Archive for the ‘Damen’ Category

Hopleaf Sign

I can hardly believe how quickly time can fly by. About two and a half years ago I was heading up to Andersonville with my copy of the Chicago ‘Not For Tourists’ guide in my hand hunting down a Belgian bar called Hopleaf. I got all the way up there and sady it was not open. Since then apart from the occasional memory prompt while watching it appear on Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives I pretty much forgot about it for the next couple of years. Until this week that is when I was trying to find somewhere to eat and get a good beer and the mists in my mind cleared for a Belgian beer moment.

Kwak beer

It was much bigger inside than I thought it would be, there was a front bar, a restaurant at the back, and we were taken up to the mezzanine to a select group of quiet tables overlooking the downstairs area. There was a really large selection of beers to choose from, but it did not take me too long to settle on a draught Kwak beer (pictured above), and before you ask, yes one of the things that I like about drinking this beer is the funky drinking vessel. You get a round bottom goblet a sort of smaller version of a yard of ale glass, and the handle is a wooden holder. The first time I ever saw one of these was in a themed Belgian Bar on the waterfront in Cape Town. At that bar if you had one of these glasses they made you give up your left shoe as a deposit and it was put in a basket above the bar. Something I have seen elsewhere and a memory that is embedded in my mind. That is not the only reason I get this beer, it is also a very drinkable beer, not too overpowering in terms of malt, and it hides it’s alcoholic content well. Just a couple of these can send you well on your way.

OK now for some food to soak up or rather accompany this beer.

Rabbit Sausage Starter

We shared a starter getting the Rabbit Sausage Platter. This came in a bowl, which was unexpected, I was exepecting a plate or even a charcuterie board. It might not have been quite as envisoned, but it certainly was visually a good plateful or rather bowlful. Apart from the lightly spiced rabbit sausage it also had some braised Savoy Cabbage, a Rosemary Yorkshire Pudding (which was perfectly done), Red Pickled Beets, and a light jus. The sausage was quite subtle and had a spicing that we could not quite place. I queried this with the waitress and the message came back that it was rosemary, but I was still not convinced, it was more like a fennel or fenugreek flavour, at least that was what I tasted. This was a good bowlful, you could eat this yourself, and get a main course, but it was big enough to share if you just wanted a tasting plate.

Hopleaf Brisket Fingerling potato salad

There was only ever going to be one choice of dish for the main course and that was going to be some brisket. More specifically the Organic montreal style brisket platter. I had seen this prepared on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on a few occasions. The most recent being about 10 minutes before I caught the bus over to Andersonville this evening. Apart from the brisket the platter came with dill pickle (which was left untouched), coleslaw, and a stilton mac ‘n’ cheese. The  Stilton Mac and Cheese was surprisingly good, I am not a massive stilton fan, but this was judged just right not too much stilton, and you were left with a good flavour, but not too blue.

We also got a side of german potato salad which was made of fingerling potatoes, caramelized red onions, garlic, bacon, apple cider vinegar. Largely because we both love fingerling potatoes. Really a nice mixture I may try and make these myself.

This was all great, but the brisket, the star of the show, was kind of out of this world, a beautiful thing to behold. Organic grass fed brisket is rubbed all over with minced garlic then coated with a montreal style rub made up of a mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, smoked sweet paprika, brown sugar, ground cumin, ground fennel, ground coriander, ground celery seed, mustard seed, mustard powder, all spice, and pink salt. It then gets left to marinate in the cooler for 72 hours. Then it is put on a sheet tray, covered in slices of bacon, and some red wine poured into the base of the tray to keep it moist as it is placed into a smoker for 8 hours at 250F.

After all that work you just know that it has to be good and believe me it was seriously good, tender, juicy, flavoured so well.

All in all a great meal, some great flavours, good beer, and a decent price point.

There is not much else to tell you about this trip to Hopleaf other than I was sad that I had left it so long to pay them a visit.

check them out at their websit;

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon


Middle Eastern bakery and grocery in Andersonville has been a great place to stock up on spices, spice mixes, rubs, teas and pretty much everything I have needed for my varied and eclectic cooking.

DSC05875 Spices and seeds

There are shelves packed with practically every spice you need, ground or whole, plus a whole lot of pre-mixed rubs, tagine mixes, and curry mixes. The only thing I have not been able to get here was curry leaves, but they are better fresh and if you head up to any of the groceries on Devon Avenue in Little India you can get them there. But anyhow as I say this is a great place to stock up for those more advanced recipes.


They also stock some really healthy, rather invigorating, and just tasty tea blends, everything from classic Green Teas, Northern India Chai, to refreshing blends made with different dried fruits. I particularly like the Pomengranate Tea, it is very good either hot or cold.

Spinach PiesSpinach

In the Deli counter they have an impressive selection of Pies, Kibbi, and Falafel. I have tried the Spinach & Cheese (feta) Pie and it was quite good, the pastry is a little more dense than an English pasty, but the fillings are good. They also have other options such as Chicken, Mushroom, Green, & Red Pepper Pie, or  a vegetarian pie with zuchinni, yellow squash, eggplant, black & green olives, tomatoes, red &
green peppers, just to give a couple of examples. Other specialities are the kibbi balls which are either meat or spinach mied with bulgah.

The grocery has so much more to offer and you really need to check it out. You can get a good overview of what they have on offer from their website at

Middle Eastern Bakery is at 1512 West Foster Avenue, it is not really near any El Stops, the easiest might be to ride the Brown Line to Damen then jump onto the CTA 80 bus, or get the 22 Clark Bus up into Andersonville.

Middle Eastern Bakery on Urbanspoon


I am a big fan of ‘First Slice’, which is a self-funded charity to feed the needy and homeless and have often frequented their cafe just next to the Brown Line up at the Francisco stop in North Manor although thinking about it that seems a bit daft as I have another one of their cafes right around the corner  in the LillStreet Art Centre in Ravenswood This is literally 5 minutes walk away from my house and yet I have not been in there. Shocking really. Not only is it a great cause but the food is great too. So this lunchtime I headed over there for a bite to eat.

Looking up at the Menu board my eyes were drawn to the ‘Duck Confit and Mozzarella’ sandwich, and not just because it was hand written in chalk and stood out from the other menu listings. No it was something else that triggered my interest, a somewhat subliminal message from my brain? what was it? I did not really know why but somehow I just knew I had to have that sandwich.

I am on a roll, this was another really excellent sandwich. The duck confit plenty of it, tender and soft and it was really moreish. I was worried that it might have been a little bit on the rich side but mixed with the other fillings not at all. There was a really great mix of mushroom and onion, both marinated or grilled in something that elevated and took them to the next level. There was a smear of some sort of sweet sauce made with red peppers and also some really nice melted mozzarella cheese toasted onto the panini bread. To add to all that it came with the house salad which I have had before, lots of nice herb leaves and rocket dressed with a tangy vinegratte, and topped with thinly sliced apples and thinly sliced radish. An absolute winner all around.

As I walked back home I remembered where I had seen that sandwich before, it was in the November 2012 edition of Chicago Magazine in their “50 best sandwiches” article. When I got back I flicked back through the pages to see their thoughts, they described it thus “…a wonderland of blistery mozzarella, mushrooms, grilled red onions, and sun-dried tomato spread – overflows with hunks and slivers of duck confit. Ethereal and glorious”. That seems about right to me. Different words but the same thoughts.

First Slice Cafe is located at 4401 N Ravenswood Ave, in sight and a brief walk from the Montrose Brown line station. It is in the LillStreet Art Centre and next to or rather practically within the adjoining shop. You can sit amongst the paint spotted and clay splattered artists sipping their teas and coffees and just relax with some damn good food.

The First Slice website at tells you all about the organisation, their history, locations, and menu. Well worth a visit.

First Slice Cafe on Urbanspoon

I have had Hamburger Mary’s on my radar for quite some time now but sadly I rarely seem to get over into Andersonville to eat at many of the districts varied and diverse resturants. Mostly I try to eat within easy reach of the elevated railway, and it is quite a distance between the nearest station stop and the main Andersonville drag along Clark Street. If I do head over there it is on the Damen 80 CTA bus which you can pick up from the Damen Brown line station.

I don’t know why but when I see the Hamburger Mary’s sign I think of the film “There’s something about Mary” with Cameron Diaz and that made me have a quick hunt around for film quotes. I was quite tickled by the following;

Mary: I want a guy who can play 36 holes of golf, and still have enough energy to take Warren and me to a baseball game, and eat sausages, and beer, not lite beer, but beer. That’s my ad, print it up.
Brenda: “Fatty who likes golf and beer.” Gee, Mary, where are you gonna find a gem like that?

I would be answering that advert, but before I did I would have to make sure that there was a table free at Hamburger Mary’s and some spare box tickets at the Cubs.

But I have digressed quite substantially once again, I should get back to the task in hand which was telling you about the food we ate at this somewhat quirky and unique Hamburger joint.

This is your basic house option from the list of Classic 1/2lb Burgers on offer. It is The “Mary” Burger which comes with lettuce, pickles and Mary’s sauce which is basically thousand island dressing. This one had cheddar cheese added to it and the Mary’s sauce on the side. It looks good but I didn’t eat this one so can only go by the diner’s review which was that it was really good.

My choice was the “All American” Burger. This was a 1/2 lb burger ‘stuffed’ with bacon and Worcestershire sauce, then topped with some more slices of bacon, some American cheese which had melted or rather oozed across the burger, a crispy bit of lettuce, some juicy tomato and plain mayonaisse. It was a great big juicy burger, lots of bread and when I cut it in half to show you the filling you can almost see the chunks of bacon bits with which it was stuffed. If you cannot see them, don’t worry I can vouch for their presence and not only that but you could really taste the saltiness of the bacon within the burger.

Often I am quite dismissive of the side options that come with my burger, but on this occasion the ‘Tasty Seasoned Fries” were really quite good. I have a very simple, basic and easy to follow rule to define if my fries are any good or not – “can I eat them without adding any sauce?” For these fries that answer was yes I could, I could have easily eaten the whole bowl without resorting to dipping them into a sauce to add flavour. That is no small feat these days when sometimes the sides seem to be just an afterthought or plate filler. The fries at Hamburger Mary’s are well worth eating.

Hamburger Mary’s is located at 5400 N Clark Street in Andersonville. Website:

Hamburger Mary's on Urbanspoon


As I approached Byron’s hot dogs on Lawrence the first thing I saw was on old style sign high up above the power lines, then as I walked through the car park there was a whole wall painted yellow with the Byron’s sign, a Chicago Dog and a Vienna Beef sign. I love this kind of stuff, it adds 10% onto any hot dog I will be eating here, at least. I think that the Chicago Dog is iconic, but I have never really fallen in love with it as a meal. When I see a picture it feels like a book that I have bought for the photographs but never read.


Inside Byron’s it has an old school feel, the usual stick on menu items, supplemented by a board of specials that makes a point out of the fact that they served hot dogs at the White House to President Obama. Hey that must tell you something about the place. That was enough to make me stick to choosing a basic hot dog instead of something else. Once out of the ordering area it is like an old school dining seating area, red table booths, black leather seats. Really, really quite cool.

I went for a “Hot Dog with everything but the pickle”, expecting a normal Chicago Hot Dog, but oh no this has so much more. As I watched the guy add more and more stuff from the salad tray I was thinking “is he trying to make my hot dog healthier?”. The bottom layer was mustard, green relish, chopped raw onion, then a layer of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, green pepper and then a sprinkling of celery salt. I will have to be honest as I picked up the hot dog nearly all the toppings fell off, I looked at it all in the tray and thought oh well I am eating what I have left here, the bun fell apart and I just ate the dog with mustard, relish onion and a little bit of the salad and that was enough, was it good, it was a fair dog, hey the president eats these, but then again maybe the salad fell of his too. Maybe thats the idea. It’s like OMG this could be healthy, then it falls off and its like panic over, we are just eating a hot dog guys, phew.

So I saved the best part for last and only because it meant so much more to me than just the hot dog experience. The whole meal was served on a sheet of golfing tips, and as an avid golfer playing of single figures, I can say that these tips were not bad, soem of them were spot on. Excellent stuff, OK so I missed out on the opportunity to colour in some dinsosaurs but that was fine with me.

So Byron’s has two locations, this one at 1701 W Lawrence Ave, and a second at 1017 W Irving Park Rd both listed on their website: By train it is nearest to the Ravenswood Metra station, it is a bit of a trek from the El Station, but you can walk here along Lawrence from the Lawrence Red Line station  up and across from the Damen Brown Line stop

Byron's Hot Dog Haus on Urbanspoon

City Provisions delicatessen

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Damen, Montrose

Finally with the sunshine out and a clear blue sky I had the time and the energy to get back out on the El Stop Food Hunt. Thanks to advice from Twitter I headed over to Wilson and Wolcott following the curve of the Brown line to find City Provisons.

Located right beneath the line in between the Montrose and the Damen stops you can watch the trains roll by as you drink your Latte and munch on your lunch.

Sad as it may be this is my idea of heaven, good food and trains to watch. I blame my Father (not really) for taking me train spotting as a child and I have only just realised that I have not grown out of it. At least I don’t have an anorak, but as I sat and watched, the air was so clear that I could read the train numbers. I didnt write them down though so maybe I am cured. But anyhow I didn’t start this blog entry to talk about train spotting.

I intended to talk about some food, in this case a bustingly good sandwich. City Provisions has a great set up inside, coffee bar, delecatessen counter and a good selection of sandwiches and salads made to order.

I went for a Roast beef sandwich on a pretzel roll with horseradish mayo and red leaf lettuce, it came on a plate with chips and a pickle (the plate also left with an intact pickle). I have grown to love pretzel rolls, so different from pretzels, these are soft tasty, slightly salty and a perfect sandwich holder. The beef was really tasty and the horseradish mayo not overpowering but did try to dominate, it failed lucklily. The chips and pickles were just spectators and plate filler, totally unneeded.

It was a really great sandwich.

City provisions is located at 1818 West Wilson Avenue, nearest El Station is the CTA Brown at Damen, but Montrose is within walking distance too.


City Provisions Deli on Urbanspoon

If ever there is a guilty pleasure heading my way then this place fulfils it. Cheap Dogs and Great Signage, enough to draw you in and prices that walk the food away.  At the end of a sunny October Chicago day with temperatures flirting with the low 70’s,  it was impossible to resist the temptation of a Chicago Dog  in the sunshine on the benches outside Budacki’s.

  Crazy low price for a dog! $2.50 with fries and a drink

Add to this some great graffitti or mural in the carpark, it is hard to find any genuine reason not to take an opportunity to expand the waistline or alternatively embrace a Chicago tradition.

Located just a few minutes from the Damen Brown line stop walking east to 4739 North Damen Avenue, only downside is that it closes early, well before the closing time rush at 8pm

Budacki's Drive-in on Urbanspoon