Food trucks in the Loop and elegant BBQ in the Gold Coast
Even though it looks as though Evanston is going to beat Chicago to the punch on allowing mobile food preparation inside of the truck, according to The Reader's Mike Sula (and thus, will mean Hummingbird Kitchen should be the first licensed mobile food operation in the area as soon as they pass inspection),‚ there are plenty of entrepreneurs in the city still hitting the streets. They have to prepare their food in licensed spaces, like Kitchen Chicago on the Near West Side, then load up their trucks, nab a parking spot and start selling them on the street. Advertising and marketing is limited to word-of-mouth, Twitter and Facebook.
I ran down to the Loop yesterday, after seeing @happybodega tweet her location at Wells and Jackson. ‚ It's mainly narrow sandwiches here - including decent baguettes stuffed with thinly-sliced salami and salty manchego cheese or ham with gruyere - and one of the best banana bread puddings I've had in quite awhile. ‚ Really more of a banana pudding with the requisite vanilla wafers at the bottom and a mousse-like topping, this dessert will knock you over with its pronounced banana flavor, as fresh as if they were picked that morning.
Back in my car, I noticed a Tweet from @simplechicago, which said the Simple Sandwich Chicago truck was just two blocks away, across the street from the Sears - oops, I mean Willis -‚ Tower. I rushed over to get in line (which wasn't that long).
It's all about organics and all-natural items here; the owner also uses Kitchen Chicago to prepare the items ahead of time. ‚ I loved my all-natural chicken sandwich with Spanish chorizo and a homemade piquillo pepper jam, held between two puffy loaves of Gonnella bread:
Like Happy Bodega, sandwiches were about $7; a very good chocolate chip cookie dusted with sea salt cost me an extra buck. After my two (half) lunches, I met a friend in the Gold Coast to check out the new Chicago q, which struck me as odd at first, since you don't usually see a barbeque joint offer valet parking for $12:
Inside, the restaurant (formerly Tsunami) has been gutted and completely remodeled. ‚ Off-white walls with gorgeous sconces and cushy booths with shades of Ralph Lauren make you feel as if you've stepped into a Brooks Brothers catalog. ‚ But on the menu, it's pure protein, thanks to chef Lee Ann Whippen, who is a champion competitive BBQer and who, the staff reminds you frequently, beat Bobby Flay in a "Throwdown." ‚ Kobe brisket, pulled pork and plenty of ribs are all on offer: both baby backs and St. Louis spare ribs, plus, some "competition" quality ribs, employing extra dry-rub and a little longer time in the smoker (available in full racks only). ‚ The brisket we tasted was OK; none of that trademark fattiness seemed to enhance the thin slices of beefy, dry-rubbed beef. ‚ But the baby backs (non-competition-style) were just perfect. ‚ With a two to three-hour smoke, they had a nice little pink smoke ring on the edge, with a proper chew and tug off the bone; the three sauces on the side were excellent as well - a vinegary Carolina, a medium-smokey regular and a spicier version with chili flakes embedded within - they served as enhancers, not suffocaters.
The only drag were the prices. Full slabs of baby backs run almost $27, while the "competition" quality ones (full rack only) cost $35.75. If you think that's steep, how about ordering a whole pork shoulder, which comes with coleslaw, kobe beef-studded beans and cornbread? ‚ That will set you back a cool $305. In all fairness, those beans are going to give Smoque a run for their money, while the coleslaw and cornbread absolutely hold their own among the tops in town. My friend - who isn't eating meat lately - absolutely loved his salmon steak ($23.25 at lunch) which was delicious. I realize it's the Gold Coast, and rents are steeper than they are in the other 'hoods where great BBQ resides, but I'm just not sure the throngs will descend upon a place where the check average is $50. ‚ For barbeque.