browns in Town?" The quest continues....

    Clara & James
    3159 W. Belmont
    773-539-3020
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  • Post #2 - April 15th, 2005, 9:59 am
    Post #2 - April 15th, 2005, 9:59 am Post #2 - April 15th, 2005, 9:59 am
    I drive past Clara & James every day and have often wondered about the "Best Hash Browns" claim while waiting at the stoplight there. Sounds like you took one for the team as, based upon the referenced grease content, I think I'll stick with the Diner Grill's version (extra crispy with onions, please).
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #3 - April 15th, 2005, 10:18 am
    Post #3 - April 15th, 2005, 10:18 am Post #3 - April 15th, 2005, 10:18 am
    Is not a blue-collar hash joint with foul mouthed tatooed old waitresses and Japanese American owners in the middle of Chicago not the ultimate Blue State experience?
  • Post #4 - April 16th, 2005, 8:24 am
    Post #4 - April 16th, 2005, 8:24 am Post #4 - April 16th, 2005, 8:24 am
    I might have to give em a try.
  • Post #5 - April 16th, 2005, 10:16 am
    Post #5 - April 16th, 2005, 10:16 am Post #5 - April 16th, 2005, 10:16 am
    The original question reminds me of an experience I had in Akron Ohio. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was there for a full week eating the most awful food anybody could ever imagine. Finally the time came when I was able to eat a decent meal at a real restaurant.

    So I'm sitting reading the menu when I see French Onion Soup. So I ask the waiter if it's was any good. The response I got back was, "It's the best in town."

    So the soup comes, I taste a little and waiter dude is back at the table to ask me what I think of their marvelous soup. All I could say was, "If this is the best in town, I'd move."

    Of course, this is a town where everybody we asked told us the best pizza place in town was Domino's. Sorry to say, they were right too.
  • Post #6 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:00 pm
    Post #6 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:00 pm Post #6 - April 22nd, 2005, 4:00 pm
    I agree totally w/ JeffB about the hash joint's blue-state mise-en-scene, and add only that I live in a blue state for this reason, among others. 8)
  • Post #7 - April 22nd, 2005, 8:14 pm
    Post #7 - April 22nd, 2005, 8:14 pm Post #7 - April 22nd, 2005, 8:14 pm
    midas wrote:The original question reminds me of an experience I had in Akron Ohio. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was there for a full week eating the most awful food anybody could ever imagine. Finally the time came when I was able to eat a decent meal at a real restaurant.

    So I'm sitting reading the menu when I see French Onion Soup. So I ask the waiter if it's was any good. The response I got back was, "It's the best in town."

    So the soup comes, I taste a little and waiter dude is back at the table to ask me what I think of their marvelous soup. All I could say was, "If this is the best in town, I'd move."

    Of course, this is a town where everybody we asked told us the best pizza place in town was Domino's. Sorry to say, they were right too.


    The best Pizza in Akron, OH is at Regina's. But more importantly, where can you get even decent biscuits and gravy in Chicago?
  • Post #8 - April 22nd, 2005, 9:19 pm
    Post #8 - April 22nd, 2005, 9:19 pm Post #8 - April 22nd, 2005, 9:19 pm
    Marmish wrote: But more importantly, where can you get even decent biscuits and gravy in Chicago?


    At the oft mentioned Edgebrook Diner on Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays).
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #9 - April 23rd, 2005, 6:18 pm
    Post #9 - April 23rd, 2005, 6:18 pm Post #9 - April 23rd, 2005, 6:18 pm
    Marmish wrote:The best Pizza in Akron, OH is at Regina's. But more importantly, where can you get even decent biscuits and gravy in Chicago?

    My destination for biscuits & gravy was Jeri's Grill at Western & Montrose. (I say "was" not because it's gone but because I am, relatively speaking, and haven't been there in a couple of years.)
  • Post #10 - April 27th, 2005, 1:11 pm
    Post #10 - April 27th, 2005, 1:11 pm Post #10 - April 27th, 2005, 1:11 pm
    I'd like o try Resi's Bierstube this weekend but am wondering if it's okay to bring a 10 month old baby? I think it'll be too cold to sit outside.
  • Post #11 - April 27th, 2005, 1:17 pm
    Post #11 - April 27th, 2005, 1:17 pm Post #11 - April 27th, 2005, 1:17 pm
    madge wrote:I'd like o try Resi's Bierstube this weekend but am wondering if it's okay to bring a 10 month old baby?


    Yep. I have.
  • Post #12 - December 9th, 2005, 4:48 pm
    Post #12 - December 9th, 2005, 4:48 pm Post #12 - December 9th, 2005, 4:48 pm
    LTH,

    Stopped for a mid-morning breakfast at Clara and James, home of the "worlds best hash browns" and was mildly disappointed. Not for the nicely crisp hash browns interlaced with strands of just brown onions, per my request, or the perfect, and very fresh, over easy eggs, slightly runny yoke surrounded by a nicely cooked white. Not for rye toast, though next time I will ask for the unbuttered version, plump link sausage or even my glass of orange juice.

    I was disappointed by the service, terribly so.

    Mike G wrote:equally food-stained grandmotherly waitresses in their 50s and 60s who are nevertheless liberally tattooed and foulmouthed.


    I had this image of the Arkansas grandmother equivalent of a Biker bar, a place where Sonny Barger's mom might waitress. Cigarettes dangling, swearwords flying, but noooooo, I get a waitress who is polite to a fault, sweet even, a happy kind person who hummed along with Shania Twain while she 'huned' the room for coffee refills. ("Hun, how 'bout a little warm up, you'll need it on a day like today")

    To make matters worse, it was not only my waitress who was efficient and polite, all three women working this morning at Clara and James were nice, friendly, interactive, even to the point of giving me ordering hints for next time. Mike mentions "Biscuits were a bit on the styrofoamy side, somewhere between a biscuit and a buff pad" this is because the biscuits for biscuits and gravy are often microwaved. I was told to always (I had inquired about the biscuits and gravy) ask for biscuits to be 'oven toasted.'

    Disappointments of polite of service aside, I will be back to Clara and James for breakfast again soon. Oh, one last hash brown note, Mike mentions an overabundance of grease in the Clara and James hash browns. Mine, this morning, were not overly oily and the flavor of the oil was quite fresh.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Clara & James
    3159 W. Belmont
    Chicago, IL
    773-539-3020
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - December 9th, 2005, 5:40 pm
    Post #13 - December 9th, 2005, 5:40 pm Post #13 - December 9th, 2005, 5:40 pm
    Well, if Clara and James' granny waitstaff wasn't foulmouthed and tattooed enough for you, there's always Sunshine Restaurant at Addison and Elston.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #14 - December 9th, 2005, 6:05 pm
    Post #14 - December 9th, 2005, 6:05 pm Post #14 - December 9th, 2005, 6:05 pm
    The other morning, someone in our party at Walker Brothers ordered hash browns. Mindful of the ongoing thread at LTH, I tasted them-- they were wonderful! Long shreds of potato, crisp and brown on the outside and soft but firm on the inside. A touch of oil, but not greasy. In fact, they would have been perfect had the person not requested them without onions.

    Walker Bros. Original Pancake House
    153 Green Bay Rd.
    Wilmette, IL 60091-3303
    847-251-6000
  • Post #15 - December 10th, 2005, 4:12 am
    Post #15 - December 10th, 2005, 4:12 am Post #15 - December 10th, 2005, 4:12 am
    The hash browns at Walker Brothers truly are wonderful. I think the best way I can describe how good they are is that while Mrs. Kman is usually generous to a fault she will not share her W-B hashed browns with me. I do appreciate that the onion is considered an integral component there and doesn't require one to order it as an extra; sorry to hear that the sample was ordered sans onion.
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #16 - December 10th, 2005, 8:46 pm
    Post #16 - December 10th, 2005, 8:46 pm Post #16 - December 10th, 2005, 8:46 pm
    i've always been partial to the hash browns at salt-n-pepper diner on clark, which, if you get them in the morning at breakfast time, when they're selling a lot of them, are just pretty good, but if you get them in the afternoon, are well-browned and very crispy.

    they keep a batch going on the griddle all day and just continue to scoop and flip, so they get crisped, flipped, and worked back into the mix over and over until someone orders them. it's totally hit or miss, but when you get a good portion of them, they're just the best.
  • Post #17 - December 11th, 2005, 12:02 am
    Post #17 - December 11th, 2005, 12:02 am Post #17 - December 11th, 2005, 12:02 am
    Mike G wrote:When you see a sign that announces "the best X in town" ... do you tend to think that if they were any good they wouldn't need to brag so hard?


    I would tend to be skeptical of such claims; but on the other hand, La Pasadita boasts the "best tacos in town" and are they wrong?
    But the Hash Browns, man! Tell us about the Hash Browns!


    I happen to like the hashbrowns at Golden Nugget. Would I be laughed out the door at the "HBI"?
    Greasy Spoon
  • Post #18 - December 11th, 2005, 8:30 am
    Post #18 - December 11th, 2005, 8:30 am Post #18 - December 11th, 2005, 8:30 am
    Greasy Spoon wrote:I would tend to be skeptical of such claims; but on the other hand, La Pasadita boasts the "best tacos in town" and are they wrong?


    It depends on what kind of Tacos You are talking about.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #19 - December 12th, 2005, 4:06 pm
    Post #19 - December 12th, 2005, 4:06 pm Post #19 - December 12th, 2005, 4:06 pm
    Greasy Spoon wrote:
    I happen to like the hashbrowns at Golden Nugget. Would I be laughed out the door at the "HBI"?


    I'm not sure I'd really consider GN's version "hashbrowns." I think they call them something else anyway, like breakfast potatoes. Don't get me wrong, I think they are pretty good. My biggest problem is choosing between the pancakes and hashbrowns, I just can't justify ordering both at GN, but sometimes I do.

    The Mr. and I went down to Clara's again. The carry-out menu just says "Clara's" so, they shorten the name of the restaurant when they feel like it.

    They do have good hash browns. I've always considered hash browns to be grated potatoes fried in some type of oil.

    I had the cheese omelet, too (simply rolled with processed american) and the toast comes out warm. It was just fine. Coffee is pretty bad, as are the pancakes.

    If you are in the mood you can also get a variety of fried rice dishes if you want.

    The bad thing, if you want those hashbrowns, is the hours.

    They close before dinner starts if that is when you get the hankering for them. And, they are closed on Sundays.

    The waitresses said to nearly everyone walking out the door, "See you tomorrow!", it's that cheap.

    Here's my original post from back in '04:

    http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t= ... ight=clara

    I liked the coffee back then...
    Reading is a right. Censorship is not.
  • Post #20 - December 26th, 2005, 12:52 pm
    Post #20 - December 26th, 2005, 12:52 pm Post #20 - December 26th, 2005, 12:52 pm
    Unfortunately, my two choices for the best HB are neither diners nor cheap. Be that as it may, my vote goes to Shaw's (!) and Walker Brothers. The HB at Shaws can also be ordered "stuffed" with grilled onions - yummy!
  • Post #21 - December 30th, 2005, 8:54 pm
    Post #21 - December 30th, 2005, 8:54 pm Post #21 - December 30th, 2005, 8:54 pm
    My picks for hash browns are also not cheap places. Smith and Wollensky's does a fine hash brown, and their prime rib hash doesn't suck, either. I get them with a side of hollandaise. Hugo's Frog Bar also does their own version of hash browns with gruyere and habanero salsa. Not classic, but good none the less.
    You used to be able to get pretty good biscuits and gravy at a 24 hour diner on Ashland just north of Belmont, but I believe the building was torn down. It was called Sparky's, I think.
    Ryan Jaronik
    Executive Chef
    Monkey Town
    NYC
  • Post #22 - December 31st, 2005, 12:18 am
    Post #22 - December 31st, 2005, 12:18 am Post #22 - December 31st, 2005, 12:18 am
    Ryan,

    If I recall correctly, were you not at Mas? So where is South Water Kitchen?

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #23 - December 31st, 2005, 12:59 am
    Post #23 - December 31st, 2005, 12:59 am Post #23 - December 31st, 2005, 12:59 am
    In case Chef Jaronik is now peacefully snoozing, I'll leap into the void. 8) South Water Kitchen is where Mossant used to be, at 225 N. Wabash; it's part of the Hotel Monaco, of the chi-chi Kimpton Group of hotels. Chef J is a very nice fellow, down to earth and personable; I had the pleasure of working with him at a demo During Chile Weekend at the Chicago Botanic Garden last summer, and he really knows his chiles, not to mention his tomatoes, and his barbamaque (which is what he made, in the form of pulled pork....mmmm!).
  • Post #24 - December 11th, 2006, 9:39 pm
    Post #24 - December 11th, 2006, 9:39 pm Post #24 - December 11th, 2006, 9:39 pm
    Searching to see if there was anything about a place I ate the other day, but getting the name wrong (Sunrise not -shine), I found this thread, which seems like kismet since one of the better things we had was hash browns.

    Anyway, to back up, the boys and I found ourselves on Sunday in Ukrainian Village for some chamber of commerce-sponsored holiday activities for which eligible kids proved to be few and far between; thus we had sleigh rides, visits with Santa, and trays of cookies at hipster gardening stores all to ourselves. Eventually, though, we needed real food, not another cookie and more cider, so we saw a little cafe and (trudging straight past M-D-n--d's) plopped in shortly before the 3 o'clock closing time.

    What we found was half hipster diner with local artists' art for sale on the exposed brick walls, half Mexican dive. I had perfectly pleasant chilaquiles with green salsa, youngest son had quesadillas with everything not-cheese removed, older son had breakfast at 3 in the afternoon, thus establishing a pattern which will serve him well in college. Nice thing about his breakfast was that it was real hash browns, a little dry since they'd probably been cut hours earlier, but nevertheless, promising for what they'd be like at a more breakfasty hour. Service was extremely nice (even as closing time loomed ever closer), prices were fairly cheap, and a patio is reputed to exist in more temperate months. Nice little place and, if we hadn't had 46 cookies already, we'd have visited Bleeding Heart Bakery two doors down afterwards for a chaser.

    Sunrise Cafe
    2012 W Chicago Ave, Chicago 60622
    773-276-8290
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #25 - December 12th, 2006, 6:14 am
    Post #25 - December 12th, 2006, 6:14 am Post #25 - December 12th, 2006, 6:14 am
    Mike,

    Thanks for resurecting this thread. I'd like to submit Patty's Dinerto the HBI for consideration of both her standard hash browns as well as her "old potatoes". Either one of these varients could qualify as the best hash browns in town, but together they represent a virtual smorgasbord of hash browniness.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #26 - December 12th, 2006, 8:03 am
    Post #26 - December 12th, 2006, 8:03 am Post #26 - December 12th, 2006, 8:03 am
    Mike G wrote:
    Sunrise Cafe
    2012 W Chicago Ave, Chicago 60622
    773-276-8290


    I will second that Sunrise Cafe has some very good hashbrowns, and it is my "go-to" place when I just want a normal breakfast. A normal breakfast is not the easiest thing to find in my neighborhood, so Sunrise is a great spot to have, and all their breakfast items have been great in the 20 or so visits we have made. I also don't think I have ever had to leave more than a $20 to cover breakfast for 2 and a large tip. Cheap and good is always a plus :)
    Jamie
  • Post #27 - December 12th, 2006, 10:14 am
    Post #27 - December 12th, 2006, 10:14 am Post #27 - December 12th, 2006, 10:14 am
    i don't know about the Best, but for extraordinary hash browns, Dunlay's On Clark might do. They don't make any claims, but their finely shredded, perfectly toothsome, dill-seasoned potatoes tossed with shaved parmesan make for good eatin' on a Sunday morning. Not to mention their two-egg breakfast, of which these potatoes come standard, is a good value.
    "So basically, it's fat, baked in fat, fried in fat, served with a side of fat, and then smothered in fat?" "Yes." "I'll have another."
  • Post #28 - August 24th, 2008, 1:13 pm
    Post #28 - August 24th, 2008, 1:13 pm Post #28 - August 24th, 2008, 1:13 pm
    Went for a late Sunday morning breakfast to this neighborhood greasy spoon and was very disappointed. No, not like Gwiv was disappointed (see post above). I mean really disappointed. The place was dirty and drab looking, but I've had great meals in such settings, so...

    Opted for a standard diner breakfast of eggs, hash browns, sausage, and toast. The eggs were... well, eggs. They were fine and cooked to order. No problem. The hash browns (which are billed on Clara and James' sign as the "best hash browns in town") were crispy, but bland and greasy. Think shredded potatoes, completely unseasoned, and griddled to crispiness on a dirty flat top. REB commented, "they're fine if you put enough hot sauce on them." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. They can't be the best in town. They just can't be. The sausage links were grey, room temperature, and limp. They were so bad, I left all but two bites on my plate. I guess I took the second bite only because I couldn't believe how bad the first bite was. I never leave sausage uneaten.

    Service was cheerful and fairly attentive (though not attentive enough to notice that my sausage links went uneaten).

    Maybe we caught the cook on a bad day, but we will not be returning.

    --Rich

    Clara & James
    3159 W. Belmont
    773-539-3020
    I don't know what you think about dinner, but there must be a relation between the breakfast and the happiness. --Cemal Süreyya
  • Post #29 - January 22nd, 2009, 8:20 pm
    Post #29 - January 22nd, 2009, 8:20 pm Post #29 - January 22nd, 2009, 8:20 pm
    Well, whether the hash browns were the best in town or not will soon become moot, as Clara and James Restaurant will be closing, with the last day on February 1st, 2009. There is a sign posted in the window that they will be closing after 26 years in business. Too bad, I will miss them.

    Cheers, Jen

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