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Chicago visitor's chow adventures....longish

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Chicago visitor's chow adventures....longish

CMC | Aug 14, 2003 04:42 PM

So I was in town with my girlfriend last weekend for four cloudy and rainy days. But that didn't stop us. We were able to try quite a few places, almost all outside Manhattan (and I'll leave off the Manhattan places). Here are some thoughts...

Thursday:First thing we did after checking into our hotel was head out on the Q train to DiFaras. We'd been there before, so we knew what to expect (and that's why we went there immediately). Dom, of course, didn't dissapoint. I had the standard cheese slice, my girlfriend fell in love with the artichocke slice. Walked down the street and had the best apricot-free Black&White cookie at Ostrovisky's. Then we stopped in for a cupcake at Downtown Atlantic and I must say the hype was justified. Absolutely amazing. A few hours later we went Shwarma hunting in Bay Ridge. First place we tried was Karam. Chicken Shwarma. Excellent, but I have to say that there are two places in Chicago that are better--both absolutely trancendant (for different reasons). But this is definitely the 3rd best chicken shwarma I've ever had. Walked a bit to Mazza. Nicest guy in the world inside. I asked him which he recommened-chicken or beef? He told us to get a mixed Shwarma. Pretty cool idea. It was decent. The mix of meats, though a little dry, worked nicely together. And it was HUGE. If you gave it to somebody who never tried shwarma before they'd probably say it was amazing.

Friday:First meal of the day is Difaras again. I can get used to this. Tried the square slices this time. Outstanding, almost as good as the normal slices. I think the only problem is that Dom has the cheese/sauce/crust ration so perfect on his normal slices that it's inherently going to be a little off with the square, crustier slice. Friday night was the Yankees game so we headed up to Arthur Ave first. Went into the indoor market and my girlfriend bought some imported seeds. Saw some canned tomatos that are hard to find in Chicago but didn't think we'd be getting those into the ballpark. Pretty neat area. Kind of bummed we didn't go into Tony & Tinas Pizza. Apparently it's Albanian? There's an Albanian pizza place in Chicago that makes a good pizza (NYC-style) and has amazing byreks. Tried a Oaxacan tamale in mole (breaking my no Mexican in New York vow--plenty in Chicago) at a grocery store near Arthur Ave. Pretty tastey except for a sub-standard masa. Yankees win rah rah. Then we got down to business. And she's there. Right where she's supposed to be. I ask her name, she answers Piedad. She said she'd be ready in about 20 minutes. We took a bit of a walk, got some Columbian chicken skewers (really good--half a block away from the Arepa Lady). Then the Arepas. I was stunned. And awed. Eating her Arepas is like reading the most lyrical passage in your favorite book or the part in a perfect pop song when it goes in an entirely different direction than you expect and it works perfectly or watching an athlete do something that defies physics. Time stands still.

Saturday:We went back to Jackson Heights. First place we went was a place called Mama's Empenadas. I hadn't seen it talked about on chowhound, so I didn't know what to expect. But 30 different kinds of empenadas were hard to pass up. And they were good, if slightly unremarkable. Lots of interesting fillings--de Elvis (peanut butter & bananas), Cubano, etc...Walked a block or so down Northern Avenue into Seba Seba. How can something this good be a $1? One Dollar! My only experiences until that day of empenadas were the Argentine kind (and there's a grocery in Chicago that does it very well for a $1) and they're really juicy with chunks of chicken inside. These were altogether different. The outer dough was just so tastey and the fillings were perfectly flavored. I would eat one every day if I live in Jackson Heights. I would also probably weigh six thousand pounds considering everything else around the neighborhood.

Sunday:Back to DiFaras for one last time. Got there right when it opened. Already 5 or 6 people inside. Amazing as usual. Aside #1:Lest you think I only tried DiFaras pizza and I might be just blown away by the general quality of pizza in NYC over Chicago and not truly appreciate Difaras I also tried Joe's in the Village (pretty good with fresh mozzeralla), Patsy's in Harlem (better than Joe's, great sauce) and some place on the upper west side near Columbia that had the biggest slice I've ever seen. Almost comically big (just OK--better NYC-style slices in Chicago). DiFara's simply runs circles around all the other supposedly great slice places. I'm now in my requisite DiFara induced anti-Chicago pizza phase. Happened last time I was in NY and lasted a month or so. It can only be overcome by eating good Chicago-Style pizza first so there's less comparison with Difaras.

Ostrivisky's was closed. Walked down the street, bought a black & white, threw it in the garbage (can't remember name of bakery--smallish). Walked a little further down to Isaac's Bakery. Bought one B&W, walked outside, started eating it, went back and bought twelve more. These do have a light spreading of apricot--very subtle. The chocolate frosting on Isaac's cookies is so creamy and chocolate tasting. The cookie itself is perfect. Aside #2:Lots of people told me Rocco's in Manhattan had the best black&whites and they use apricot. Isaac's just blows Rocco's away (even though Rocco's is pretty good).

I probably left out a few places but I didn't take notes (next time maybe) and this is all from memory. Luckily great food stays in your mind longer than just average food.

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