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Jun 19, 2003 03:38 PM

TBS African Lunch Truck Sighting

  • c

"I give you a little penis for free."

Taking advantage of a beautiful crisp day in Chicago, I decided to take a walk from my North Mich office to lunch favorite Kababish on Orleans for tilapia Pakistani style on chapatis. Making the turn onto Clark from Chicago Avenue, it was apparent that a change of plans was in order. The TBS African lunch truck was pulled to the side doing brisk drive-up business with the cabbies.

Having never eaten at either of their two locations (one at North Sheridan and the other on South Commercial), or really had much in the way of African food at all, I began to play the "What's That?" game with the proprietor and a couple of genial Nigerians hanging out with him. Disappointingly, he had just run out of mashed yams and plantains, so my choices for sides consisted of spinach. Of the meat offerings, all were bathed in the same spicy tomato based sauce, and they consisted of chunks of whiting, tilapia (heads only), chicken, beef skin, tripe, and some kind of beef joint I couldn't get a clear ruling on. Feeling increasingly confident of my powers of identification in the "What's That?" game, I pointed to one item and tentatively asked, "sausage?"

You can guess how the rest of that exchange went. After much sophomoric trans-national locker room tittering, my new Nigerian friends and I got down to the serious business of constructing my lunch. Out was the chicken ("eets hard cheekin, not soft." "You mean tough chicken?" "Yes...tough cheekin.") and the tilapia heads ("Come back when I have whole ting!").

So, my foam container was lined with a gorgeous white rice (why do Americans seem to be the only people unable to cook rice properly?) and then the equivalent of a Nigerian Sampler Platter. After placing everything atop the rice, we returned to the small matter of the penis. He gamely stabbed at one with his serving spoon, pronouncing the cut as his favorite ("no fat...good for you!). I was about to pass on it when he pointed to a smallish specimen and made me the offer I couldn't refuse (see top).

Back in the office, where I did a quick Chowhound background check to make sure I didn't just fall for the African version of "Punked", I dove right in.

The rice was first...as good as advertised, particularly when the spicy red sauce was incorporated into it. The spinach was extremely good, seasoned with some kind of dried smoked fish flavoring...almost like Japanese bonito flakes. The fish was next, also very good--firm and steak-like, then the beef joint. It was clear it had spent the longest time in the stew. It was dry, yet tender at the same time--almost jerky-like in consistency and exploding with dark rich beef flavor. The tripe was tripe...never really been a fan, but it was tenderer than most. The skin was flabby and fatty...not good. Then, with knuckles white against my plastic fork and knife, I sliced and speared a chunk of bullhood and popped it in. I swallowed, and had another bite, but it was clear that my penis eating days were behind me. It tasted like the skin, not bad flavor really...almost veal-like, but the consistency was gummy and unpleasantly toothsome.

All in all, a fine and unexpected lunch. The lunch truck brigade by my office in Streeterville has been disappointing of late--no African, and Island Delight barely comes anymore, so it was great to find a new one not too far away. The driver assured me he was a regular at the Clark Street location at lunch time, so I would encourage North Loop lunchers to seek him out.

I've included the addresses of their restaurant locations from memory, so I may be off by a block or two.

TBS Nigerian Restaurant
4507 N. Sheridan
8910 S. Commercial

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  1. Quite a trip...I stand in admiration and revulsion.

    But a question about trucks...are the Streeterville trucks of which you speak those on Superior in front of the hospital? It does seem a rather lame line-up, at least this week. Has it been better in the past? I'm a bit south of there, and usually don't head out for lunch, but what with farmer's market season begun I pass by more regularly.



    2 Replies
    1. re: Aaron D


      It has indeed been a weak lineup for the last six months or so. I always go there looking for Island Delight for their jerk fish, but I haven't seen them for along time. They were always one of the last trucks up Superior toward the lake, so I always make the walk and am always disappointed. The usual lineup is the typical construction worker roach coach, followed by Fontano's Subs, some meatball sandwich place, and the Burrito Buggy or Beach or whatever. Right now, construction workers rule the roost, what with the Lurie medical research facility going up there, so maybe the offerings will deepen once that's built.

      I love that farmer's market by the MCA as well, and can't wait for the crops to start coming in in earnest. Great way to spend a lunch hour. Have you (or anyone else) tried the meats from the kiosk there? The name escapes me at the moment. I usually load up on down-on-the-farm meat from Harbach's Farm in Freeport, but it would be nice to get something similar 100 miles closer than Freeport.


      1. re: CoolerbytheLake

        I haven't tried Heartland Meats, but I posted about it last year and got some favorable response. I posted in a little more detail about that market and the lunch trucks below. I don't get up that way too often, but please let me know if the African or jerk trucks reappear.


    2. Here is my TBS story: last year we had a visit from old friends who lived in Ghana for twenty-five years. We were taking a walk through the park in front of the Newberry Library when our friend spotted the TBS truck parked alongside and trotted over to it. Eagerly he asked the proprietor, "Do you have [excuse me, I am spelling this phonetically] kelly-welly?". The truck guy explained that kelly-welly is so popular that he sells out of it every day by 10 AM. It seems that kelly-welly is a fried sweet-hot concoction of mashed plantains and peppers that thrills and amazes everybody with its deliciousness. Be advised.

      1 Reply
      1. re: N Tocus

        the ghanian dish, spelled kelewele(you were close) is one of my favorite dishes at ofie restaurant, at 3911 n. sheridan, if you want another source for it.(they have a website, if you're interested). joan

      2. Really excellent writing!