HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >


Jeez, is everyone still recovering from the Westernathon?

  • m

Okay, I didn't race to post after 12 hours of 'Hounding either, but hopefully this partial report will spur some others over the next couple of days. The Westernathon was a highly interesting event which I suspect will have inspired a lot of diverse reactions (not least because not everyone did exactly the same thing all the way through).

My first comment is that I regard the Westernathon as in many ways a scouting trip for further exploration (in part because the weather precluded a lot of casual strolling around-- we pretty much just drove to high points once it started drizzling). For instance, one of our first stops was at 79th, where Miss Muffet appears to pack them in for hearty old school breakfast and one of the best neon signs in the city, while just steps away Nicky's Hamburgers and Custard no longer serves custard but seems to leave Miss Muffet's overflow crowd just as happy with an equally fine diner breakfast. Some people tried to order grits to go from Miss Muffet but mainly that was just a stop to reconnoiter for further adventures; I was halfway tempted to take the kids to go have breakfast at Miss Muffet this morning, and I'm sure some less frigid Sunday morning I will. Likewise, Rainbow Cones looks like it'd be an excellent place to have ice cream, in another season, and RST already scouted out the interesting-looking Cupid's Candies, which dates back to the 30s and sounds promising but is not open on the weekends.

But I'm ahead of myself. The event got off to a rocky start, at least from my perspective, because although the official start time was 11 am, several people planned to begin the day with First Lunch at Julia's Lithuanian Truckers Welcome at noon. Turns out the 11 am crew wasn't anywhere near ready for that by 12 (I will let one of them tell the story of why, which is bizarre enough that it turns out to justify the confusion), and that's how Joan and I wound up racing down another 6 or 7 miles to meet up at B.J.'s Soul Food Market, a somewhat dispiriting soul food establishment with decor apparently modeled exactly on Boston Market. (Apparently there's an original somewhere that's more authentic-looking.) But how was the food you ask? Heck if I know, we got there just in time to see the 11 am crew finish eating. Then it was off to the parking lot of Nicky's Custard and the adjacent CTA bus turnaround to stand around, also not eating.

So far the trip was highly interesting on the 50s-neon-sign level but disturbingly Chow-free. Fortunately at that point a group of us staged a coup against our Mayor and his cronies, and announced that we were heading to Julia's Lithuanian Trucker's Welcome, and others could come with us or stand all day eating grits in a bus turnaround if they liked for all we cared. (This was where Shirley earned her new GWiv-dispensed nickname, the Sergeant of Arms of Chowhound, although I personally preferred "Shirley The Hammer.") We went on to Julia's, though apparently some others stopped for hot dogs on the way at a place bearing the name Fat Johnnie's, which from the street at least appeared to be selling hot dogs through a hole in a fence around a junkyard.

Truckers were not in evidence at Julia's, but we snagged a long table previously occupied by police, which is at least as good. (First time I've ever pointed to a bulletproof vest left on a chair and said "Is that yours?") Now even Rene, who discovered Julia's, has tried to lower expectations a little for it, and this is pretty plain food to be sure, but I have to say that with my appetite sharpened by a good 90 minutes of purely theoretical Chowhounding, this was one of the most simply satisfying meals I've had in ages. With 13 people at the table, we were able to order 8 or 9 different plates (despite GWiv/Gary and the Mayor telling the waitress to ignore everything the other had said and starting the order over from scratch a couple of times-- which interestingly resulted in the ONE thing Mrs. Mayor wanted not getting ordered).

The stuff that came before the meal was only so-so-- sauerkraut soup tasted more like sauerkraut water and badly needed a little beef broth or something, and Gary got that famous Lithuanian delicacy Iceberg Lettuce with Thousand Island Dressing; but the rye bread was good and springy-textured, and several of the main courses-- kugelis, which is sort of a cross between a potato pancake and French toast; meat dumplings; and the smoked butt, were pretty terrific. It was also nice that at Julia's, although we were plainly the noisy, chaotic outsiders in a restaurant full of regulars, and at least one of the older waitresses regarded us with obvious suspicion, by the end they really seemed to have warmed up to us, and we left a tip that was downright princely percentage-wise (though not that much in actual dollars since the tab for a veritable feast for 13 ran to all of... FIVE dollars each).

By the way, we found out that Julia sold the restaurant years ago, and it's all owned and run by Polish now. Which is a bit ironic considering that someone had pronounced it the best Lithuanian restaurant in town moments before....

From Julia's we zipped north to Taylor street. Masi's, another Rene discovery where apparently he had to pass a test to be allowed to purchase anything, was closed, so we went to the Western Ave. Shrimp House and someone bought a bag of shrimp. To be honest, the hierarchy of fried shrimp in a bag places is not something I can speak confidently on, but seemed fine by me. After worrying that our Mayor had been abducted by the body shop across the street and was already being stuffed in a trunk (he passed Joan and me in the crosswalk and wasn't seen again for 10 minutes), I zipped out with Seth briefly to check out the Taylor St, Deli, which turned out to be a totally average quickie mart, but with prefilled cannoli.

More exciting was the carnitas at the little Mexican quickie mart up the street. I'll let someone else offer a full report on that experience, which included Gary's disquisition on which lards to buy and all of us clustering in the front exchanging pieces of chicharron and tender goat meat. But I will just say one thing; after I pointed out the Mexican Coke in the case, people (who will go unnamed) actually believed me a few minutes later when I idly commented, "Look, Mexican Windex!"

Next was Spoon Thai. I'm going to let someone else (like Gary, who planned it) go through that whole meal*, which was quite extraordinary and full of wonders unlike the typical Thai meal (and yet not blow-your-head-off hot, as I know has been the fashion at past Thai events). Also I'm sure there were many different experiences of the meal as it was one long table with 19 people at it; I sat at one end with Hungry Howard, Aaron and wife and baby (who ate more Thai food than Mrs. Aaron, frankly, and wasn't at all perturbed by the arrival of whole fish larger than himself), and Dave Hammond, who regaled us with minutiae about McDonald's, T.G.I. Friday's and other places he's discovered (I must say this Hut of Pizza sounds especially promising), and could hardly be restrained from constantly whipping out his Glock and frightening the waitstaff with the laser sight. That nerve-wracking part aside, it was a splendid meal, and thanks also to the mysterious RST who generously delivered Filipino dessert treats from Mom's Filipino Bakery (also on Western). (Of course he delivered them well before the meal, so no one would see him.)

* Although I will quote my own description of one whole fish item, the mackerel-- "I think it's fishy fish in fishy fish sauce."

After approximately 119 courses of exquisite Thai food, it was time for alcohol; a subparty of us, led by the Mayor (with Shirley the Hammer close in attendance to make sure things stayed in line) we went first to the Chicago Brauhaus, which didn't meet expectations for reasons that are still unclear to me (something about Zim not being able to stand the music, which wasn't actually going to start for another two hours), and so we instead discussed next steps for about an hour and a half at the Huettenbar. (You'll notice that we allowed ourselves to leave Western for alcohol, not for food.) This was where our plan of only hitting the Best of Western fell apart-- or perhaps, as Ed Harris put it in Apollo 13, this was not our worst disaster, this was our finest hour.

The appeal to me of a strict adherence to Western for food was that we would force ourselves not to use it merely as a venue for getting to familiar places, but that we would be forced to see what wonders existed on one of Chicago's more unromantic and utilitarian streets. Nothing would have been easier than to abandon Western for a brazenly bejweled Taylor or Lincoln or Devon, full of known quantities-- but the point was to see what there was actually on Western, poor, car dealer-crammed Western. Now, as our options dwindled on the far north side, we would be truly thrown on what few discoveries remained to be made north of Lawrence at 9 pm on a Saturday.

We convinced ourselves that a bar called the Edge Inn opposite Ravenswood cemetery would be full of a fascinating crowd drawn by the extreme irony of celebrating in the very shadow of death. Fortunately it had a window in its door which allowed us to see that in fact the atmosphere bore much too close a resemblance to death to happily accommodate a loud party of Chowhounds. Likewise, death seemed a distinct possibility at the Serbian restaurant if seven or eight of us came in flashing digital cameras and insisting on taking pictures of the staff. That left Delisi's, a pizzeria which, Gary claimed, was started by ex-Pizzeria Uno workers and had a similar recipe.

Okay, I have a feeling that Delisi's is going to come in for the most ragging here (the word Bisquick came up more than once in regards to the crust), so I'll just say, hey, it's an okay neighborhood pizza, especially on top of some beers. What do you expect way up north opposite a cemetery? Anyway, the thin looked better than the pan that we ordered, and as we ate we got more detail, perhaps more than we really should have wanted, on how Cathy2 and her father failed to properly kill a fish for dinner in Russia.

From there it was on to Bill's for 30s style hamburgers, under the mistaken belief that it was open until 11 pm, which was only off by four hours. That left only one choice, Ghaseeta Khan, one of the Indian places on Western that nobody ever goes to because the lure of Devon is just too strong. Cathy and I got there first, at about 20 till 11, and when we told them 7 people were coming they sort of blanched and then asked the curious question, "Do you all speak English?" By which it appeared that they were actually asking, "Are any of you Indian," in which case apparently we would get served, otherwise, it'd be out in the snow for us. Luckily we had thought ahead to have an Indian person with us at all times for just this sort of emergency (just as I had been along in case our visit to Chicago Brauhaus had required 20 words of extremely broken Deutsch), and by the time Zim arrived, they had apparently decided to accommodate us after all-- a decision they would come to regret, apparently, when the owner called to say "Don't close up, I'm bringing a whole disco worth of people to eat at midnight." If not for us, they probably would have been able to close up and escape before he called.

Anyway, as Zim said "This is very homemade Indian food," which was my impression as well, even though I wouldn't have felt sure enough to say that definitively. Nehari was just okay, but bhindi (okra) was really flavorful and chicken gosht was pretty good. It was, in its own way, as impressively unpretentious and satisfying as Julia's had been 10 hours earlier, and just the right ending to a journey which I, at least, plan to retrace and explore further in the future.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Mike,

    Great report, I will follow with my own, including photos, tomorrow. I did want to clear up one small detail in your post, it was the Mayor, not myself, who kept truncating the Julia's order. I, in my usual nothing says excess like excess fashion, was intent on ordering at least three quarters of the menu, including the Mayor's much better half, The Condiment Queen's, cheese blintz, to no avail. I guess that is why Vital Info is the Mayor of Chicago Chowhound, he, rightly, kept his eye downfield, or in this case North on Western, and did not wish us to fill up on our first lengthy Chow stop.

    Me, I just had my eye on Julia's wonderful braised short ribs. I'm not sure if two visits to Julia's is enough to see a trend, but the best dishes I have had there have been braised. The first visit the ox tails were superior and the second short ribs. In the end The Condiment Queen did get her blintz, which I thought were ok at best, but surprisingly the one dish requested that did not get ordered was Shirley aka The Sergeant of Arms's pork chops. It is my opinion that this contributed to her Shirley 'The Hammer' demeanor throughout the day, culminating in her breaking a wine bottle over the head of an overly amorous bartender.

    Is it just me, or does Spoon Thai keep getting better and better with each subsequent visit?

    I have enjoyed each Chowhound outing in which I have participated, the combination of interesting chow and even more interesting and convivial Chowhoulds simply can't be beat.


    1. d
      David Hammond

      Saturday night, after our last stop on the Westernathon, Zim suggested we grab some pan, which is one of those many comestibles that has been off my radar, but which I understand is quite common in the Devon area and much of the Indian sub-continent. I have spooned out mouth-tingling spices after dinner at Bukhara and other Indian-style joints, but I’d never had the spices presented in such an appealing package.

      For those as uninformed as I previously was, pan consists of a dark green betel leaf smeared with a lime or crushed rose petal paste, wrapped around a variety of spices such as cloves, aniseed and cardamom, as well as grated coconut. Mine had fennel, as well as a number of other spices about which our very friendly pan-maker was a little vague.

      At this little store cum diner, our pan was offered in several variants. Following Zim, I went with the “aromatic”, but there was also a sweet strain, and I understand that you can pretty much have your “personal blend” of pan prepared (cab drivers, we were told, prohibited from smoking in their vehicles, prefer pan stuffed with tobacco… for hours of deliciously unwholesome salivating and sucking).

      At the store we stopped at, the pan was 50 cents each, which is probably pretty much the going rate.

      Pan is a fine carminative – somewhat bitter, somewhat spicy, a little licorice-y (from the fennel) enjoyable and…exotic.

      Because the betel leaf is a mild “narcotic,” it totally numbs out your tongue. Also, as a little Googling revealed, the betel leaf is revered as an antiflatulent AND an aphrodisiac, making it a very sensible and thoughtful option for a postprandial pop.

      3 Replies
      1. re: David Hammond

        Hey Dave, I'm glad you enjoyed the paan. I was a little leary of taking folks for that as it can be an aquired taste and some folks really really don't care for it. In fact Ms. VI, aka the condiment Queen, aka the Mistress of Spices had to spit hers out.

        I Found the following quote from the attached link about paan:

        "Its stimulating effect increases with excessive chewing. These chemical substances reduce inner restlessness and tensions in habitual paan eaters. However, these ingredients can also cause nausea, giddiness, perspiration and initial symptoms of poisoning in those who are not used to paan"

        In India, it's kinda looked upon as a widespread and tolerated vice.

        I'm not really a paan expert and couldn't tell you the scientific or even english names of all the ingredients (I'm not sure most paan wallahs could either!)but here's a little bit more info on paan. It comes in three basic "flavors":

        saada - "plain", just the basics, betel areca, lime, fewer of the aromatics.

        Also there are three varieties of leaf which vary in color and shape and texture slightly. The most highly prized is benarasi (from benares) which according to my dad "melts in your mouth" - i've never seen that here and most paan guys say it's too fragile to make the trip, mostly I think we get the kolkutta variety around town
        Khushboo- "aromatic" - kind of a halfway order, more aromatics including fennel, rose etc.

        meeta - "sweet" the kitchen sink all the sweet stuff, very perfumey from the rose petal sugar paste concoction - the paan guy thought that this would be the best "beginner" paan

        Link: http://www.indiaprofile.com/religion-...

        1. re: zim

          sorry the above got a little garbled. it should read

          Hey Dave, I'm glad you enjoyed the paan. I was a little leary of taking folks for that as it can be an aquired taste and some folks really really don't care for it. In fact Ms. VI, aka the condiment Queen, aka the Mistress of Spices had to spit hers out.

          I Found the following quote from the attached link about paan:

          "Its stimulating effect increases with excessive chewing. These chemical substances reduce inner restlessness and tensions in habitual paan eaters. However, these ingredients can also cause nausea, giddiness, perspiration and initial symptoms of poisoning in those who are not used to paan"

          In India, it's kinda looked upon as a widespread and tolerated vice.

          I'm not really a paan expert and couldn't tell you the scientific or even english names of all the ingredients (I'm not sure most paan wallahs could either!)but here's a little bit more info on paan. It comes in three basic "flavors":

          saada - "plain", just the basics, betel areca, lime, fewer of the aromatics.

          Khushboo- "aromatic" - kind of a halfway order, more aromatics including fennel, rose etc. (my preferred variety and what Dave H. sampled)

          meeta - "sweet" the kitchen sink- all the sweet stuff, very perfumey from the rose petal sugar paste concoction - the paan guy thought that this would be the best "beginner" paan. (though this was what the Condiment Queen aka Ms.Vi aka Mistress of Spices spat out thinking it like "chewing perfume")

          Also there are three varieties of leaf which vary in color and shape and texture slightly. The most highly prized is benarasi (from benares) which according to my dad "melts in your mouth" - i've never seen that here and most paan guys say it's too fragile to make the trip, mostly I think we get the kolkutta variety around town

          1. re: zim


            Sheila seems to be enjoying her paan in this picture. {smile}

            Gary (who better duck next time he sees The Condiment Queen)

            Image: http://www.sptsb.com/Western%20CQ%20P...

      2. v
        Vital Information

        I have had a hard time figuring what to say. Tons of Saturday is a blur, and my mind just keeps on returning to the thought: home made "shiraz" in a pet store before "lunch". Until I am fully able to comment, I wanted to post some credits.

        As always, these days only happen with the aide of willing drivers. Special credit to Mike, Seth, Gary and Erik who carted others. Second, the ability to actually know where we were going depended a lot some advanced planning. Serious scouting missions were undertaken by Atomicman, Cathy2, Zim, Evil Ronnie, RST and ReneG. We also appreciate all those who posted and made suggestions on the board. The Ultimo one, GWiv, not only drove on Saturday, but he drove on several advanced scouting runs. On top of that he made advanced reservations at Julia's and Spoon, made sure we had enough to eat throughout the day, diminished all of our pocketbooks a bit more than we wanted, but plied us with imported beers and odd only in Milwaukee drinks. He remains ultimate.

        Once again Doug enhanced a chow outing by knowing some great guy. This time it was our south side drinking buddy and brewmaster. As Mike noted, Zim deserves credit for remaining of Indian descent. Shirley desrves credit for stepping up and assuming the role of Sergeant at Arms. We will miss you when you move. Of course Sergeant of Arms could not contain the realm that is Joan's. Eager recorders, Seth, Gary, Dave and Mike will enable us to one day remember what we did on Saturday. For those who missed it, you will be able to purchase a souvenir mult-media package, proceeds to benefit chowhound. And speaking of chowhound, we raised over $200 for this site. I hope others use this occasion to forward a little donation or make a merchandise purchase (and I hope those who receive our monies take time to appreciate it).

        See y'all next time.


        Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/

        1 Reply
        1. re: Vital Information
          Vital Information

          I just realized that I slighted Hungry Howard on the driving credits. He carted the angry one home, and THAT deserves special credit!

        2. So, what *did* you guys eat at Spoon Thai? I'm very curious to hear! It has become one of my new favorite spots.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Aubergine
            Vital Information

            Good question, Aubergine.

            Spoon Thai was both wonderful and infuriating. When Mike said we received 116 courses, it is only a slight exaggeration. The guy in the movie Diner who orders the entire left side of the menu would not have been happy, because it seemed we had the left and right sides of their menu. Of course at the end of the day, it produced a bill much larger than anticipated, but I maintain, who can truly be upset about so much good food.

            Spoon exposed us to the full extent of Thai cookery. Just as at any fancy tasting, we got a range of textures and tastes. These went from blistering hot papaya salad to teeth gnashing sweet--the sauce for the one bite salad. Some things were chewy, others soft and still others pure crunch. We got the full stink of fermented shrimp paste and the un-wordly glow that preserved eggs possess. They taught us that one could take the neck, the foot or the belly from the pig, and when combined with the right ingredients and techniques, achieve culinary excellence. Not every dish stood out, but on a whole, I can imagine no place in Chicago (and no one else in Chicago) who could have ate like we did at Spoon Thai on Saturday.

            Shortly after arrival, we got about five plates of the one bite salad. This is one of the many quasi menu items at Spoon. Not too be found on any printed menu, but always there. One bite salad consists of a lettuce leaf topped with an odd mix of dried shrimp, lime slices, shredded coconut and a few bits of magic. One customizes this salad with the aforementioned super-sweet sauce, and maybe adds a chili slice. The flavors all combine in your mouth like something from the Asian branch of Wily Wonka. Sweet, salty, crunch, bitter (the lime peel) and hot all in one tiny package.

            Following the salad packages were another packaged good. Thai sausage balls meant to be eaten en suite with fresh ginger and chili pepper bits. It was mentioned that alone the sausage lacked something, but with its party, it rocked. The sausage, an Issan item, also have a rather livery taste, but in a good way.

            Next came some papaya salad in two versions, hot and hotter. I have argued that papaya salad is the perfect vehicle for chili, and I believe the second version did my argument justice. I would not, however, discount the merely hot version which seemed to have an abundance of garlic and fish sauce. A chicken laab soon followed, and this was the only real weak dish in my mind. The chicken seemed pasty instead of ground. I also missed the single sheets of yuppie lettuce which I have seen them use before for this dish. Such a creation allows for bites that combine fresh chicken flavor with lettuce coolness and crunch.

            No Spoon Thai meal with Ultimo, GWiv, could be without Spoon's fried chicken. Unbattered yet well spiced chicken expertly fried and served with a smokey sauce evocative of tamarind, think the best A-One you've ever had.

            Around here came another salad, a pork neck laab; plus catfish custards and a tom yum with pork feet. More examples of the way Thai cooking uses a few techniques and ingredients to maximize flavors. The pork neck matched fatty chew against toasted rice; the catfish was soft, spicy and fragrant, the soup, sour, gummy and rich. All winning dishes. I have got to say, Spoon's pork foot soup is the one dish to convert anyone to the joy of eating trotters.

            Equally contrasting in flavor and textures was a mix of deep fried pork belly and Chinese broccoli. For the pork, think bacon both extra crispy and extra juicy. The vegetables were crisp and bright and filled with vitamins, offsetting that horrible pork fat. Yet, the true textural champ was yet to come.

            Spoon may or may not call their version exploded catfish, but this blow-up of catfish essence with the consistency of breakfast cereal comes at you like no normal dish. A sauce heavy on twin juices, lime and fish, provide strong flavor to this sandy item. Another dish that works its way down your mouth in a rush of sensations.

            We were well passed comfort but the dishes just kept on coming. After a lot of hard work in the kitchen, where someone had to hand pound, shrimp paste, ground pork, chili and other herbs went into this strongly odored mash. We used this gunk, an unappealing shade of gray-brown as a dip for boiled vegetables and small imported Thai fishes (once called sprats by Zim). A real sample of uncompromising Thai food.

            The sprats joined the table with another fish, an untranslatable version known around the Spoon kitchen as "mudfish", something longer but skinnier than a catfish. Flash fried first and then set out in a curry brick red from chili. An assortment of vegetables stood guard on the fish. It was too good to ignore.

            Believe it or not, one last savory dish came, a jelly-like black green creation otherwise know as preserved eggs mixed with a bled of green chili's and more herbs. This dish might have garnered much more praise if it came earlier.

            Two desserts wrapped things up. Mango and sticky rice, which is the second dish I would pan and a Thai pudding. No one can convince me that eating mango in Chicago in March is anything close to good eats. The other dessert was more special, a mix of taro balls and egg and sweet potato in condensed milk bath. Loud complaints already prevented me from ordering the one dessert I had yet to try, a special of the day, palm cake.

            All in all, we went hog crazy, but got the chance to sample some of amazing food.


            1. re: Vital Information

              "We were well passed comfort but the dishes just kept on coming. After a lot of hard work in the kitchen, where someone had to hand pound, shrimp paste, ground pork, chili and other herbs went into this strongly odored mash. We used this gunk, an unappealing shade of gray-brown as a dip for boiled vegetables and small imported Thai fishes (once called sprats by Zim). A real sample of uncompromising Thai food."

              Hey, I don't think we got that at our end of the table! No wonder I was still hungry! Or was this the fish that arrived with head bent in such a way, and of such a size, that at first glance I thought it was a roasted rat (though as I said to Dave H., "I knew they wouldn't serve us rat-- chipmunk, probably.") I heard someone say "mackerel" in regards to that one; I don't actually know what a mackerel looks like or how big it is, so heck if I know.

              "but this blow-up of catfish essence with the consistency of breakfast cereal comes at you like no normal dish"

              Oh yeah, that comment prompted one of my other Craig Claiborne-like descriptions: "Yeah, like Captain Crunch in fish sauce!"

              1. re: Mike G
                Vital Information

                There were at least 2 of the nam prik dishes as I ended up with such in the leftover bags. It was the dish with the vegetables: carrots, thai eggplant, cauliflower, etc., plus the 2 small fishy-fish.

                To my chagrin, Saturday's version included regular ol' green beans and not Asian long beans tied into cute little knots.

                I think this dish, presented so late, lost some luster. Also, it just does not look like much. Veg and dip, but it is a real classic. I found something online called Surfing Phuket Magazine, and it included this quote: "All Thai meals, from the humblest to lavish banquets, will include some fresh vegetables and sauces for dipping."

                The dish is, first of all, very hard to make, as it requires much physical effort, and second, one rarely offered to non-Thai's as it contains a heaping portion of stinky shrimp paste.

                Sorry you missed it now?

              2. re: Vital Information

                Everyone seems to love the one-bite salad (mien cam/miang kham)at Spoon Thai so much that I thought I should mention that there is a great recipe for it in Hot Sour Salty Sweet, the wonderful Southeast Asian cookbook by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I can of course post it if there's any interest.

                1. re: jason


                  I want that one bite salad recipe ... post or e-mail it to interested people, like me!


                  1. re: Cathy2

                    Can't post recipes that are copyrighted, fyi-- moderators will yank.

                    1. re: Mike G

                      But you *can* list ingredients, and paraphrase instructions.

                      1. re: galleygirl
                        Vital Information

                        Or link to the recipe

            2. i'm still waiting to hear what was bizarre enough (according to mike), to explain why mike and i werent met at julia's at noon, as agreed, but had to drive 100 extra blocks (50 north and 50 south) to eat 1 bite of cold leftover catfish.it was that, or sit in our car in the rain for 1-1/2 hours waiting for the main group to arrive.

              9 Replies
              1. re: joan

                It was right there! Wine tasting at a pet grooming store! I think details that actually made sense out of that would only diminish it.

                1. re: Mike G

                  Look at big context what was strange and great was that a group of 20 or so folks decided to try 20 (I'm not sure what the original itinerary was 30?) or so different spots along the length of chicago in one day.

                  that sort of thing by nature is a logistical nightmare, and surprises have to be expected. Granted sometimes there will be surprises like no custard available today, but in fact it is those kind of surprises (like the wine tasting in a pet grooming place) that make a day like that - I wish there had been more of them. Cell phone numbers were provided, and if you really had wanted to be in control of where you were met etc., you could have come been there from the start.

                  I think it is important to once again to emphasize and thank Rob/VI and Gary aka Ultimo for the amount of work and thought they put into this shindig which I really enjoyed, not the least for a chance to hang with the hounds.

                  1. re: zim

                    Okay, I am officially not rehashing any of this further because what was the cool chowathon about Julia's and Captain Crunch with fish sauce and Ghaseeta Khan at closing time is already starting to turn into something less cool in the memory. I think there are some conclusions which can be drawn for future events which I believe no one would disagree with in principle:

                    1) One the one hand, we should establish a few definite stops and try to stick to them as a group.

                    2) On the other hand, the very fact of establishing later rendezvous points, not to mention being cellularly connected, means that not everyone has to do something at the exact same moment-- or at all. Nothing wrong with splitting into one group which went to Julia's and another which did other things.

                    3) On the other other hand, serendipity is a major feature of the Chowathons (though much harder to make happen on a drizzly winter today, admittedly). We should keep that possibility open-- or again, some can stick to a schedule and some can wander aimlessly, and both are okay!

                    4) On the fourth hand, money-wise, chower beware, but we should make it easier for people who absolutely aren't participating fully to get out of paying for a full share without guilt or embarassment. (True freeloaders, something I don't think we've ever had, will find themselves mysteriously left off the email list next time.)

                    5) Finally, as I run out of hands at last, let me say again that no such event will run perfectly, as adults we are ultimately responsible for our own good times and we should feel no qualms about taking matters into our own hands along the way as need be, and that I feel the day was a great and interesting success, for which the overwhelming credit belongs to those who planned and scouted it, which is people other than me.

                    1. re: Mike G
                      David C. Hammond

                      One unsung planner who deserves special recognition is RST, whose presence was felt during the Westernathon though he remained characteristically invisible. As mysteriously behind-the-scenes as Bela Lugosi playing the Puppet Master in “Glen or Glenda” (“Pull de string…pull de string!!"), RST’s efforts to scout and strategize for events he never actually attends is indeed altruistic and charmingly eccentric. His gift of after-dinner pastries (with notes) at Spoon Thai was very thoughtful, and it reflected the generosity of spirit that is typical of so many of our chow get-togethers.

                      1. re: David C. Hammond

                        Totally off topic, but my co-hound and I finally figured out what role Bela plays in "Glen or Glenda." He is the Cosmic Arbiter of Gender.

                        1. re: Beth Pizio

                          Snips and snails and puppy dog tails...

                          [insert shot of buffalo]

                    2. re: zim

                      Hear, hear. I would like to add my public thanks to all those involved in bringing about this event, and to express appreciation for the wonderful food, enjoyable company provided in the relatively small amount of time I was able to join you all.



                      1. re: Aaron D
                        Shirley the Hammer

                        Ditto!! I had a great day and had the pleasure of making some new chowhound friends. Looking forward to more chow-ventures....


                    3. re: Mike G

                      All in all an enjoyable day on Western Ave. Hearty thanks to Rob/VI and Gary aka Ultimo for all their efforts in coordinating.

                      While others have already provided an in-depth analysis, here are some memorable moments along the way:

                      * First question of the day, which Seth posed to Jansen's Drive-In employee: "Do you have hot dogs with casings?" Response: "Um, no?"

                      * The dark, goulish back room at the brew supply store that nearly required us to wear night-vision goggles. I even had visions of the closing scene in "Silence of the Lambs."

                      * zim confirming that Fox's lenten special was not egg & peppers on a pizza but rather plain 'ole eggplant parm.

                      * Entering B.J.'s at 12:30 p.m., when the outside temp was 50 degrees. Fourty-five minutes later the temps had alread dropped into the 20s.

                      * Sitting down to a full meal at Julia's ... a scant 2 hours before 116 Thai dishes awaited us at Spoon, some 80 blocks away.

                      * Placing an order for jumbo shrimp at the Shrimp House, where the server/cashier/cook stood behind 1/4" thick plexiglass. How comforting.

                      * Clogging up the entrance of the carnerceria as we consumed barbacoa and chicharron with Gary's recommended hot sauce, and washing down the treats with "Mexican Coke." For those who are curious, SCJ does not have a Spanish translation for Windex.

                      * The magical wonders of Spoon and the pork 'anatomy' lesson that took place -- much to the shagrin of Aaron's wife, so it seemed. At our end of the table we also managed to collect a mini graveyard of eaten and half-eaten courses. Extra one bite salad, anyone?

                      * Pictures of the Mayor stumping across Western Ave's dining establishments.

                  2. v
                    Vital Information

                    It seems that someone needs to do a complete end to end report of the Westernathon, so I'll do a re-cap:

                    (Warning, this may be long)

                    Before the event, we had a certain amount of back and fourth about both where to start and when to start. Originally, many people wanted to start on the north end as it was closer to them, but DougK made the great point that if we started near home, we would still need to double back to GET home. So, early on, we settled on starting on the south side. Then, the start time and start place. I originally wanted to start with breakfast, but a combination of no truly cool breakfast places (the anticipated Irish breakfast just did not exist on Western) and the fact that those without young kids liked to sleep later pushed the start time to 11 AM.

                    Let me backtrack a second. We picked Western not because it was the known as the most interesting eating street in Chicago, but because, as the Alpinist's would declare, it was there, a peak to be ascended. No other street extends the full length of Chicago; it is our longest street. Like the Grand Canyon, it reveals itself in various strata. From industry to bungalow belt, you can follow the growth of Chicago along Western. Western is mostly known as a street for car shopping, a way to get around town before the expressway, not a destination street. Very few city neighborhoods are defined by Western. Instead, Western tends to boundary several neighborhoods, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village, the multi-enthic splendor of Devon, etc. Yet because Western is part of nothing, it is part of everything. We knew that we could travel this street and visit Black and White, old and new, Polish and Puerto Rican. No street better says Chicago than Western. And it was an excuse to have fun.

                    Western is filled with eye catching places, the brick Parisian novelties, the barely standing Fat Johnny's hot dog shack, Montenegrin cafes. We had a lot of possibilities in our faces. To facilitate things, I and others went out on scouting missions. We tasted some Q that ranged from worse to worser, got blasted by Christian music in an Indian place and sampled a humburger. We whittled a lot before the big day. Those making the final cut had to be matched against some anticipated times. For instance, this Ken's relish place and all supper club, in Beverly sounded ideal but totally out of place at the intended start time, 11 AM.

                    OK, I got you back to 11 AM, when we started. We started a Jansen's Drive-In/Snyder's Hot Dog, a no seat fast food place resulting from a merger of two Beverly institutions. The appeal of Jansen's really rests in their 50's era sign, not in their food, certainly not the Oscar Meyer hot dogs which no one tried. We did sample some burgers (dry); swirl green river ice cream, neat looking but lousy; and hot wings, surprisingly good with a heat coming from spices buried under the batter ala Popeyes.

                    At Jansen's a leprechaunish fellow appeared and asked, are you all chowhounds. We said yes, and he said follow me down Western, I have a treat for you. We said why not, but before we do, can we peak into this pizza parlor, Fox's? Just open, Fox's revolving pizza oven was already popping out Chicago thins. We ordered a half-cheese/half sausage to be cooked while we followed our new guide.

                    Marty, as he is also known, lead us to a combined pet store/grooming center/home brew supply house that proves the most trendiest place can eventually work their way to the outskirts of Chicago. Here, we met another Leprechaun, also known as Greg. Greg showed us his cellar, a back room so dank and mysterious it really could have been buried deep beneath a castle. We saw bubbling vats of proto-mead (that honey wine of Renaissance fairs), a very traditional wine press and other products in the making. Greg uncorked a couple of his efforts and bewitched us with his elixirs. He also gave us copies of a Chicago celebrity cookbook, circa 1985. We emerged into reality to get our pizza.

                    It was still before 12, but we were at least 2 hours behind schedule. We tried Fox's. Some liked it, but I thought the crust a bit too cardboardy. Gary, the Ultimo, wanted to try next BJ's Market, the first branch of this soul food factory. The Western BJ's occupies the former home of a Boston Market. The decor remains wholly corporate, but there is something so comforting about seeing soul sides take over the metal pans that once housed sterile versions of "home cooking". We ordered the trademark mustard fried catfish and took four sides: greens, potato salad, mac and cheese and candied sweets. All I can say, is that if all Boston Markets sold food this good, the place would not have had to file for bankruptcy.

                    At BJ's, we hooked up with our second round of fressers, Joan and Mike. They sampled a few leftover bites of catfish, but for some reason unknown to me, did not order anything for themselves. We did follow Joan's lead to try Nicky's, who had a sign advertising frozen custard. Between Nicky's and a bus turnaround was Little Miss Muffin, a pure coffee shop in the Googie school, kind of like the place Pumpkin declared his love to Honey Bunny. Although a rather height challenged version of a coffee shop, I must say. Inside Little Miss Muffin, it appears almost claustrophobic. While one group found no frozen custard, a few others, Seth, Zim, myself watch plush pancakes on the griddle and waited patiently for grits and ham with the Miss Muffin crowd.

                    We were still at only around 8000 south, but some people wanted to fast forward to Julia's Trucker's welcome. Luckily, enough people refused to give in to that momentum and stopping and the leaning shack that is Fat Johnny's. No one sample their famed house beverage, the suicide, but we did eat a double chili-cheese dog with the works in the hale. When I told Fat Johnny he was not that fat, he thanked me in such a way that I could not tell if he really meant it, or I was about the 50,000 person to use that line.

                    We've heard about Julia's which is where we did all end up next, including Cathy2 who now joined. From Julia's we skipped the Puerto Rican Cha-Cha's and all the assorted mexi-pizza places and parked near Taylor. Masi's Superior Italian Bakery, was fittingly closed, but I went ahead and scouted the small neighboring carnerceria while everyone else warmed up in the shrimp house. The carnerceria seemed worthwhile, and we went from shrimps to barbacoa de chivo and chicharron.

                    We had one fixed spot for the day, our 4 PM reservation at Spoon. We were at this point, rather far from Spoon, but rather close to our reservation time. We had enough time to visit Joe, archetypical mad Hungarian (and Sausage King), although I steered my driver instead, to the Brazilian storefront, Brasil Legal, for some contraband fried goodies.

                    We've heard extensively about Spoon. We both bankrupted several participants and exceeded our collective tummies. We need a serious rest from eating. We broke our sacred vow of Western-ness and moved to nearby Lincoln for some Germanic drinking. With the Condiment Queen wavering towards the side of those angee-angee (as the chowhounditas used to say, Dad don't be angee-angee), I haggled with the bartender at Chicago Brauhaus for the weirdest, oddest, most vial, most herbal, most bitter, most most schnapps he had around. While those were re-parking their cars, we did our shots and I saved our marriage. We then rejected Brauhaus as too limited in seating space, too smokey in air quality, and too quiet in oompah music (too early). We moved across the street to the Huttenbar, where we hid from the locals and drank some concoction Ultimo swears is a Milwaukee weekly custom.

                    Bisquick formed pizza, spicy okra, last chews of pan, failed attempts at 30s' style burgers, you've heard the end. A final note about the pan. CQ gagged and said it was like eating perfume. When I mentioned that in instant message to the effusive one, RST, he said, well it is supposed to be like eating perfume.

                    It was an incredibly slow day, but some of us managed to have a good time.

                    Da Mare