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a couple of quick bites, a query and a mini-rant

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a couple of quick bites, a query and a mini-rant

mrbarolo | May 3, 2004 11:18 AM

Strolling down Clark in Rogers Park Fri. morning, I happened on 2 tamale carts. The first at about Morse, and the second about 3 blocks further south. (I gather some posters already know these carts fairly well.)

The basic set-up of the two - very basic (picnic coolers from ace hardware, styrofoam cups, etc.)and the nearly identical hand-lettered bills of fare seemed to suggest that both carts may be connected to a single, central source. But the differences in the food suggested perhaps not.

The man at cart #1 was out of pork tamales,so I took a chicken. The corn was ground very fine, so that the effect was almost like solidified cream of wheat. (Regardless of how that sounds, I don't mean that pejoratively. It was just a very finely ground cornmeal.) It was generously filled with chicken that had obviously been taken by hand off of a whole chicken that they cooked. Clearly not a pre-packaged product. Looked like mostly drumstick/thigh meat. Moist and good.

On the downside, it seemed virtually unseasoned in any way, so the overall effect was quite bland. Plain chicken and corn were the only flavors.

The sign on cart #2 said Guerrero on it, but I couldn't tell if that was a business affiliation (there used to be a Tacqueria Guerrero around), or a regional, stylistic one.

She had some pork tamales left and offered them in either mild or hot. I took hot. The corn was a much coarser grind, and I found it more interesting. The spiciness was a nice improvement over the moist but bland chicken, and though it provided a noticeable tingle, I certainly would not call it hot. She also did more selling, offering me hot chocolate, or an arroz con leche. But I was walking, and a tamale was about all could handle.

In the end, at about 70 cents each, these were pretty hard to beat as a quick street food lunch. I could have had 3 of them, a drink and dessert and been stuffed for less than $5.

Query: Continuing down Clark I noticed a storefront in a small strip mall at Albion called Taste of Peru. The very busy window made it hard to see in because the signage boasted about the food's healthiness an authenticity. Also said they do sit-down, carry-out, delivery and catering. And they have life music. Anyone been there?

Mini Rant: Went to Corner Grille at Clark and Foster for breakfast for the 2nd time. Was surprised and frustrated yet again at the inexplicable missteps and apparent lack of effort in an operation with so much promise and resources.

I mean, here is someone with 2 or 3 successful higher-end operations already under his belt, and all he's trying to do here is some middle-of-the-road yuppie diner/comfort food. Not a huge stretch, but...

On the plus side, the room is very pleasant and the waitstaff are quite friendly, cheerful and accomodating. But somewhere at command central they're asleep at the wheel.

My wife's first teacup had major lipstick on the rim. Replaced it. Her teaspoon seemed to have been caught in some kind of machinery, because not only was the edge of it pitted and jagged, but because of that, it was coated with shreds of dishcloth that had been used to dry it. Got a new spoon. (Which seems pretty unsanitary to begin with. Every restaurant I ever worked in either hot dried in a machine, or air dried. We never used a cloth. Bacteria city.)

My omelet was nicely done (in a pan, not on the grill), but the onions and peppers were in very large pieces, which prevented them from really becoming part of the omelet, or from getting more than one bit of omelet filling in any bite. For me, small dice is pretty essential to a successful omelet. The chunky potatoes looked good - very dark brown surface with lots of pepper and seasoning on them - but the flavor was not there and they clearly were done well in advance and barely warmed up to serve. Possibly even a pre-prepared type item, though I couldn't be sure. Something was not right. They definitely did not just come off a grill, that's for sure.

Link sausages were very greasy, and not in a yummy way. They seemed to have been sitting around in their own grease prior to being served, and just desperately needed some time on a paper towel.

Finally, my wife's breakfast - a combo plate with pancakes and hame and something else - had clearly come up well before my omelet, so that when both dishes were brought to the table, mine was fresh from the pan, and hers was barely room temp.

With all the resources and organizational experience behind it, this place just can't seem to make the effort to even compete with neighboring greasy spoons like Augies, A&T Grill, Angel's, Svea etc.

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