Tuesday morning, Eight Forty-Eight encouraged the throngs of people in town for the NATO summit to get out of downtown and into the neighborhoods to see – and taste – what the city has to offer. WBEZ bloggers Louisa Chu and John Schmidt give visitors a culinary and historical tour of the city. And, area food vendors and restaurateurs say why their establishment is worth the trek. Fatih Yildiz, the Consul General of Turkey, also calls in to talk about an upcoming reception with Turkish president Abdullah Gül.
As WBEZ reported earlier this week, the Chicago NATO Host Committee has a very specific idea of what the Taste of Chicago really is — one seemingly devoid of the city's best eating establishments. WBEZ reporters took to the streets to explore some of the city's other, better and sometimes overlooked offerings.
Valois (Hyde Park) – Adam Peindl
"We're a cafeteria-style diner. Our family's been here since 1971. Originally the restaurant opened in 1921 by a French couple, so French is part of NATO.
We've got a great breakfast; we open at 5:30 in the morning. Great food, we've got steak and eggs that goes for $9.95 plus taxes. New York steak; I don't know if you can beat that anywhere else.
The NATO delegates should come here because it was Obama's hangout before he became president. He used to come to breakfast almost everyday. We've got his menu up, what he used to eat. He used to eat a lot of egg whites; used to watch his figure, I guess.
We've got quick service, so if they're in a hurry, they can shoot down Lakeshore Drive from McCormick Place, come in, eat breakfast, and shoot back down to McCormick Place to take care of their business. So we'll be waiting to see them." — Tom Chronopoulos, manager
Ramova Grill (Bridgeport) – Caroline O'Donovan
"People come here because it's the best chili parlor around." — Chris, waitress
"The people that are coming to Chicago for the NATO summits, I think they should visit Bridgeport because it's becoming a very diverse neighborhood — different nationalities, different cultures. I think it's a flavor of what Chicago, they'll get a flavor of what Chicago is.
We're known for our chili. It's Cincinnati style chili. They haven't changed the recipe at all. The way they cooked it 80 years ago, it's still done today. The Ramova Grill is a place where you can come have a meal and everybody knows your name. It's an old cliche term, but it's true." — William Gertos
"I've been coming to the Ramova Grill for 40 to 50 years. A lot of camaraderie here, a lot of nice friends. If you're looking for someone to talk to, you can come in here and always know somebody in here. The food's good, the chili's excellent, and I recommend to anyone." — Raleigh March
Belly Shack (Bucktown/Humboldt Park) – Niala Boodhoo
"NATO dignitaries should come here because its the perfect blend; Chicago is small neighborhoods. So when they come to our restaurant, Belly Shack, one bite — you'll get part of Humboldt Park, another bite, Korea Town, all in one little dish. My wife is Puerto Rican; I'm Korean, so we take the best of both worlds and bring it together. It's like a love story, in a perfect bite." — Bill Kim, chef and owner
"I've already been here three times in three days. So far it's the meatball sandwich. The fries are awesome too; they have this kind of spicy mustard dipping sauce; I'd recommend it to anybody." — Paul Balsom, recently moved to the neighborhood
"I know that the NATO host committee is arranging a spouse outing to Navy Pier. But I also think they should come out here to Belly Shack. I mean it's not white tablecloth, but it's comfortable, and just come on out." — Rosemary Gaitan, patron
Maxwell Street Market, Rubi's (Near West Side) – Odette Yousef
Evelyn Ramirez’s family has been cooking up authentic Southern Mexican tortillas and quesadillas from their Chicago’s Maxwell Street food stand, called Rubi’s. They’ve been pounding out thick, hand-made, corn tortillas and filling them with everything from grilled pork to squash blossoms, topped with fresh salsa and the usual fixings, since 1997.
“At Rubi’s we get a lot of customers from all over the world,” said Ramirez. “We just recently had a few people who came from Ireland, and actually took some hot sauce — they couldn’t take the food, but they took some hot sauce back to Ireland.”
Ramirez said she hopes NATO visitors swing by on a Sunday afternoon both to see the diversity of foods that Maxwell Street has to offer, and to sample her family’s specialties. “They should come to Rubi’s because our food is just delicious,” said Ramirez, “and we’ll treat you like family, and I’m sure you’ll want to come back.”
Victor Mejia (Rogers Park) – Odette Yousef
Victor Mejia has been serving up chopped fresh fruit on the street since he was a ten-year-old in Mexico. Now, he’s dishing out healthy snacks from his mobile fruit cart on Clark Street in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood on the far North Side.
“We sell a lot of things, and the first one we call gazpacho,” explained Mejia. “It’s fruit in very small pieces, very tiny. It goes mixed with every kind of fruit you want kiwi, strawberry, mango, pineapple, honeydew, all kinds of fruit.”
Mejia then fills up the container with fresh-squeezed orange juice, lime juice, and tops it with chili powder and cheese. He also sells fruit cocktails – that is, big plastic cups packed with large slices of fruit, and topped with the same sour and spicy fixings. Mejia chops, slices, and peels at lightning-fast pace, sometimes for lines that stretch down the block.
“NATO visitors should come here because we prepare the fruit in a different way,” said Mejia. “I know if these guys come over here, they will be happy, and I will be happy to serve them.”
Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, Indiana) – Michael Puente
"The thing about our brewery is that I think our genuine sort of attitude toward quality and our commitment to quality comes through not only in our beer but also in the food that we put out in the pub. I think that we have a very fun attitude toward beer. I think a lot of people take it super seriously. We look at it as just a really fun beverage and it reflects in our art work and the food we put out. The flavor in our beer is always bold. Like our brewery tag line: Not Normal"
"Any beer aficionado and you’re not from Chicago and you’re not from the region where we sell beer I think with Alpha King. It’s our flagship beer. It’s the beer that made us. If you want to continue on that hoppy sort of line I think Zombie Dust, our pale ale, our new pale ale, is a fantastic way to go. It’s really bright, citrusy, tons of fun. Who doesn’t love anything to do with zombies, too?"
"Our pub right now is, we’ve got fantastic pizzas, we’ve got an awesome charcuterie program. All sorts of cured meats and what not, everything to like grilled octopus. I think everything we’re doing right now in the kitchen is on par with our beer. The thing is we think we make some of the best beer in the world so why would not have food that’s not on par with our beer? That’s kind of our philosophy across the board.
You’d be crazy if you come to Chicago and you do not come down here." – Lincoln Anderson, sales manager at Three Floyds
Hoosier Mama Pie Company (Ukrainian Village) – Susie An
"We use local produce as much possible, so we're really highlighting some of our wonderful midwestern farmers. And I think the fact that we were able to open on a shoestring budget in a 750 sq. ft. space is a testament to the great and supportive foodie community in Chicago, and also all the wonderful independent restaurants that we have. And I think NATO visitors would really be missing out if they didn't get out and see some of that.
We believe, here at Hoosier Mama, that just about anything can be solved by sitting down over a slice of pie and a cup of coffee, and that might come in handy.
Oh my gosh, right now I would offer rhubarb [pie]. Unless they're from England, I doubt they've ever seen that before. It is such an unlikely-looking plant to make pie out of; it's delicious, it's one of my favorites. Oh and I'd love to make them the Hoosier sugar cream pie, which is the state pie of Indiana, just for a little Hoosier pride.
I think this is real down home American food and I think they should see that." – Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama
MacArthur’s (West Side) – Jewell Washington
"NATO people should come here to eat because we have quality food, great service. We cook food with love. And when you come here at McArthur's, this is cafeteria-style serving. You can see the food that you want, the item that you want. You can actually taste the food you buy.
This is our wall of fame. Gabrielle Union, P. Diddy, Derek Rose. That's the man, yeah. President Barack Obama came here to eat. He had candied yams, fried catfish, green beans, cornbread, muffins, and hoppin' john on the side.
We try to get them full. If you look at some of the plates here, you see me stack it on. It's so much easier to discuss business if you're enjoying a good meal. I mean, you can come up with all kinds of ideas and solutions. If we've got the world coming to Chicago and they're coming to McArthur's and eating and enjoying themselves, maybe they can get some ideas to better the world." – Louis Mosby, head chef and kitchen manager