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Restaurants & Bars 8

The worst Islas Marias, the best sopes, ceviche and other treats of Logan Square (part II)

Vital Information | May 27, 200307:24 AM

[Editor's note, when we last left our eater, he was weeping his way north on Milwaukee Avenue after having experienced the world's greatest sope.]

RST has turned us on to the little trick, looking for hidden flags as a way of learning the true identity of a place. For instance, Pepe's looks like any old bodega, but the Brazilian flag says otherwise. Likewise, there is a place on Fullerton just west of Kedzie that slyly presents a Dominican Republic flag to alert passersby. It seems that nearly all Ecuadorian places around town advertise themselves by painting their awnings in the colors of Ecuador: red, yellow and blue. I've seen it on clothing stores, restaurants and at El Condor, a neat little Ecuadorian grocery store on Milwaukee in the same vicinity as the Mega Mall.

El Condor has in back, a small restaurant serving roast pork with an interesting table salsa, a thick red-orange concoction. Mid-afternoon, however, the pork was not ready. I settled for a bottle of strawberry pop--must be a real big thing in Ecuador judging from the several choices. I also tasted some yellow roll I apologize I missed the name because it was nothing special. El Condor is filled with interesting and unique products, the linked post barely scratches the surface of what's there. Regardless, El Condor is worth it for two things. First, it is neat to see the these authentic jumbo, aboriginal corn seeds, the precursors to masa, hominy, tortillas, arepas, even corn nuts, sold by the pound. El Condor has 3 varieties. Second, there is a great picture on the wall of a group in the Andes, sitting around an open fire, each roasting a cuy on a stick.

I've talked up Pierre's Mexican bakery a lot, but I have the same advice about the Logan Square Pierre's as I do about the Logan Square Islas Marias. Stick to the better version. I've been to the Logan Square Pierre's before, and I did not remember the differences being so distinct, but on Saturday, they were. All the colorful Jell-O molds, tres leche cakes, dipped strawberries, flans, etc. that are $2.50 at the Berwyn Pierre's are $2.99 in Logan Square. On top of that, the selection of less fancy pastries, the sweet empanadas, the conchas, the muffin/cupcake thingee's I love, are not there, or at least not as many. Finally, the croissants we got tasted pretty much like Pillsbury crescent rolls.

Lest you think it ill-advised that we got croissants at Pierre's, let me just digress for a moment and say, that the night before, when at the GOOD Pierre's, in Berwyn, one of the chowhounditas wanted, as she would call it, a cro-SHant. Dad wanted to say, what about all the more Mexican type stuff, but Mom wisely noted, let her have what she wanted. And it turned out to be one of the best croissants I've had this side of Nantes. Everything you want in a croissant, flaky, butter, rich, filling, it made the one's we got on Saturday all the more disappointing.

After croshants and the madhouse that was Gap Outlet with a sale, we hit dinner time. We fortified the kids with McD's, nothing special, and then set off for the Peruvian place I am always teasing. As so often the case, it was a, what took us so long kind of experience.

Mi Familia (3624 W. Fullerton) is a small Peruvian store upfront, some product overlap with El Condor, but many unique items, and a dining room in back. They use some trellis and cheap tile to set off the room well, a nice job with a small space. Shortly after sitting down, the proprietor, Fernando, asked us, incredulously, Peruvian food? After assuring him we did not wander in by accident, he settled in.

What a force of nature. Working that small room, equally conversant in two languages, refusing to let you strain yourself with a straw wrapper, making menu advice, charming the kids. Passing out the standard green sauce, we practically expected him to spread it for us on the bread. He is worth the cost of eating there.

Now, I know that all food is weird to people not familiar with it, but really, is there any food more weirder than Peruvian? They take Chinese, Spanish, Indian, and Italian influences and come up with things not quite like any of their antecedents. Things are always thicker than you expect, salty when you believe clear, dry when you expect juicy, and in shades of yellow and green and brown that are not quite of Mother nature. It is good stuff, just different.

Ms. VI these days practically lives on seafood cocktails. She ordered the ceviche mixto. Fernando asked her about heat, and she said muy. He gave her a bit of the Few Good Men questioning, but she insisted. Out came a medley of small octopus, mussels and shrimp, that truth be told, was so-so, but that dressing, wow. It contained two levels of heat. The top layer came from some sliced jalepenos, really the warm-up act. Buried at the bottom of the mix, a slew of finely diced Peruvian orange peppers, the equivalent to habaneros. Fernando gave her a spoon to finish. When we expressed our liking of his dressing and peppers, he went to the kitchen and grabbed a handful for us to take home. Then, he thought better of it, and whipped us up a whole batch of dressing to to go.

Besides ceviche, Mi Familia has the whole slew of Peruvian choices, including a Peruvian breakfast on Sundays. I ate a very soft noodle drenched in a green sauce, with some fried steak on the side. I believe, as is national custom, everything, even the noodles, gets served with some form of potato. For dessert, we had a very buttery alfajore. Not exalted food, but the charm of Fernando and his wife, Maria, far exceed mere edibles.



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