Local Hero #3 Hot Doug’s

05/10/2009

Think it’s probably time that I shut up about food related adventures from our US road trip, but before I do, I HAD to give a heads up on Chicago’s number one sausage emporium, Hot Doug’s.

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Now, Chicago is a town that loves it’s hot dogs, and for the peeps of the windy city, this place is the stuff of legend. Everyone seems to have a Hot Doug’s related story, and if you’ve not been, you feel a bit left out.

To cut a long story short, there’s a guy called Doug who makes the most amazing speciality hot dogs that come in a bewildering and surprising array of flavours. And when I say bewildering, I mean it. Pork, duck, lamb, beef, weisswurst, bratwurst, veal, rattlesnake, vegetarian…I could go on. Doug’s place is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so if you’re an un-escorted newbie, you can pretty much forget about finding it (we were lucky enough to have a couple of willing guides). But, despite the location, the place is RAMMED every day. It’s open between 11am and 4pm, and there’s a queue pretty much from opening to closing.

Photo: MSN

Photo: MSN

When we got there at about a quarter to twelve, there were already alot of people waiting. It tooks us about an hour to make it through the doors  and get a look at the wall mounted menu and specials, but when we did I nearly exploded with excitement. After much debate, my girlfriend and I decided to get 4 to share between us. We went for a duck and fois gras, a merguez and goats cheese, veal and pork weisswurst, and a classic Chicago dog (all pictured).

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First up the duck. Now I was fully expecting this to be a gimmic, but I could’nt have been further from the mark. You could taste everyhing. The duck and fois gras in the sausage, the fois gras mousse on top, and the insane truffle and garlic mayo. Every bite was rediculous. Too sickly to nail another, but amazing.

Next up the weisswurst. Again a taste sensation. The tangy apple and pork meat in the sausage was well seasoned and wrapped in this creamy mustard and parsley sauce. Then a nice bit of tangy, peppery horseradish cheese finished it off with style.

The traditional chicago dog was probably the least impressive of the four, but still damn tasty. Your glassic frank dog accompanied with fried onions, mustard, tomato, a slab of pickle and a kind of atomic green relish. When in Rome and all that.

Finally the merguez. One of my favourite sausages of all time. This baby came served up with a kind of smokey chipotle sauce that was a cross between a mayo and a gravy , and was topped with this amazigly fluffy and light goats cheese. Again you could taste all the flavours, and the cheese cooled down the chili kick of the sausage and sauce. Phenominal.

It’s not hard to see why people get evangelical about Hot Doug’s. It’s one of those proper institutions that specialise in one thing, and nails it time after time. It’s also fun and completely unpretentious. In the UK a place like Doug’s would probably fall out of favour as soon as it ceased to be fashionable, which is a great shame as I feel England’s restaurant scene would be a lot richer if there were more of the local neighbourhood heroes of the kind I’ve written about in the past few posts.

I’ve always liked the idea of starting a local sausage restaurant, maybe there’s a gap in the market?

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Local Hero #2 Nepenthe

04/10/2009
Photo by Buzz100Ca

Photo by Buzz100Ca

If you’re going on a road trip down the pacific coast through the Big Sur, there’s one place that everyone tells you to go, and that’s Nepenthe. In his 1962 book ‘Big Sur’, Jack Kerouac, describes the restaurant thus, “From the baths we go to Nepenthe which is a beautiful cliff top restaurant with a vast outdoor patio, with excellent food, excellent waiters and management, good drinks, chess tables, chairs and tables to just sit in the sun an look at the grand cost…”

Whilst Kerouac’s description is less than effusive, it is pretty much spot on; so allow me to add a few superlatives. The location is amazing, the view of the pacific ocean fantastic, and the food bloody tasty. We both ate the trademark Ambrosia burger, which as the name suggests (in the work of Homer, Ambrosia is the food of the gods), was pretty heavenly. The meat was clearly good quality, the bun toasted and beautifully soft, but what really set it off was the sauce – a kind of tomato, chili mayonaise. Served with a huge side of fries and a light slaw, it was a great lunch. But with a view like that, you can’t go that far wrong.

Photo by Meatmeister

Photo by Meatmeister

It’s pretty rare that a restaurant lives up to the hype, but Nepenthe does, and not much seems to have changed since Kerouac wrote his description. It’s a simple formula, but one that works, and the owners have stuck to it.

You can get the recipe for the Ambrosia burger here, but I’m not sure it would taste quite so good without that view.


Local Hero #1 La Super-Rica

03/10/2009

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As mentioned in the last post, I’ve just returned from a holiday in the States. From a food perspective, one of the things that I noticed about a lot of the stuff we tasted in California was the Mexican influence. Plenty of lime, avocado, coriander, chilli and corn. Fresh, tasty flavours.

We also ate quite a bit of of straight up Mexican food. Great Burritos in the Mission in San Francisco, Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, torta Mexicanas in LA, but the pick of the bunch was a a tiny little place called La Super-Rica in Santa Barbra.

Reputedly Julia Child’s favourite Mexican restaurant and tucked away in the Mexican area of town, La Super-Rica is basically a little shack with a tent attached to the back. Always busy, the tiny kitchen knocks out fantastic traditional Mexican street food. There are daily specials, firm favourites and apparently the best horchata you’ll taste outside of Mexico.

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We tried the daily special, a vegetarian tamale, which came served in the corn husk it had been steamed in with a side of pork and beans. The corn meal was really tasty and kind of creamy, enriched with a bit of cheese and with vegetables through it. We also had a portion of the most delicious buttery guacamole, and a couple of servings of chorizo tacos. Amazing.

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It was also a really charming place. No frills and not in any way poncy, it’s location also means that you have to make a real effort to get there, so people really go for the food. And there was a proper cross section of them. From the WASPy Santa Barbra set to students, Mexican locals and hipsters. I’d go back at the drop of a hat.

Super-Rica? As Omar Little would say, indeed.


How Do You Like Your Eggs In The Morning?

26/09/2009

Me and the missus just got back from a road trip in the good ol’ US of A driving down the Pacific coast from San Fran to LA, and then on to Chicago for a wedding. We had an amazing time, and a we ate like kings. I think the thing I like about the majority of food in the States is the lack of bullshit. It’s not delicate in any way, and it’s all the better for it. For the most part you can forget about foams, jus and micro herbs. But that’s not to say the food isn’t good, it’s as tasty as hell. It’s all about big, bold, brash flavours, ss you might expect from the Yanks.

Anyway, breakfast fast became our favourite meal of the day, and right here are out top four breakfasts from the trip.

Huevos Rancheros – literally ‘eggs ranch style’. Mexican style eggs (in this case scrambled with ham) served up on flour tortillas smothered in spicy tomato sauce, topped with black beans and avocado, with a side of home fries. Ay carrumba.

Huevos Rancheros at The Crepevine, San Francisco

Huevos Rancheros at The Crepevine, San Francisco

Hash & Eggs – despite the name, probably the poshest breakfast of the trip, but totally amazing. Spring onion, bacon and potato hash topped with a couple of poached eggs. The breakfast of champions.

Hash & Eggs at Rose's Cafe, San Francisco

Hash & Eggs at Rose's Cafe, San Francisco

Granola Waffles – I’m not a massive fan of majorly sweet stuff for breakfast, but these were insane. They were part of the make your own breakfast buffet at the place we stayed at in The Big Sur. When making the waffles you toss in a handful of the home made granola. Proper ying and yang business.

Granola Waffles with Banana, Nectarine and Maple at Treebones, Big Sur

Granola Waffles with Banana, Nectarine and Maple at Treebones, Big Sur

Cornbread Egg Muffin – I know this looks like some kind of Scotch Egg disaster (not that there’s anything wrong with a Scotch Egg), but these took us by surprise. A slightly sweetened corn bread muffin, a touch of chili and a boiled egg in the middle. Awesometown.

Cornbread & Egg Muffin at Sweetcakes, Chicago

Cornbread & Egg Muffin at Sweetcakes, Chicago


Eat Me!

07/08/2009

I LOVE New York, and a big part of this has to do with the food. There are obviously lots of great restaurants, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about. It’s the diners, the hot dog stands, the dollar slices of pizza and the local institutions that really get me excited.

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Kenny Shopsin. Photo: ThinkFilm

A couple of years ago whilst planning a trip to the apple, a friend told me that I had to check out this guy called Kenny Shopsin’s place in the Lower East Side. I’d never heard of him, but after a bit of digging I discovered that he’s a bit of a local hero. The best way I can think of describing Kenny is that he’s a kind of gutter Heston Blumenthal. He’s become ‘famous’ for his innovative combinations of foods, but not in a molecular gastronomy way. More thinking laterally about whats really tasty. His menu lists over 900 items, which he creatively names; dishes include ‘Slutty Cakes’ and ‘Blisters On My Sisters’. He’s also well known for his slightly unpredicatable temprament and strict house rules that are supposed to have partly inspired the ‘Soup Nazi’ character from Seinfeld.

Needless to say, I HAD to pay him a visit, and I wasn’t disappointed. The man himself took out order, and luckily seemed to like the cut of our jib. I can’t remember what everyone else had, but I ate a pretty atomic plate of huevos rancheros, which were very tasty, and we shared a plate of the slightly random, but totally delicious mac & cheese pancakes. I know. They sound a bit rank, but trust me. Drenched in maple syrup, they are ridiculous. So in honour of them, here’s the recipe:

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Ingredients

Peanut oil for the griddle

Butter for the griddle and for serving

3 cups of pancake batter (American style)

1 heaped copy of cooked macaroni – tossed with olive oil and warmed before using

1 heaped cup of grated mild cheddar cheese

Warm maple syrup

Method

Prepare the griddle of frying pan and drop on the batter. When bubbles appear on the surface (after about 2 minutes) drop a tablespoon of macaroni onto each pancake and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese. Use a thin spatula and flip the pancakes over. Turn the heat down to medium, and press the cakes down with the spatula. When the underside is golden (another two minutes), remove them from the pan and place on a plate, macaroni side up. Smother with maple syrup and devour.

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I’ve just finished reading Kenny’s book, where I stole the recipe from, which is part philosophy part cookery book, and is an interesting read. As well as including a small selection of the hundreds of recipes on offer at his place, he charts the progress of his restaurant from a bodega in Greenwich Village to his new-ish home in the Essex Street Market, and how along the way he developed his own style, pallet and attitude to his customers.

Shopsin’s General Store is in the Essex Street Market, New York. His website is here, and you can see Kenny cooking those famous mac & cheese pancakes here.