On the southeast side of Chicago, at the corner of 92nd and South Chicago, is a small restaurant--a shack really--called Le Creole. The sign says American Soul Food and there are signs in the heavily-screened windows advertising hot dogs, hamburgers and such, but this is really a Haitian restaurant. Inside it is very basic with a counter where you place your order and a few tables to eat at (in a former life it was the East Side Rib Joint). The specials are written on a board on the wall and the regular menu is taped up by the counter. The best approach is just to ask whats good that day. Haitian cuisine resembles Jamaican but there are significant differences.
The menu lists barbecue (ribs, tips, links, chicken) and some soul food standards like short ribs, ham hocks, and salmon croquettes. I havent tried any of these though I wouldnt be surprised if some were good.
The Haitian specialties are grillot (fried pork), legume (a vegetable and beef stew), bouillon (vegetable soup), viande moulu (pate), accra (malanga fritters), pain patate (sweet potato bread), Creole chicken, beef, or goat, corned beef & cabbage, oxtails, lambi (conch), and gumbo (warning: some of my spellings and descriptions may not be accurate). Its not clear to me how many of these are actually available at any given time. Maurice, the very friendly owner, says "We can cook anything, just give us a call." He seemed especially proud of his soup joumou (squash soup) which I think is only available weekends (if then).
The things Ive tried so far have all been quite good but rustic. Just real home-style cooking, nothing fancy. Everything is long-cooked (some might say over done), spiced with authority (some may think too hot), and some things are perhaps a little greasy (I prefer to say "rich"). Just a possible warning.
The Creole chicken is long-cooked legs and thighs with sauteed green peppers, onions, and some halved Scotch bonnet chiles in a soupy, spicy, oily sauce. A huge pile of rice and peas (red beans) strongly flavored with clove, allspice, and thyme comes along. Also a small lettuce, tomato, and cabbage salad and some good fried sweet plantains. A lot of food for $7.50.
Jerk chicken is a very interesting version, different from most others Ive tried. The chicken is cut into the usual US serving pieces, not hacked into random bits. Its extremely long-cooked and is very tender and almost uniformly blackened. Its covered with a very thick dark sauce, actually more of a chunky paste or relish. Its blackish green and is full of unidentifiable chunks, leaves and stems. Looks almost dangerous and tastes spectacular. Im not sure if the dish is always that spicy (I had made it clear that I liked hot food) so those with tender palates should beware.
I also tried the legume (turned out to be more "viande" than "legume"). Very long-cooked beef that had practically turned into a thick, rich gravy together with eggplant (so I was told; it had completely disintegrated), onion, lima beans, peppers, carrot, and other vegetables. It was well seasoned but not very hot. It was served on a bed of pretty good long grain white rice.
This is another of those places that wont be to everyones liking. Im quite fond of it and am looking forward to trying much more of the menu. I still havent tried Au Rendez-vous (337 Howard in Evanston) but am hoping to get there too.
Le Creole Restaurant
9174 S South Chicago Av
(just east of the Skyway; about 2900 E)
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